Monthly Archives: May 2014

Anatomy of a Needs Assessment – Southwest Airlines


I have been flying Southwest Airlines for years, and participate in their Rapid Rewards program; many times over the last ten years my loyalty has been rewarded in the form of free flights. Most of the laughs I have experienced in an airplane have come by way of the congeniality and humor of flight attendants who seem genuinely to enjoy their work and the company they work for. When you peruse their web site, do take a moment to click and visit the “About Southwest” page. When you do, you’ll be greeted by a picture of their CEO, Gary C. Kelly, holding a large ribbon bearing these words: “Warrior Spirit – Servant’s Heart – Fun-Loving Attitude.” This is a company whose heart beats for success, but not at the expense of either their employees’ or customers’ experiences.

Riaz Sidi, on his Progressive Sales Strategies blog (2013), observes three things one must seek to understand about a potential client for whom he is performing a needs assessment: understand the client’s market; understand the client’s goals; understand the client’s budget. Sidi contends that when I take the time to probe deeply enough to understand these three things about the client, I am well on my way to identifying the gaps that exist and whether I am the best person to help bridge those gaps. While Sidi’s comments are made in the context of sales, they most definitely apply to the performance consultant or instructional designer.

At Southwest, I would seek buy-in from two groups of stakeholders: first, decision-makers; second, mid-managers who are closer to the front line. In some cases, this may be a single group or person; a front-line manager may have been tasked with bringing in a consultant to help address a training issue. That said, if the two are separate, it is necessary to have the funding and support of the decision-maker while at the same time gaining the valuable insights that can be gained from those closer to the front line.

Questions I would ask during the assessment would center on the gaps between the company’s desired performance and current performance. For my purposes, I would heed the advice of Dr. Roger Kaufman, Professor Emeritus at Florida State University (2013): “Needs are gaps in results (ends), not gaps in processes, activities, resources or any other solutions (means).” Since Southwest has a stated mission of “dedication to the highest quality of Customer Service delivered with a sense of warmth, friendliness, individual pride, and Company Spirit (Southwest Airlines, n.d.)”, my discovery would focus on what they believe is hindering them from delivering on their mission, and how they see training in the light of those hindrances. The information I seek can be found in both employee and customer surveys, as well as documents surrounding trends in overall company performance.

Raymond Noe (2013, p. 118) lists a variety of methodologies for needs assessment, two of which stand out to me regarding Southwest. Given their commitment to customer service and the fact that I have seen it demonstrated as a passenger, I would want now to observe it again as an evaluator. The two are different in that as an evaluator I would observe with a more critical eye, noting the elements of the customer experience that both enhance and detract from that experience. I also believe that interviews at several levels internally would be critical. Noe writes that interviews have the dual benefit of uncovering deeper details of training needs than some of the other methods, but also uncovering unanticipated needs, that is, needs that even the company may not be aware of.

Though my examination of Southwest this week has been purely as a grad student, I would very much like, should the opportunity arise, to actually perform some of the needs assessment tasks I’ve described. As a training supervisor from a very successful company in a completely different industry, I would find it fascinating to see the similarities and differences in our training approaches, and to learn whether the gaps we struggle with align with those of Southwest.



About Southwest – Southwest Airlines. (n.d.). Retrieved from

Kaufman, R. (2013). Needs Assessment for Organizational Success (not your parent’s approach). Retrieved September 2013, from

Noe, R. A. (2013). Employee training & development (6th ed.). New York, NY: McGraw-Hill/Irwin.

Sidi, R. (2013). The 3 Takeaways of a Successful Needs Assessment. Retrieved from


Posted by on May 16, 2014 in Uncategorized


The Truth About Training – An Elevator Speech

Tom Hallett, writing for (n.d.), offers six tips for creating a compelling elevator pitch:

“To craft a great pitch, follow these steps.

  • Identify your goal.
  • Explain what you do.
  • Communicate your USP (unique selling position).
  • Engage with a question.
  • Put it all together.
  • Practice.”

With these tips in mind, here is the hypothetical elevator speech I might use to engage an internal customer who is not convinced that training could be of any use to him or to his organization:

“Training used to be considered to be out of touch with the reality of the business, just rolling out initiatives that came from headquarters without regard to how those initiatives would either be received or implemented by the front line. Sometimes you felt like you were the support staff for us, didn’t you? The truth is that it’s you – the trainees, the managers, and the directors, who are the real customers (Noe, 2013, p. 93). You are the ones we have to satisfy; you are the ones we have to schedule around; and you are the ones whose budgets we have to respect and work within. That’s the way we’ll help you get the results you want.

A lot of people think that training is just about delivering information, or “checking the boxes.” Nolen, nothing could be further from the truth? Tell me, how do you measure your stores’ success – balanced scorecard, right (Noe, 2013, p. 73)? What would you say if I told you that our District Trainers are rated based on that same scorecard and how their districts perform? It’s true! Hal up in District 9 came up with a coaching focus for his district that resulted in a 23% increase in accessory revenue! We’re now rolling that same method to other districts around the state.

Nolen, in these days when your store managers have so much thrown at them, there’s a real temptation to ignore some of it. That’s why you are the third and maybe biggest training truth. Many still see us as separate from Regional leadership, and you can be the one to debunk that myth. When you as a leader communicate support for training initiatives, and speak to the reasons and vision behind initiatives, your front line listens! They are more likely to include their staffs, and again results increase. Can we get together tomorrow to talk about how we can better align to get your team where you want them? Thanks!”

Here is my elevator speech in audio:


Hallett, T. (n.d.). Crafting an Elevator Pitch – Communications Skills From Retrieved from

Noe, R. A. (2013). Employee training & development (6th ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill/Irwin.


Posted by on May 7, 2014 in Uncategorized