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Maximizing Training Effectiveness with a Training Needs Analysis (TNA)

04 Apr 2023
Training Needs Analysis

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What is a Training Needs Analysis (TNA)?

“A training needs analysis or assessment identifies individuals’ current level of competency, skill or knowledge in one or more areas and compares that competency level to the required competency standard established for their positions or other positions within the organization. The difference between the current and required competencies can help determine training needs.” This is how The US Society for Human Resource Management defines it. This definition readily provides us with some prerequisites you must think about before planning your training needs assessment:

  • Which people do you want to assess and train?
  • Which areas (competencies, skills or knowledge) are you going to focus on? i.e. What abilities does your business require?
  • And how good should they be at these? i.e. What standards are you going to compare them against?

Training Needs Analysis (or Assessment, also known as Learning Needs Analysis/Assessment) is a performance improvement tool usually employed by Learning and Development professionals. 

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What are the types of training needs analysis?

You can conduct a TNA at different levels of the organization, depending on the business objectives you are trying to achieve.


Training Needs Analysis - Organizational

This is a comprehensive, large-scale analysis of the training needs of all the employees across the organization. It will call upon your strategic thinking, as the big question that you have to answer is: How can we support our employees to achieve XYZ organizational objectives?

This type of analysis is more likely to be required when the organization adopts a new strategy or undergoes big changes, such as mergers, acquisitions, or leadership changes. The business objectives will have been fed by business owners and/or the executive team, but it is your job to translate them into smaller L&D objectives. Here are some questions that may help you:

  1. What are the strategic objectives of your organization?
    1. What knowledge, skills, and abilities (henceforth ‘KSA’) are required by everyone in the organization to achieve these objectives?
    2. What KSA are required by each team or department to achieve these objectives?
    3. What KSA are required by people at each level of seniority to achieve these objectives?

By answering these questions first, you will have more clarity on the Who? and What? The next set of questions focuses on the How?:

  1. Can training help them in achieving these goals?
    1. Are these KSA trainable?
    2. How can training help improve these KSA?
    3. Is there a hierarchy of needs for these KSA? Are any of these KSA more critical than others?
  2. What type of training is required or available for each KSA?
    1. Are any of these types of training proven to be more effective than others?
    2. Should you/Can you offer employees more than one training type so they can choose the best learning method for their learning style?
    3. How are you going to measure training efficiency and KSA improvement?


A further level of analysis looks at team or department performance. This is more likely to happen when a team or department is reorganized, when they’re engaged in a new major project, or when new working frameworks are implemented or required.

Operational training needs analysis begins by reviewing the KSA needed for each job and each responsibility, and the optimum level of KSA required for maximizing human potential. You may have to conduct a Job Task Analysis [backlink] to help define the performance standards that employees will be evaluated against. The key questions here are:

  1. What are the objectives of this department?
    1. How is each role supposed to contribute to achieving this objective?
    2. What are the responsibilities or tasks involved for each role?
  2. How should employees perform these responsibilities or tasks?
    1. What are the performance standards that they are working towards?
    2. What key performance indicators (KPIs) are they working towards?

Then return to questions about whether training is needed and how to implement it:

  1. What KSA are required for these responsibilities or tasks in order to maintain or improve these KPIs?
    1. What type of training is required or available for each KSA?
    2. Are any of these types of training proven to be more effective than others?
    3. Should you/Can you offer employees more than one training type so they can choose the best learning method for their learning style?
    4. How are you going to measure training efficiency and KSA improvement?


Training Needs Analysis - Individual

So far we have seen a top-to-bottom approach to TNA, but the bottom-up approach, which starts with the employee, is equally important. The learning needs and aspirations of each employee are evaluated through development reviews, 360 performance appraisals, or during the hiring process. Individual-level TNA should therefore happen at regular intervals and involve the employee in question.

This level of analysis focuses on finding whether individuals are well prepared and confident in performing their duties, both from the organization’s perspective, as well as their own. Some questions that you may want to start with and possibly share with the employee are:

  1. What are the main responsibilities of this role?
    1. What are the KPIs that a person in this role is working towards?
    2. What are the KSA required for maximizing performance in this role?

Then going back to questions about training implementation:

  1. What type of training is required or available for each KSA?
  2. Are any of these types of training proven to be more effective than others?
  3. What is the employee’s learning style?
  4. Should you/Can you offer the training type most suited to their learning style?
  5. How are you going to measure training efficiency and KSA improvement?

Other types of TNA

Content Analysis – where you may work with internal subject matter experts to look at the materials, documents, systems, and procedures used by each person and each team. The main objective here is to understand whether employees have access to the right documentation to do their jobs. Of equal importance is to verify whether their current workflows are optimal for achieving their objectives.

Training Suitability Analysis – not all business problems can be solved with training, just like not all behaviors can be changed through learning. The purpose of this type of analysis is to assess whether training truly is the optimal answer to the business questions you’re trying to answer

Cost-Benefit Analysis – historically, the learning journey has been quite elusive when trying to calculate ROIs. However, with emerging technology such as our own, adult learning can be easily measured to evaluate the efficiency of different training types and optimize learning over time.

How can organizations conduct a training needs analysis?

Now that you have a clearer understanding of what TNA is and have picked the right path out of the various approaches you have at your disposal, we suggest a four-step approach to implementation:

  1. Define the business objectives

You may have already done this in the earlier stages when you reviewed the different types of TNA available to you. This stage is solely about articulating the business value you’re trying to obtain from performing the analysis. Communicating clearly how your training helps achieve higher business objectives or strategies will help gather more support from other stakeholders and will demonstrate clearly how your project contributes to achieving the same objectives that everyone is working towards.

  1. Identify the skills gap 

By following the guidance provided so far, you will have a rough plan of whom you’re analyzing, what KSAs you’ll focus on, and which performance standards are the most relevant to your use case. The SHRM definition I opened this article with subsumes that TNA is firstly about “identifying individuals’ current level of competency, skill or knowledge”, which is exactly what this step will focus on.

You can measure employee skills through a variety of methods or a combination. Here are some of the assessment tools at your disposal:


HR Records

Conducting some desk analysis of the employee data that your organization already collected can readily reveal some areas worthy of investigation. Employee interviews or information collected during hiring, performance reviews, and exit interviews, are a good place to start with. Here’s an extensive list that you may choose from, depending on the industry and type of work your organization engages in:

  • Employees’ resumes
  • Application form
  • Results of assessments taken during hiring, training or for other purposes
  • Training undergone as part of the onboarding process (or an onboarding checklist if you use one)
  • Performance or 360 reviews
  • Past training or other learning opportunities taken by the employee(s)
  • Data from the Learning Management System and/or Assessment Management System that your organization is using
  • Exit interviews
  • Job descriptions and person specifications
  • Performance Measures for each department and/or job role (KPIs)
  • Employee Turnover
  • Employee Shrinkage
  • Employee feedback on platforms like Glassdoor
  • Leakage of confidential information to unauthorized individuals
  • Staff Attrition
  • Workplace Accidents and Safety Incidents
  • Grievances
  • Absenteeism
  • Customer Complaints
  • Company financial performance

Your organization likely handles a lot of employee data that can help you at this stage, though you might have to put in some extra effort to “mine” the relevant information out of them. 

Focus groups
Training Needs Analysis - Focus Group

For the best results, you should bring together people within similar roles or within the same department/team and ask them about their training needs. Formulate a list of questions before the session based on the business objectives you set out for your TNA and use it as a guide throughout the session. However, don’t stick to it religiously if the conversation with employees takes you in an unexpected direction, as long as it is staying on the subject of their training needs. 

You may also want to think about exercises to stimulate participants’ thinking of creative solutions. You can ask all participants to brainstorm freely all of their training needs, then have them vote for the ideas they consider the most critical. 

Assessments & Questionnaires

You have four options for employing assessments in your analysis, and these will arguably be the most relevant type of data you can gather to answer the business question that you’re trying to answer specifically.

Training Needs Analysis - Assessments & Questionnaires

First, you can design a survey to ask the target employees about their thoughts on training needs, offering both closed and open questions. If you’re not planning to target training at individual groups or employees, you can opt for an anonymous survey, which is more likely to return you the full, unhindered picture of your employees’ learning needs. Admitting that we don’t have the right level of skill necessary for our jobs can feel quite risky and vulnerable. To make this tool even more powerful, you can invite customers and/or external stakeholders to complete the survey as well – depending on your use case.

Second, once you have some direction, and some hypotheses about their learning needs, you can ask the target employees to confirm (or infirm) your hunches using an attitudinal assessment [backlink?]. This can also help you ensure that the training options provided align with their expectations and learning styles.

Third, you can design tests that evaluate gaps [backlink] in knowledge, skills, or abilities, which will also inform you on the areas you should focus the training on. This will give you an unhindered image of the exact aspects your team needs to work on, and therefore cut down training costs later on.

Finally, you may opt for observational assessment and/or input. This requires the supervisor(s) to review employees’ activity on the job or on a simulated job task, according to pre-defined standards and rubrics.

Training Needs Analysis - Interview

One-to-one conversations with the employees involved, supervisors, management, or even external stakeholders can get you closer to the full picture of the intervention needed. For example, in order to prevent workplace accidents, in addition to hazard and safety training you may want to consider a change in safety procedures as well.

These will provide you with qualitative data to complement the quantitative information you collected through assessments.

Job task analysis

Sometimes reality doesn’t match what’s on paper. Employees might end up doing more than what’s on the job description out of necessity. Besides, the best people to ask what a job well done might look like are the ones actually doing the job. Therefore, you may want to liaise with employees directly to understand more about the current vs. desirable standards of work in their fields.

You can learn more about this method here [backlink].

Other methods

There’s a great variety of ways you can learn more about employees’ training needs. You may want to attend informal “coffee conversations” with business owners to pick their brains. Or otherwise, audit team meetings to observe employees in their work environment with an objective eye.

You may want to combine the methods described above or come up with more creative data collection methods for optimal results for your use case. 


Stay aware at all times that some of the data you are working with may be sensitive and/or confidential, particularly when identifying learning gaps. You must respect confidentiality and internal data handling procedures at all times.

  1. Outline the requirements to combat the skills gap

The information you gathered so far, particularly assessment results, should provide you with enough to start analyzing where the skills gap lies. You may find it helpful to summarise your findings in a report that answers the following questions:

  • What are the KSAs you have analyzed? Which employees have you targeted with your analysis?
    • Is any of these KSA critical? Is there any other way of prioritizing these KSA?
    • What are the learning styles of the target employees?
  • What are the performance standards on these KSA?
  • What have you learned about these employees’ levels on the KSA targeted?
    • What is the optimal way of presenting this data to other stakeholders? (table, graph, charts etc.)
  • What training is the organization currently offering that can help fill this gap?
    • Is this training effective?
  • What other types of training are available for this KSA? Are there any free options? (e.g. shadowing team members)
    • How effective are these?
    • What are the costs of each?
  • What is the budget available for this project?
    • What is the most effective type of training you can offer within that budget?

To wrap things up, you will want to outline a course of action based on the above. This might translate into one or more learning paths for the target employee(s) that combines different types of learning.

Design a training timeline

To make the next steps even more concrete, map the proposal you outlined at the previous point on a timeline. Consider any relevant external timelines provided by other departments, or by the market/industry your organization operates in. 

Make sure to prioritize learning on areas that are critical, by reviewing the cost of not training people; for example, if you identified that a learning gap causes workplace accidents, this is a clear indication that you should prioritize filling it.

Also, consider the learners’ availability and motivation. Depending on your industry, you might notice that certain times of the year are quieter for business, providing you with the best opportunity to push for learning instead.

Select the training format you want to use

Answering to the last few questions on the list will have generated a number of training options available to your organization. Some additional factors you should consider when choosing among these options to develop the learning path are 

  • How good is this learning method at filling the gap targeted?
  • What is the return on investment for this training method? (see the next point for more details on this)
  • Is any of these methods a legal requirement? (for example Health & Safety training in the food industry)
  • What is the amount of time the learner must set aside for this training method?
  • Does learning this KSA provide the organization with a competitive advantage?
  • Do we have any internal subject matter experts who can deliver learning on this KSA?
  • Does this type of training provide better learning benefits if taken in person or remotely?
    • What is the cost of each of these options?
  1. Evaluate performance with tailor-made assessments

You must measure and compare the effectiveness of learning methods both as part of the training needs assessment, as well as after training was implemented. As well as demonstrating to learners and business stakeholders the value brought by your recommended learning path, learning evaluation provides you with clear indications of where the learning gap lies and when it has been filled. 

Even though well-developed assessments are just as essential to learning as the fuel gauge is to a car, learning and development professionals have only just started adopting them, gradually. However, without a clear understanding and update on how the learning gap is progressing, most training will be a shot in the dark – and your learners will know this, hence the all-so-frequent apprehension to training conducted just to tick the box

In many cases though, this is not enough to demonstrate that the information taught has been absorbed, which is why you need reliable, valid, defensible assessments. To put things into perspective, consider once again the example of a learning gap that causes workplace accidents: has your organization really ensured the safety of its employees if it only provided the training without testing that the information was appropriate? Should the need arise, would this case be defensible in court? Some risks are more tangible than others, but learning gaps of any nature may cost the organization in the long run, if not in the short run as well.

Depending on your situation, the KSA you are training and the criticality of the learning gap in question, you have a range of options available to you. 

Certain types of training (especially certification courses) come with their own examination at the end, which provides you with a hopefully reliable indication of what has been learned. Lower-stakes training (think LinkedIn Learning or Coursera) may have a quiz at the end. Its purpose though isn’t to test knowledge but to consolidate learning and ensure that the learner paid attention. Other learning materials such as books, webinars, or coaching rarely come with any assessment at all. For the latter two cases, I recommend devising your own testing methods to ensure the relevance and validity of the tools you use.

Our blog and resources provide you with extensive information on how you may get started with your first assessment, tailored to your needs and expectations [backlink(s)].

What is the purpose of a training needs assessment?

Conducting a TNA ensures that you make conscious decisions about your employees’ time and your organization’s budget. While it is easy to fall back on the equality argument where everyone is provided with the same training opportunities, doing so ignores the individual learning requirements of each person and each role.

When should organizations run a training needs analysis?

Every learning decision your organization invests in should be informed by the findings of a training needs analysis. This doesn’t mean that you should conduct one before approving every training course. HR best practice recommends that you review the training needs of your organization when it crosses important milestones, such as changes in strategy, mergers, or acquisitions. Likewise, you may want to review a team’s or department’s training needs when it undergoes important shifts or takes on new projects. At the individual level, synchronize the training needs analysis with individual milestones, such as after hiring, at work anniversaries, or during performance reviews. You should never ignore any ad-hoc feedback or training requests regardless of their timing.

How to conduct training needs analysis as a small organization?

The process explained thus far may seem so resource expensive for organizations with limited or no dedicated L&D teams that it looks out of reach. This doesn’t mean that they’re spared of learning gaps, but indeed probably in most need, because they must operate with fewer employees who stretch across multiple functions at a time. Smaller organizations should appropriate the same principles outlined in the process above, but adapt them to their use case, with the following mentions:

  • Smaller business environments facilitate quicker communication with other stakeholders and a faster decision-making process. Use this to your advantage to consult the business owners on the matter and make the training happen quicker.
  • Prioritize less expensive or free learning resources where available, and carefully review any small-business preferential pricing. 
  • Explore alternative sources of funding, such as government support.
  • Initiate partnerships with learning institutions.
  • Encourage employees to come up with their own ideas for learning materials in the fields where they operate; they might surprise you.

Other Useful Resources

ROBSON, F. (2009) Learning needs analysis. CIPD Toolkit. London: CIPD.

CIPD Podcast: Aligning L&D with business objectives and emerging practices

Training and Development Needs Analysis Checklist

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