"Not Really A Waitress" Red

I have written about the need for doing some form of needs assessment before. I feel that it is time to do so again.

My sister’s favorite nail color was, “Not Really a Waitress” red. I bring this up because the idea of being an “order taker” comes to mind, every time I think of learning and instructional designers who don’t do any form of needs assessment, nor present the stakeholders with a report analyzing what they learned in the process. The information gathered is vital to a successful outcome. How can anyone choose to skip this step?

Now, being a “waitress” is nothing to be ashamed of. And, goodness knows, it is likely that many of them have made more money than I have over the years. I concede, waitress is a noble profession.

But, did you got to school and acquire the many skills needed to become an instructional designer, only to take orders? If so, you could have saved yourself the agony of studying and you and/or your parents a lot of money.

My personal bias is that blinded by using the many tools available to designers, the need to be curious has faded away. When someone says, “we need a course”, the designer’s assumption is they mean something created in one or the other rapid tool and appended to the LMS. So, that is what the ID does. However many hours later, the course is done. Check the box. On to the next order. Just like a “waitress” or short order cook.

Wait a minute! Just wait a cotton pickin’ minute. Whatever happened to asking questions to find out whether a “course” is actually what is needed? How do the learners prefer to learn this content? Without asking the questions and conducting some sort of investigation, how would the ID know whether this is really a performance and coaching issue that doesn’t need a course at all. The ID wouldn’t. They would need to stretch beyond the order taking and go find out.

Assessing the Needs

Needs assessment has the reputation of being onerous and time consuming. It doesn’t have to be either. Nor, a resource drain, either. In my “Needs Assessment: Do Something. Anything!” sessions, I challenge attendees to consider what is possible in their organization and setting. I also challenge them to start doing something. Gentle reader, consider yourself challenged with the same. To ponder:

  • If an email survey, or series of survey questions, is what will work in your setting, do that.
  • How about posting a series of questions on flip chart paper in the break room, near the time clock, at the employee entrance, or other common area where potential participants might weigh in? All of them at once. Or, post a new one every day.
  • Gather an internal focus group(s), whether you meet in person or use an app, like SharePoint or whatever the equivalent is in the organization, to convene an invitation only group to post questions and gather responses. (Time sensitive, of course)
  • Convene a quick brainstorming session. (Emphasis on quick.) Maybe during lunch time? (Feed them, if you have a budget. People show up for free food!) Only goal for the 30-45 minutes is to generate as many thoughts and ideas, as possible. Organize pairs or small groups and equip them with a provocative thought or question, packs of Post-It Notes and markers. Note: For geographically disbursed teams, this can also be done online, as well. Use one of the many free/low cost whiteboarding apps available. And, enterprise web conference tools, like WebEx, have a white board feature already built in.
  • Bottom Line: Ask the people who do the work that is most affected by this new or updated content. Any way you can. Take good notes.

Compile the Assessment Results

Yes, depending on the method(s) used to gather information, this part can be a bit time consuming. But, oh so informative, too. And will provided information to be used in future endeavors, as well. Pull your team together, buy some pizza and parse through it. Group like info together, count the responses and record it in some fashion.

Analysis Report

You know your organizational culture and what form, or format, this information needs to be presented in. For some, it would be a short meeting called to discuss the findings. For others, an email or more formal memo will do. Things to include in the report:

  • Number of people who responded.
  • Quantity of responses received.
  • Time frame for collection of the information.
  • Questions and provocative thoughts posed to the respondents.
  • General overview of responses received.
  • Your well-considered suggestions for providing the learning, based on the feedback received. Note: Think outside of the “e” course when it makes sense.
  • Expected time frames and resources needed for delivery of each solution proposed.

At the risk of being “Captain Obvious”, the larger the initiative means the greater the effort needed. Here’s hoping these few ideas will inspire you to do some form of needs assessment from today forward.

If what you've read seems like something you'd like to talk more about, contact me, TODAY.