Many business owners or HR professionals who are responsible for purchasing training for their professional services firm are inexperienced with the process. The training industry is a fragmented industry, filled with large global vendors through…
Before any professional services firm delves into training and development, the first action should always be to identify and assess training needs. It is counter-productive to offer training to staff who do not need it or to offer the wrong kind of training. A Training Needs Analysis (TNA) puts your, often limited, training resources to the best possible use.
Indeed, an excellent training program should never cost your organisation anything. It should provide a positive return on your investment in the form of increased productivity, improved employee retention, or lower overall costs.
Traditional TNA often assesses training requirements in a three-level hierarchical order:
- Organisational needs
- Task or job function needs
- Individual needs
This approach is fine if you have dedicated training staff who can organise all the various results.
We often find that for professional services firms, the traditional-style TNA falls short. Let’s consider a more practical approach which focuses training resources on precise objectives.
This approach can be broken down into six steps to analyse your firm’s training needs.
Step 1: Determine the desired outcome
Your firm needs to articulate the goal of the training. More directly – what are the expected business outcomes of the training?
Training should correspond to business objectives. It’s that simple. Objectives can be specific to a person, department or the entire firm. When business objectives lead training needs, you will prevent a vast range of training problems from arising later.
When the ultimate goal of training is identified, it can be clearly communicated which keeps the entire TNA process on track. Start by asking the question, “How will we know that the training has worked?”. From this end goal, you can work backwards to the correct training solution.
Examples of ultimate goals are:
- Improve client service satisfaction ratings
- Increase the success rates on sales proposals
- Improve employee morale through management supervision
- Reduce the time required to prepare client advice
Step 2: Determine competencies which drive the desired outcomes
From these identified business outcomes, there will be associated staff behaviours. These behaviours are a result of staff:
- Knowing what to do
- Having the capability to do it
- Having the motivation to do it
At this step in the process, a firm should identify the behaviours, knowledge, skills, abilities, personal characteristics linked to desired business outcomes. This is usually achieved by collecting information from subject matter experts within the business.
Identifying these competencies may take the form of interviews, focus groups or surveys. Regardless of the method used, the data collected should result in linking each competency with the desired business goal.
Think of it as a formula. If the desired result is X, what combination of A, B and C typically result in the outcome of X? A, B and C being skills, knowledge, personal characteristics and so on.
A rating scale is often used to assess the importance of specific competencies. For example, you could ask ‘How important is [competency] successful performance in [desired outcome]?’ and use a ranking from 1 (not at all) to 5 (extremely).
We recommend that you focus on ratings with an average of at least four to ensure only competencies that are deemed critical are considered for inclusion in other TNA steps.
Step 3: Identify which competencies are trainable
Once you have identified a series of competencies which can drive desired business outcomes, we now need to consider if the solution is training. Not every competency can be improved through training.
For example, a business development role may require staff to be outgoing and initiate conversations with total strangers. It may be more effective, then, to only hire people who are already extroverts, rather than to attempt to train introverts to be more outgoing. Similarly, it may be more useful to hire people with specialised knowledge, than to educate them on complex issues.
You should evaluate each critical competency from Step 2 and determine if each one is something you expect staff to possess before entering that role.
In addition to recruitment, there are two other issues which should be identified and, if needed, addressed before selecting training as a solution.
- Is the reason your staff fail to achieve the desired business outcome simply due to inadequate resources? This may indicate that staff are under-resourced and are already too busy. They lack priorities and are just struggling to keep up. Perhaps staff cannot access required resources like IT, travel or tools to do the job required of them. In both cases, training will not solve the problem.
- Is the reason your staff fail to achieve the desired business outcome simply due to misaligned remuneration? If your staff are paid to achieve other outcomes, then they will focus on those outcomes. This includes any key performance indicators. If your relationship management staff are asked to increase new business, but their KPIs do not include any new business metrics, then it is unlikely they will change their behaviours. If there is any misalignment of remuneration, then training will also not solve the problem.
The issues of recruitment, resourcing and remuneration should be identified alongside your competency table. What remains should provide you with a list of critical competencies that are amenable to training.
Step 4: Evaluate existing staff competencies
With a targeted list of competencies, you can now determine the extent to which your employees possess these desired competencies. The most often used methods for this are:
- Competency evaluations
- Tests or assessments
Competency evaluation surveys are best used to evaluate observable behaviours. This can be done by taking the critical competencies from Steps 2 and 3 and having knowledgeable people, usually managers, rate the targeted staff’s behaviours.
When assessing managers or executives, you can use multiple observers, including peers, subordinates and clients, to evaluate competency (often via a 360-degree survey).
Competency evaluation surveys become less effective the more you have to infer unobservable competencies such as ability, skills and personality. Evaluation of these competencies is better done through the use of tests and assessments.
There are many tests available to measure specific skills, abilities and personality characteristics. However, choosing the right test should be done in coordination with a testing professional with skill in this area. Care should be taken in selecting tests that provide a valid measure of the targeted competency. Without care, it is easy to spend considerable money on these assessments for results which are either vague, not relevant or don’t match your requirements.
If you want to measure specialised knowledge or effectiveness in a specific area of work custom-designed assessments are a recommended alternative. These can range from multiple choice job knowledge tests, through to elaborate job simulations. For example, an instrumental approach to measuring the training needs of managers is using an assessment centre, comprised of different role-play exercises that parallel managerial situations.
Once again, this can be a big spend and effort to organise, but if your desired business outcome is to, say, improve management, then this assessment process might be a justified – or even required – spend.
Step 5: Determine performance gaps
Next, individual results should be combined to assess how many staff are in need of improvement in particular competencies.
To do this, you first need to determine what constitutes a ‘performance gap’. That will vary from firm to firm. Some firms set higher standards than others.
Setting that standard will provide you with an understanding of how many staff fall above or below that standard. Traditionally, those falling below would be considered to be in need of training. However, high performing staff should also be targetted for training in advance or extension areas. High performing staff identified in this step can also be used as subject matter experts for training content or delivery later on.
Step 6: Prioritise training needs
Finally, you should aggregate the results from Step 5 with information on the performance gap pervasiveness. That is, you should total how many, or what percentage, of the targeted workforce needs the training. You should also consider the importance of the competency (see Step 2).
Together, pervasiveness and importance should result in a list of training priorities. From there, you can start to think about how to source content for that training and the various training delivery methods in your professional services training guidebook.