Learning in business is vital. That stands as much for the CEO as it does for those at the bottom of the company ladder. An organisation's capacity to grow is defined by its openness to learning. Getting, keeping and developing the right employees is key to business success.

In a recent article, If “culture” is key, how can training help?, Training Magazine inextricably link training and development with employee engagement, employee productivity, responsive customer service, delivery of quality products and services, and in having staff with the skills to meet future demand. Staff training and development is an essential part of growing a positive company culture, and is influential in employee retention.

Understanding the importance of employee training and staff development is one thing. Identifying what the training and development needs of your employees are, is another. Get it wrong and you could be wasting money on training in areas where your people are already proficient.

But, how do you know exactly what it is your employees need? Most managers know that training is essential, but many don’t take the time to understand individual needs. It is counter-productive to offer training that isn’t required or the wrong kind of training.

7 steps for identifying the training needs of your employees

Set clear expectations

To identify training needs, you first need to set clear expectations for each role within your business. In order to monitor performance effectively you need something to measure against. Review job descriptions when new positions are created, or when making any substantial changes to existing roles, as well as periodically to account for smaller changes.

Monitor performance

Measuring and monitoring performance should be embraced as a means to support employees - not reprimand them. Set clear goals and respond to performance blips on an individual basis. Understanding why performance is off kilter puts you in a better position to respond positively and offer appropriate training.

If performance is below expectations, can training help to improve that particular individual's performance? Consider if your employees skills are matched to the right job.

Ask employees!

It may seem obvious, but gathering feedback from your employees is as good a place to start, as any when trying to identify training needs. We’re not talking about the traditional employee surveys conducted by HR departments here - they tended to focus on specific productivity needs within the business, rather than what staff actually needed.

Instead, use focused employee evaluation to encourage honest and open feedback. This will create helpful dialogue about career development and enable you to identify specific training requirements.

Ask employees to rate their job satisfaction and performance and what would make it better. Also ask them to comment on your current training programme. Importantly, find out from your employees if your current training programme supports career goals. Getting feedback from individual employees will help you to understand individual training requirements.

Also ask managers for feedback on employees and compare with employee self-evaluation to identify differences. It is equally useful to ask for employee feedback on managers. Create your own surveys or use a service, such as SurveyMonkey.

Carry out an organisational, work and task analysis

An analysis of your business' strategies and goals, as well as an analysis of tasks being performed to achieve those goals should help to identify training needs that are specific to each team and each job. This is a good way to identify universal training needs.

You will be able to identify areas where staff are spread too thinly, or where certain tasks are being duplicated. Training will fall into three categories – that needed to improve staff knowledge about your industry (industry-related), job-related needs and personal development.

Set up personal development plans

If you're serious about employee retention, then you should encourage personal development. Giving employees the opportunity to work on personal development can have a profound effect on their motivation and how much they feel invested in your business.

Setting up personal development plans that you review on a regular basis improves communication and will also help you to identify any relevant work-related training needs.

Set up a focus group

Focus groups are a useful starting point in identifying training needs within your business. A focus group looks at a cross-section of employees within the business under the guidance of an expert facilitator.

This is a useful way of gathering employees’ views and opinions about current training and how to improve what is on offer. Focus groups also help to demonstrate that you are interested in the opinions of your employees, which is great for company culture.

Set up a system of mentoring and coaching

Closely aligning staff with a mentor will help to develop skills, and in the process identify any additional training and development needs. Mentoring programmes are a great way of helping employees succeed in their careers.

The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) offer free useful fact sheets on how businesses can identify learning and development needs.

How to create a learning culture