5 Tips To Quickly Get Executive Buy-In For Training Initiatives
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How To Quickly Get Executive Buy-In For Training Initiatives

Sometimes getting executive buy-in for training programs can be challenging.

Every day, executives deal with a very large number of proposals and requests that need a lot of attention and buy-in, such as:

  • Software vendors that present their solution
  • Candidates promoted by HR
  • Events and trade shows looking for sponsorships
  • External vendors that offer courses and coaching
  • External agencies that sell services and consulting
  • Partnership requests
  • Offers from providers and RFPs
  • Internal programs and activities sponsored by mid-management
  • Internal programs sponsored by other internal champions

and much more!

On top of this, you also have to evaluate internal ideas for employee training and development, tools, and methodologies.

The sheer amount of documentation and information you need to absorb, digest, and evaluate is daunting, especially if you consider that everything is connected to decision-making processes and that such decisions will impact your own performance.

Needless to say, a lot depends on how clear the information you receive is, the likelihood of success of a specific initiative, the risks which are involved, and the level of commitment.

Getting executive buy-in for initiatives is a process that relies on clarity, transparency, and structure.

Nobody likes uncertainty, and, if things are not clearly presented, the decision will be made quickly.

Additionally, executives have their own agenda linked to specific targets and key performance indicators (KPIs) determined by the company's goals. If a particular initiative doesn't seem to support such targets, it probably won't be considered in the first place since budgeting is tough and decisions are always measured against priorities.

Here are some tips on how to get management buy-in for training and development initiatives more easily.

1. Prove Alignment Between Company Goals And Your Training Program

When it comes to reaching consensus in the decision-making unit for your training program, one of the most important factors is demonstrating, in a clear and concise manner, how the program perfectly aligns with the company goals.

You obviously need to be fully aware of the direction in which your organization is headed while also showing that you understand all the big whys that shape the strategy.

If you show how your training program is likely to contribute to achieving the company's goals and create a direct link between activities and how these support the main company strategy, it'll be a lot easier to gain approval for your training programs.

Make sure the trail between initiative and goal is clear. Don't skip steps! To you, it might be obvious why a certain tool or project links directly to a specific result, but for people who are not into the topic, the connection might be blurred.

2. Define Metrics And KPIs To Monitor Efficacy

This one goes without saying. Every effort needs to be connected to a clear return on investment (ROI).

Try to set SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Agreed Upon, Realistic, Time Based) that demonstrate a direct impact on the company's goals and strategy (see previous point) and create an implementation plan that shows step-by-step how long the monitoring/testing phase will last and how you intend to collect results.

When it comes to training, there are several results that can be immediately linked to metrics: employee productivity, performance, speed, operations...

The two main issues here are represented by time-to-impact and other metrics that aren't easy to convert into figures.

In some cases, training activities have a long-term effect that require a longer period of observation for evaluation. For example, activities that impact employee turnover, employee experience, sales cycles, and project management need to be monitored for a longer period of time to establish whether or not there was a clear ROI.

Other parameters are often obscure and difficult to measure. Not all results will have an immediate and clear impact on the bottom line such as sales performance.

Think of metrics such as knowledge retention, customer satisfaction/experience, and other subjective parameters that are connected to how useful the training program was for the participants.

Both problems can make it difficult for L&D professionals to get management buy-in for their activities.

To bypass such issues, it is important to identify clear proxies that can be used instead of more "vapor" metrics. This can be done by pinpointing related performance results that can immediately be linked to the training programs.

Additionally, by using scorecards and surveys, it is possible to use percentage results for perceived metrics, such as satisfaction, to make sure the overall impact of the training activities is considered and scientifically tested.

The main aim is to create a roadmap that presents the implementation plan and cost of training. Everything must be linked to specific results that need to be achieved to guarantee ROI.

Important tip: It's always better to continue the trail between training activities and results up to the point where it is clear what effect such a program will have on revenue. As a matter of fact, such a metric is relevant for basically every department and clearly understood by every executive.

When dealing with uncertainty in terms of long-term impact, it is very useful to create different scenarios to show the effects on the bottom line, such as presenting a break-even scenario as worst case.

3. Get Executive Buy-In By Creating A Clear Exit Strategy

Risk aversion is one of the main obstacles hindering new initiatives.

When facing uncertainty, it is often impossible to eliminate risks altogether. For executives, risk comes in two flavors:

  1. Reckless Risks
  2. Calculated Risks

Reckless risks are decisions that aren't backed up by data, previous experience, or industry norms and examples.

In this case, any sort of commitment or decision becomes more like a leap of faith driven by gut feelings. Such decisions might lead to incredibly good results, but it's mostly a matter of luck.

Calculated risks are linked to educated guesses, past performance, references, benchmarks, and a clear backup strategy.

The more you have to lose (meaning the higher the stakes), the less likely you are to take risks without a proper risk management strategy.

Besides, nobody feels safe by going all in with one single decision.

Think of car manufacturers that purchase the same part from different providers (also to curb political and geographical risks) or firms that rely on multiple advertising agencies.

Nobody would feel comfortable with a decision that would involve scraping everything which had been done until that point, to go all in with a new solution or methodology.

When presenting a training program to executives, you need to show a clear risk management strategy that includes all the thinking behind every decision in the process, a backup plan, and clear exit points when things seem to be going wrong (together with clear signals to identify poor performance immediately).

4. Present Your Training Program Data In A Very Concise Way

When you present a new training program, you need to include tons of information.

The documentation should present easy what, when, how, why, and who propositions together with an implementation plan, KPIs, scenarios for the ROI calculation, risk management strategy, monitoring, and so on.

The problem is that, as mentioned above, executives need to make several decisions a day, and nobody has time to go through hundreds of pages of documentation.

The best way to present a new training program and convince management of its validity is condensing all the salient information and compiling charts and diagrams.

Roadmap and implementation plans can be presented with Gantt charts or flow charts. You can also use tables and charts for calculations.

The main body that describes the target activities needs to be short. Create an abstract and link parts of it to longer documents executives can access if they feel the need to know more.

Be extremely selective with the information you present. Use only persuasive data that supports the company strategy. All the rest can be added as an appendix.

Structure your presentation in a very clear way, the same way a salesperson would structure a pitch!

Focus more on WHY and HOW, not so much on WHAT. If you manage to get people on board with your mission, they'll feel the need to know more about it and look for more information.

If you bombard people with technical details, they'll struggle to feel enthusiastic and see the big picture. Sell a vision, not a simple training program!

5. Inspire Confidence With Expertise And Leadership

If you're part of an organization, it means that your expertise is precious. Managers obviously surround themselves with experts to tackle the challenges only experts can tackle.

Always keep in mind that you are the one in the know. You need to act like a physician who prescribes a cure. Always present facts from the standpoint of an expert.

It's your idea. Your vision. Always remind people of your competence with facts and a healthy track record.

Investing in trust means making sure that people are more likely to invest in you and your initiatives. You might need to start from little projects and work your way up. Eventually, people will feel compelled to follow your leadership based on the trust you've built over time.

Once your thought processes are clearly trackable and understandable, people will be aware of your priority-setting approach and "whitelist" your ideas, pre-vetting your initiatives due to confidence.

Sometimes, it is easy to fall in love with an idea or a vision and subsequently justify actions and decisions with biases.

Getting management buy-in for Learning and Development initiatives, as with any other internal activity, is like selling a prototype. We need to show we did our homework and back up our plan with data, case studies, and information to prove that we're aware of potential biases and have found a way to eliminate the risk of incurring non-calculated risks.

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