Thursday, March 8, 2012

Planning a Needs Assessment

            Conducting a needs assessment is one of the first steps in the instructional design process. It helps a designer determine if training is the right answer to a company’s performance problem, if the program has the right content and objectives, if the trainees are properly skilled for the program, if it will actually deliver the desired results, and if the training is actually necessary (Noe, 2011). There are three step to a needs assessment; organization analysis, task analysis and person analysis.  I will use Whole Foods Market as my example for demonstrating these three steps.

            Whole Foods Market is the world’s leader in natural and organic foods, and has more than 300 stores in North America and the United Kingdom ( The company that was started in 1980 has a mission based on three things – whole foods, whole people and whole planet. The company has 7 core values:
·         selling the highest quality natural and organic products available
·         satisfying and delighting their customers
·         supporting team member happiness and excellence
·         creating wealth through profit and growth
·         caring about their communities and the environment
·         creating ongoing win-win partnerships with their suppliers
·         promoting the health of their stakeholders through healthy eating education

           With almost any large venture taken in an organization a great first step is to get buy in. Because training is becoming a way to help companies achieve strategic goals I would include upper and mid-level manages, trainers, and employees (Noe, 2011). Whole Foods has an elaborate leadership team of regional presidents, VPs, officers and an impressive board of Directors, each of which is a stakeholder. There are also store managers, employees, certified partners and the most important stakeholder, the customer. Each of them has concerns and requirements for the training. Upper-level managers can help determine how the training is relevant to the company’s business strategy, the type of
training that is needed, and who needs the training. Mid-Level managers can also help determine who needs the training, how it will affect the budget, and what positions will be positively impacted by the trainings. The trainers are “primarily interested in needs assessment to provide them with information that they need to administer, develop, and support training programs” (Noe, 2011).

           The three steps to a needs analysis are not performed in a particular order. But the organizational analysis is usually conducted first because it can determine whether the training fits with the company’s strategic objectives, and if the company has the time, budget or expertise for the training (Noe, 2011). The company’s main focus is to sell the highest quality food at the most competitive prices. This would require cutting costs in other areas, and if money can be saved by improving employee productivity with the training there is a great chance it will get the support needed from management and trainers.

How does this training align with the company’s seven core values?
Which of your experts can help develop the program content?
What might customers, certified partners, and stakeholders need to know about this training program?
How will this training be perceived by our employees?
(based on questions from Nickols, 2005 & Tannenbaum, 2002)
           The second step would be the person analysis, to identify the employees that needed the training and “the factors that influence performance and learning (Noe, 2011).  I would interview several employees and look for recurring trends in the interview data to measure person characteristics, input, output, consequences, and feedback (Noe, 2011). To get a better understanding I would ask the store and warehouse employees the following questions in an interview setting:
Do you feel that your new hire training fully prepared you for your current position?
Do you feel motivated to do your job?
Does anything keep you from feeling 100% successful in your work day?
Is there a skill that you would like to learn that would help you do your job better?

            The final step would be the task analysis. This is a “description of work activities including tasks performed by employees and the knowledge, skills, and abilities to complete the tasks” (Noe, 2011). I would start this process by having managers and workers give descriptions of the different positions. This could be done using questionnaires and interviews. I would use these two techniques because they are inexpensive and I can collect and summarize data from a great deal of people (Noe, 2011). I would take the different descriptions and compare them to the actual job descriptions the company keeps on file, to determine if there is a collective understanding of the requirements for each job and task. Then I would observe the actual work being done in each position to determine if the workers have the ability to do the jobs and tasks. I will also take into consideration the working conditions and the impact they have on the completion of different tasks. By using an observation in this portion of the analysis process I can be bale to generate data that is relevant to the work environment while minimizing the level of interruptions (Noe, 2011).

            If the performance problem is due to employees not having the knowledge or skill needed to perform a task, training is most likely the best answer. But this cannot be known until a needs assessment has been done. Even if there is limited time and resources, it is wise to conduct even a small one to determine your course of action.


Nickols, F., “Why a stakeholder approach to evaluating training”. Advances in developing human resources (February 2005): 121-134;

Noe, R. A. (2010). Employee training and development (5th ed.). New York, NY: McGraw Hill.

Tannenbaum, S., “A strategic view of organizational training and learning”. Creating, implementing, and managing effective training and development, ed. K. Kraiger (San Fransico: Jossey-Bass, 2002): 10-52.

Photos from


  1. Hi Danielle,

    I concur with your opinion that only the lack of knowledge can be addressed by training (Noe, 2010). and the decision to conduct training can’t be taken before knowing that training is the real answer to the performance problem. Noe, 2010 stated “ the first step in successful training effort is to determine whether training is necessary, this process should be completed by conducting a needs analysis” From Whole Foods Market website, I get the impression of a very well establish and efficient organization, but you have been able to conduct a through and effective need analysis. Great effort, thanks for sharing the ideas.


    Noe, R. A. (2010). Employee training and development (5th ed.). New York, NY: McGraw Hill.

  2. Danielle;

    Your incorporation of Whole Foods graphics is excellent. You answered all four of the questions Dr. Mike asked us to address. I thought the questions you asked in each section were well thought out. Identifying the managers was important, also, because the goal of needs assessment is to determine whether a training need exists, who it exists for, and for what tasks training is needed, it is important to include managers, trainers, and employees in the needs assessment process (Noe, 2010).


    Noe, R. A. (2010). Employee training and development (5th ed.). New York, NY: McGraw Hill.

  3. Danielle – You have presented a nice approach to planning a needs assessment for this organization. I can image that having a workforce distributed across the country might make developing a training plan challenging. For instance there may be regional differences that impact performance issues. Do you have any ideas about how the designer might address the distributed workforce in planning for the needs assessment?

  4. Alexis,

    That is a great question. If there is a regional issue or difference I think the training should be created for the areas that are impacted by the performance gap. There is no sense in using time or money on an issue where it does not exist.

  5. Dani,
    Good use of graphics for your presentation. I liked that you started by identifying the mission and 7 core values of Whole Foods for your analysis. Good job identifying the different stakeholders. Make sure you involve the "certified partners" and customers in your data collection strategies; especially in the task analysis phase. Interviewing the employees is a good strategy for collecting data for the person analysis. Who might you interview or what documents could be reviewed to verify your findings during this phase?
    I like the fact you're using a variety of data collection methods to triangulate your findings during the task analysis. Doing observations and reviewing the actual job descriptions will help verify if a gap exists between current performance and expected performance. Good overall needs assessment plan.