In the first of our weekly columns on the world of recruitment, Viv Redgrave tells why training must start with a needs analysis...

We all understand the important role that training has in helping to develop the full potential of staff. It is key that training is relevant, properly targeted and its success measured.

Sending people on courses without this usually means that valuable budget is wasted. Carrying out a Training Needs Analysis (TNA) is a good starting point. It is also a very visible signal to staff that the company is committed to providing a development and learning culture.

Involving staff in the process directly means that they can take ownership of their own development and take on board the ethos of ongoing self-assessment. The results of the TNA also provide the material to set up Personal Development Plans.

So, with all these advantages, how do you conduct a TNA?

You can begin by designing questionnaires aimed at each role or business area. These should cover knowledge, skills and behaviour. These questionnaires can be distributed, but are better completed as part of a face to face discussion. This adds to the person's involvement and also enables additional information to be gained. Canvassing the views of line managers on staff training needs should also add value to the process.

Monitoring is another technique – this is especially beneficial for call centre or telephone-based staff. Listening to a conversation will enable you to determine areas for development - some of these may be affecting the service customers are receiving. Training needs can then be defined and the training can be designed that is close to the real situation.

The methods used to monitor can include staff surveys, customer satisfaction surveys and mystery shopping exercises. Mystery shopping is valuable. This involves setting up dummy customer records then researching the service provided by mirroring customer contacts in a variety of ways.

Who should carry out the TNA? Areas such as products, procedures and workloads/targets tend to be better evaluated by internal staff. Behavioural and attitudinal skills and technical competence are often better evaluated by external trainers, unless there are strong in-house skills.

Once the TNA has been completed, full training plans can be formulated. These can also form part of Personal Development Plans. For most companies, sourcing the training usually means a blend of internal and external resources.

External trainers should be expert in your industry and be able to tailor their course material to meet your specific needs. Off-the shelf-training packages rarely provide an ideal solution. The ability to select modules and have the training made very relevant to your business should be regarded as important.

The final part of the equation is to ensure training has been successful. That means more than obtaining delegate feedback that they enjoyed the course. It means finding ways to objectively measure improvements.

The measures of success should be agreed prior to the training. These can take the form of greater job satisfaction, improved productivity, lower staff turnover, better customer service – and many more.

  • Viv Redgrave is senior training consultant at Searchlight Solutions.