If you're new to L&D, you have probably heard a lot about needs analysis and needs assessment and making sure that you are meeting the needs of your stakeholders. But how are you supposed to understand what your stakeholders need if you’re new to L&D or even new to your organization? There are long-term, continuous activities you can do as well as shorter term, project-focused activities that will help you gain visibility into the needs of those across the business.
Build relationships with people all across the business. Don't wait until they approach you - approach them and find out more about what they do, how they contribute to the organization's goals and what their own goals are.
What are some ways you can reach out to people in your organization?
- If you’re in a group meeting with someone new, reach out to say hi after the meeting and suggest chatting for 30 minutes. Don’t set an agenda for the chat – just meet and talk about who they are and what they do.
- If you have any internal groups at your organization – employee resource groups, interest groups, or casual groups (like a group for folks who are foodies) – join some of these groups and reach out to people you meet.
- If you get notified when new people start working at your organization, you can reach out to say hello, offer help, and schedule some time just to chat.
By meeting people from different departments, you’ll not only be able to better understand the business needs, but you’ll also be brought into more projects and find that you receive more communication about what’s happening in the business.
Understand the business you're working for. The more you understand about the business the more you will understand why everyone is doing what they're doing. You'll find it easier to have meaningful conversations with managers and other leaders across the organization. This goes for freelancers and people who work for agencies too. It’s important to understand who your client is and what they're trying to achieve now and into the future.
Here are some questions to research about the business:
- What's the company's strategy?
- Who are the customers?
- How does the business make and spend money?
- Who are the competitors and how are they different from your business?
- What's your company’s market share?
- What is your business's competitive advantage?
- What are all the products and services offered?
Of course, you can probably find some of this information by digging around your company’s website if you haven’t already. Your company may also have quarterly or annual meetings where these goals, products, and more are discussed with those at the organization. A lot of times, these meetings aren’t mandatory, but you should attend if you want to learn more about the business. Talking to people and building relationships will also help you uncover this information. If all else fails – give this list of questions to your manager or supervisor so that they can help you better understand the business.
Collect data and ask questions. Collecting data on what content people are accessing most can help you to understand what their goals are. Although the overarching business goals are important to understanding stakeholders’ needs, it’s good to have an understanding of needs on the individual level as well.
First, find out where people access information at your organization. Do you have an LMS? A knowledge base? An intranet? What other team workspaces do you have? Then, find out what people are accessing most in these areas. Ask yourself, “Why are they seeking this out?” to determine how that content relates to their goals.
Run a discovery workshop with all the stakeholders. Having separate meetings with individual stakeholders can be problematic for a few reasons. You might get different opinions and different answers from stakeholders and have to hold additional meetings to get a clear path forward. It also takes time away from your work if you have to have the same meeting and ask the same questions multiple times.
Getting everyone into the same room (or Zoom) means that everyone can have a discussion. Instead of getting separate input from individuals or different business areas, a joint discussion will give you input from each stakeholder that considers all the input from the other stakeholders. It also gives stakeholders the opportunity to talk through any disagreements they have about need so that you can leave with a clearer understanding.
Here are some questions to consider asking when meeting with stakeholders:
- How do you feel about the current performance of your team?
- What challenges are you facing?
- What risks do those challenges pose for your team?
- What would addressing those challenges look like?
- What knowledge, skills, or behaviors would need to change for your team to be successful?
- What would success look like months from now?
Step into the role of workers and customers. Although getting the opinion of stakeholders is important, sometimes the stakeholders aren’t the ones doing the work, and they can have an inaccurate idea of what is needed because they aren’t involved in the day-to-day. The best way to find out what employees and customers need is by seeing things from their point of view.
Are you able to act as an employee in a different department? Can you be a customer for your business? Observe customers and workers behaviors and interactions. Ask your manager or supervisor if you can spend a day shadowing someone in a different department. Ask your sales team if you can go through the process of making a purchase as a customer. If you can’t do something hands-on, ask if you can conduct focus groups with workers or customers to find out what their pain points are.
Being new to L&D can be overwhelming because there’s a lot that goes into improving the performance of those in your organization. By understanding your company’s goals, the stakeholders needs, and the needs of the employees you work with and the customers you serve, you can set yourself up for success.