Thursday, March 8, 2012

EIDT 6501 Training and Development: Planning For a Needs Assessment (Week 2)

Greetings Classmates!

This week our assignment is to assume that you have been asked to perform a needs assessment for one of the following companies: Whole Foods, Southwest Airlines, Cisco Systems, Men’s Wearhouse, Intel, Steelcase, Nokia and spend some time exploring it online. 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? Specifically:
                What stakeholders would you want to make sure to get buy-in from?
                What questions would you ask (and to whom would you address them) during the organizational, person, and task analysis phases?
                What documents or records might you ask to see?
                What techniques would you employ (see Table 3.2 on page 108 of the Noe text), and why?

I selected Southwest Airlines for this assignment, an airline that I love to fly! The mission of Southwest is “dedication to the highest quality of Customer Service delivered with a sense of warmth, friendliness, individual pride, and Company Spirit” (

Another interesting fact, that says a lot about the organization is its mission and view of its employees. CEO Gary Kelly states, “our people are our single greatest strength and most enduring longterm competitive advantage” ( For this reason, the Chairman of the Board, President & Chief Executive Officer, Gary Kelly and the Southwest employees are major stakeholders in a needs assessment. Other stakeholders would depend on the hypothesized problem that needs to be solved and those directly involved.  Additional stakeholders may include other Southwest officers as outlined in the Southwest Organization Chart

An organizational analysis “involves identifying whether training supports the company’s strategic direction; whether managers, peers, and employees support training activity; and what training resources are available” (Noe, 2010, p. 110). Based on Southwest’s mission to its customers and employees, important questions to ask during an organizational analysis are “how might the training content affect our employees’ relationship with our customers” as well as, “will employees perceive that training program as an opportunity? Reward? Punishment? Waste of time?” (Noe, 2010, p. 111)

“Task analysis results in a description of work activities, including tasks performed by the employee and the knowledge, skills, and abilities required to complete the tasks” (Noe, 2010, p. 123).  A task analysis has 4 steps:

  1. Select the job(s) to be analyzed
  2. Develop a preliminary list of tasks performed
  3. Validate/Confirm the preliminary list of tasks
  4. Identify the knowledge, skills, or abilities necessary to successfully perform each task (Noe, 2010, p. 124-125). 

The person analysis “helps to identify employees who need training, that is, whether employees’ current performance or expected performance indicates a need for training” (Noe, 2010, p. 113).  The person analysis can also assist in gauging the targets readiness for training, which can be beneficial when designing the instruction and is a natural transition after the task analysis has been completed.

The techniques that I would employ rely heavily on the task and person analysis. Documentation is an excellent place to begin, as it’s a great source of information, its low cost, and does not use a lot of resources.  Observation can be a great way to gather information on day-to-day activities and procedures while not interrupting or disturbing the work of others. Questionnaires are effective in collecting anonymous information from a large number of people, which can easily and quickly be analyzed. Finally, I would use interviews and focus groups as a needs assessment technique. Both  allow free dialogue which can assist in delving further into problems, issues, and other employee concerns.

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


  1. Hi Audrea,

    I also like to fly Southwest. Their dedication to customer service has proved to be at the heart of thier success. I would love to simply observe and compare the interactions of Southwest's employees and customers vs another airline to see the effects of the different approaches. Noe (2010) reminds us thought that people tend to act differently when they know they are being observed. So your choice of implementing questionnaires, interviews and focus groups, is a good one.

    1. Denna,

      I also would enjoy comparing interactions of Southwest employees/customers vs. another airline. What I think would be interesting to observe are the satisfaction rate(s) of the customers as well as the employees. Southwest believes "Happy Employees = Happy Customers. Happy Customers keep Southwest flying" ( It would be great to "see" and document the difference this level of service can make.

      I think it's a good idea to mix techniques as it will provide a better sample of data.

  2. Hi Audrea – I think you picked an interesting company to profile because part of the philosophy of Southwest airlines is that you hire more for personality and attitude than skills because you can always teach people the skills they need (Carbonara, 2007). This way they get people who fit the customer service culture they are trying to create. I think this might add a different dimension to a needs assessment than a more traditional company that hires people based on their existing skills rather than their fit with the culture of the company. Do you think a competency model approach would be useful for Southwest? Noe explains that competency models can include attitudes, values and personal characteristics and focus more how a job gets done rather than what gets done (2010). Southwest probably has specific jobs that have to be done in specific ways that require detailed job analysis. However, there may be other areas of the work they do that are more competency based? Would you include this idea of a competency model in a needs assessment for this organization?

    Carbonara, P. (2007, December 18). “Hire for Attitude, Train for Skill.” Fast Company. Accessed March 10, 2012 from

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

    1. Alexis,

      A competency model may be of great benefit to an organization such as Southwest. "A competency model identifies the competencies necessary for each job as well as the knowledge, skills, behavior, and personality characteristics underlying each competency" (Noe, 2010, p. 127). Competency models are developed following 5 steps:

      -Conduct business and strategy analysis
      -Identify jobs, positions, or job families
      -Conduct interviews and focus groups with top performers
      -Develop competencies and a competency model
      -Validate and review the model
      (Noe, 2010, p. 129)

      This model would more than likely fit in well with a company like Southwest, as the company has many roles/positions, and each require various knowledge levels, skills, and personality. A job analysis would still be needed but would be a beneficial asset to a competency model.

  3. Audrea,

    Incorporating observations into your needs assessment plan was a great idea. Observations generate data relevant to the work environment(Noe, 2010). Sometimes seeing a person in action can help to get better insight into what they are experiencing. I have found that people are not always able to describe circumstances to the best of the ability to give you a true understanding of what they mean. By observing actions directly we can make notes while things happen so they are fresh in our minds. This is especially important in practical application of knowledge because we often find that the employee does not need to be trained but environmental factors are creating the issues.

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

    1. Tyrese,

      I can't agree with you more! Observation is one of those practices that typically is low cost " generates data relevant to work environment" and "minimizes interruption of work" (Noe, 2010, p. 108). You provide a great example of using observation for discovering possible environmental factors that may be the cause of perceived "training problems". For example the order in which certain steps are taken may be the cause and not due to a lack of skill/knowledge.

      A couple disadvantages that are noted are " needs skilled observers" and "employees behavior may be affected by being observed". It is essential that the correct person is tasked with observation and able to connect the dots of what it observed versus how it affects the "problem".

  4. Documentation is quite valuable in a needs assessment as it gives the memorialized version of what expectations are placed upon employees. It can serve as a springboard in gathering intelligence.

  5. Audrea,
    Southwest is also my airlines of choice. Alexis makes a good point regarding the fact that Southwest seems to hire for personality and attitude that support their mission. I like that you started with the mission statement which sets the direction for any needs assessment. You made a good point that the stakeholders will be determined by problem that needs to be solved. However, wouldn’t customers and business partners need to be considered stakeholders in any employee training? During the organizational analysis what data collection tools would be used and which stakeholders will you want to collect data from?

    Reviewing the documents for the task analysis is a great starting point, whom would you want to observe or question to determine if documentation is accurate? How important will collecting data from the customers and business partners be for verifying the results of your task analysis? What data collection tools could you use with each stakeholder group?