Needs Analysis

When a company discovers a problem, they often jump to training as a solution even if that would not be the most appropriate (Stolovitch & Keeps, 2004). Before jumping into training, a needs assessment should be done to determine the causes and possible solutions for the gap (Noe, 2013). For this week’s assignment we get to consider how to approach a needs assessment for a major company by gathering information from the company website. I picked natural foods giant Whole Foods.

(c) 2010 Ian May // Downloaded on this date from Flickr Creative Commons and used unchanged
(c) 2010 Ian May // Downloaded on this date from Flickr Creative Commons and used unchanged

A Little Background

In June 2013, Whole Foods got into some hot water for their policy on language usage. Two employees were suspended for their behavior at the workplace but said they were punished for questioning the English-only policy. To deal with the ensuing firestorm, Whole Foods consulted LULAC and ACLU to arrive at a different policy that permits languages other than English under certain circumstances.

The Analysis

Now, nearly two years later, has Whole Foods made any ground on this issue? Do they still have room to improve? Did the new policy cause other performance problems?

I would use a needs assessment to determine first if all employees felt that they had equality in the workplace and second if the new policy had unfortunate unintended consequences.


Multiple stakeholders were affected by the Whole Foods language policy, and so they should be considered in a needs analysis. These stakeholders would include customers, managers, English-only associates, and multilingual associates. The policy as shown in the company blog specifically mentioned how to choose the appropriate language with customers, so input from a sample of shoppers would help with the assessment. Next, employees were deeply involved in the original 2013 disagreement. Their opinions on whether the new policy helped equality or hindered it would also be helpful. Finally, managers are expected to maintain order, handle disputes, and understand the policies, but how many of them actually know both the policy and the reasons behind it?

Data Collection

A needs assessment includes an analysis of the organization as a whole, the people involved, and the task to be improved. The organization analysis considers whether training would be in line with the company’s strategic planning. At this level, I would consider the company’s stated values of supporting team member excellence. Some useful information would be whether employees felt respected by their coworkers managers. That would reveal overt aggression or microaggressions, small actions or words that insult often unintentionally (Murphy-Shigematsu, 2010). More specifically, I would ask stakeholders to describe times when they felt particularly included or excluded on basis of their preferred language.

Documents and records might include a copy of the current language use policy as well as the details of the 2013 incident. I might also ask for the HR records regarding issues of language.


A number of techniques would be useful, but a few from the chart in the Noe text (2013) standout as obvious choices. Documentation would show what the current ideal situation is, and might include records of inappropriate incidents. Questionnaires and interviews would be a useful way to collect information in a relatively nonthreatening way.

If training is indicated, the next steps would include figuring out who needs to be involved and doing a task analysis to identify the exact material to be taught in what ways (Noe, 2013).


An analysis of the current situation might take some time, funds, and effort, but ultimately, the resources are worth the effort. Without first seeking the information, Whole Foods might invest in a training program for the wrong reasons or on the wrong topics (Noe, 2013).


Murphy-Shigematsu, S. (2010). Microaggressions by supervisors of color. Training and Education in Professional Psychology, 4(1), 16–18.

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

Stolovitch, H. D., & Keeps, E. J. (2004). Training ain’t performance. Alexandria, VA: ASTD Press.


12 thoughts on “Needs Analysis

  1. Language in the workplace has become an issue in the civilian sector as well as in the military. It is a constant struggle to reduce the amount of native language in general conversations within the workplace. Instead people should be using their skills to interpret for non-English speaking folks. In the military, linguist are used when ships or troops are on a mission within a foreign country. Many of which are paid for their services. I definitely think the language issue needs to be addressed and I think the microaggression portion of this should get a hard look as well because it is one word away from being a conflict resolution. Enjoyed your post. Well Done!


    1. Microaggressions are tough to deal with because they are typically not noticed by the person who does them. That often requires the recipient to point out the error.

      The microaggressions can go both ways, though. When I was attending my undergraduate classes, I lived on campus. One of my roommates was bilingual. She and her friend were sitting in the room talking in Spanish. I couldn’t understand them completely, but based on body language and the few words I could pick up, I figured out I was the topic of discussion and the details were unfavorable. I had to leave for class, so I gathered my stuff, waited for a break in the conversation and said, “Yo regresare’ a las 4.” (I will return at 4). That stopped the conversation cold. She never brought her friend over when I was there again.


  2. Nice come back, I can only imagine how she felt after you did that even if those were the only words you knew in Spanish. Don’t judge a book by its cover, you are a testament of that. I am wondering if you went back to address that issue or just let it blow over because the damage was already done in those few words you spoke in Spanish. By damage, I mean you stopped the conversation cold and the friend never came back around.


    1. My roommate later asked me just how fluent I was. I told her I was not completely fluent but not ignorant of the language, either. (What I didn’t mention was that I had to look up the future tense conjugation of regresar). Neither of us apologized, but it never happened again. I let the matter go and made no more mention of it. For her sake, I hope the incident showed her that an American Caucasian might actually know languages other than English. I’m fairly tolerant of insults to a point. I know many who are not.


  3. We make so many assumptions, and many of them can get us into trouble. Multiple languages in the work place can be a benefit as well as a concern. In one store we had a team where Spanish was the primary language spoken; the manager was bilingual. The team operated exceptionally well and the interaction with English only associates was fine because there was trust and respect between all teams. Unfortunately in many situations trust and respect is lacking, this leads to the assumption that the conversation taking place in another language so not everyone knows what is discussed.


    1. Yes, although I understand the preference for everyone in the workplace to use the same language, I can see the need for some work teams to use another language for regular communication. Most of the schools where I worked had a custodial team that spoke only Spanish. Their bilingual team leader or the bilingual teachers on the campus handled translation as necessary, but the custodians spoke among themselves in the only language they had in common.


  4. Cindy, I find it interesting that you picked this topic. I also didn’t know that this had become such a big issue in the whole food industry but I tend to see both sides of the fence. In the previous school I taught at, we had this exact problem in the classroom. The language to be followed or spoken was the English language but over half of my students spoke Spanish as their primary. It was a problem because I didn’t know Spanish and in the health field the primary language is English. The students I were teaching were medical assistants so not knowing English well in either writing or speaking is a problem. The school made students speak English while in the classroom and on campus. I think it upset some of the students but I know that when they entered the workforce I am sure they understood why we made them immerse themselves in the English language. Thanks for sharing 🙂


    1. Yes, I saw the same pattern in schools. Some kids could enter Pre-K speaking Spanish only and graduate 12th still not speaking a usable amount of English because there were so many crutches to get them through even after there were no bilingual classes.


  5. The language barrier is going to be an ongoing issue for a lot of organizations and society period. I think in order for organizations to remain fair and competitive language will be the deciding factor. Do yo think it will come to all employees being trained to at least a basic knowledge of another language such as Spanish? Do you think persons that are bi-lingual will be more competitive? I do not mean any offense by this statement, it is merely an observation when I visited other countries. It amazes me sometimes how the US is so accommodating to ensuring everyone is understood and comfortable; however, when I visited other countries they did not go out of their way to ensure that we understood their language. Tough decisions!


    1. Until America has an official language, there will be a constant effort to accommodate. Some states have declared English as the only official language. Official documents in those states are only in English. It has caused some problems but it has simplified some things, too.


  6. While I think that everyone should be able to freely speak in their own language, I do find that when I am in a place of business or conducting business and employees are speaking around me in their native tongue it can be uncomfortable. I experience this a lot when I am purchasing thing from the health and beauty stores, corner stores, hair salons, etc. It is very easy to feel as though you are being talked about right in your face. I think that we are an English speaking nation and that should be the language spoken in public businesses, schools, etc. I also agree with Wendy in that whenever I have traveled to other countries, there wasn’t much effort to accommodate the fact that I only spoke English.


    1. I have not traveled much, but I would not expect people around me to accommodate my request to speak English, especially if I intended to be in that country for a while. There are smartphone apps and other translation aids if nothing else.

      I’m working a retail job right now, and people often come in asking for someone to speak Spanish. There is only one fellow in the vision center who is fluent. I’m the only other one with any knowledge of the language, so when he’s not there, the people get routed to me, and my spoken Spanish is awful. People get rather put out with me for not being more fluent, but really, most of them have been in the area for a years (according to the records we have on file). Time to start learning at least basic English. Basic communication takes a few years, so no time like the present.


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