Preparing a Learning Needs Analysis Project


Careful preparation during the planning phase of a Learning Needs Analysis will lead to a successful outcome. In this article Sarah Cook looks at the key steps in the preparation phase of the project and the pitfalls to avoid.

Training and development professionals can spend vast amounts of time and money on learning needs analysis that is not always acted upon.

Common reasons for failure of learning needs analysis projects are:

• lack of clear goals and objectives for the project
• lack of planning
• unforeseen problems occurring
• lack of on-going sponsorship at the highest level
• competing projects/situations distracted attention
• external factors that had an adverse effect
• lack of communication about the need for and process of the learning needs analysis
• failure to involve all those who will be affected by the project
• inadequate timing

Key questions to ask in the planning and preparation phase

In order to ensure that this does not happen to you, here are some questions to ask as you plan and prepare to measure your learning needs analysis:

• What do we want to achieve from the analysis?
• Who is the sponsor for the analysis? 
• Who do we need to inform about the analysis?
• What will you do with the results?
• How would you like the information presented after the analysis takes place?
• Who will be instrumental in acting upon the findings? 
• How will you involve them in preparing and planning the analysis?

Here are some tips to consider in answer to each of these questions:

• What do we want to achieve from the analysis?

There are three key questions which drive learning need analysis:

1. Where are we now?
2. Where do we want to be?
3. How will we get there?

Where are we now?

The first stage in the learning needs analysis involves an objective assessment of where the organisation or department is now in terms of strengths and weaknesses. It involves reviewing current and past performance in terms of skills, knowledge and behaviour. It can involve the views of customers as well as employees and other key stakeholders. In some cases the LNA may also involve auditing and comparing the organisation to competitors and other organisations who are recognised as 'best in class'.

Where do we want to be?

This phase involves an analysis of future opportunity for enhanced skills, knowledge and behaviours and the discussion of options going forward. Once a strong vision has been created of where the organisation or department wants to be in the future, the learning needs of employees can then be established.

How will we get there?

This phase involves the development of a learning and development strategy to achieve the objectives. Considerations need to be given during this phase too to any cultural change needed to support the strategy.

In order to establish what you are trying to achieve from the learning needs analysis, a tip is to write, clear and specific objectives that are measurable and time-bound. If you have an overall aim for the analysis, it is useful to break this down further into specific objectives. These should be written as outputs, using active verbs stating what you will be able to do by the end of the analysis.

For example:


To measure the current and desired levels of skills and knowledge amongst customer service team members who deal with customer enquiries on the phone or in writing to our organisation


By the end of the study the organisation will be able to:

Describe what is important to customers who call or write to our  organisation

State the current levels of skills and knowledge amongst the customer service team when dealing with enquiries on the telephone and in writing

Identify the key areas of improvement in the customer service team's knowledge and skills and how these can be addressed

• Who is the sponsor for the analysis?

Identify someone in your organisation at senior management level who will take the role of sponsor, champion the analysis and have enough 'clout' to ensure that the findings are acted upon

• Who do we need to inform about the analysis?

It is helpful to brainstorm all the people that need to be consulted or informed about the project prior to its inception. A RACI diagram is a useful aid here. RACI stands for:

Responsible: who will do the work
Accountable: buck stops here
Consult: who do you need to hold a two-way dialogue with
Inform: who you need to let know that the project is happening e.g. one way information

For each phase of the project it is useful to identify who is doing what, who needs to be informed or involved and who will take responsibility. So in the example of the customer service team learning needs analysis, the sponsor is accountable, the training and development manager is responsible, the customer service team members and their manager need to be consulted and the unit manager needs to be informed.


Phase of the project  Person Responsible  Person Accountable  Consult 

Figure 1: Example of RACI diagram

The training and development manager needs to consult with the customer service manager about the best method to inform the customer service team members about the learning needs analysis.  If this is done face to face, it is also advisable to back up the information in writing so that people know why they are being involved.

Such information should contain:

• The background to the LNA
• The aims and objectives
• Timescales
• Who will be involved, when and for how long
• What will happen to the results
• When the results will be available
• What will you do with the results?

This may seem an odd question but you do need to consider in the planning phase of the LNA, what you want to do with the results.

For example, how do you intend to feedback the information and to whom? For example, in the customer service LNA, will you provide feedback to those people taking part of solely to the departmental manager?

• How would you like the information presented after the analysis takes place?

- e.g. bar charts, scatter diagrams, photographs, verbatim comments?

It is easier to produce an appropriate report if you have in mind how you want it to be laid out before you begin the LNA.  A key consideration is -who is the audience for the report.  Who do you need to influence to ensure that your recommendations are acted upon? If you know the preference for the style of presentation that your key decision maker has, consider how you can incorporate this into your final presentation. In this way you are more likely to have your findings accepted.

• Who will be instrumental in acting upon the findings?  How will you involve them in preparing and planning the analysis?

In order to gain 'buy-in' for the LNA, it is best to identify who will be involved in implementing the potential actions from the analysis and then consider how to involve them up-front in the planning and preparation phase. For example, should you form a small project team composed of yourself, your sponsor and representatives from service providers to manage the project?  In order to overcome potential objections, early involvement is essential.

Be aware of politics when planning a learning needs analysis

Politics has a poor reputation amongst the general public in many countries. Political intelligence in the context of change is not about parliamentary politics or elections, rather the focus is on politics at work.

All organisations are political entities. Although it is often not acknowledged or discussed openly, politics are largely endemic to every business. As many people do not respect politicians, politics is generally regarded as unhealthy, underhand and ego-centric. Yet, as this chapter will demonstrate, political intelligence can have a positive impact during change.

Political intelligence is about working with integrity towards the common good of the organisation, rather than for personal gain.  It is not about the abuse of personal power.  In order to be politically intelligent individuals need to recognise the power bases and sources of influence they possess as well as others. Their negotiation skills need to be well developed.

People with high levels of political intelligence know who to influence in order to gain buy-in to change. They know when to do this and the best methods for gaining acceptance to new ideas and ways of working.

Political intelligence as we define it involves:

• Being aware of power bases
• Understanding sources of power
• Recognizing levers of influence during change
• Developing strategies for influence
• Gaining buy-in from stakeholders

Why is political intelligence important during undertaking a learning needs analysis?

Organisational politics can have a negative as well as positive affect during periods of transition.  Symptoms of negative politics at work include behaviours which demonstrate resistance to change such as:

• Open opposition to change
• Behind closed door lobbying
• Blocking proposals through arguments and counter arguments
• Back-stabbing
• Blaming others
• Self interest
• Covert alliance forming
• Denying that change is taking place
• Agreeing to change in word but not in action
• Unspoken resentment
• Lack of cooperation
• Building power bases
• Inward focus
• Deterioration in productivity
• Lack of motivation
• Poor morale
• Being 'economical with the truth'

Conversely when politics has a positive impact during change it can create:

• A shared understanding of the need for change
• A common sense of purpose
• Acknowledgement of the difficulties of change
• Disagreement aired openly and seen as positive
• Debate sharpening the quality of decision making
• Recognition of winners and losers during change
• Understanding of vested interests - who will help and who will hinder during change
• Feedback and recognition of the impact of change
• Change agents who influence others positively to accept change
• Experimentation and testing
• Win-win outcomes

Recognising likely reactions to the learning needs analysis

As well as considering who to involve during the learning needs analysis, the training and development consultant also needs to be aware of the likely stances and reactions to the project. This is particularly important when you are discussing likely change that will take place. Recognising possible reactions will help you work out how to best influence the outcomes of the learning needs analysis.

If you are involving other people as you undoubtedly will need to in the project, watch out for two sets of behaviours that are demonstrated:

• Their attitude towards the project, be it positive or negative
• Their drive towards activity - be it inactive or active

The degree to which people demonstrate a positive attitude and drive towards activity characterises their likely reactions to the project. The following model illustrates simple behavioural patterns that can be seen in people during times of change.










  Figure 2:Drive to action and positivity

CHANGE CHAMPIONS: Have a positive attitude to change and are action orientated. They are prepared to 'give it a go' and realistic about obstacles they encounter and how to overcome these.

Change champions react to projects that bring about change by:

• Seeing the silver lining hidden beneath the dark clouds
• Viewing change as challenge and opportunity
• Treating life as a continuous learning experience
• Expanding their personal comfort zone
CHANGE TERRORISTS: Characterised by a negative attitude and high levels of activity - these people are vocal but what they focus on is the negative - why a project won't work. They are keen to disassociate themselves from change and actively tell others why change won't work.

Change terrorists react to projects by:

• Arguing against proposed changes.  Always seeing the negatives
• Criticising ideas and solutions
• Expressing frustration
• Focusing on the past. 'We tried this five years ago..'
• Being oblivious to the consequences of their negativity
• Bringing the 'victims' and the 'yes men' round to their perspective

YES MEN: Characterised by being positive towards projects and changes but not following this through with action. They say the right things and agree to change in principle but are inactive when it comes to actually doing something about it.

Yes Men react to change by:

• Acknowledging good ideas but being reluctant to change themselves
• Avoiding taking risks
• Keeping a low profile
• Trying to ride things out until things return to normal

VICTIMS: Characterised by a negative attitude towards projects and change generally, victims lack drive. This inactivity coupled with their negative approach towards new ideas leads to inertia. Although less vocal than terrorists, they still disengage from change, everything is 'done to them', they do not take an active part.

Victims react to change by:

• Avoiding confronting issues
• Retreating into 'safety' - burying their heads in the sand
• Avoiding risk, doing the minimum
• Avoiding thinking about what might happen

Below I have inserted on the model the words each type may use during change.



'I would'
'I could'

'I will'
'I can'


'I won't'
'I can't'

'It won't'
'It can't'

-  INACTION        


Figure 3: Characteristic Phrases

Dealing with Change Terrorists, Victims and Yes Men

The style of influence that you adopt during the learning needs analysis has a direct impact on the reactions of others during the project.

If you identify that you have to influence Terrorists, Victims or Yes Men, here are some actions you can take to encourage them to become Change Champions:

Change Terrorists

Often these are people who have been with the organisation some time and have 'been round the block', in order to become Change Champions terrorists need to :

• Talk less and listen more
• Be aware of the negative impact they create
• Voice their concerns in a more positive manner and criticise less
• Ask to take on challenges and make the most of them

As a project leader of the LNA we suggest you adopt 'Pull' tactics with Change Terrorists - ask them their views and opinions, get them involved. Give them responsibility for making something work rather than saying why it won't work.

Yes Men

In order to be Change Champions,Yes Men need to:

• Not over-promise when they can't deliver
• If they cannot meet deadlines, enlist other's help
• Follow things through to completion
• Be more confident in putting forward and acting on ideas

As a project leader adopt 'Push' tactics with Yes Men - set them targets and stretching goals. Monitor their progress and set them deadlines to ensure things get done.


In order to be Change Champions victims need to:

• Be more confident in themselves
• Ask for help if the task is too daunting
• Consider the impact they are having on others, play a more positive role in the team
• Consider what work they would really like to be doing, and do it

In order to encourage a Victim to become a Change Champion, start with a 'Pull' approach to find out what they like or dislike about their job, why they lack confidence. Move to 'Push' to set small challenges and to tell the person how you would like them to change their behaviour. Be prepared to have to have a lot of input with this person if you want them to continue in their current role.

We anticipate that the vast majority of people you deal with during the learning needs analysis will champion change. Being aware of other possible reactions of people involved in the project will help you prepare how to deal with them effectively.

Answer the key questions in this article when planning a learning needs analysis and your project should run smoothly.

Key Learning Points

There are seven key questions to answer in preparing a learning needs analysis:

1. What do we want to achieve from the analysis?
2. Who is the sponsor for the analysis? 
3. Who do we need to inform about the analysis?
4. What will you do with the results?
5. How would you like the information presented after the analysis takes place?
6. Who will be instrumental in acting upon the findings? 
7. How will you involve them in preparing and planning the analysis?

Recognising possible reactions to the project using the four box model of change reactions will help you best deal with resistance to the project.

You may publish this article in whole or in part. The only requirement is that if in print the article must state - article by Sarah Cook, Stairway Consultancy Ltd,

If you use this article in whole or in part electronically, the requirement is that you inlcude the following code on the page:

Article by Sarah Cook of the Stairway Consultancy. Specialists in <a href="">Leadership</a>, <a href="">Customer Services</a>, <a href="">Team Building</a> and <a href="">Personal Effectiveness</a>.

The code should look like this:

Article by Sarah Cook of the Stairway Consultancy. Specialists in Leadership, Customer Services, Team Building and Personal Effectiveness.

If you do not do this you will infringe our copyright

image description

"Over the years The Stairway Consultancy has become a key partner to our business. Their services have proved an invaluable tool in taking individuals forward in their careers and thus developing the organisation. Their approach to working in partnership has certainly helped us to achieve our objectives, and we value the contribution Stairway makes to the business. I always look forward to working with their professional, open and warm consultants, and would highly recommend The Stairway Consultancy to any business that is seeking to grow, inspire and develop their teams."

Learning and Development Business Partner
- Southern Housing Group
Looking for high impact training material?

We have a wide range of Training Games, Activities, Toolkits, Books and DVDs.

Training Shop