It’s now been a decade since the Global Financial Crisis (GFC) and the need to “do more with less” mantra is still well entrenched in many businesses. From the boardroom to the water cooler, executives and their leaders are in discussions about how to best manage available resources. For these leaders, the learning and development strategy and investment needs to demonstrate an immediate benefit to the business in order for it to find support and approval.
In today’s business environment it’s more important than ever to ensure that an investment in corporate training courses are 100% aligned with a company’s strategic business goals.
To be an effective and valuable business contributor, it’s not enough just to understand learning theory, principles and strategies; learning and development professionals these days need strong business skills, financial literacy, consulting skills and an ability to creatively problem solve and sell solutions to the business.
If a learning solution is not connected to business goals and evaluated against business performance indicators, then what’s the point? As the old management saying goes, ‘you can’t manage what you can’t measure’ — and this certainly applies in the world of learning.
When faced with the challenge of proving the business case for learning and development, you can demonstrate the value of your learning by setting goals that align with those of your business. Here’s how you get started.
Get to know your business and learners
To be taken seriously by key business representatives, and be able to devise solutions that can achieve business outcomes, you need to know your organisation.
If you haven’t already, spend some time ensuring you have a thorough understanding of the organisation’s business goals and objectives. You need to be able to clearly define what needs to be achieved, and by when.
Getting clarity around your business goals will help you develop a targeted, impactful training strategy that is designed to turn your goals into reality. For instance, if improved customer satisfaction is a goal, it should be formalised e.g. in 18 months, we want to achieve a NPS score of XYZ (note: make sure it is a measurable business goal).
Understanding the starting point and end goal for the business forms the basis of the training strategy. What activity do our people require in order to achieve this goal, and what gap if any exists? What skill gap can we address with an effective people learning or training strategy?
Closely aligning the training strategy to what the business wants to achieve is the most efficient way to get engagement from management to invest in learning and development. This demonstrates benefits that can be translated into direct impact and results for the business.
Savv-e’s tip: Be sure to come prepared to a meeting with senior managers and be very clear in your communication about what you’re expecting to get out of it. If they understand that you’re there to help them improve the overall business performance, they will be more open to the conversation.
Understand the budget cycle
When you get to know the business, you’ll also get to know the budgeting cycles. So if you’re looking to build a business case for an aligned learning strategy, you need to make sure you’re working towards the right timelines. There’s nothing worse than spending the time and energy to create an exciting learning strategy that can’t be funded due to the budget timetable.
Figure out when your business usually determines the annual budget (your finance department might be able to help you out with this info) to work out when you will need to start building your case. You need to have your plan ready to pitch at least a month before budgets are finalised so you have time to make amends if required and get it approved.
Build your pitch - in the language that will resonate with management
At this point you will have a clear and concise understanding of what your business goals are and this goes hand in hand with where your people are. Do they actually have the skills and the attitude required to achieve these goals? And if not, what can you do about it? What is the learning needs analysis telling you? Do you go with generic options or a more tailored approach?
When faced with the need to show the impact of your limited budget, you will need to design a training program that will maximise your ROI, either in revenue or productivity. So let’s understand how both of these could work:
After a discussion with the management team, you are informed that the business goals for this year are to increase sales by 5-7% on top of last year’s.
While some of the sales reps are performing well, many are barely making their quotas. A tailored sales program that explores the opportunities and obstacles for the specific business or industry will offer great benefits over generic sales skills training.
When introducing a new finance system, funding was provided for the software and implementation, with one or more staff responsible for creating and generating Profit & Loss reports. However, there are constant errors with the reports, not because the software is faulty, but because their skills have not been updated to match the upgraded software.
After a quick productivity audit, you found that instead of taking only one hour to generate and review the P&L report, it now takes two hours after including the time required for error-checking and making further amends.
A targeted and tailored software training program, that is designed to address the specific needs of the staff and their context, will not only inspire big productivity improvements but will also promote a better understanding of the program’s features and functionality.
What can be supported?
There is no point in implementing a training program if you do not have the facilities or means to support it.
Before you go ahead and design any training, you will need to take the time to evaluate:
- What resources do you have?
- Do you have the funding to implement an ambitious program?
- What training is necessary and what can wait?
Consult with the management team in regards to their priorities. Getting their buy-in early will speed up the decision-making process. Even though you will have a good understanding of business priorities, the management team will be able to give greater insight into key areas for improvement, and availability of staff to attend training.
Once you have identified the ‘critical’ areas, you will then be able to create a larger training schedule that can be constantly monitored and adjusted.
In the end, the keyword for all training is relevance. If your training is not relevant to the business and to your employees’ skills, then it’s not required. Money and time will have been wasted, resulting in a negative return on investment.
Over to you
Ultimately, an effective strategy, with strong buy-in from stakeholders, requires a deep understanding of both the business goals and the development needs of your organisation. Alignment is where the success awaits!
Is your eLearning technology supporting your efforts? We’re all about supporting learning professionals to provide better programs and empowering opportunities for their employees. If you’d like more information or a consultation on your company’s goals and needs, feel free to get in touch with our friendly team.