Development of human resources -- Part 2

the first step

Robert H. Rouda & Mitchell E. Kusy, Jr.

(C) copyright 1995 by the Technical Association of the Pulp and Paper Industry.

This is the second in a series of articles which originally appeared in Tappi Journal in 1995-96, to introduce methods addressing the development of individuals and organizations through the field of Human Resource Development. (The article has been updated, and is reproduced with permission of the copyright owner.)

A Needs Assessment is a systematic exploration of the way things are and the way they should be. These "things" are usually associated with organizational and/or individual performance (1).

WHY design and conduct a Needs Assessment? We need to consider the benefits of any Human Resource Development (HRD) intervention before we just go and do it:

We are often in too much of a hurry. We implement a solution, sometimes but not always the correct intervention. But we plan, very carefully and cautiously, before making most other investments in process changes and in capital and operating expenditures. We need to do the same for Human Resource Development.

The largest expense for HRD programs, by far, is attributable to the time spent by the participants in training programs, career development, and/or organization development activities. In training, costs due to lost production and travel time can be as much as 90-95% of the total program costs. Direct and indirect costs for the delivery of training are about 6% of the total cost, and design and development count for only about 1-2% of the total (2). Realistically, it makes sense to invest in an assessment of needs to make sure we are making wise investments in training and other possible interventions.



The first step is to check the actual performance of our organizations and our people against existing standards, or to set new standards. There are two parts to this: The difference the "gap" between the current and the necessary will identify our needs, purposes, and objectives.

What are we looking for? Here are some questions to ask, to determine where HRD may be useful in providing solutions: (3)


The first step should have produced a large list of needs for training and development, career development, organization development, and/or other interventions. Now we must examine these in view of their importance to our organizational goals, realities, and constraints. We must determine if the identified needs are real, if they are worth addressing, and specify their importance and urgency in view of our organizational needs and requirements (4). For example (5): If some of our needs are of relatively low importance, we would do better to devote our energies to addressing other human performance problems with greater impact and greater value.


Now that we have prioritized and focused on critical organizational and personal needs, we will next identify specific problem areas and opportunities in our organization. We must know what our performance requirements are, if appropriate solutions are to be applied. We should ask two questions for every identified need: (6) This will require detailed investigation and analysis of our people, their jobs, and our organizations -- both for the current situation and in preparation for the future.


If people are doing their jobs effectively, perhaps we should leave well enough alone. ("If it ain't broke, don't fix it.") However, some training and/or other interventions might be called for if sufficient importance is attached to moving our people and their performance into new directions.

But if our people ARE NOT doing their jobs effectively:

We will look at these solutions including training & development and organization development, in future articles in this series.


Use multiple methods of Needs Assessment. To get a true picture, don't rely on one method. It is important to get a complete picture from many sources and viewpoints. Don't take some manager's word for what is needed.

There are several basic Needs Assessment techniques. Use a combination of some of these, as appropriate:

An excellent comparison of the advantages and disadvantages of each of these methods can be found in the Training and Development Journal. (7)

Remember that actual needs are not always the same as perceived needs, or "wants". Look for what the organization and people really need they may not know what they need, but may have strong opinions about what they want.

Use your collected data in proposing HRD solutions:

Having identified the problems and performance deficiencies, we must lay out the difference between the cost of any proposed solutions against the cost of not implementing the solution. Here's an economic "gap analysis": The difference determines if intervention activities will be cost-effective, and therefore if it makes sense to design, develop, and implement the proposed HRD solutions.


and finally:


  1. Stout, D., "Performance Analysis for Training", Niagara Paper Company, Niagara, WI,1995.
  2. Gilbert, T., "Performance Engineering", in What Works at Work: Lessons from the Masters, Lakewood Books, Minneapolis, 1988, p. 20.
  3. Brinkerhoff, R.O., Achieving Results from Training, Jossey-Bass Inc., San Francisco, 1987, pp. 40-47.
  4. Brinkerhoff, R.O., Achieving Results from Training, Jossey-Bass Inc., San Francisco, 1987, p. 39.
  5. Zemke, R., & Gunkler, J., "Using Small Group Techniques for Needs Assessment, Data Gathering, and other Heinous Acts", seminar notes, American Society for Training and Development Southern Minnesota Chapter, Minneapolis, July 9, 1985.
  6. Margolis, F.H., and Bell, C.R., Understanding Training: Perspectives & Practices, University Associates, San Diego, 1989, pp 13-15.
  7. Steadham, S.V., "Learning to Select a Needs Assessment Strategy", Training & Development Journal 30, Jan. 1980, American Society for Training and Development, pp. 56-61.

Bob Rouda is a consultant on human resource development and process engineering, and is a research associate and student of organization development and change management at the University of St. Thomas. He has practiced education and training in the paper industry for 20 years. Mitch Kusy is professor of organizational learning and development at the University of St. Thomas, and is a practicing organization development consultant.

other articles in this series:
  1. Human Resource Development: Beyond training - a perspective on improving organizations and people
  2. Needs Assessment - the first step (this article)
  3. Organization Development - the management of change
  4. Career Development - personal career management and planning
  5. Managing Change with Large-Scale, Real-Time Interventions
  6. High Performance Training

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