It's a frustrating scenario learning leaders know all too well: You've conceived a set of engaging learning solutions that will solve critical knowledge gaps and develop needed skill sets to drive performance. You've even calculated the expected training ROI, and there's no doubt in your mind that this is a training project worth pursuing.
But now you're faced with the big question: How do you get project funding?
Everyone in the organization is fighting for limited resources, and training initiatives often fail to receive the funding necessary to successfully deliver business value to the company.
Learning leaders must be strategic in how they solicit training project funding. Here are five things learning leaders should do to prepare for their funding pitch.
This is the Who, What, and When of the project funding effort. Understand who ultimately controls the purse strings, what kinds of information they need (and want) to know, and when the best time to submit a request might be. Consider where you are in the fiscal year, and ideally time your funding request before next year's dollars have been allocated. Additionally, if your request involves a vendor or an external learning partner, determine the process for getting master services agreements approved, and loop those approvers into the project planning as early as possible.
If you have a sound learning strategy that you can take to a decision maker—one aligned to your overall organizational goals—that will do wonders for building your case, and you’re far more likely to secure project funding. While the strategy itself will vary depending on your organization's business goals and objectives, there is a basic formula for creating a learning strategy that will successfully guide the L&D organization and achieve all-important executive buy-in. Reiterating the previous point, it's important to know who your stakeholders are and what they care about so you can customize your strategy pitch accordingly.
Socialize your strategy by meeting with champions that can support your funding request. This can be accomplished by meetings, having lunch or dinner, or joining other department team meetings. Chat up executives and potential stakeholders who support the learning function generally, and your training project specifically, and ask for their help securing project funding. In your quest to find project champions, remember to tie your pitch to their own pet interests and priorities. For example, if you're trying to get funding for sales training, your training project will have a much easier time getting dollars earmarked if the vice president of sales is an active proponent.
If your learning initiative is mission-critical, but you're nevertheless running into funding roadblocks, it's appropriate to take a heavy-handed approach to conveying its importance. Draft a risk assessment statement that details the knowledge and skill gaps that will persist if the training doesn't take place, and the ensuing liabilities and business challenges that will result from inaction—and insist that key decision-makers sign it. Beyond documenting your efforts to get needed training funded, it effectively forces stakeholders to accept the risks associated with not moving forward with training, which they may be reluctant to do.
One of the most challenging tasks for a learning and development organization is the creation of a compelling business case for a learning initiative. This requires not only good data, learning solutions expertise, and a well thought-out approach, it also requires great business acumen. Identify specific business objectives being targeted, how to measure effects of training on business, and the anticipated impact on the organization. A business case is most commonly missing when learning leaders request funding for projects.
The key decision makers—those who control the budget decisions—need to understand how the learning strategy will help achieve business objectives, and that means including learning KPIs. Successful learning strategies clearly articulate the business case and justify the requested expenditures for the training and performance initiatives. Budgets are often determined and approved based on the business case for a training initiative and its relative alignment to the broader organizational strategy.
Download a free webinar, "Making the Business Case for Learning and Development Strategy," hosted by Caveo Learning CEO Jeff Carpenter. The webinar presents best practices from Fortune 500 organizations that have successfully earned budgets for L&D strategy alignment and internal process improvement. Learning leaders, put on your “business manager” hats to determine the measurable value of strategy initiates for both L&D-focused and business-focused efforts, outline a step-by step approach for creating a compelling business case, and discuss how to effectively “sell” the business case to other senior leaders.