3 ways to improve your L&D needs analysis and drive organisational growth

Written by Kai Xin Koh


It’s the time of the year again when Learning and Development managers plan for the year ahead. Sending a survey to gather insights about the learning needs is a common practice, but exactly how useful would these insights be? Will the data collected help L&D managers strategise learning initiatives that can drive organisational value and performance? 

The answer lies in how your questions are crafted. In the article “Is your feedback form effective?”, we explored the importance of designing purposeful questions that can solicit insightful responses. We can take the same approach for the Employee Learning Needs Surveys by being clear on: 

  1. The objectives behind the questions; and
  2. The types of questions to ask to help you achieve your objectives.

There are three areas to consider for purposeful and actionable insights from your employees. These areas can potentially save you massive amounts of money from implementing learning solutions that don’t deliver outcomes.

Different learning motivations Learning needs analysis Highspark

1. Look beyond the “What” and understand the “Why”.

“What skills do you want to learn?” is a standard question. 

A generic question like this would typically generate generic responses such as “communication skills, presentation skills, facilitation skills”.  While the question helps to identify relevant programme topics, it doesn’t offer insights into how the suggested skills:

  • are essential in enabling the learners’ to perform better at work; or
  • can support them in career progression (upwards or sideways); or
  • would help the teams or organisation excel.

Furthermore, the same responses may be given but with very different sets of motivations. 

Same-same, but different

For example, if both Sandy and Andrew indicate their interest to improve their presentation skills, without digging deeper into the “WHY” behind their responses, L&D managers may conclude that a presentation course is the solution. However, upon a closer look, Sandy and Andrew require different learning interventions to reach their desired outcome.

Sandy’s motivations and desires: 
  • Feel more confident to voice out her ideas during meetings.
  • Be perceived as competent and as a result, increase her chances of being selected for a leadership position. 
Andrew’s motivations and desires:
  • Help customers understand complex concepts for the projects he handles, so they see the value of his recommendations. 
  • Be trusted to manage bigger and more sophisticated projects.

Their learning objectives and outcomes are vastly different. Prescribing a generic presentation course to them doesn’t take into consideration their contextual needs and definitely won’t help them achieve their goals.

Here are a few follow-up questions you can include to remove ambiguity in responses: 

  • Why is this skill important to you?
  • Describe how this skill can enable you to excel at work
  • Describe the (personal or work) challenges that this skill can help you to address 

Note: The word “Describe” prompts the surveyor to elaborate their responses. This allows you to capture more nuances.


Result oriented training Learning needs analysis Highspark

2. Consider the most effective way to turn skills into results

Managers have to look beyond the process of learning to ensure that any solutions prescribed would be effective in achieving their goals. Learning is only the beginning. What gets your learners, teams, and organisation the results is the application of the skills, yet many learners struggle to apply what they’ve learnt. 

There are times when programmes are well-run and well-received but soon after the programme, learners revert to the default. This is as though the training didn’t take place at all! 

It is not the learners’ fault

One may reason that the learners weren’t committed enough to apply learnings but from our findings, most reasons are beyond the learners’ control. Two classic examples are:

Example 1: Lack of alignment


“My direct boss isn’t aligned to the best practices of effective presentations. I couldn’t convince him, and he kept revising my work. So, I gave up. If only my boss attended this course!”


Example 2: Lack of opportunities


“I haven’t had the opportunity to present my ideas for the past 2 months. Hence, I can’t practise”


There are also times when the learning solutions were well-designed but learners felt that they weren’t useful in helping them achieve their goals. Rather than tackling these obstacles after the learning initiative has concluded, you can prevent them from surfacing.


Consider including these questions in your L&D needs survey to set your learners up for success: 


What have you tried to get better at X?
What worked and didn’t work?

If the employees have attended fundamental courses in the past, you can plan programmes to reinforce their existing knowledge rather than sending them for another similar course. You can also adopt elements that are effective and avoid pitfalls.


What are some reasons/potential reasons that are stopping you from getting better at X?

You may find that employees aren’t skilled in certain areas not because they aren’t interested to learn but because they struggle to find time to do so. If this is a common challenge across teams, L&D teams can consider micro-learning or speaking to team leads to dedicate a specific amount of time in a month to learning.


What needs to be considered in order to ensure skills can be applied at work?

This allows L&D teams to set up processes and involve relevant stakeholders who are critical to the success of the learning. These insights can also help training partners take into account the organisation’s contextual requirements to customise programmes and materials.


What would be the most effective way for you to get better at X?
Give a score for the following so that they add up to 100.
    1. On-the-job coaching by an expert
    2. Mentoring from boss  
    3. Learning from peers 
    4. Teaching peers 
    5. Project-based learning 
    6. Structured classroom learning
    7. Micro-learning
    8. Others

Notes: You may list a few options for learners to choose from but always leave room for alternative suggestion(s) to unearth new possibilities.   


Ask positive questions Learning needs analysis Highspark

3. Positive framing of questions

While one of the objectives for the Learning Needs Analysis is to unearth competency gaps, we have to be careful around using words with negative connotations. “Gaps” is one such word. 

This is especially so when a survey form isn’t kept anonymous. One may hesitate to provide honest feedback to HR or L&D teams with the fear that it may affect their work appraisal. Would revealing more gaps create a perception that they are incompetent? Competent people have little to improve, isn’t it? 


To tackle these, you can:

Avoid questions such as: “What would you like to improve?”

This can make learners feel that they are lacking in something and deter them from being transparent about their gaps for fear it may affect their performance appraisal. 

Instead, use questions such as “What skills would help you excel even more at your current job?”

This is empowering as we are looking for ways to support them and help them to shine even brighter. This may allow you to uncover performance goals that aren’t on the standard list, m e.g. Productivity.  



Parting thoughts:

With these considerations, you will be able to cover both breadth and depth in your survey of learning needs. 

Most importantly, purposeful and thoughtfully crafted questions will offer you valuable insights to guide you in designing an L&D initiative that delivers results. 

After all, money spent on learning solutions that aren’t outcome-driven becomes an expense rather than an investment to the organisation. 

P.S: Yes, you might be doubling the length of your survey and having employees spend more time completing it. But if we look at the bigger picture, what’s 10 more minutes as compared to many hours of training that doesn’t work? 



Photo credits: @stories via Freepik.com

Article Written By: Kai Xin Koh

Co-founder and Head of training at HighSpark, Kai Xin's super power is to empower high-performing individuals win more hearts and minds through persuasive communications. She was recently one of the only 20 Singaporeans to be honoured on the Forbes30Under30 Asia list. Beyond business, Kai Xin makes time for meditation, is determined to lead her life mindfully, and aspire to unveil the magic of the mind.

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