There are several considerations when conducting a needs assessment. These include:
Timing should take place in a time when an
organization is balanced, normal, not in flux or unstable (unless that is the condition of the organization)
Participation should be as inclusive as possible (including
all relevant departments and people)
Confidentiality should retain focus on issues raised, not who
raised them, should protect the confidentiality of respondents
Selection of Issues should consider what issues will be the
focus of the needs assessment before conducting it
Issues can be preselected (designated by the organization) or emergent (emerge from employees in initial data collection efforts).
Preselected issues tend to have a managerial bias and can be short-sighted, as they are often focused more on symptoms than causes.
Emergent issues can be more inclusive, but may establish unrealistic expectations that all problems noted will be addressed.
Company Philosophy/ will dictate how employees see needs
Organizational Culture assessment (as part of a management agenda
or an authentic attempt to solicit employee feedback)
Target Population determining who will be involved (group
size, skill level, specialized knowledge, and any special concerns)
Specific Method what techniques will be used to collect data
and what are the tradeoffs and drawbacks of using one over another with a given population of employees
Depth should set limits concerning the amount of
personal and emotional commitment you will need from employees to complete the assessment
It is important to begin with an effort to recognize the company’s current state compared to its desired state. Where does the organization stand compared to where it would like to be? Poor workplace communication versus improved or superior workplace communication, mediocre customer service versus exemplary customer service.
The object of a needs assessment is to identify problems. Yet this is easier said than done. Here are some concerns that we have to be conscientious about when identifying workplace problems:
· mistaking symptoms for the problem
· accepting the opinions of others without recognizing possible biases (people may be a part of the problem, a problem should arise in the descriptions of many rather than one or a few)
· focusing on one person (even when a single individual emerges as a problem it is the workgroup communication around that person that perpetuates the problem)
· recognizing an organization/employees’ tolerance for bad news or disruptive news
· recognizing complex and multivariate causes — avoiding simplistic explanations for complex problems
· drawing conclusions prematurely about problems — should keep collecting data until reports overlap and problems emerge from multiple sources and within multiple forms of data
· not including customer input when necessary — customer may play a role in the problem as well
Thus, there are several ‘traps’ to avoid when trying to identify a problem. In addition there is no shortage of areas in which we may identify organizational problems.
Some of the leading culprits include:
Mission Does one exist? Is it clearly stated and well defined? Is it
Goals and Are they clear? Well articulated? Evident? Reasonable?
Structure Insures a balance of control? Adequate and fair allocation
of resources? Clear chain of command? Tolerant of deviance from the structure?
Training Are employees trained well in necessary competencies? Often enough? When appropriate? Excessively? Unnecessarily? Ineffectively?
Placement Are the right people in the right roles? Are there
incompetent people that would be better suited for other roles? Are there people that are underutilized?
Feedback Available to employees? Fairly provided? Accurately
assessed and collected? Timely? Regularly? Used appropriately in compensation and evaluation schemes?
Priority Do clear guidelines exist concerning which activities
should be prioritized? Do employees know the guidelines? Do employees adhere to them? Do employees agree with the guidelines? Do they seem appropriate or inappropriate?
Downward Are there effective methods for disseminating
Communication information and expectations to employees? Are they
used regularly and consistently?
Employee Are their ways in which employees can contribute to the
Input work objectives? Are employee suggestions solicited?
Respected? Actually used?
Reward and Are there clear and reliable reward/compensation Compensation systems in place? Do employees feel the compensation is
fair? Do employees believe they are fairly compensated? Do the systems match existing standards in their respective industries? What additional benefits are available? How are they made available to employees?
Support and Do employees have the necessary resources to complete
Supplies their work? Is there a clearly articulated method for
soliciting or requesting resources? Is the organization responsive to employees changing needs concerning resources?
Autonomy Can employees be entrusted to complete their work?
What type of supervision programs is in place? Do employees respond favorably to existing work arrangements? Can supervision be improved by adding/deleting employee constraints?
Job Are they clear, well articulated, current? Are employees
Descriptions aware of their specific job descriptions? Are employees involved in redefining the job descriptions as necessary?
Must use a portion of the organization that is representative of the whole if the whole is not available or feasible to use.
Types of sampling include:
Simple Random every person in the population must have an
equal chance of being selected, only possible when
you have a complete list of employees and access to all employees
Systematic Random using some pre-established interval (every
10, 20, 50th person is selected)—helpful when you are prevented from using a completely random sample
Stratified Random dividing sample into subgroups and then randomly sampling equal numbers form those groups—insures representation when you intend to make certain comparisons (e.g., newcomer vs. long-term employees, management vs. nonmanagement)—appropriate when you want to randomly select from groups within the organization that already exist (e.g., operations, sales, marketing, etc.)
Convenience using whoever is available
Voluntary sampling only from those willing to participate and incentivized to do so
Purposive sampling from a particular target group with the intention of studying just that specific group (e.g., sales staff, regional managers, etc.)
The first three types of sampling are random, which allows us to generalize the results to the larger organization with greater confidence. We have to be careful when generalizing from volunteer, convenience, or purposive samples to the larger organization as these samples include only people readily available, incentivized participants, and those chosen purposefully.
2. Data Collection Methods
There are many ways to collect data during a needs assessment. These include questionnaires, interviews, observation, focus groups, and organizational outcomes. Each is discussed in greater detail below.
They are limited by providing only the data requested (and therefore may not uncover issues not addressed in the questionnaire) and often times produce a low response rate or level of participation.
To be most effective questionnaires should include a cover letter that stipulates:
· the purpose of the needs assessment
· a description of who is participating
· why the data are being collected
· the data collector’s credentials
Well constructed questionnaires:
· ask just one question at a time
· avoid double-barreled questions that ask about more than one issue at a time
· use simple and unbiased language
· safeguard against response bias by using negative items and reverse coding
· use both closed ended and open ended questions for each subject
· solicit relevant demographic information
It is also helpful to use different versions of questionnaires that have the questions alternatively ordered so as to avoid any biases created by the order of questions.
Questionnaires can use different response formats ranging from the traditional 1-5 strongly disagree to strongly agree, but also can provide different prompts such as never to always, or very much like me to not very much like me. You will see a variety of response types in the instrument summaries you will complete and review.
Interviews are often used as a starting point for data collection because they offer an opportunity to uncover problem areas. Questionnaires can be used, in turn, to confirm problem areas identified in interviews.
Interviews provide rich data from smaller numbers of people than questionnaires.
It is important to set up an interview guide that lists the questions that will be asked in order before collecting data.
Like a cover letter that accompanies a questionnaire, interviews should begin with an opening statement that addresses:
· why respondents are being interviewed
· the qualifications of the interviewer
· who will have access to the information
· what will be done as a result of the interview
It is also necessary to think about how you will preserve the data from interviews. This will entail one of the following options: audio/video taping advantageous because you capture exactly what is
said, but can be cumbersome to arrange and conduct and introduces the possibility that it will make respondents uncomfortable as they can no longer remain anonymous
note taking taking notes during the interview as it unfolds or
shortly thereafter to capture the general themes discussed, easier to conduct but runs the risk of being less accurate
When conducting interviews it is:
· important to avoid introducing bias (through dress, reactions, etc.)—must remain as neutral as possible
· helpful to probe for information whenever possible (e.g., “Can you give me an example of that?”)
· necessary to create a favorable atmosphere by picking a comfortable location, convenient time, etc.
· the extent to which workers will have knowledge about the observation
· whether you will take notes during or after observation
· remaining as unobtrusive as possible (through dress, interaction, and note taking)
· tend to use between 5-10 open-ended questions that should be predetermined and semi-structured (can probe for further information as necessary)
· should range in size from 4-15 people, with an optimum number being between 7-10
· need to be comprised of members who share similar organizational backgrounds as it may be difficult to solicit information candidly if people feel their responses will be heard by others at different levels of the organization
The focus group facilitator:
· needs to set guidelines about participation and involvement and actively solicit the opinions of members that do not appear to hold majority opinions
· needs to remain neutral and avoid providing opinion and commentary
· should begin with a clear statement of the purpose and credentials of facilitator and some feedback on how the information will be used (just as in an interview or questionnaire) and the procedure to be followed in the focus group
Capture and make sense of data from focus groups by:
· having the facilitator take notes or recording the session
· analyzing data by looking for recurrent themes
Organizational examining organizational data that already exists
This involves requesting access to and examining organizational publications (e.g., mission statements, memos, schedules, etc.).
Can be used to draw conclusions about how the organization functions, particularly if these types of data contradict what organizational members say otherwise.
The techniques we use to collect data are varied to say the least, but a common theme among them is the notion of measurement. Therefore it is necessary to spend some time on the concept of measurement. Please work through the Measurement PowerPoint in order to develop a better understanding of measurement. It is available under the supplemental materials for this unit.
Finally, look at The SWOT Analysis material provided in this unit. Double click below. Then complete the SWOT Analysis Activity.
The SWOT Analysis
The SWOT Analysis is an analysis of the Strengths (S), Weaknesses (W), Opportunities (0), and Threats (T) faced by an organization, team, group, etc. Conducting a SWOT analysis involves having organizational members — working either as individuals or in a group — brainstorm (i.e., generating ideas without evaluation or judgment) to compile a list of: Strengths
Weaknesses Opportunities Threats
The strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, or threats can be developed based on a group, team, or the entire organization depending on the focus of the assessment. Strengths are weaknesses are internal considerations, whereas opportunities and threats are subject to external forces. More specifically: Strengths practices and procedures that are well conducted and organized that don’t necessitate change Weaknesses areas of concern that could be addressed through training Opportunities positive factors in the external environment that should potentially be embraced and enhanced if and when possible Threats external factors that could jeopardize operations, practices, processes, etc.
SWOT Analysis involves using a template like the one that appears below:
Once the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats have been identified they need to be ranked so that the greatest strength, weakness, opportunity and threat can be distinguished from those that are less pressing. The final step is to consider the following questions regarding each area:
1. How can we build on or maximize our strengths? 2. How can we overcome or reduce our weaknesses? 3. How can we take advantage of the opportunities? 4. How can we address the threats and potential threats?
The answers to these questions should reveal specific areas of need for training.