How To Conduct A Performance Focussed Needs Analysis

By Ross Stevenson

5 minute read

Having spent nearly two decades in the L&D and People industry, I’m no stranger to navigating continuous performance needs analysis.

This is sometimes called a training needs analysis (urgh).

I’ve found that analysis in theory and execution in an enterprise organisation are two very different scenarios. When faced with large teams and competing priorities from business stakeholders, implementing the classic framework can be near impossible.

Let’s help with that.

Standard TNA focuses on gathering a wishlist from the business. This is not the most effective way to get a view of the real performance blockers.

As fellow L&D practitioner, David James highlights in his article on why TNA has us focusing on all the wrong things, “At a time when L&D is seeking to align closer to the Business – the very beginning of the Learning Cycle may be the point at which L&D and the Business misalign”.

Instead, I want to introduce you to a different approach.

I call it a performance needs analysis. The goal is no different to a classic TNA, but how we approach it is. You can only get a valuable outcome if you build an equally robust system to deliver that.

A performance needs analysis should achieve 5 things 👇

  1. Align your L&D strategy with your business strategy and objectives
  2. Identify the high-priority blockers to company growth and performance
  3. Draw on company data to inform decisions.
  4. Outline the value your L&D team can provide in line with the current capability
  5. Present the 5 high-value targets that you need to tackle to your C-suite

Now, let’s work back from our endgame and explore how we get here.

Research, not requests

Firstly, avoid the classic mistake of taking requests from your business.

This is where classic TNA doesn't set you up for success. Instead of acting like Willy Wonka and asking all the kids what chocolate bar they want to pick from your bloated garden of chocolate. Think like a researcher.

Ask questions to get context on what the right type of chocolate would be for them or (dare I say it) if chocolate is even the thing they want.

Researching enables you to drive valuable conversations.

You’ll often unlock insights that could be more useful than expected this way.

Researchers ask questions and take an inquisitive approach to understand people, environments and problems.

Whereas chocolate vendors just take requests.

Two recommendations to do this well are:

  1. Create a set of questions that’ll unlock the insights you need.
  2. Get clear on your company’s strategy and goals.

We’re focusing on moving from transactional to conversational experiences.

Asking better questions is incredibly powerful in any analysis exercise. You’ll only get great output with good input. So, invest in those questions.

And point 2 is non-negotiable.

You should not create an L&D strategy that does not align with the business and its goals.

Why people do this, I never know! It is a one-way ticket to devaluing your value as a team and holding you back from being a true strategic partner.

To do this effectively, you want to speak with people at a variety of business levels. Your C-suite has a limited view of blockers to success. Talk to managers and team members too.

Paint a full picture, don’t focus on one pixel only.

In summary, ask better questions and don't take requests.

Get data, not opinions only

Everyone has an opinion and that’s great.

But opinions without data are hard to act on. To be data-led in the L&D industry is a multi-layered topic. Sort of like the Matrix, and not something I’ll get into today.

Nicole Papaioannou Lugara PhD, Founder and Learning Strategist at Your Instructional Designer said it best about the specificity of your data sources, sharing:

“When you start by asking "what needs to be learned?" you've already decided that learning is the solution.

That's not always the case.”

Data is all around us. You're using it and it's being used on you. So, how about we make some of this work for us?

Your first task is to seek:

  1. Employee survey results
  2. Learning surveys (if you do them)
  3. Team culture survey data

Most organisations will have at least one of these 3 data points.

You can use the insights from these to build a first draft of assumptions. You’ll then use these data-led assumptions in conversations with your business to either validate or dismiss.

Setting up this approach is way better than rocking up to meetings like a therapist and asking your people “So, tell me all your problems”.

Your second task is roll-up your assumptions (and the data behind them) into a digestible one-pager.

You’ll want to cover the following:

  • Your 5 key findings
  • What the data identifies as high-value priorities
  • Trending employee comments (high-level themes)
  • Your approach and/or recommendation to tackling the HVPs

This gives you a strong foundation around which to structure your conversations around.

You'll be able to provide a valuable experience for both you and your business. And what L&D pro doesn't want to do that, right?

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Be solution focussed

It’s very easy to highlight problems.

I call this the “captain obvious” approach, where one throws out all the problems but offers no solutions.

You want to be a consultant.

Your role as an L&D practitioner is to consult your business on the best ways to improve performance and skill capability. Your senior team wants to hear your voice. So, let's get prepared to share your recommendations.

Not doing this can lead down a dark road of classic order-taking.

The output of your analysis should focus on 3 areas:

  1. The 5 high-value priorities the business should tackle in x timeframe
  2. A plan to achieve these priorities
  3. The value your team can bring with your current resources, and what you would need to improve the efficacy of the plan.

Your analysis should lay bare the status quo, the destination, and the clearest way to get there. Most importantly, if your analysis shows that your team are unable to achieve those priorities with your current resources, then you must be prepared to ask for more.

Overpromising and underdelivering is a classic L&D people-pleasing mistake.

Well-intentioned but useless when it comes to performance improvement. Plus, it’s key to do this if you want to move from an order taker to a trusted partner.

The ideal outcome of this approach will be autonomy over your L&D strategy.

Senior leadership teams will be more than happy to get on board with clear messaging on prioritised problem points and a suite of solutions. Remember, consultant not order taker!

How often should you conduct an analysis?

In reality, it depends.

A sensible cadence would be once every quarter. If that feels too much, go for twice a year at the minimum.

The idea is to have regular checkpoints to ensure that you are achieving your goals and to iterate your approach. Additionally, by having comparable data, it will be easier to see whether you are successful in your efforts.

In a time when L&D teams are struggling to showcase business value, embracing your inner consultant has never been more important.

We all know the order-taking approach doesn’t produce the best results.

That’s why aligning the work you do with business goals goes a long way in being seen as a strategic partner that’s solving the big performance problems which add value.


  • Focus on performance outcomes, not wishlists.
  • Take a research not request approach.
  • Seek data to validate opinions.
  • Not everything is an L&D solution.
  • Build a plan and recommend solutions.

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