The Power of Putting People First: How to Win C-Suite Buy-In for Employee Training, August 17, 2021, by Ali Knapp

In the words of Richard Branson, “If you take care of your employees, they will take care of the clients.” Proving that fact to the rest of your organization might be challenging, but it will pay off — literally — in the long run.

Research from the Association for Talent Development (ATD) found companies that spend the most on employee training have 218 percent higher income per employee and 24 percent higher profit margins than companies that spend the least on training. Companies like Disney World and California Pizza Kitchen prioritize the development of their employees and see significant earnings as a result.

There is power in putting employees first, and doing so may be more important now than ever before. The COVID-19 pandemic put customer service in the spotlight as businesses were called upon to think of creative ways to meet customer demand at a distance, offering things like curbside service and virtual assistance. Businesses had to rethink the way they trained employees to meet the changing realities of the economy, and the companies that invested in development were the ones that succeeded.

Despite the vital role of employee development today, training often plays second fiddle to other business concerns. Yet the ROI of a successful learning strategy cannot be ignored.

Learning Impacts Every Facet of an Organization

Every year, when a company creates its overall organizational goals, it should also create its people strategy goals. A people strategy is part of every great business strategy, and learning and development are key to any successful people strategy.

Learning impacts the business at every strategic level. When employees are continually learning, they can be more efficient at their jobs, more committed to their work, and more engaged with the company — all of which translates to better customer service, more sales, and a higher level of overall organizational performance.

So, how do you communicate the vital importance of learning and development strategies to organizational leaders and other stakeholders? The most proven way is to utilize metrics to illustrate the monetary impact. This will help you create support from within the organization to promote learning at a grassroots level.

Using Metrics to Prove the Value of Learning and Win Support

Dollar signs and growth statistics are the language of any senior leadership team. It’s much easier to get leadership buy-in for a learning plan when you effectively communicate both the plan’s strategic goals and how it will impact business outcomes.

Too many learning and development organizations operate in a silo, focusing only on compliance and onboarding employees. The way to get leadership’s support is to tie learning to the overarching goals of the business. This can be as simple as illustrating the impact of unskilled employees on things like client retention and product sales figures. If HR can offer programs that directly support business operations, it’ll gain executive support. Moreover, as HR proves the value of training to company leaders, they can become champions for future learning and development initiatives,

It can also be helpful to partner with allies in the organization who can help you reinforce and convey the impact of learning and people strategies. If HR can bridge the gap between departments and unite them under broad strategies to support larger business goals, it can create efficiencies and gain widespread support. Finding those allies starts with digging into your organization’s operations to support all learners in your company ecosystem — sales teams, partner channels, customer service departments, and more.

Record, Report, and Refine to Showcase ROI

Along with generating buy-in and justifying learning and development programs, it’s important to fortify a learning strategy with solid documentation and communication. A learning strategy should be a living document that improves and adjusts to the needs of the organization and its employees over time.

Data, feedback, and ROI should steer the course of the employee training programs. We don’t know what we don’t know — so a new learning program is unlikely to hit all of its targets on the first try. HR needs the freedom to test, document, and find the correct formula that fits the organization. Essentially, HR teams need to act as organizational learning scientists, experimenting with and refining the learning strategy to get the most out of the available resources.

Devising a Framework that Works

While justifying a learning strategy is important in itself, it’s also necessary to choose the right framework for planning and mapping learning and development programs. HR must ask the right questions, evaluate its processes, and gain the necessary stakeholder buy-in to guarantee the execution doesn’t land flat.

One helpful tactic is to create learning personas, much like a go-to-market plan creates buyer personas, that can help define people programs. In simplest terms, the process might look like this:

  • Define the group of learners and their stakeholders.
  • Define this group’s needs, goals, and how they support the business.
  • Determine key performance indicators and what success looks like for this group.
  • Survey the group to uncover key insights like: How do they learn? What do they value? How can they learn in the flow of work? Can they learn from each other? What are their motivations?
  • Use the insights you’ve gleaned to pick a framework and outline the program.
  • Review the plan with stakeholders and revise as needed.

Virtually all successful business leaders today agree that investing in people results in a healthy bottom line. Investing in employees is the best way to stay competitive, maintain customer satisfaction, capture market share, improve productivity, and recruit and retain top talent. Putting employees first is always a smart strategy.

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