Five tips to secure top-level buy-in for learning initiatives


Learning teams often meet a roadblock when it comes to securing ongoing investment in their programmes. Doug Stephen, senior vice president of the learning division at CGS, offers five ways to get C-suite executives to see the value of L&D.

According to Kenexa, 84% of employees in best-performing organisations are receiving the training they need. Yet in the worst performing organisations, only 16% receive the training that they require.

This divide speaks volumes as to why learning is, or should be, a central issue for senior executives.

Learning professionals know the value of investing in the career development of employees. But before the resources or budget for any new initiative or programme can be approved, they need to gain the buy-in and trust of the CEO and other top-level directors.

For many learning teams, this can be a recurring problem. In a recent survey we conducted of nearly 200 senior professionals responsible for corporate learning initiatives, one of the top challenges professionals reported facing was obtaining the necessary resources, including budget, to implement learning and development (L&D) programmes.

So, what can learning professionals do to gain this vital C-level support?

1. Collaborate with the business

According to the survey, most professionals in charge of learning initiatives are not including the most influential stakeholders in their process. And 60% of learning teams are collaborating with other business units fewer than four times per year.

L&D programmes win executive buy-in when they are driven by business needs. Identify the business problem that you wish to address through learning and engage the key stakeholders from across business pillars and required geographies.

Before rushing to the C-suite with a new initiative, make sure you are working with the key business groups to determine the true focus, goals and desired outcomes of the programme.

Ensure that you truly understand the problem, investigate and leverage available data to confirm that the requested L&D investment will truly address the root issue.

One example of leveraging available data comes from work we have done with a large telecommunications company.

Originally, the organisation wanted to deploy a customer service L&D programme to improve employee retention. To determine the true need, we looked at publicly available job boards for outside data that might help the programme take shape.

It revealed that approximately 72% of employees attributed poor management to their reason for leaving the company.

This data revealed that management training, in addition to customer service training, would drive the desired goal. By evaluating the available data on the job board, the company’s L&D team were able to present executives with how the training investment would help retention when proposing the programme.

2. Align with corporate strategy and industry trends

There may be a business need and an ability to demonstrate value, but for C-suite visibility and approvals, you must make the case that the effort will significantly drive the corporate strategy forward. For example, attempts to gain C-suite support for training on a product will fail if that product is not on the strategic roadmap.

Additionally, demonstrating that the required investment is aligned with industry trends provides the C-suite with the critical evidence that you and the business stakeholders have performed appropriate research before making a funding request.

3. Outline programme value and investment required

For C-level executives, approval will come down to whether the investment is worth the expected programme value.

Work with the business stakeholders to determine how you can measure interim progress, as well as the end business value. This could include cost savings, increased productivity, improved customer satisfaction, increased revenue and the like.

Identify the investment that you will need in order for the L&D efforts to be successful.

4. Stay on the path to value

While demonstrating the value of a programme initially is essential, equally so is demonstrating and communicating its value throughout.

After making the decision to invest in a business initiative and the supporting learning programme, C-level executives will want to know how the initiative is doing and whether or not it is worth maintaining.

Given the scope of the top team’s responsibilities, initiatives often have little more than a line in a business scorecard that provides a “rolled up” view of goals, progress and risks. Be sure that results are succinct and clearly state the business impact.

L&D programs should also include short-term goals, so that business success is achieved throughout the process.

This creates the opportunity to share regular updates with all stakeholders – ensuring that buy-in is maintained for the current, and potentially future, programmes.

5. Know your audience, target results

Just as important as tracking the value of a programme is knowing how to best report it.

Again, leverage relationships with line of business leaders to understand their goals and key performance indicators.

Results should then be delivered and displayed in a way that is relevant to each stakeholder. Additionally, results should always portray accuracy. Any discrepancy in reporting could lead to senior executives reconsidering their investment.

C-level executives are focused on how changes to any business processes will impact the bottom line – and professional development programmes are no exception.

Overcoming the hurdle of quantifying results and showing value of L&D initiatives to these decision makers is crucial for every learning professional.

With these tips in mind, L&D teams will be able to present a programme that will garner the resources they need to implement a successful learning programme while maintaining support and buy-in from the very top.

Doug Stephen

About Doug Stephen

Doug Stephen is senior vice president, learning division, CGS.
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