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How Does Your Needs Assessment Align to the Bottom Line?
Thursday, January 15, 2015
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Needs assessments can align with a bottom line—if done correctly. Further, there are two bottom lines that are important: one is the conventional one and the second is the societal one. Both are important but success can be further assured by aligning and contributing to both bottom lines.  

Defining and Delivering Success: The Primary Role of Needs Assessment 

A proper needs assessment—identifying and prioritizing gaps in results on the basis of the costs to meet the needs as compared to the costs to ignore them—increase your success, as well as the continuing success of your organization. It provides evidence for strategic planning, decision making, design, development, implementation, and evaluation/continual improvement. To best assure that a needs assessment will add value to at least one bottom line depends on which approach you use. 

There are, indeed, two bottom lines: the conventional one displayed on a corporate profit and loss sheet (usually quarterly and yearly) and the societal bottom line that documents what value has been added to individuals, the organization, and our shared society. 

There is a choice of needs assessments approaches, and which one you select from the “cafeteria of options” will determine what value you add and to whom the value is added. Hope is not an option in selecting a needs assessment approach; mother advised, during my more formative year that “the road to hell is paved with good intentions.” 

So select your assessment on the basis of what results you will get, as compared to the usual “this is what others use and they say it will it is good.” I believe that only evidence-based approaches that have proven merit should be considered. 

Needs Assessment, Strategic Planning, and Measurable Success 

There are three levels of planning, and thus three levels of needs assessment.  Needs assessment will provide the basic evidence—data—for strategic thinking and planning. Which level you start with will determine if you get results at the conventional bottom line or also at the societal bottom line. 

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Here are the basic questions any organization should ask and answer and a format for obtaining commitment.  

  • Do you commit to deliver organizational contributions that adds measurable value for your external clients AND society?  (MEGA/Outcomes)
  • Do you commit to deliver organizational contributions that have the quality required by your external partners? (MACRO/Outputs)
  • Do you commit to produce internal results that have the quality required by your internal partners? (MICRO/Products)
  • Do you commit to have efficient internal products, programs, projects, and activities?  (PROCESSES)
  • Do you commit to create and ensure the quality and appropriateness of the human, capital, and physical resources available? (INPUTS)
  • Do you commit to deliver:
    • products, activities, methods, and procedures that have positive value and worth?
    • the results and accomplishments defined by our objectives? (EVALUATION/CONTINUAL IMPROVEMENT) 

Based on the questions, there are three levels of results: 

  • Societal results and contributions (Mega)
  • Organizational results and consequences (Macro)
  • Individual or team results and consequences (Micro). 

Needs and Needs Assessment 

Needs—gaps in results and consequences—should and may be collected at the three results levels of Mega/Outcomes, Macro/Outputs, and Micro/Products. This data will allow strategic thinking and planning to move forward based on evidence; making useful and valid decisions and providing the basis for evaluation. 

It is vital that “need” be defined as a noun, as a gap in results, not as a gap in resources or processes. 

  • NEEDS are gaps between current results and desired results at three levels (Mega, Macro, and Micro) 
  • NEEDS ASSESSMENT is the identification and prioritization of NEEDS for selection elimination or reduction   Needs may be prioritized on the basis of the costs to meet the needs as compared to the costs of ignoring them. 

Needs when identified can be captured in a summary form that identifies the gaps in results and also identified possible means to close those gaps that should be considered after selecting the needs to be met. These data points will allow for useful strategic planning and decision making. 
If you are to add to both the bottom lines, start at the Mega level. If you only intend to add to your organization’s bottom line, start at Macro or Micro level. But be aware that that limited focus might not add value to society or sustain your organization for long.


Editor’s note: This post is adapted from the ASTD Handbook (ASTD Press, 2014). The second edition of the ASTD Handbook is the most valuable resource you can own as a training and development professional. Written by 96 of the best and brightest thinkers in the field, its 55 chapters cover everything you need to know about the profession today. Find key statistics from the book in this infographic

Join me online February 25, 2015, for the Essentials of Conducting a Needs Assessment Certificate.

About the Author

Roger Kaufman, PhD, is professor emeritus, Florida State University and distinguished research professor at the Sonora Institute of Technology (Mexico). Kaufman is the recipient of a U.S. Homeland Security/U.S. Coast Guard medal for Meritorious Public Service. He has also been awarded the International Society for Performance Improvement’s (ISPI) top two honors: Honorary Member for Life and the Thomas F. Gilbert Award. He is a past ISPI president and a founding member, and is the recipient of ASTD’s Distinguished Contribution to Workplace Learning and Performance recognition. Kaufman has published 41 books and more than 285 articles; his latest book is Needs Assessment for Organizational Success (ASTD Press).

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