Friday, May 13, 2011

Week 2 – Planning for a Needs Assessment

Assignment: Assume that you have been asked to perform a needs assessment for one of the listed companies (not shown here). Try to get a sense of the organization's products and/or services, consumers, management philosophy, and strategic objectives. Based on this, how might you approach the needs assessment? Answer the following questions (questions are asked and answered in the below entry). Post a blog entry that describes your plan for performing a needs assessment at your chosen organization.

What stakeholders would you want to make sure to get buy-in from?

Whole Foods Market
Photo courtesy of Whole Foods Market®
Whole Foods Market is a natural and organic food chain with more than 300 stores in North America and the United Kingdom. Currently there are 54,000 team members as well as a Leadership Team (comprised of C0-Chief Executive Officer, Presidents, Executive Vice Presidents, Vice Presidents, etc) and a Board of Directors. Although this organization is very collaborative, it is unrealistic to expect to get buy-in from everyone. I think the most important stakeholders to get initial buy-in from would be the Executive Team (E-Team), made up of the top five members from the leadership team. I think these are the initial people who would give the green light to proceed with a needs assessment. Following these five, it would be the whole leadership team, the board of directors and of course anyone whom I speak with during the needs assessment. I think buy-in is an ongoing process. Once one has buy-in from the top stakeholders, it is imperative that the consultant conducting the needs assessment understands that buy-in at all levels is critical. Without buy-in from all team members involved, sabotage is a potential barrier to an accurate assessment.

What questions would you ask (and to whom would you address them) during the organizational, person, and task analysis phases?

Organization Analysis

For the organizational analysis I would ask questions of the Executive Team and perhaps some of the other presidents so that I cover the major divisions of the company. The intention would be to get a clear view of the company's basic philosophy, culture and strategic goals. As well as an understanding of how the company is performing in relationship to the goals and expectations of the stakeholders. In addition I would want an understanding of their views on how a strategic training program would support the business needs as well as employee development. Some of the questions I would ask would be: (note: this represents some of the questions, there would likely be more to get what I need)

What are your core mission, values and strategic goals?
How does the organization perform in relation to the expectations of the stakeholders?
What corporate need is this program going to address?
What is the current level of performance? What is the desired level?
Should organizational resources be devoted to this program?
What do we need from the leadership team, managers, and team members for this training to succeed?
What training resources are available?
How will employees perceive the training (as an opportunity, reward, or punishment)?

Person Analysis

Once the organizational analysis is complete, I will have a better understanding of the performance issues and can begin to analyze the factors that influence performance and learning. Person analysis helps to identify whose performance is below expected levels, what are the factors that cause the performance to be below expected levels, and is training an option to elevate performance. Following are some of the questions which I would ask. These questions would be asked of managers and team members.


Do the employees know how to perform effectively?
Have they been effective previously?
What should employees being doing now that they are not doing?
Can the employees demonstrate the correct knowledge or behavior?
What is preventing them from reaching the goal you have envisioned?
Are performance expectations clear? Do they know the standards that are expected of them?
Is good performance recognized and rewarded?
Do they have the necessary resources, job aids to perform their duties?
What actions have been taken to increase performance?

Team Members:

Can you find information related to how to perform your job?
Do you believe you have the necessary skills to do your job?
Do you believe you have sufficient knowledge to do your job?
Do you understand the standards you are expected to meet?
Is the feedback you receive related to these standards?
Do you have the right tools, materials and supplies to do your job?

Task Analysis

To conduct the task analysis, I would ask questions of subject-matter experts: managers and employees who are familiar with and proficient at the specified job. Important to the task analysis is to focus on the tasks necessary to accomplish the company's goals and objectives.Some of the questions which I would ask would be:

What is the expected output of that task?
How do you know if the task is done correctly or incorrectly?
What are some indicators?
What is the outcome if the task is done correctly?
What do you do if it is done incorrectly?
How often do you do the task?
How critical is the task for effective performance?
How do you know it is time to do the task?
What tools or resources do you used to do the task?

What documents or records might you ask to see?

I would be interested in viewing documents related to their mission, vision, strategic goals. I would want to see records pertaining to the company's performance over the last few years. I would be interested in viewing records of customer feedback including complaints and compliments. In addition I would want to see the various job descriptions with specified job requirements, and any policy and procedure manuals.

What techniques would you employ (see Table 3.2 on page 108 of the Noe text), and why?

I would attempt to use as many needs assessment techniques as I could. No one method is superior to another, and they all have advantages and disadvantages. Clearly I would review corporate documents, including manuals, policies, procedures, job descriptions and related tasks. These documents would give me an idea of the company, it's direction, procedures in place and an understanding of the current jobs and any possible new jobs. Another technique I would be interested in would be observation. I believe observation would provide me with an understanding of the work environment, and how employees interact with each other and the customers. One drawback is there are over 200 stores all over North America and Europe, observation would be limited to just a few and the question would be is this an accurate representation. The other two techniques I would use would be interviews and questionnaires. I think interviewing managers, supervisors and other team members would help me uncover training needs as well as uncover other concerns related to performance issues. The easiest of these assessment techniques might be using questionnaires because I could get feedback from a larger audience. The disadvantage to questionnaires however, is it is difficult to write good questions that are not subject to interpretation, and the respondents cannot ask for clarification very readily.


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

Piskurich, G. (2006) Rapid instructional design: learning ID fast and right (2nd ed.). San Francisco, CA: John Wiley and Sons, Inc.

Stolovitch, H. D., & Keeps, E. J. (2002). Telling ain't training. Alexandria, VA: ASTD Press.

Whole Foods Market IP, L. P, (2011). Whole Foods Market: Natural and Organic Grocery. Retrieved May 12, 2011 at


  1. Hi Marne,

    This was a very good posting. I like how you are able to separate all of your discussion areas. I admit that I am having a problem trying to format everything the way that I want it to look. Anyway, back to your assignment. You made some very good points in your assignment. I like how you were very descriptive of the questions that you would ask. I only asked a couple, but you went above and beyond. You mentioned using customer feedback forms as a method for analyzing what areas the company is deficient. I think that customer feedback forms are the pulse of the company. Most companies are providing a service to the consumer, and this type of feedback can let an instructional designer know what areas may need to be focused on.

  2. Hi Marne,
    I concur with Chrystal. Your blog looks fantastic. I'm struggling as well, but hopefully I'll overcome these obstacles soon.
    Your needs assessment is very well thought out. You've done an exempary job of identifying important questions to ask to conduct a thorough needs assessment. I also think the use of observations is much needed in any needs assessment, especially when they are unannounced or unnoticed. The information you gather during observations can not be misinterpreted nor does it give the learners or those being observed time to reflect on what it is they think you want to hear or see. Again, your plan for a needs assessment is exceptional.

  3. Marne,
    You're doing a great job on your blog. I was very impressed with the Whole Foods website, were you? The company definitely values team work and the importance of being a "Green" company. You might want to ask them some questions during the organizational analysis on how successful those two initiatives have been along with their other 7 core values. You made a very good point about getting "buy-in" as being an ongoing process and how critical it is to get buy-in from all levels.

    You have a good set of questions to begin your needs assessment, especially those for the managers. I would suggest some questions of the stakeholders as to how supportive they are to the "Green Mission" and how successful they have been. You need to include the company's suppliers. I like you task analysis question on how they determine if a task is done correctly.

    You made a very good point about doing observations at the store locations when there are so many stores. I like the idea of using various data collection methods from the different stakeholders. This provides for a triangulation of data and helps assure the validity of your findings. Keep up the good work.