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How to ‘sell’ your learning and development ideas to the CEO

Blogs Human Capital Management

Development opportunities are a key driver of employee satisfaction and engagement, not to mention essential to the maintenance of technical proficiency and work quality. Despite the critical nature of learning to a company’s ability to progress and improve, all too often, it is seen as an optional extra in the HR budget. This becomes especially true when there is pressure to reduce operational costs.

But savvy HR directors know that even in times of tightened belts, investing in the skills and abilities of their current team is one of the best ways to signal trust, boost motivation and support improved performance. Talented people will not stay with organisations that appear to be stagnating and stifling their opportunities to advance. Losing high performing staff affects overall team performance and costs you more in the long run through recruitment.

However, making learning a priority is still not that easy. According to GO1’s State of Learning Report for 2020, 40% of organisations still feel that executive buy-in is the major challenge for their learning strategies. So how do you ‘sell’ your CEO and other senior managers on the importance of learning and development?

Influence the perception of your issue

The quality of your idea matters, but you also need to employ tactics that help you change the mindset of your colleagues, and position learning as a strategic offering. Your CEO probably understands that learning and development affect the success of the company, but may disagree that your initiative is a priority now. Influencing your CEO may not hinge on your solution, but on convincing leaders that the problem you are addressing needs immediate attention.

In an in-depth article for the Harvard Business Review, management professors Susan J. Ashford and James Detert spell out seven key tactics for gaining traction for ideas with your boss, supported by research. They suggest that senior executives can dismiss an idea out of hand if they do not already perceive its relevance to organisational performance.  Draw on your credibility but also be prepared to back your case with data. Do you have performance metrics that will help create tangible links to the effect of development and training?

One of the most effective tactics used by those who are successful in selling ideas to their boss is a tailored pitch. This pitch involves understanding your audience: What does your CEO value? What are his or her goals or targets? What knowledge do they already possess? Shape your messages to match the insights you have about your CEO to improve your chances of success in making your case.

Put yourself in your boss’s shoes

You might feel frustrated that programs you see as being valuable to your organisation are not getting the attention and support they need to be successful. But consider for a moment, the enormous expectations and pressures facing your boss. How human capital is being managed is just one of many areas of business that affects how a CEO’s performance is judged by their board. Your boss is no doubt concerned with the bottom line, risks and growth opportunities and the reputation of your company.

Bruce Kasanoff offers five ways to sell an idea to your boss, including embracing your boss’s agenda instead of your own. He asks, “You may have lots of great ideas, but how many of them support your boss’s conception of how things should work, instead of your own?” Think about how you can show that your learning and development idea contributes fully to your CEO’s vision for your organisation. If you can’t draw direct links between your solution and the strategic goals of your organisation, you may need to redesign your idea.

Consider the full range of external forces shaping the decisions that your CEO makes. For example, you could highlight the way that a commitment to learning and development has the potential to impact reputation. The risk to reputation is a core concern among boards and CEOs. Showcase the ways that investing in a proficient, knowledgeable and compliant team will enable your organisation to ‘walk the talk’ when it comes to maintaining integrity.

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