Training needs analysis practice essay
The following post is an essay researched and written in anticipation of an exam question for the module Training and Development in pursuit of the Organizational Psychology Master's qualification within the University of London's International Programmes (Birkbeck College). Excerpts may be be used with the citation:
Aylsworth, J. (2011). Using TNA to determine the need for training. (url) Accessed: (Month year).
Exam essay question:
"Blanchard and Thacker (2007) wrote: 'Most problems identified by managers as requiring training actually do not require training.' Which of the available models of Training Needs Analysis offers trainers the best practical guidance for identifying both when training is, and when it is not, the correct solution for an identified gap between actual and desired performance? Justify your choice."
The Need for Training
Identifying when training is needed – or not – is an important issue because of the financial, temporal and human resources that are wasted when training is not the solution. Further, when training is the solution, information gained during needs analysis is intended to inform training design, criteria development and, ultimately, the basis for evaluation of the training itself (Dierdorf & Surface, 2008). However, most companies that implement training do so without conducting a systematic analysis of the need for it (Arthur et al., 2003).
We will start by explaining TNA and then challenging the certainty implicit in Blanchard and Thacker’s statement. Then, we will look at three models for their practical relevance in guiding the practitioner in revealing when training is not the solution. We will conclude that performance analysis (PA) is the most practical model.
TNA (training needs analysis) is the first stage of the strategic training cycle (Arnold, Silvester et al., 2004). Broadly, it consists of organizational analysis and of task/job analysis. Although TNA is the term we will use, we intend it to encompass “learning” as well as “training” – e.g. TLNA (CPID, 2009).
Training has some definitional issues, the key one being whether outcomes should focus on the trainees as individuals (DOE, 1971) or are more related to organizational effectiveness (Hinrichs, 1976). “Learning” goes beyond “training” to address “cognitive changes in the trainees’ knowledge base, leading to integration in the individual’s existing framework” (Goldstein & Ford, 2002). Development can be the result of training for personal growth (Goldstein & Ford, 2002), or it can be considered as part of training (Aguinis & Kraiger, 2009).
In addition to writing that most problems identified as requiring training do not actually require training, Blanchard and Thacker (2007) say that the problems in question are more likely due to a poor match between organizational structure (e.g. reward/punishment incongruities, inadequate feedback or systemic obstacles) versus performance expectations. They also claim that a TLNA will reveal the real problem.
These are rather positivist statements, given that they can be argued but certainly not proven. It’s not clear to us how the effectiveness of TLNA could be assumed to be a property of the method versus the context in which it is used. It seems quite likely that the organizational obstacles just mentioned could also preclude the effective use of even the most practical model of TLNA.
However, we can still consider which of the available models might offer the most practical guidance to trainers.
Models of TLNA
OTP. McGehee and Thayer’s (1961) organization, task, person (OTP) model underlies most other approaches to TNA (Holton et al., 2000). Because it is a top-down approach, with analysis of each level informing the one below, it “should” begin with an examination of the organization’s strategic goals and objectives as well as the training transfer climate – in effect, the organization’s culture.
Here, the trainer looking for practical guidance is already in trouble. First, if training is already being considered, especially with the endorsement of upper management, the political climate may not favor OTP. It’s difficult to imagine how a trainer – without an analysis of performance discrepancies at the individual or task level – would suggest to upper management that the “problem” might be due to poorly specified, conflicting or rapidly changing organizational goals. Further, it is often quite difficult to identify what the organization is actually doing with regard to its goals versus what it is actually doing.
So, although OTP has dominated the academic literature, as Taylor et al., (1998) point out, it offers little of practical value to practitioners. We agree.
Performance Analysis (PA). Unlike OTP, PA has been popular with practitioners, according to Taylor et al., (1998). However Thompson, Eriksen-Brown et al., (2009) are surprised that PA is not used more often. If OTP is a top-down approach, then PA is bottom-up since it begins with the individual. PA typically focuses on discrepancies between actual and expected performance (e.g. Mager & Pipe, 1984) or between “exemplary and average” performers (Gilbert, 1978).
While PA begins with the individual, it also takes non-individual influences into consideration, influences such as “structural features and reward systems” (Thompson, Eriksen-Brown et al., 2009). The model is also more feasible politically. Unlike OTP, it arms the trainer with individual- and task-level relevant discrepancy information to bolster the case when issues of organizational structure and climate, for example, may need to be addressed.
But PA is not perfect. Defining performance, for example, has always been problematic (Campbell, McCloy et al., 1993), and making organizations effective simply by changing individuals has an impressive track record of failure (Katz & Kahn, 1978). Taylor et al., (1998) also point out that neither PA nor OTP addresses the application of training for continuous improvement.
The integrative model
Integrating OTP and PA, while also allowing for continuous improvements, Taylor et al., (1998) propose a model where the levels are not only integrated; external factors, such as organizational influences that cannot be changed through training, are also accommodated. However, even Taylor et al., (1998) acknowledge that the external factors do not yet fit into a clear taxonomy, and the integrative model has not really been tested. Those two elements, in our opinion, make it impractical for the trainer, though it is certainly coherent and well-argued. If it could somehow be made practical, the integrative model does have the potential to reveal what kind of training is needed and where, as well as when training is not the solution.
Before concluding, it’s worth mentioning that performance analysis may be useful in identifying gaps if, in fact, organizations are already using it, though difficulties in measuring performance are well-acknowledged (Campbell, McCloy et al., 1993).
We also could have explored Bramley’s Effectiveness Model (1999), which offers the benefits of linking training with outcomes, and posits that performance is some function of ability x motivation x opportunity. We did not cover it because it is probably most applicable for high-level managerial jobs (Bramley, 1990), and we have tried to focus on content that is most relevant at a general level.
We conclude by emphasizing that TNLA can never be a one-size-fits all proposition – and re-emphasizing our assertion that the usefulness of any method of TLNA is context-dependent. While OTP and even the integrative model offer theoretical insights, PA is the best candidate from a practical perspective for real trainers in real organizations, where constraints on limited resources and political issues cannot be ignored. Our final point, going back to Arthur et al’s., (2003) claim that training is usually implemented without a TLNA: The straightforwardness of PA makes it a good candidate for a starting point.
Exam performance: This writer is uncertain as to whether this essay or a different one was written under exam conditions. However, the essay that was used resulted in a pass for the module.