Gaining Leadership Buy-In For eLearning Initiatives

Summary: What does it take to get your leaders to support an eLearning effort? By building a business case and not trying to sell them using a fancy learning evaluation methodology!

How To Gain Leadership Buy-In For eLearning Initiatives

In Canada there’s a saying, “wait a minute and the weather will change”. The same can be said about learning experts and eLearning. Wait a minute and you know someone will publish an article proposing another ‘miracle’ solution guaranteeing leadership support. While there may be elements of truth to some pitches, most experts fail to provide a credible method to ensure leadership buy-in for eLearning programs.

If you’re looking for a quick fix or magic formula with fancy learning jargon that’s more fad than a proven process, then stop reading! You won’t find it here, because gaining leadership support is more than a quick fix.

The Road To Getting Leadership Endorsement

But here’s the deal. Would it be a surprise that the answer to getting leadership endorsement is right in front of you? Seriously. No magic formula. No fancy talk. No re-invented, revolutionary, biased methodologies. Just a straight up, no frills, undisputed method that will get any business leader to listen and take you seriously.

You’re probably sarcastically saying “Ya, right! Nothing is that simple…the answer is never obvious”. Your skepticism is justified. But it’s about presenting, supporting, and clearly communicating a financially sound business case. As you can see, the answer is obvious, but certainly not simple.

Surprisingly, practitioners ignore the business component at their own peril. It’s never acknowledged, but learning is a business within the business. Ultimately, leaders didn’t hire you for your business acumen. But simply ignoring this fact won't get leaders to take you seriously. Since Learning and Development is a business function, they do expect you to be business literate.

This article is not ‘our’ or ‘a’ methodology. It’s not even a methodology. It’s understanding how to apply widely accepted business principles and financial guidelines to your eLearning efforts. Trust us; you’ll never convince leaders with fancy Learning and Development evaluation methodologies. Rather, the first step is to make friends with someone in your organization’s finance department.

How Leaders See eLearning

Let’s first define how leaders see eLearning internally. This is tricky, because instinctively leaders see eLearning as two components: the “e” component and the “Learning” component.

First, leaders consider the “e” as long-term tangible item, specifically the technology infrastructure that supports learning. This is what leaders typically refer to as the learning investment. For the purpose of this article technology are tools (e.g. Learning Management System, mobile devices, software, tech hardware) used to deploy and deliver learning.

Second, leaders consider the “Learning” component as primarily intangible. As such, it’s not an investment but rather a period expense. Many of you are now screaming “Yes! Learning is an investment!”. Don’t take offence. A period expense is how leaders financially treat learning to account for it properly. Learning’s an expense, since leaders place value on how it improves performance and not solely on financial accountability.

Two Worlds Of Accountability

Leaders must consider and weigh 2 elements in their business decisions:

  1. Quantitative (financial), and
  2. Qualitative (non-financial).

Practitioners fail to respect the financial implications of their learning investment proposal. When the financial topic comes up, many Learning and Development people say “Yup, this is where it all falls apart!”. It’s not that your leaders don’t want to give money, but more about how you present a business case.

First, let’s address the financial aspect. Practitioners quickly interchange training investment with expense, and this is where they get into trouble. If you start throwing the ‘investment’ term around then, it has to mean the same to your leaders. Their capital investment decision is about how your eLearning infrastructure (tangible items) and its operational support requirements contribute to long-term organizational growth.

The second element is to measure the non-financial aspect of the eLearning capital investment. Leaders expect you to leverage the investment (e.g. technology and equipment) to improve the organizations overall performance. Essentially, the learning employees acquire through the infrastructure must demonstrate improving business performance that will indirectly lead to positive financial results. This is the purpose of an expense.

Final Word

Naturally, one article will not turn anyone into a business expert. But one article will help you to realize the business relevance for eLearning. Learning can never be assessed in a vacuum, especially when leaders must make critical resource allocation decision.

Rather than convincing your leaders about the learning benefits for an eLearning investment, speak to them about the business case. Show them evidence, both quantitatively and qualitatively, in terms they recognize and to gain their attention. Learning bores; business excites. So, start being exciting.