How to Convince the C-Suite to Fund a New Learning Program

October 7, 2016

There’s ample evidence that a strong learning and development program will help you retain and optimize the talent you have, and talent is almost always an organization’s largest expense and biggest priority.

And yet, getting funding for a new learning program can be tough. Even HR leaders can see learning programs as a nice-to-have, not a need-to-have, and with budgets under constant scrutiny, getting approval for a new program can be difficult.

But not impossible. After all, countless companies have comprehensive learning and development programs, and that’s only possible because leaders said yes to funding them.

So how do you do it? How do you convince your company to advocate for and ultimately fund a new learning program?

It’s about making the business case.

Some learning and development professionals tend to focus on the innate goodness of learning and development programs. Good, right?

Well…. not really. Yes, your boss cares about doing good in the world. But they are paid to care about the health of their organization. So, getting a new learning program funded is about making the business case.

That means clearly labeling the problem you are going to solve.

Making the business case starts with identifying the exact problem you are trying to solve with this new learning program.

For example, say you believe the new learning program will increase employee retention and help build leaders from within. It’s incumbent on you, to get your program funded, to describe exactly how much turnover is costing your organization.

You can start with the hard costs, such as the steep price of recruiting and onboarding new people. And then you can call out the soft costs, such as the loss of institutional knowledge when someone leaves and decreased morale, to further make your point.

Then explain how the new program will help solve that problem.

The next step is explaining exactly how this new learning program solves the problem you laid out better than any other solution. The C-suite might think of alternatives (particularly free alternatives), so you need to answer exactly how the program solves the problem uniquely.

This all comes down to picking a product you believe in. So do your research, talk to others and try it for yourself. If you are totally convinced in the learning program you are investing in, it’ll be easy to explain how it solves the problem you're looking to solve.

Next, call out the ROI of the program.

This next step should be easy, if you’ve framed the conversation correctly. Cite the ROI of your plan by stating the cost of what your learning program is, and the benefits that come by it solving the stated problem (hint: the benefits should far outweigh the cost).

If your boss agrees to a pilot, market the program.

Generally, organizations won’t fund a new learning program fully at first. They’ll pilot it and see how it works, before making an organizational-wide commitment.

That makes the pilot critical. To ensure it goes well, market the new program through a variety of channels to ensure everyone in the pilot knows about it and gives it a shot.

If you put full effort in and the pilot falls flat, perhaps the product wasn’t right for your organization. But you owe it to yourself to do everything you can to make the pilot successful.

During the pilot, make sure you are tracking the right metrics.

As part of the pilot, you should institute tracking to measure how the new learning program fixes the problem you are trying to solve. Most learning programs will have engagement metrics, so you can easily see how many people are using it, although rarely is that compelling by itself.

Instead, if you believe the new learning program can decrease retention, measure both retention at your company and retention among people who are actively involved in your learning program. You probably won’t get meaningful data in the short time the pilot runs, but it gives you a chance to test the tracking system you set up.

Once fully approved, you need to constantly measure and tweak the program.

Say you do a great job of marketing the pilot, you have an effective way to track your KPIs and your boss, impressed by your work, agrees to fully fund the new learning program. You’re done, right?

Not quite. In fact, it’s just the beginning.

Now you need to monitor how well the program is performing and tweak it when necessary. Is it really increasing retention? How could you get even more people involved in it? Will adding an additional program more completely solve the problem?

If you can do this effectively and start providing the C-suite with clear metrics on the impact the learning program is having, there’s little chance of it going away anytime soon. More importantly, the next time you ask for additional funding, you have a much better chance of getting it.

*Image by Amanda Paul, Wikipedia Commons