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ATD Blog

Ask a Trainer: Getting Buy-In for a Needs Analysis

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Hi Tim,

I currently work as a senior instructional designer for a large technology company on the East Coast. In addition to designing and developing learning content, I’m responsible for managing our internal stakeholders. This includes accepting and prioritizing their training requests.

For as long as I’ve been here, we’ve always had an “order taker” culture within our learning department. Our stakeholders “place an order for training” and we fulfill it, no questions asked. As I’m sure you (and your readers) understand, that’s not how a learning department should operate!

I’m working to shift our culture away from this. My goal is to create a culture where our stakeholders trust us to consult with them and make learning and non-learning recommendations that can have a positive performance impact.

My first step has been to implement a process for conducting a needs analysis that can be used to help determine the causes of a performance issue and possibly recommend a solution to address it. However, my stakeholders have been very resistant to the notion that we aren’t simply fulfilling their orders.

How can I convince my stakeholders that we need to conduct a needs analysis before we start building training?

Hey there,

Stakeholders and culture shifts! I bet no one ever told you that being an instructional designer would require you to wear so many different hats! But, it’s true.

First, allow me to commend you on your efforts. I can’t tell you how many folks I talk to who are facing similar situations. It’s all too easy for a learning team to become subservient to the stakeholders they support. And when this happens, it almost always results in a lot of “order taking.”

Here’s the thing: Your stakeholders are resistant because they’re having an emotional reaction to what you’re attempting to do: take away their ability to demand that you create training when they request it. Of course those aren’t you true intentions, but try putting yourself in their shoes. Before they were happy when you said yes; now they perceive you as saying no. Before you didn’t question their conclusions that training was the answer; now they perceive you as not trusting their expert opinions.


So, how can you help your stakeholders understand (and respect) your desire to conduct a proper needs analysis and recommend a solution that may or may not involve training?

Here are two things that have worked for me in the past.

Tip #1: Make It About Your Stakeholders’ Goals

Think for a moment about why your stakeholders are asking for training. Yes, it’s easy to think they want training because they think training will fix everything. However, if you go a bit deeper, you’ll discover that they’re asking for training because they’re experiencing some sort of performance issue with their employees.

And whether or not they’ve come to the right conclusion on training being a solution, be thankful they’ve come to you at all. Trust me, it’s not fun to be on the opposite end of the spectrum when your stakeholders decide they want training and decide to build it themselves.

So, the next time you propose conducting a needs analysis, don’t focus it on determining whether or not training is the solution. Instead, focus it on helping your stakeholders figure out why the performance issue exists and what can be done to help them fix it and meet their business goals. This will help build trust and position you as a “partner in crime” there to help them meet their goals.

Tip #2: Recruit Your Stakeholders to Participate in the Process


Once you’ve convinced your stakeholders to spend time analyzing the situation, invite them to participate in the process. If you conduct your need analysis in a vacuum and don’t include your stakeholders, they’re likely to be skeptical of your results and recommendations. This is especially true if they don’t fully understand how you came to your conclusions.

Instead, work with your stakeholders to determine a conclusion together. If they have the opportunity to participate in the analysis, they’ll be much more likely to see what you’re seeing and agree with your recommendations. In addition to helping you build rapport and trust, they’ll also gain insights into your world and why you’re asking the questions you’re asking. You’ll also have a greater respect for the challenges they’re seeking to overcome.

Let me know if these tips work. It’s still going to take time to make this cultural shift with your stakeholders, but your relationships will be stronger as a result.

Stay strong and be patient! You’re doing the right thing!


Do you have a learning question you’d like me to tackle? You can email them to [email protected]. Also, visit the Ask a Trainer Hub to check out all of your questions and my answers.

We welcome your comments and engagement on these posts. All posts are reviewed to ensure appropriateness based on ATD’s requirements for postings in our online communities.

Please note: Content shared in this column is provided by the author and may not reflect the perspectives of ATD.

About the Author

Tim Slade is a speaker, author, award-winning
e-learning designer, and author of The eLearning
Designer’s Handbook.

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Thank you for this. It can sometimes feel like we're shouting into an empty room. The context and partnership will allow us to focus on the training that NEEDS to be done, and it will help our stakeholders identify areas of opportunities within their teams. Not only that, but finding the true root cause can save money if we don't have to pull people from their roles to go through training.
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Great Information, I'm encountering the same issues! I was brought in as a trainer to a company that didn't have a training plan at all. The last few months have been creating the program itself. While prioritizing what's needed I've had several "requested trainings" thrown in that could have a far easier, less time consuming solution.
Thanks, Melanie! I'm glad you like the post! No matter the organization, it's always going to be a challenge. What you have to do is help them understand that "just throwing into an eLearning course" or similar, it's the right answer. It isn't easy, but keep pushing! Thanks for reading!
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