Customer complaints, product recalls, merchandise returns. Even though your employees are working hard and putting in extra hours, your company is still plagued by unhappy customers who cost you money in refunds and lost business. Something is wrong, but you're not sure what it is and how to fix it.

While the answer may be outdated equipment, substandard materials or faulty processes, a lack of training, even for seasoned employees, may be the culprit. A training needs assessment is the first step in determining the gap between performance standards and an employee's skill/performance level.

1. Create a Project Team

Create a project team to determine whether the performance gap spans the organization, like high turnover; involves outdated processes or changing technology; or is the result of employees' poor performance. Training employees in an outdated inventory system won't improve efficiency, speed up order fulfillment or eliminate shipping errors. Knee-jerk reactions that blame employees for a faulty process can result in wasted training time and dollars that don't deliver results.

2. Gather As Much Data as Possible

Customer complaints, satisfaction surveys and employee surveys generate a lot of data and reveal what employees know about their job and how to accomplish tasks. Follow up surveys with focus groups on key themes derived from the surveys. Track rejects, returns and refunds, and rework over a period of time at peak production or service periods. Take a clipboard and observe employees' performance in real time against written work instructions and performance/quality standards. Note which processes are contributing to the performance gap.

3. Create a Flow Chart

Create a flow chart of the process in question. For example, if you are getting a lot of complaints about your call center response time or deluged with returned products, gather a group of SMEs – subject matter experts – and write down the steps for taking customer calls from start to finish. Getting the people who do the work to be part of the team encourages buy-in for the training to come. If you have multiple shifts or departments that are stakeholders in the process, repeat the flow-charting process with each to spot variations.

4. Conduct Training Gap Analysis

Compare the flow charts. Identify variations, duplicated effort and missing or unnecessary steps. The process itself may need an overhaul. Highlight each time a step in the flow chart differs from the written work instruction or SOP. Variations may indicate that shift teams are confused or misinformed as to the process and how the tasks are to be carried out. If the process is valid but the results are substandard, training is needed.

5. Identify Root Causes

Process and analyze all the data gathered in this phase. Look for common themes or discrepancies. Use the data to identify the root cause of the performance gap. There may be multiple contributing factors. This exercise will help focus training content and methodology for maximum results.

6. Decide What Needs to Change

Decide whether training can improve the situation and close the performance gap. If a process is broken, morale is low or employees don't have the skill level for the improved process, merely retraining employees will make them more proficient at doing the wrong things. If you have identified a faulty process, with your SMEs involved, make changes to the process. Test the revised process until you get the results that meet the desired outcomes. Now you're ready to focus on training.

7. Design a Training Program

Develop a plan to train all employees affected by the revised process or procedure. That includes managers as well. The actual training content may vary by department, level or job. Training can be done in-house, online, through a third-party contractor, a vendor or supplier of equipment or materials, or through a public seminar off-site. Cost and location, time away from the workplace and the number of employees affected will help determine your course of action.

8. Implement the Training

Implement the training. Gather feedback from the trainees after each session and make corrections or changes that affect the quality of the training and learning effectiveness. The feedback will close the loop and either validate the assessment conclusion and action plan or reveal new gaps in need of assessment.


To save time, money and productivity, employees can complete surveys and some of the training and give feedback online.

Document the training materials for participants and instructors. Make this training part of the new employee training plan.


Any effort to improve organizational effectiveness and performance is doomed to failure without leadership from the top. Your CEO and executive team need to be involved in the process from the start and support the outcomes.