Thursday, March 8, 2012

Planning a Needs Assessment

Planning for a Needs Assessment

     Customer service is the heart of Southwest Airlines and is the driving force behind its mission. “[Our mission] highlights our desire to serve our customers and gives us direction when we have to make service-related decisions” (Southwest Airlines, 2012). Therefor training needs will undoubtedly focus on how to maintain and or improve quality standards in customer service.

      Southwest takes pride in its ability to establish and maintain positive relationships among its employees, customers, investment stakeholders and the community at large. These are the stakeholders, along with upper and lower management that would have an interest in training outcomes. So getting their buy-in would be vital to the success of the program. The following chart outlines a brief plan for conducting a needs assessment.

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Planning Chart
Elements of Assessments StakeholdersQuestions to AskStrategies to Implement
Organizational Upper and Lower management, Business partners 1. How might training content affect our employee’s relationship with our customer’s?
2. What might suppliers, customers or partners need to know about the training program?
3. What do we need from managers / peers to succeed?
Interview: Good for uncovering details of training needs as well as causes and solutions to problems.
Person Employees 1. What might keep you from giving your best service to your customers?
2. How do you deal with customer complaints.
3. How do you motivate your employees on the job?
Observation: Generates data relevant to work environment and minimizes interruption of work.
Questionnaire: Good for collecting data from large group and easily summarized.
Tasks Managers, Employees What steps / activities are involved in accommodating a passenger from arrival at the airport to landing at their destination? Documentation: Good source of information on procedure as well as good source of task information.
Information in this chart is based on recommended techniques provided by Raymond A. Noe (2010) Employee Training and Development; Advantages and Disadvantages of Needs Assessment Techniques

     To conduct the needs assessment there are several phases that would need to be addressed; organizational, person and task analysis. The organizational analysis identifies whether a training program will support the strategic direction of company (Noe, 20102). According to Southwest’s mission statement, the company would support training activities that will further enhance performance in customer service. With customer service being a top priority, interviews may be conducted with upper and lower management to gain a deeper understanding as to how training may affect the relationship between Southwest employees and its customers.

      The personal analysis will examine individual responses to training as it will seek answers to the questions such as; “what might keep you from giving your best service to your customers?” Or “how do you motivate you employees on the job?” These questions may be posed to managers and employees alike through anonymous surveys. Another approach to gaging the affect training may have on relationships is through observations. For example, are Southwest employees always courteous and respectful to customer even during demanding situations? Observations provide a closer look what actually happens during interactions. Although observation may allow consultants to gain insight into the true picture, the disadvantage occurs when those who know they are being observed act perform differently than they normally would if not observed (Noe, 2010).

      A task analysis will provide a detailed description of the work activities that have to be performed by the employees. Conducting such and analysis will help pinpoint the training needs along with identification of causes and effects. Noe (2010) recommends using a task analysis questionnaire to determine which tasks should be included in the trainings. Once these tasks are identified Southwest will then be able to identify what skills, knowledge and abilities its employees will need in order to effectively perform their job.

      Training may not always be necessary; it is only likely if the employees don’t know how to perform (Noe, 2010).  If training has been identified as a need, a careful needs assessment should be done first. All training efforts require the support of the stakeholders, so getting their buy in will be important.  To gain insight into the company’s needs various methods, such as interviews, surveys, documentation and or observations may be implemented. The most important thing to remember though is that the training should align with the company’s mission and vision for their future.


Noe, R. A. (2010). Employee training and development (5th ed.). New York, NY: McGraw Hill.

Southwest Airlines. (2012). Customer service commitment. Retrieved on March 6, 2012 from   


  1. I like that you pointed out that training may not be necessary. All to often organizations believe they know what they need without performing the true assessment necessary in order to get to the root of the issue and develop a solution. Traditionally, the ‘felt’ needs approach has been applied which simply asks employees to list the training they desire (Holton, Bates and Naquin 2000). Although these ‘felt’training needs might boost morale, it is unlikely that they yield results at the usiness level because employees may report the training they want and it may differ from the training
    they really need. It is our duty as trainers to make the case for needs assessments. We have to stress the benefits of them and perform them properly in order to encourage organizations to use them on a consistent basis. The plan that you have identified in your post is a great way to identify the needs of Southwest airlines.


    van Eerde, W. W., Tang, K., & Talbot, G. (2008). The mediating role of training utility in the relationship between training needs assessment and organizational effectiveness. International Journal Of Human Resource Management, 19(1), 63-73. doi:10.1080/09585190701763917

  2. This is a great needs assessment. You talked about the issue with people acting/performing differently when they know they are being watched (Noe, 2010), would you consider a "secret shopper" approach to your observations? This would help you get a more accurate measurement and it would still offer information that is "relevant to the work environment".

    Noe, R. A. (2010). Employee training and development (5th ed.). New York, NY: McGraw Hill.

  3. Denna,
    Good opening paragraph. I like the chart format to summarize your approach to the needs analysis. I like the idea of interviewing the management and business partners to collect information during the organizational analysis. Do you see any value in reviewing the documentation to verify your findings from these stakeholders? If so, what documents would you want access to? You made a very good point that during observations, employees may act differently if they know they are being observed. I liked Dani's idea of a secret shopper. You could also use a random sample survey of customers to verify information obtained from your observations or could you use focus groups of frequent flyers.

    Reviewing documentation is a good starting point for your task analysis. How would you verify that the employees are successful in completing their tasks? Customers and business partners may be a more accurate gauge of their performance. You made a very important observation that all training efforts require the support of the stakeholders. You did a good job on this needs assessment plan.