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 http://www.southwest.com/html/about-southwest/index.html
Kaufman, R. (2013). Needs Assessment for Organizational Success (not your parent’s approach). Retrieved September 2013, from http://www.sghc-tpe.com/docs/K2.pdf
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 http://riazsidi.com/the-3-takeaways-of-a-successful-needs-assessment/