Assumptions. We all make them, and sometimes we have to. But, most people would probably agree - if you have the means to gather the information needed to make decisions based on facts rather than making assumptions, that is by far the safer way to go. The problem is that fact-gathering can be hard work and take a significant amount of time. Time you might not think you have in business where time = money. When weighed against the time and effort needed to conduct a thorough fact-finding mission, like an audience analysis, making assumptions might seem to be an attractive option. But that would be a bad assumption.
Consider, for example, the training team tasked with bringing everyone in the accounting department up to speed on the latest and greatest financial reporting tool just in time for its launch at the beginning of the following month. The team had provided training for the accounting department in the past and they assumed that they already knew what they needed to know. So, the team proceeded to develop materials and schedule an expensive off-site space for the training to take place. They even hired an entertainer to fly in from several states away to warm up the crowd and get them excited before the actual training took place. The only thing left to do was send out invitations for this mandatory training session to the members of the accounting department. And that is when it all fell apart.
You see, the training team had scheduled their training extravaganza during month-end close when everyone in accounting was too busy closing the books for the previous month to even think about attending an off-site training session. Of course, by this time it was too late to reschedule the venue or the entertainer. A significant amount of money was lost in addition to the time and effort they had wasted on a bad assumption. This was a negative outcome they could have easily avoided by conducting a thorough audience analysis.
What Is An Audience Analysis?
An audience analysis identifies the who, what, why, when and how needed to develop and conduct a successful employee training program. To avoid any assumptions about the best way to do this, let’s look at how to conduct an audience analysis and why the results can greatly improve your training outcomes. Keep in mind that an audience analysis is the best place to start any type of training initiative, but for this post we will define a specific scenario that will act as the lens through which our audience analysis discussion can be viewed. Here is the scenario we will use:
A national widget manufacturer has decided to install the latest and greatest software system for managing raw material inventory in their manufacturing facilities and finished product inventory in their warehouses and distribution centers. The training team is asked to develop a comprehensive program to train the employees at these locations on how to use the new software.
Forming Your Team
Before your can conduct an audience analysis, the first thing you need to do is form the team that will provide input. Your team should be comprised of people from all levels of the business - key stakeholders who want to make sure their software investment is fully supported, or employees who will be impacted by the new system. More specifically you need to make sure that your input team includes representatives from each of these groups:
- Upper management and/or members of the project steering committee
- Project team members
- Middle managers and supervisors
- Both senior and junior level workers from each job role impacted by the new software
Note: Don’t forget to include workers from the less obvious job roles, such as the corporate financial analysts who may pull inventory valuation reports from the new system, and helpdesk technicians who will be expected to support the system post go-live.
- Subject matter experts (SMEs) in both the as-is and to-be processes and procedures
Creating Your Plan
Once you have identified your team and they have agreed to participate in the audience analysis, your next step is creating a plan for gathering input from each sub-group. Initially, your plan should consist of identifying how and when you will gather input from each of your sub-groups. You have a variety of options for how your will gather input from each group, including:
- One-on-one in person or telephone interviews
- Small group interviews
- Electronic or paper-based surveys
- Focus groups
- Moderated electronic or live discussion forums
The method you use to gather input may be consistent across all of your subgroups or you may customize your communication method based on the needs and challenges of each group.
After determining how you will gather input from each sub-group, you need to determine when input gathering will take place. Because each subgroup group will provide you with a different level of detail, it's helpful to gather input starting with those at the top of the organization and working your way down to the ground floor. By doing so you will find that:
- Upper management and project team members provide the To-Be vision and goals for installing the new inventory software.
- Middle management and supervisors provide a clear overview of the current, or As-Is, state, and they can identify the job roles and associated tasks of all of the workers on their teams.
- Senior and junior level workers and SMEs provide the details of the current state, as well as the challenges, obstacles, and opportunities that exist in the current environment.
In short, gathering input from the top down builds a picture of your audience starting from a general, high-level perspective which gradually becomes more and more detailed until you reach the bottom of the funnel where ground level employees and subject matter experts live and breathe the details of their jobs every day.
Conducting Your Audience Analysis
Now that you have identified your team and created your plan, you are ready to compile your list of questions and conduct the audience analysis. When compiling your list of questions, it is important to make sure you include questions that get at the who, what, why, when, and how that you will need to design effective training.
In an earlier post, Using Training Audience Analysis to Inform Training Design we provided the eight categories of questions you should include in an audience analysis with example questions for each category. The list of categories and questions is so useful that is bears repeating here:
- Demographic Information
How many people will be trained? What percentage of the audience are Baby Boomers, Gen Xers, or Millennials? What percentage have a high school diploma, undergraduate degree, master's degree? How many have been in the role less than a year, 1-2 years, 3-5 years, or more?
- Subject Matter Expertise
What is the level of knowledge they possess? How experienced are they in their role? Do they know how their role fits into the big picture?
What drives their performance? What does it take to get buy-in from this group? Are there barriers or enablers to training? Are they motivated and open to learning new material? Are they a high performing group?
Do they have a computer, and if not, have access to one? What is their level of experience with computers and technology? Do they have internet access? What systems are they currently familiar with? What systems do they rely upon to perform their job?
- Language and Culture
What is the primary spoken and written language of the group? Are there any special considerations to be taken into account? Are they part of a union or association? Do they tend to be collaborative or competitive?
What is the workspace like? Are they hourly, salary, or temporary employees? Do they work in shifts? How many shifts are there? Do employees on multiple shifts need to be trained? What safety considerations, if any, must be taken into account during training?
How are these employees currently trained? Where do they go when they need questions answered? What materials are currently being used, and can we have a copy of them? Can the entire audience be trained at the same time or does coverage need to be maintained at all times? What is the best time of day to train? Are there any days or times each day, week or month that must be avoided? Can they be absent from their day to day responsibilities for several days to attend training? Is the training different by location? Is the training different by experience level? Are there any union factors or limitations to be taken into account?
Do all employees have an email address? How do you currently communicate with this group? Is there a distribution list to use? Do they read communications they are sent? What is the best way to get their attention?
Once you have compiled your list of questions you can deploy your plan and gather input. During this process, keep in mind that not every subgroup will be able to answer every question and that is OK. When different subgroups provide conflicting information, take the time to track down the disconnect. Occasionally this means recognizing that what seems to be conflicting information no longer conflicts when viewed in the right context.
When you have completed your last interview and received your last electronic survey, compile your results. A spreadsheet is helpful to be able to list subgroups across the top and questions down the side so you can easily compare answers from different subgroups and draw conclusions from the results.
Utilizing Your Results
After compiling the results of your audience analysis, you can utilize those results to determine:
- Who needs training – which job roles are impacted, and which employees belong to each job role?
- What tasks need to be trained by job role? – what do the employees in each job role need to be able to do?
- Why is training needed? To understand new software? Org structure? Business process? – what are the training objectives?
- When is training needed? - Prior to, during, or after implementation? Are there any special scheduling considerations that may be required for some job roles?
- How will training be conducted? - Instructor led training – in a classroom? Virtually? eLearning – deployed to desktops? Mobile devices?
- How will learning be assessed? – Testing? Discussion and demonstration with a supervisor?
In conclusion, a thorough audience analysis can greatly improve learning outcomes by giving you the information you need to:
- Determine the overall goals of training.
- Identify the who, what, why, when, and how of training for each job role.
- Design solutions based on real information from real employees.
- Assess learning against accurate goals and provide appropriate support where indicated.
And, perhaps most importantly, a thorough audience analysis negates the need to make any of those pesky assumptions.