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Bridging the L&D to Business Gap: Gaining Buy-in from Stakeholders

I’ve talked to a pile of people in L&D in a ton of different industries. Over and over, I heard the same things:

“How do I convince leadership?”

“My stakeholders don’t see this as a priority.”

“They say it’s important, but I’m not seeing the action to back that up.”

It can be SO FRUSTRATING when we “know” the answer, but no one seems to be listening.

How do we get ‘them’ to listen?

How do we get ‘them’ to care?

Even better, how do we get ‘them’ to act?

(Them = your menagerie of stakeholders)

Here’s a hint—it doesn’t involve an hour of you trying to shove it down their throat. It doesn’t matter what you want or what you think is best. Even if you have the authority to “force” people to comply, they will only go as far as you push them and they’ll stop or find another path as soon as it’s safe to do so.

Figure out what motivates your stakeholders and frame your solution to those needs.

And here’s the kicker—you might find that your solution wasn’t the best one after all, and by truly understanding your stakeholders, you can craft something even better! Ahem—this is where you should have already done a proper analysis. If you’re in L&D, you’ve likely touched sales training of some sort. You’re crafting and selling your solution here, so dust off that sales hat and smash it on your head!

It’s quite simple. You’re going to do your research and frame your offer.

Do your research

On the business:

The importance of L&D initiatives aligning with business strategies is not a new concept. Cool, cool, cool—where the heck are all these ‘strategies’ hiding?

Here’s a few ideas:

  • Just ask. Your leader, the people you work with, main stakeholders—showing genuine curiosity and care goes a long way.
  • The company annual report. If you are in a publicly traded company you can find the annual report on your website (just search “annual report” in your search bar, and it should pop up). Even if your company is not publicly traded, if it’s a large enough company you may still see an investor relations area. At minimum, read the letter from the CEO and the sections on future strategies. I highly encourage you to research and learn more about reading an annual report if you’re not familiar with them.
  • Consult your mission statement, vision, and any cultural values. You’re in L&D, so you better know them.
  • Annual initiatives. Your CEO or senior leadership has likely published something on key initiatives for the year. If you can’t find this, ask your leadership. (Side note: If you don’t know where it was, does anyone else? That might be a rabbit hole you need to dive into for a future communications initiative.)
  • Industry trends. Find sources to gain insights into trends for your company’s industry. Think blogs, podcasts, news sources, even following a thought leader on LinkedIn. Even if you’re not crafting product strategy, at a bare minimum you should understand high-level impacts to your business.
  • What’s the buzz? Did leadership just read a book they’re excited about? Is there a key new product roll out? What are people ‘buzzing’ about?

On your stakeholder(s):

Researching your stakeholders will be a multipronged approach.

  • Talk to them. Does that sound too obvious? It’s easy enough to ask for some time to get to know someone, and fostering connections goes a long way in gaining allies for future work. Lead with genuine curiosity and care; not a punch list of questions you’re trying to get through.
  • Talk to others. You can ask a few trusted mentors or peers for recommendations on the best way to collaborate with your stakeholder(s) or their line of business.
  • Use your tools. Leverage third party sites like Google, LinkedIn, Glassdoor, or other career sites.

Think about:

  • What’s in their job description?
    • What are their responsibilities?
    • How are they measured/incentivized?
  • What are their personal values?
  • What key initiatives have they driven while at the company or in previous roles?
  • What metrics are their people measured on?

Try to figure out what they care about. What will make their eyes sharpen and their ears perk?

Frame your offer

Okay, so we know the business and we know our stakeholders. It’s time to frame your offer leveraging that knowledge in the most effective way.

Find research

You’re not just making this stuff up—find some research to support your initiative that shows it will impact key concerns of the business and your stakeholder. Choose one or two key research insights that will make an impact. (Be careful not to list too many, or they will get watered down into noise.) For example:

“I know a key concern published by CEO NAME is our low retention of employees. A Brandon Hall study showed effective onboarding practices increased retention by 70% and increased productivity by 85%!”

Crunch some numbers

Calculate expected return on investment (ROI) for this initiative (targeted to what people care about). It’s okay to use some guesstimates in this, and there are some free tools out there if you ask our friend, Google.

For example, if we use the numbers by the Brandon Hall study above, you could calculate:

  • Savings of recruiting and onboarding by calculating how many people we don’t have to hire over the next five years because of increased retention.
  • Savings in productivity by calculating both productivity not lost by increased retention and increased productivity for new hires.
  • Expected increase in manager satisfaction scores, as they don’t have the stress of employee churn/untrained employees.
  • The list goes on…get creative and start with what they care about!

Keep it strategic

Did your eyes glaze over reading the calculation recommendations above? Yeah, your stakeholders’, too! Stay out of the weeds. Most stakeholders want the Big Picture. Have the calculations or the tactical implementation in your “back pocket” to whip out if someone asks, but otherwise stick with a few key metrics and Big Picture impact.

Make a pretty, pretty picture

I’m not talking paint and glitter here. Having attractive, clean graphics that communicate the vision can lead to consistent messaging. Your stakeholders can leverage these images while they socialize and communicate the initiative within the business.

From a learner perspective, you already know that a picture can be worth 1,000 words. The key is making things easy to understand!

Be specific

Let’s say your goal is accountability for managers coaching to training. What are the specific actions you need from the stakeholder(s)? “I agree our leaders need to coach their people to these behaviors” is not the only goal. Will we measure these behaviors in performance reviews? How will they hold people accountable? How will this be operationalized? Often having some ideas in your “back pocket” (man that thing is full, isn’t it?) can help as that conversation evolves.

Leave space for conversation!

Your ‘pitch’ should not be you talking for 20 minutes then pausing for questions at the end. Make things collaborative. Pause for insights and ask questions. Leave space for your stakeholders to build on your ideas and come to conclusions themselves so they feel empowered and a part of the solution. They’ll also probably give you some key talking points you should include as you evolve the conversation.

Follow up with successes

This isn’t a part of the initial framing but it had to be mentioned. Don’t forget to follow up with your successes!

A large part of building relationships and trust with your stakeholders and leaders is communicating when things go well. Celebrate wins (even small ones). Calculate actual ROI and performance impacts. Communicate clearly and often what you and your team are doing to make a difference in your world.

Apply it

Maybe you’re disappointed that there’s no magic wand or shortcut to get all the budget and buy-in you want, but I hope you found at least one thing you can do differently to understand the people you’re working with and communicate at their level.

If we care, understand, and communicate well with each other, we will do inspiring things!

You know I’m a reinforcement junky, so look back at the article. What is one (or more) concepts or tasks you want to apply? Put a reminder in your calendar for 1-week, 3-weeks, 2-months from now to remind yourself!


Published in Learning Guild 2/14/23


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