HR showing executive statistics to get leadership buy-in

One of the keys to a successful training program, and possibly the most important, is having leadership buy-in from the top down. Having leadership support helps drive the importance of a program, assist with accountability, and establish appropriate expectations.

In the late nineties, The Association for Talent Development studied 575 organizations and discovered that the companies that invested in comprehensive training saw 218% higher income per employee than companies that didn’t have formalized training.

The same study also demonstrated that companies who invest in training have a 24% higher profit margin than organizations that spend less on training.

Leaders should be in tune with the needs and wants of their employees. Studies repeatedly show that employees desperately want training. The University of Phoenix’s 2023 Career Optimism Index found that 68% of employees surveyed would be willing to stay with their employer for their entire career if their employer made the effort to upskill them.

Sometimes getting leadership buy-in to a training program can be difficult. Often times most C-level executives do not prioritize training due to budget conflicts or lack of understanding of the benefits it will contribute to the company and their employees.

A great place to start when planning to talk with leaders is to understand why they can be so tough to talk to. Do your homework before approaching leadership, collaborate with team members, strategically select the timing, and link your values with theirs. Leadership responds well to numbers and data, so if you provide figures, you will constitute a stronger case.

Best practices for gaining executive support

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A common misconception about turnover is that it cannot be planned for or that money is the main cause employees, when in fact a big contributor is lack of training programs. According to Association for Talent Development employers can save up to 40 percent of their expenses when selecting e-learning. Leaders and managers also have a big impact on turnover – which is why it’s important to develop company leaders intentionally with business and culture goals in mind.

According to a report from The Center for American Progress, employees who make $75,000 or less cost about 20% of their salary to replace. For highly skilled executives, that number jumps to 213%!

Turnover creates expenses – severance pay, exit interviews, recruiting and onboarding to fill the position, and lost productivity for all those affected.

Chris Elliot, Chief Revenue Officer at BizLibrary, is no stranger to the cycle of executive support that can make or break a training program. As an executive, he’s spent his fair share of time reviewing proposals and is tasked with making the difficult decision of how company resources should be utilized. At our 2022 ALIGN conference, Chris shared a session on Breaking the Cycle of No Executive Support. Check out the clip of his session to learn best practices on setting up practical proposals to gain leadership buy-in for training programs.

These are steps that BizLibrary’s Client Success team regularly employ to help training program managers show the value of employee learning and development to their company leaders.

Leadership buy-in within your organization can be your biggest support system. This step cannot be missed, which is why at BizLibrary, our Client Success team works directly with clients to share best practices or work directly with executives to ensure buy-in is not only present, but visible and ongoing. Here are the steps they use:

1. Know your leaders

This goes beyond knowing who to target. There are things you need to know about the person you are seeking support from. Get to know their personality as this can help you determine the best and most appropriate approach to take.

Your presentation will also be important to consider in this process based on how your leader likes to receive information. For example, do they prefer charts and graphs, detailed information to pour through, or simply numbers? Identifying these up front will ease your mind, but also allow your leader to be more receptive to the information you’re sharing.

2. Identify above or bottom-line indicators

It is important to plan and review numbers in advance. Being able to identify if the program you are proposing will make the company money or save the company money. Sharing this type of high-level data shows you’ve done your homework and really put pen to paper. This will tell your leader “what’s in it for them.”

For helpful data and case studies about how training affects business results, view our free ebook, “Why Invest in Online Employee Training.”

3. Identify the strategy

Your approach to training must be aligned with the business, and this must be shared with your leadership team. Mutual buy-in must occur. If you are not informed on your company’s strategy, this is your starting place.

Tying a training program to a business objective, goal, or challenge will help generate more concrete results. Make sure you develop goals and metrics for your training program before presenting it to leadership. Doing this work beforehand shows how serious you are about using training and development to impact the bottom line.

4. Clarify the problems

Take time to anticipate questions or concerns in advance of your meetings. Practice your presentation with others for validation. Be able to address any anticipated concerns as a part of your presentation. This will represent forward thinking and minimize work after the fact.

5. Make time to show the solution

Be prepared to show or demo the solution. Be cautious however, to only demo when the timing is right. Don’t allow a solution or product to sell itself, even if you are sold on it. Allow your research and data to drive the presentation. Consider also including case studies or referrals as a part of the solution showcase.

6. Demonstrate thought behind the scenes

Regardless of the type of leader you are working with, some level of detail will be necessary. This is the time for you to share your plans for the training program. Be able to discuss what the implementation process would involve, resources necessary along with the timelines involved. In your planning, having a 12-month outline would be helpful.

7. Show collaborative effort

Show that you’re not working in a silo. Take time to share your plans and ideas with others in the organization. Identify who all the primary stakeholders are along with what level of support will be required. Evaluate each department and build an internal support team.

8. Build an accountability plan

Part of the discussion should include overall expectations. It is important to agree upon an accountability strategy for when the program is communicated out into the organization. Building an overall marketing plan is critical to a programs’ ongoing success.

Allow the leader to participate and contribute their ideas here, based on the culture of the company. Will there be a carrot or stick mentality, and how will either be enforced?

9. Consider timing

When approaching a leader for buy-in or support, timing can be everything. Be conscious of budgeting processes and business dependencies. It is important to be up to speed on what is happening at the macro level to ensure your proposal is not conflicting.

10. Be invested

Be certain to show enthusiasm, focus, and credibility. Recognize that you are the champion and communicate that you’re prepared to take responsibility and own successes and failures. Firmly express that you’re willing and ready to do what it takes.

What does it really look like to have full leadership support for training efforts?

Indicator #1: Your Leaders Are Actively Engaged

This is the surest sign your leaders are confident your employee training will drive results. If your company leaders are growing themselves because of your training efforts, and they’re actively promoting training to employees, then they understand the value of what you’re doing.

Indicator #2: Your Leaders Understand Your Contributions

Anyone can read a job description to you, so having leadership that knows what you do doesn’t necessarily indicate buy-in. But if your company leadership knows why you spend so much time developing training, it’s a strong indicator that they believe in your program.

Indicator #3: You Can Prove a Return

At its core, organizations exists to bring in revenue. Your training efforts are ultimately tied to this mission, and the ability to prove that training assists in this mission is a pretty sure sign that you’re doing alright in your leaders’ eyes.

For assistance in this area, be sure to check out our ebook on evaluating the impact and value of training:


Indicator #4: Your Leaders Want to Help

When your company leaders are making suggestions, or better yet – asking questions – about the state of your training efforts, it’s likely that they care about your success and understand how it ties into the success of the organization.

Indicator #5: Your Leaders Are Interested in Your Performance Metrics

If your leaders are interested in looking at your reports and seeing improvement, it’s a sign that they are eager to see how your training efforts are paying off. Repay this eagerness with detailed reports and data that tell a story.

Our award-winning content library and and new skills development platform, BizSkills, are a big part of how we help clients see the results they’ve been looking for, but it’s our strategic partnership and dedicated Client Success managers that turn our products into true solutions.

Click here to learn why industry-leading organizations choose BizLibrary as their online learning partner.