Needs Assessment in HRM

Introduction

Needs assessment is one of the main functions of HRM. In fact, without Needs Assessment, HRM cannot go on with the other objectives of training and development and other projects or activities for the organization. Needs Assessment, by its name alone, involves assessing whether there is a problem or problems. Sometimes when a manager senses or detects a problem, he/she calls for an assessment. HRM people are called to do such functions. Needs assessment therefore is a part of HRM.

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Needs Assessment involves skills training and development of employees in the organization. We can summarize needs assessment function as the “force” needed for an organization and its managers to assess the needs of all the people involved in the organization because of the continuous changes within and outside the organization due to various environmental factors.

We are focused, in this paper, on the subject of needs assessment as a primary tool of HRM to function rightly on the right decisions so that managers and organizations can respond correctly in the ever-changing world of businesses and organizations.

Needs assessment is a relevant factor to consider in human resource skills training, employee development or performance appraisal for the following reasons:

  1. Needs assessment involves studies and surveys. The collected data and information in needs assessment are a valuable contribution to the organization and their evaluation and preservation for training, employee development or performance appraisal.
  2.  Needs assessment is a continuous process in organizations, and without it no HRM functions can properly be done or executed.
  3. Needs assessment involves changes and finding ways on how to cope with change.

The Role of Needs Assessment in Relation to HRM

The function of needs assessment and its role in HRM cannot be undermined. It plays a major role and its results truly shape or affect the objectives of HRM, and the entire organization as a whole. A well-composed HRM of an organization shapes the future of the organization. Likewise, a well-motivated HRM conducts regular and highly-motivated needs assessment that collects information, evaluates employees and management, and the entire organization can look forward to a bright and safe future.

Needs assessment covers these important functions of HRM:

  1. Knowing the problems of the employees, the work area, and the changes going on. Knowing the problems is first preceded with knowing if there is really a problem. There might be changes in the daily operations being detected by field people. What are these changes, and why are there changes inside the organization? What trigger or motivate these changes that need to be addressed directly by HRM? Needs assessment is the primary activity to be done in this situation, as a first step to a solution, if not the solution.
  2. Seeking and studying possible remedies for the problems and ongoing changes in the organization. The changes occur as a result of various factors such as technology, new products, and competition in the market. These changes are part of the operation and everyday life of employees and organization.
  3. Collecting data for the improvement of human resource management. These are being carried on and accomplished by field personnel, and the data have to be assessed or evaluated by HRM people, the result of which should be reported to the managers or higher echelons of the organization for recommendation and action.
  4. Surveying the needs and want of employees, the rank and file of the organization, and asking for suggestions for improvement and even prevention of possible problems in the organization. Suggestions and other information coming from the employees should be given proper attention and evaluation.

“When a manager realizes that routine job experience no longer provides answers to new questions, he or she may start looking around for information, advice and training” (Kubr, Prokopenko, & International Labour Office, 1989, p. 1).

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As a consequence, the manager asks for needs assessment. Assessment is evaluation; evaluation of something that is going on – an activity or something concrete – or that is about to happen. The manager has to have absolute knowledge of all the data and information, have them evaluated and make necessary actions and decisions that correspond to the collected data. It is very relevant in his function. HRM collects and evaluates these data and information.

Needs Assessment activity gathers information, and subsequently assess, calculate, and inform or report all the data gathered so that the manager can arrive at a right decision and make the necessary changes for employees to follow and adjust. In other words, everyday changes should have corresponding actions and changes to avoid discrepancies and malfunctions in the organization.

Sometimes, manager’s routine jobs or traditional ways are not anymore applicable. The changes are triggered by market and environmental forces like technology, the internet or Information Technology, products, competition, consumer taste, labour markets, government regulations, prices of raw materials and energy, international business relations, and so forth. Managers cannot just guess and go on with the traditional methods. They have to determine the different environmental changes occurring in the market and in the organization.

Technology changes over time. There are new “inventions” or development in technology introduced to the market. HRM functions should be able to assess and assist the manager. Personnel, workforce, work area, or the so-called atmosphere of the work area, should be assessed and understood so that possible adjustments will be incorporated into the operations of the organization.

There is a need for organizational change in the present world of high technology and globalization. Thornhill & Lewis (2000, p. 3) state:

The need for strategic change arises from the formulation and implementation of the strategy that underpins the direction and activity of an organization. Alterations to the strategic direction and activity of an organization may therefore necessitate changes to its structures, systems, culture, managerial approach and technology (p. 3).

However, strategy is a difficult concept to characterize and understand in an organizational context. This is because formulating and implementing strategies vary between organizations, and “our understanding of how strategy is determined depends not only on the environmental circumstances faced by organizations but also on the cultural and political issues that operate within them” (p. 3).

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Moreover, Thorhill & Lewis (2000, p. 3) add that strategic decisions have to be taken at a higher level that may influence changes at a lower level. HRM takes this pivotal role in management. Needs assessment can be applied before strategies are implemented. This involves change. This may not be a problem, but it will soon cause a problem if not properly planned.

This is also a part of HRM – planning. Planning for the organization has to be clearly coordinated from among the different agencies within the department and the organization as a whole. But planning cannot be just implemented without assessing the needs of the people and the future needs of manpower. So it involves needs of people and need of manpower.

Approaches to Needs Assessment

There are various techniques used in needs assessment but they vary according to an organization’s functions. Kubr et al., (1989) state that these techniques have generic or basic approaches or those being carried out by organizations most of the time when assessment is needed as the situation demands.

1.) Problem Identification – Kubr et al., (1989) state that any “any training need is a problem in its own right, which has its own characteristics, causes and solutions” (59). There are problems in an organization that have to be addressed, so that when training is going on, it could be a solution or a step to the solution to that problem.

Kubr et al., (1989) define a problem as “difference or discrepancy between what is (or will be) actually happening and what should (or might) be happening” (p. 59). Problem can be uncertain or any disturbed situation in an organization. Out of this, training is inevitable.

An organization can detect some problems when situations seem not normal. This includes a low or falling output, a low or falling in the standards of service, a high and rising scrap and waste, or a low or falling standards of human performance. (Kubr et al., 1989, p. 61) There are many indicators that a problem or serious situation is in the office in the organization. And if any sign occurs, it is time that a needs assessment should be conducted, and the other remedial measures should be conducted without much delay.

Training

“Training is considered as the means, or one of the means, for solving the performance or other problems of the organization.” (Kubr et al., 1989, p. 59)

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When problem is detected on the personnel, such as low output for service on the part of the personnel, the Manager or HRM people may call for training and development. Skills training may be pinpointed when there is not enough skill on the part of the personnel or even field people. As has been said, there can be low output, and low output can be described as low service on the part of the personnel.

Smith & Mazin (2004, p. 65) provide some guidance when conducting needs analysis for any proposed training. They said that we should seek the answers to the following questions and carefully analyze the information gathered:

  • What is the business necessity for the proposed training? Specifically identify the goals and how the offering will help to achieve the goals. Describe objective measurements that will indicate whether the training has been successful.
  • Has the company conducted training in this area in the past? If so, what were the results and why?
  • Is the organizational deficiency that the training seeks to address really due to lack of skills and knowledge or some deeper problem?

They argue that ‘training is not a quick fix for problems caused by management apathy, bad morale, or an unqualified workforce’ (Smith & Mazin, 2004, p. 65).

On the other hand, problems have to be properly defined. A problem can be identified by: substance or identity, location, problem “ownership”, magnitude or importance of the problem to the organization, and time perspective. (Kubr et al., 1989, p. 60).

Problem solving in an organization should be initially addressed by a positive identification. A problem should be addressed or solved by “creating awareness, defining and describing the problem, finding and analyzing facts, establishing and verifying real causes, developing alternatives solutions, choosing the optimum solution, [and] implementing the solution chosen” (Kubr et al., 1989, p. 60).

Problem identification should be precise so that finding solutions is not difficult. Defining the real problem is a must so that training needs can also be identified. HRM therefore should have:

  • preconceived ideas about the causes of the problems:
  • the manager or trainer should not have a strong bias in one technical area and is “looking at problem at one technical view”;
  • HRM or the manager should not ignore the problem which is perceived in various parts of the organization. (Kubr et al., 1989, p. 66)

Needs Assessment is coping with changes

The People

The question is how to cope with the multitude of changes in the world of business. If you belong to an international organization, your organization has to cope with countless changes in the market, and with stiff competition. The organization’s HRM who is to conduct the needs assessment has to be composed of people who are versatile, experts, and who can easily detect any change, and incorporate counteractions from those changes right there and then. The people in the field should adjust right away and make changes in the operation.

Activities

Continuous study and surveys should be conducted in the field. These studies may be done by field personnel themselves, with guidance and direct supervision of the HRM people who are of the Needs Assessment activity. Their studies and surveys have to be coordinated well, inputted in the database, and compared with past data and information. Needs assessment and identification of needs have to be carried properly and correctly.

“Pinpointing precise training and development needs in the management ranks may never be as clear-cut as it is in the technical area. But it is a process that can be more rigorous – much more rigorous – than it has been in the past.” (Kubr et al., 1989, p. 2)

This training and development involve the technical aspect of the job, and they have to be properly assessed. The changes are not ordinary changes that have occurred over time, but new changes in the new atmosphere of high technology. They are new changes for the future of work.

“Needs assessment faces a wide range of new demands and challenges” (Kubr et al., 1989, p. 2).

We will never know what lies ahead, so that we have to be prepared. This is one of the main functions of Needs Assessment – to assess what has taken place and what lies ahead. HRM must know what the future holds. The manager or higher echelons in the organization are waiting and expecting from the department all the changes and the coming changes in the organization. The changes are the counteraction to the changes occurring time and again.

Performance Appraisal

Appraising individual employees is one aspect of needs assessment. Beaumont (1993) argued that “the grounds (i.e. criteria) on which an employee is appraised should reflect the larger competitive strategy of the organization” (p. 74). Indeed, it would certainly reflect on the organization’s strategic development. Beaumont further states that some of the leading advocates of Total Quality Management are highly critical of performance appraisals based on individual employees. And what about team working arrangements? This has also raised doubts and questions. Will the traditional supervisor-subordinate relationship be a basis for appraisal?

Beaumont states that in most organizations today, line managers appraise their employees and in turn, they are being appraised by their own superiors.

One of the primary objectives of employee appraisal is to improve the performance of the employee. Some other benefits can also be gleaned from employee appraisal, according to Beaumont, such as:

  1. Generation of information for human resource planning, and
  2. Communication and understanding between employees and supervision.

There have been changes in employee appraisal in many advanced industrialized economies for two reasons:

  1. Employee appraisal was traditionally concentrated among middle and junior managers in large private organizations;
  2. The basis for which employees are changed. (Beaumont, 1993, p. 75)

Originally appraisal schemes tended to concentrate mainly on personal traits, but now the focus is now on job results.

According to Cray & Mallory (1998), “One of the functions of HRM most susceptible to cultural influence – and therefore most likely to arouse resentment when those influences are ignored – is performance appraisal” (p. 120).

The authors are referring to international organizations. This is so because with the continuing expansion of global organizations and the concomitant demand for experienced international managers, the accurate assessment of managers and potential managers outside the home country has become an important HRM function. Studying or appraising employees varies from culture to culture.

On the subject of appraisal format, Beaumont (1993) states that there are three basic schools or categories of format, and they are:

  1. “Norm-referenced formats – individual employees being evaluated in relation to other employees;
  2. “Behaviourally based formats which evaluate individuals by reference to behavioural criteria;
  3. “Output-based measures, where the product(s) of the job is the reference point” (p. 77).

Performance Standards

Performance standards may be in line with employee appraisal but this is more on determining the results of the many programs of the organization. Performance standards are used “to describe the results that the organization expects employees to produce for each function included in a job description” (Bogardus, 2004, p. 197).

Job descriptions are vital in determining functions of employees. They point to each and every job in the organization. In line with performance, there are job objectives which use job description as the preferred method of communicating job duties and responsibilities to employees.

In other words, for standard HRM, companies use job descriptions to tell their employees what they expect of them in their assigned jobs.

However, Bogardus (197) argues that “some executives believe that job descriptions place limitations on the ability of their organizations to respond rapidly to changing business conditions.” This has to be properly addressed by management because we are now in a rapidly changing world, with all these computers linked throughout the world.

Employees should be flexible and not just be focused on his/her own job description. Job descriptions therefore have to be broadened considering the broad areas of technology and the concept of globalization. Employees’ jobs are widened in the present set-up of the workplace, so do job descriptions, which have to be changed in meaning and concept. Objectives of job performance and description go along together and have to be taken into consideration.

Training and Development

Kubr et al., (1989) state that the purpose of needs diagnosis and assessment is “to find out what training and development managers actually need and want to receive, and what conditions ought to be created in order to make sure that this training and development will have a practical impact” (9).

This first objective is on managers, so that they can deliver the necessary management techniques to their people in their organizations. The next line of concentration will be on the people or employees who are under the managers. They have to be prepared as well as the managers. And their preparation stem from their basic knowledge of their jobs and the organization, and the multitude of changes that will occur later on as the situation requires. Then the managers will have to adjust likewise, train and change whatever is needed in his.

Kubr et al., (1989, p. 68) says that “comparison is inherent in the very concept of training and development needs.” This means that in dealing with needs, a comparison is done because two different conditions are being compared. “Factors and conditions affecting competence and its applications are being compared in addition to, and in parallel with, competence and performance” (p. 68).

On the other hand, organizations have worked hard and spent much for the development of their own workforce. International organizations or globally-oriented ones send their employees abroad, let them be immersed in other cultures and in different work places so they become well-informed, well-trained, and highly motivated. They do the comparison in the process.

Firth (2002) says that, “Future success means a capable, committed, diverse and flexible workforce that feels in control of its choices, its time and its life in general. Acquisition of core transferable skills – in particular, good interpersonal communication skills as well as skills in IT – will be key” (p. 46).

Management should introduce worklife balance. This is because stress can cause ill-health and dysfunctionality. There is enough pressure in the workplace, added with all sorts of pollution.

Firth (2002) adds: “The pressures of the new 24-hour society and a long-hours culture creates personal, commercial and social problems … change means unprecedented pressure, and unprecedented opportunity. Everyone needs to develop the skills to balance an increasingly complex set of roles and relationships at work and at play” (p. 46).

Andrew Ross (2001, as cited in Firth 2002, p. 47), professor and director of the American Studies Program at New York University, and one of the innovators at Fast Company, says that employees should have greater liberty to manage themselves.

Ross argues, “By self management, I mean the degree to which employees accept or reject the idea that the working day can be a mix of work and play, self-application and idleness. Ultimately, I’m talking about work rhythms and patterns that imitate the way artists traditionally work. When I’m writing, I spend a lot of time just sort of messing around – writing now and again. Play is critical. Most managers haven’t yet been able to incorporate creative meandering in a sustainable way” (p. 47).

What Ross means is that we should allow the employee to be creative and to apply his creative ideas and ways in the work place. If employees are allowed to have a part in management, to be the ‘boss’ sometimes, there will be a lot of ideas introduced and the company or organization will prosper.

Another question that may arise on training and development is how and where to train employees. In another part of this paper, we mention the concept of Toyota’s own brand of training and development of their employees. Toyota does not send its employees to universities or to other training centers. It trains its own technicians to save cost. It can do so because it has a pool of experts and professional engineers, that’s why its employees are retained even during times of financial crisis. This brings us to the conclusion that training also varies from organization to organization, and also depending on the kind of employees an organization has.

A lot of organizations spend for training and development. Although there has been no clear empirical study as to how this helps the organizations, more time and money could be saved by just sending our own employees to our own “training and development grounds” like what Toyota has been doing.

Development in the workplace should be done in parallel with employee development. For, how can we have a well-developed employee if he/she does not or cannot apply all the things he/she has learned in employee development to a workplace which can be said as “underdeveloped”?

Management training and development are defined as a set of activities whereby practitioners – managers or would-be managers – are assisted in improving their individual competence and performance as well as the organizational environment, with the ultimate goal of raising the standards of organizational performance. (Kubr, p. 9)

Conclusion

Needs assessment has many functions relevant to the operation and objectives of HRM. Human Resource Management on the other hand depends much on the activities of needs assessment. Managers look up to needs assessment as a tool for problem identification, solution, and the many aspects of HRM such as appraisal, training and development, and so forth.

Training and development alone cannot be implemented by HRM people without properly identifying the problem and the needs of the people to be trained. For, what can be trained or incorporated in the training program if the needs are not identified. Who will conduct the training? What training should be given to the employees? These are preliminary needs and requirements that HRM people want in the conduct of training.

Plans of HRM too have to be preceded with studies and assessment. Assessment will be given to people and the system. The system has to be dissected or perhaps changed in the process. Needs assessment involves change, and change itself is multi-task. There will be many things and activities involved. So many recommendations as the Manager senses any problem or change. For an international organization, this is not ordinary. For the new organization in a high-tech world, needs is constant, continuous, and a necessity.

HRM also aims for the training and development of employees. And training and development of employees and managers cannot just be implemented without needs assessment. Since we are in a competitive, globally-oriented business climate, most organizations send their employees abroad, or to other branches of their organization, for so-called immersion or orientation for a higher position in other countries. While this seems to be a positive development, we should take into consideration that organizations are becoming disoriented from the former set-up when individual employees are focused on their own country of origin. Many employees have the tendency to go abroad for adventurous desires, sometimes forgetting their origins and the purpose for which they were brought abroad.

As HRM is widened and broadened in concept and other areas of employee development, needs assessment can be broadened too to aid in the needs of employees and the work place.

Needs assessment is focused on improvement in the organization. HRM depends much on this activity. It can trigger organizational change.

HRM is not anymore confined to a small department or to the personnel department. It has evolved from being a “consulting” department to the entire management of the organization. It tells people what to do and how to do it. It is the organization itself.

Needs Assessment therefore is an integral part of HRM. Needs Assessment is an activity or a part of HRM that the latter cannot execute its many functions without first conducting this needs assessment.

References

Beaumont, P. (1993). Human Resource Management: Key Concepts and Skills, SAGE, ISBN 080398815X, 9780803988156.

Bogardus, A. M. (2004). Human Resources Jumpstart. USA: John Wiley and Sons.

Cray, D. & Mallory, G. (1998). Making Sense of Managing Culture. Bonton MA: International Thomson Business Press.

Firth, D. (2002). Life and Work Express. United Kingdom: Capstone Publishing.

Kubr, M., Prokopenko, J. & International Labour Office, Ed. 3. (1989). Diagnosing Management Training and Development Needs: Concepts and Techniques. International Labour Organization. ISBN 9221063992, 9789221063995.

Smith, S. & Mazin, R. (2004). The HR Answer Book: An Indispensable Guide for Managers and Human Resources Professionals. New York: AMACOM Div. American Management Association.

Torrington D. & Hall, L. (2008). Human Resource Management. England: Pearson Education Limited.

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