This article is part of a series focused on the Seven Elements of Needs Analysis. The Elements are: Curriculum Mapping, Know/Do/Believe, Defining the Audience, Designing a Learning Brand, Defining the Return on Investment, Building the Team, and Scoping the Project.
What you are about to read is a fable. The company, AshCom, is fictional, but the learning challenges faced by Kathryn, AshCom’s CLO, and her team are real and commonly shared by learning teams in corporations, non-profits, associations, and education. It is our hope that you will be able to connect with the characters, their challenges, and the solutions they discover. Building and following a Needs Analysis system is vital to the success of the learning opportunities we create.
Kathryn’s Road To Discovery
Careful, thorough, and methodical: these words described Kathryn to a tee. She liked systems and spent much of her time thinking about how various parts fit into the whole. This mental habit happened naturally at work and in most other areas of her life.
As Chief Learning Officer at AshCom, she worked hard to make sure the individual members of her learning team had solid relationships with one another. It was important that they trusted each other’s opinions and perspectives. She wanted them to fit well together.
Prior to the acquisition of Globex, they functioned like one of AshCom’s perfectly designed, well-oiled machines. They understood their goals, timelines, and production schedules. Everyone was clear in their role and supportive of the others.
AshCom’s acquisition of Globex changed everything. Adding Globex’s 2,500 employees to AshCom’s 4,500-member team would be challenging on several fronts. Globex had developed its own training system and course material. Its learning team was, like hers, experienced¾from what she read in their bios¾but she had not yet met them. Nor had any of their learning materials been made available to her.
Kathryn’s methodological approach to work (and life) meant that she spent a lot of time in front of the large whiteboard in her office. On this morning, she arrived early and did something atypical; she erased one entire side of the 4’x8’ mobile whiteboard in her office. She needed a clean slate.
In blue marker, she began to list the challenges. The first words on the board were “LEARNING CULTURE.” She understood the owners of AshCom had long ago placed high value on learning and, for the most part, the leadership and employees did too. Digital learning was a stretch for some, with a few serious resistors, but she and her team worked hard to make sure they gave space and support to those who were new to it. What would she find at Globex? What was the perfect formula for bringing together two different learning cultures, especially when one company was acquiring the other?
The blue marker squeaked as Kathryn wrote “REDUNDANCIES” across the whiteboard. She had not yet seen the learning material from Globex, so she could not yet answer the question. But her systematic mind imagined that there might be at least three categories of learning assets in trying to bring in learning materials from Globex:
- Some would be redundant.
- Some would no longer apply.
- While some might be an improvement over what existed at AshCom.
This would be a key point of discovery.
That thought led her to write “GAPS” in big blue letters. Was it possible that both companies had gaps in their learning? Could it be that both companies were missing vital training needs? This was one of those conundrums known as the ‘known unknown’ that made people like Kathryn ill at ease.
She decided it was time to stretch her legs and grab a refill. Both were helpful in clearing her mind. As she poured her coffee, Michael appeared at the coffee station, mug in hand.
Michael Sums It Up
Michael served as an advisor to Kathryn. He didn’t really know the details of how digital learning was created, but as a retired college professor with deep experience in higher ed administration, Michael was helpful in building strategy. He was a wealth of knowledge. That’s why Kathryn hired him. He served as her trusted advisor.
Michael asked a simple and common question. “Good morning, Kathryn. How’s it going?” Kathryn didn’t give her normal response. Instead, she hesitated for a moment and said something he had never heard her say before: “I’m stuck.”
He turned to face her. “That’s not like you. How can I help?”
Kathryn asked him if he could come back to her office and spend a little time sorting through some of what she’d written on her whiteboard. “Of course,” Michael replied. He appreciated her systematic mind and welcomed the opportunity to think through thorny problems.
Back in her office, Kathryn talked for more than 10 minutes straight. Michael did not interrupt but listened intently. Her expression was not one of fear, but it was obvious that she was in a loop. Her normally reliable whiteboard session was not giving her the clarity she needed to have a framework with which she could move forward.
Kathryn walked Michael through the words on the board and her thoughts surrounding them. She abruptly stopped and asked, “What do you think? Which of these should be my biggest concern at the start? Should I give my attention to learning culture, the possible redundancies, or the gaps that may exist between our learning and Globex?”
Business Training Needs: Know, Do, Believe
Michael didn’t answer immediately. Instead, he summarized what he heard for each of the three options and then asked, “Did I miss anything?”
“No,” said Kathryn, “That pretty much sums it up. So, what do you think?”
“All of them are important, and each one needs our attention,” he said, “but I want to suggest a framework from my time in higher ed that might be helpful. As you can imagine, with thousands of topics and hundreds of courses available in all the university’s learning offerings, we needed some big categories into which we would arrange things so we could make sense of them and see how they fit together.”
Michael stood up and said jokingly, “Okay if I take over your whiteboard for a minute?” Kathryn responded with a friendly smile and waved him forward. Michael took a red marker from the whiteboard ledge and wrote three words in large capital letters:
“In thinking through the big objectives of learning, we found these three buckets to be useful,” said Michael. “I’m not saying there might not be additional buckets or that others couldn’t swap out these terms for words of their own. We just found this to be a simple system for thinking through the objectives for the students who came to our university.”
Kathryn’s head cocked slightly. “Go on,” she said.
Michael explained that all courses on his campus had the objective of teaching students to know something, to be able to do something, or to believe something. Some courses contained all three objectives. Some were narrowly focused on one of the buckets.
“In the college setting,” Michael explained, “an internship in the nursing program might be heavily weighted toward being able to successfully accomplish a set of tasks. That’s Doing. Before the internship, there was often a prerequisite in which students were taught the basics of biochemistry and physiology. That’s Knowing. Before that, there might be a course on ethics in nursing so that students began with a deep respect for the human person. That’s Believing.”
The Three Buckets Of Needs Analysis
“Not only was it helpful to put things into the Know, Do, Believe buckets—of course recognizing that some fit in more than one—but it was also helpful to know in what order they should come. For our nursing programs, the ethical foundation was added to the study of the human body which was followed by the opportunity to put that knowledge into practice.”
“I see how that applies to higher education from what I remember when teaching my 100, 200, and 300 level courses at Upper Valley State University. But how will that help with what we need to do?” asked Kathryn.
“I think it helps us decide what we want for our learners,” Michael responded. “Even more broadly, it encourages us to consider what kind of company we want to become. The founding family of AshCom has been consistent in their mission and vision statements. From what I can tell, they have lived up to them to the best of their ability.”
“So,” said Kathryn, “you think I am thinking too small when I worry about learning cultures, redundancies, and possible gaps. You think I should ask a higher set of questions?”
“That’s my advice, which is what I’m paid to give,” said Michael. “I’m not saying culture, redundancies, and gaps aren’t important. I’m suggesting that you begin with the broad system, which is what you usually do anyw