I’m going to let you in on a staff training secret.

I found this out after months of unsuccessfully petitioning the board of the business I was working for at the time. I needed funds to get a very important staff training project off the ground.

The project was a substantial investment and out of budget, so it required special approval. Twice, over two consecutive months I stood in front of the board and presented what I thought was a compelling, rational, well thought out case for coughing up the funds.
After my second attempt, my CEO took me aside and said, ‘you’re not talking to them in their language. You need to present a compelling business cases that makes it easy to say yes.’

After my second attempt, my CEO took me aside and said, ‘you’re not talking to them in their language. You need to present a compelling business cases that makes it easy to say yes.’

Woah! That made sense. My job was to translate all the magnificent investigation, analysis and planning I had done into a format they would connect with.

The power seats in a company have very few [if any] experienced trainers or human resource professionals sitting in them. While it’s increasingly common to have leaders passionate about training [because the evidence is stacking up every day], most senior managers have come through finance, legal or a commercial route.

Here is a sure-fire process to build a business case for your training initiative refined over years of hearing ‘No’, until one day I got the formula right and it started to rain ‘Yes’.

They speak in numbers, return on investment, business cases, spreadsheets and financial reports. We don’t. Who got into training to play with spreadsheets?. We can’t ignore the need to speak finance any longer. We need to get amongst it to get the results we want.

1. Demonstrate the staff training need with hard facts

Ideally this data comes from a Training Needs Analysis. But customer feedback, team member satisfaction surveys, changes in legislation, team turn over, specific KPI results, or general business results all provide information you can use to build a solid case of the need.

2. Set out the solution and rationale

How will the need be addressed? Be clear on the proposed solution. Have you designed a learning journey? Are you building a comprehensive learning program or an eLearning module, a blended management training program, micro-learning sessions on leadership skills. Who are you teaching, what are you teaching them and how. Describe how the training will be applied in the workplace, caching guides, follow up sessions, additional KPI’s.

What’s your proof or evidence it will work? What credibility does the organisation providing the training have? How did you make the decision? Is there a decision matrix you used to assess options? Has it worked previously? Is it endorsed by key stakeholders? Has this methodology been used before?

Remember to give your training a tail. How will it be implemented and then managed, what learning supports or tools will you use.

How will you know its successful, which leads us to point number two…

3. Be sharp on the return on investment for staff training

Sometimes the money people look at the bottom line before anything else. The value of training can be tricky to pin down, but find your measures. Percentage sales increase of 6% by the end of November? Waste management system in place, and being accurately used in all stores by the end of the month? Average COGS dropped to 29% by the end of the year? Expected uplift in team member satisfaction of 8%? Customer retention up 11%? NPS increase to 8? Managers performance rating on the competency matrix increased by an average of 12 points?

What do the numbers you’re proposing mean for real returns to the business? Can you calculate the dollars saved or made? Remember to get your front line team leader’s help on setting those goals. Not only do they need to buy-in to the numbers, they will manage at least parts of the application of the training. You may get challenged on your numbers – so make sure they add up.

Keep in mind the number of people completing the training and the rating participants give the training are useful measures and traditional ones as trainers we like to hang our hats on. But they don’t cut through the boardroom noise. We want behaviour change. Measurable business results, That’s what the leaders of your business will behind. Your mission is to demonstrate the juice is more than worth the squeeze!

If this discussion so far has made your eyes twitch or struck fear into your heart, then you have a choice. Stop reading, dismiss this as someone else’s problem or get serious about wrapping your head around the numbers. You don’t have to change careers and become an accountant to understand the commercial side of businesses. It can be as simple as tackling a kindly sort in the finance team and asking them for help or taking a course on the basics to demystify anything that makes your skin itchy.

4. Pose likely outcomes if the staff training need is not addressed

You’ve set a compelling reason for the proposed training, the numbers make perfect financial and business sense … but you might need a kicker to get it over the line. That often comes from playing out the likely outcomes if the training is not completed. What are the risks to the business? How is the company exposed? Legislative or compliance risks are easy to demonstrate; investigations, fines, bad public relations are scary. Not keeping pace with innovation in the market, team member turn-over, extra costs in the business require a little more effort to work out, but can be just as impactful. A little scenario planning is useful in making your point.

5. Build your staff training business case in one page [with lots of supporting data]

Finally, put your information together in a summary document that sets out all the main points. In a business case brevity wins over quantity. Think impactful and concise dot points and summaries. Your decision makers don’t have the time [or inclination] to wade through huge reams of information, And it’s a waste of your time. Summarise the import bits and then back up your summary with all the hard data you’ve based your recommendations and calculations on.

The great thing about following a process like this is the more you do it, the better you get at it and the more credibility you develop for your decision-making process and recommendations. That is helpful in establishing training as a serious player, and holding your own in the boardroom.

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