HR pros have to pitch budgets just like everyone else. And while employee learning and development seem like a given, especially in a tight labor market, it’s not always a slam dunk.
There are ways to sway a CEO, sources say, including pointing directly to how a program will meet a business need, using data the right way and finding influencers within the company to help you make your pitch.
Tie the request to a business need
The good news first: many L&D budgets have survived the pandemic. According to a joint TalentLMS and Society for Human Resource Management survey, more than half of 356 HR managers said their L&D budgets increased in the early years of the COVID-19 pandemic, and 67% said they expected this trend to continue.
But “more than half” still isn’t everyone, and L&D doesn’t exist in a vacuum, especially when working for a C-suite that’s skittish about a potential recession. That’s why the projected results of a proposed L&D initiative should point to how it will strategically push forward a business need, or solve a business problem, said Megan Dillon, senior manager in learning and development at Q-Centrix.
“Oftentimes you can point back to the mission and vision of the company,” she said, and how the proposed ask will strategically work towards those core tenants. Or get more granular about connecting the proposed actions to how the company is doing and where the company’s leaders want it to be, she said. So if an L&D initiative would save costs, say it. If it would generate revenue, say it. And show how.
That’s especially true for any L&D initiatives targeted at employee recruitment and retention, said Doug Coffey, assistant teaching professor of human resource management at the Rutgers School of Management and Labor Relations.
CEOs look at L&D as a way to invest in employees, he said, they “use it as a retention tool or to gain competitive advantage.”
“Building succession management and a consistent workforce are more important now in this setting,” Coffey continued; any return on investment that can be attached to employee attraction and retention can give it an extra boost in a CEO’s eyes.
Use data, but tell a story
Putting numbers behind your ask can help a CEO justify your budget request. What those numbers should depend on is the specific initiative and industry sector. So if an L&D program will generate revenue or increase a company’s specific KPI or increase productivity, say so in the request, said Dillon.
“Maybe you’re solving a problem, like X amount of folks are doing something that is a potential hazard or creating additional cost spending for an organization,” she said. “Show that your learning initiative is going to decrease the amount of times that folks are doing this thing they shouldn’t be doing, and how you’re going to save the company money that way.”
And when you have numbers about that specific initiative, report back. “Businesses care about numbers. You need to showcase and tout [success] just like someone on the operations side would do,” Dillion said.
Whatever statistics you use though, they’re usually not enough to stand on their own, said Coffey. He teaches students who are good with number crunching but “they present it more like an elevator analysis,” he said. “That’s not really telling any kind of story.”
Instead, think of your L&D budget request as a movie, with the story of why you want that fund as the leading actor and the data in a supporting role. “You have to articulate it in words, but then you support it with data,” he said.
Influence more than just the CEO
While a CEO may make the final call, they’re often not the only one who will be giving input on a final L&D budget decision. Those managers whose departments will be affected by any L&D program also should be on board.
“It’s really important for L&D folks to know and understand who the stakeholders are and who is influenced by them,” said Dillon. Making sure you know what these managers truly need, and getting their input on any proposed learning and development initiatives, can help HR make a push to a CEO as a team.
Influencers may not be tied to the ask either, she added. “Maybe they’re not going to be the ones who are spending money to get training off the ground. Maybe they’re going to be partners with HR and another business unit or function,” she said. HR and L&D pros should “have a better understanding of the level of influence,” and see how they can “cheer you on and support your initiative” where appropriate.