The Effectiveness of Learning – A case to bury “TNA”

The post follows on from “The Effectiveness of Learning : What does success man to you?” and concentrates on the basic activity of analysing needs.

At the outset – let’s agree to get rid of the term Training Needs Analysis “TNA” from the Learning and Development vocabulary and refrain from using it when in discussion with business colleagues.

I’m certainly not the first person to make the observation that when a business function uses the term it immediately places the learning function in the uncomfortable position of developing a learning solution to what is usually a performance problem when the optimal solution may be something else entirely.  When used with L&D circles, the effect is the same; it places us in a training” mindset, and that’s not the way to provide value to any organisation already dubious about the value that L&D provides.

L&D is in the business of improving human performance in the completion of activities, tasks and responsibilities that impact the organisation’s market positioning and profitability. We need to think about the causes of performance problems and approach any request to develop training with a “Needs Assessment” mindset.

To put this into context it’s worth considering that if we expect people to perform, and we do, it will generally only happen if the following sample ingredients are in place –

 To perform people need to . . .  Function or activity
 . . . be capable  Recruitment and Selection
 . . . have well defined job roles  Job Definition, job design
 . . . know what is expected of them  Targets, objectives and/or performance standards
 . . . have the knowledge/skills to perform  Training, professional development
 . . . have the tools to perform  Job aids, procedures, equipment, resources, time
 . . . receive feedback on how well they perform  Feedback, coaching, recognition, promotion
 . . . have pride in their organisation  Organisation standing, market position, reputation
 . . . have pride in their work output  Work output contributes to organisation success
 . . . trust in the organisation, manager, colleagues  Skilled management across all disciplines

With one clear exception, the majority of the above performance ingredients are not able to be improved through a learning intervention in isolation.  This is because in many cases the best performance solution can be something beyond what L&D can offer (eg. well executed targeted recruitment) or a combination of interventions (eg. professional development, rewards and recognition).   L&D is not able to solve a performance problem if people are hindered through inadequate or unreliable equipment.

So, after making a determination that a performance problem does exist and is indeed worth solving the following six step approach can be invaluable:

1.            Identify desired performance (where you want to be)

2.            Identify current performance (where you are)

3.            Determine the difference between desired performance and current performance (the problem)

4.            Identify the potential value of solving the problem

5.            Determine the cause of the difference (between desired and current performance)

6.            Identify solutions to solve the causes of the problem

There are no silver bullets; no easy solutions.  But working through the issues, considering the ramifications of developing an inadequate solution that reflects badly on L&D, operating outside the shelter of L&D, thinking like the business and debating with confidence can re-invent your L&D role in a very fulfilling way.

If you have examples of where you have had successes and failures as a result of good or inadequate “TNA” Ø activities, please consider sharing them so we can all learn more.

Please note that the blog posts are the personal views and opinions of the contributors and not necessarily the views of the organisations they work for.


  1. I get nervous when I hear people talking about getting rid of activities like Training Needs Analysis, because I suspect it’s to reduce personal workload at the expense of the needs of the learner and the organisation.

    However, Bob, I see your point here: it’s not about dispensing with TNA but approaching it in a smarter way.

    Yes, training may be the answer, but it might not be – or probably won’t be! – so don’t jump in head first just yet. Investigate the cause of the performance gap before engineering the solution.

  2. Love the article.

    I don’t know how many times I have been called in to conduct a TNA to solve a ‘training’ issue, only to find that the real problem was a lack of supervision, poor recruitment, or a performance management issue.

    It also highlights that Learning & Development is only one aspect of people development. I am always a little surprised when senior management fail to grasp that concept, yet they can easily comprehend the nuances and complexities of corporate finances.

  3. Thanks Scott – yes a scary thought – how much has been wasted on innappropriate training interventions within industry at large when better analyses of “problems” has such high potential to produce a more effective solution. There is a lot to do to change the mindset, not only within business leader ranks, but of learning and development people as well.

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