Organizational resources can be tough to get. Companies have become exceptionally tight-fisted and understandably cautious about how they spend money – even if what they’re spending it on has value for the business.
Technical training certainly has business value, but that value proposition can be difficult to articulate when it comes time to secure funding for new initiatives. Adri Maisonet-Morales, Vice President of Enterprise Learning and Development for Blue University at Blue Cross Blue Shield North Carolina, has learned how to successfully move from the “ask” to the actual funding. She has some concrete advice on how learning leaders can make the business case for technical training dollars and win budget not once, but many times.
What’s the best way to ask leaders for resources – time and money – to procure technical training? How do you prepare before you ask?
First, you really need to understand and be able to articulate the problem you’re trying to solve and the perceived value the solution is going to offer. In my experience, when people approach leaders or their business partners with anecdotal information, their business case falls flat very quickly. Instead, it will help to take a few ironclad steps.
One, take the time to really understand the problem that you are trying to solve and be sure the problem can be addressed through training. This point is super important because sometimes we throw training at things inappropriately. This risk here is that the training won’t yield the right outcomes, and that may jeopardize your chances of getting funding in the future.
Two, do your homework. Be prepared to defend the technical training by explaining any and all alternatives that you’ve considered along with the associated pros and cons.
Three, enlist support and buy-in from key influencers and stakeholders. This step goes a long way to demonstrate both demand and engagement from the workforce.
Finally, understand how you will measure the impact, the outcomes, and the return on investment in terms that really matter to the business.
Are there any best practices or strategies that increase the likelihood that you’ll get a yes when making a budget request?
In many cases, it comes down to timing and presentation. Be attuned to what is going on in the organization, and plan your ask when it won’t be perceived as a low priority distraction. Additionally, when requesting funding, highlight the organizational benefits, and tell the evidence-based “why we need this training story” using credible sources to make it practical.
If the training is for emerging technology, consider a proof of concept through a pilot or experiment. This is a great low risk “happy medium” that many vendors willingly support. Whether you approach the ask with a full solution or an experiment, make a point to highlight the importance of upskilling the workforce for the many industry agnostic disruptions that can impede organizational performance.
Finally, be transparent. Do not oversell the benefits, but do be prepared to discuss the pros and the cons using practical examples, and emphasize what will happen if this ask is not honored. In other words, ‘if I don’t get these resources,’ or, ‘if we don’t do this training, this is what it looks like for the organization.’ Paint a compelling picture that will influence the desired outcome.
A lot of times technical training leaders have issues because they’re trying to secure training funds for emerging technologies, and there is no proof, or proof of success is limited. How should they approach those budget requests?
I would say, stay well informed on those emerging technologies, and be clear about how those technologies may add value to the organization. You need to be able to speak intelligently on: How does that value play out in your organization? How will it improve the workforce? Will it increase competitiveness or agility? Will it create a new and useful capability? What is the likelihood of adoption? What change efforts should be considered? Who are my champions? Who are my detractors?
To your point, there are a lot of technologies that are emerging right now that aren’t tested, and you need to be careful to not chase everything because it seems sexy or cool to do. You really need to be informed about your learner preferences, the organizational mindset, and value against cost. Again, one way to dip your big toe into new technologies and secure funding is to experiment with small, straight forward initiatives that can be efficiently executed and evaluated.
Let’s say you’ve done all of those things, and it worked. How do you make the best use of your allotted training budget or resources, so that you can ask for money again, and get it?
Document, track, and communicate with transparency. I can’t emphasize that enough. Make sure that you stay well connected to your sponsors, and that they understand every step of the way how that money is being spent and how the budget is performing. In other words, do what you say, and say what you mean.
It is imperative that you be a good steward of the funding, so take care not to squander what you’ve been given. That’s why it’s important to do your homework before you make a funding request. Demonstrating that you can manage funding within the scope of an initiative goes a long way, so if you’re not sure how to budget for technical training, seek help from someone with that expertise.
Last but not least, if you can deliver the training for less than expected, demonstrate the cost savings, and return what’s left over. Then, celebrate with humility, tell the value story, share the credit with your partners, and accept accountability for any areas that need improvement.
What more can you tell me about how to acquire and properly spend technical training dollars?
Don’t make the ask so complicated that your sponsors shy away, nor should you over simplify it to the point where they miss the value or urgency. Remember, the first step is to verify that there is a problem that technical training can solve, and that you actually need the time, the money, and the resources.
Again, some of these technologies are emerging, so be clear what success looks like to the business. This will require that you have a quantifiable measurement and evaluation strategy at the ready. To ensure that your sponsor sees the value in the technical training, you should also have a plan that reinforces the learning once the training initiative ends. This approach will provide powerful insights into positive changes that can be made to align to key performance indicators.