How to Communicate Learning Value to Your C-Suite

Global corporate learning is improving but it is not yet meeting the needs of learners around the world. A description of the current state of global learning and some of its causes can be found in the first article here. This article is part of a series meant to equip the learning leaders of global organizations on the best practices for creating engaging and impactful learning experiences for every team member, no matter the region or culture. CLICK HERE to see a list of the topics covered in this series and access the articles.

A learning leader at a large corporation once told me that she had a recurring nightmare. In the middle of a hectic day, she would receive a Slack message from the Chief Financial Officer at her company asking her to stop by as soon as possible. This is almost never good news as anyone knows who has been in that position. In her dream, she enters the CFO’s office, sits down, and is instructed in a blunt tone, “Show me how you and your learning team are contributing to the financial bottom line of our company.”

The nightmare ended with her waking up in a cold sweat. She was left with an unsettled feeling that often lasted the rest of the day. 

While not necessarily true of every CEO or CFO, the people in these positions tend to be highly strategic, and analytical, and value quantitative data above all else. Their training in finance deepens these traits and empowers them with the skills they need to set direction, allocate resources, and evaluate the performance of their decisions. Their focus is on numbers.

In broad strokes, learning leaders tend to have a different perspective and are typically more motivated by seeing people grow in their knowledge and skills. They, of course,  understand that a well-trained team will contribute to the overall success of the organization. However, their focus tends to be more on people as learners.

Both sets of priorities are needed in a successful company and each role is seeking to accomplish the tasks required in their job. The challenge for learning leaders is to be able to communicate the financial value of their work to those whose central concern is financial performance. 

There are two parts to successfully communicating the financial value to the CEO, CFO, and other members of the C-Suite. The first is gathering and analyzing key performance metrics. These metrics can include items like the number of learners, hours of completed training, compliance, and learner satisfaction based on surveys. These KPIs will only tell part of the story. A clear demonstration of return on investment (ROI) will be far more important to the C-Suite. If the concept of ROI is unfamiliar, please see here.

The second part of communicating financial value to C-Suite is understanding their priorities and objectives. This goes beyond telling them that people are learning. They want to know to what end and how what is being learned is helping the entire organization meet its goals. To do that, learning leaders have to listen carefully to what is being communicated by those in the C-suite. 

A key place to start is studying the resources available. In publicly traded companies, there is a wealth of information to be found in quarterly and annual reports. It is worth the time to listen in on earnings calls. In privately held companies, getting this information will require spending time with the owners and other executives. While some of this may be a challenge at first, it will pay off in the long run. Look at the cash flow statements, sales trends, spending reports, hiring objectives, and overall health of the company. 

Learning leaders need to speak the language of those who make budgetary decisions. If you know the priorities of your company’s leadership, you will be better prepared to connect what you do to what they want to do. 

Thinking back to my friend struggling with her recurring nightmare. The dream obviously arose from a place of fear. She told me that she was not sure she really understood all the connective tissue between learning and financial performance. What she feared was the gap. She also knew that her peers in sales, marketing, and production often had better data and could put their reports in a language that was quickly and easily digested by the finance team. She lacked the confidence to do the same. Hence, nightmares. 

Let’s make this practical with a series of questions. The better you can answer them, the more you will be on solid footing with the CEO, CFO, and others in the C-Suite.

  1. How does your learning eliminate waste or result in increased efficiencies? This is the love language of your chief financial officer and chief operating officer. 
  1. How do your learning team’s objectives align with the overall business goals? In the best case, you should be able to tie each line item in your learning budget to the company-wide goals for the quarter or the year. 
  1. What challenges does your business face from competitors? What opportunities? Knowing these will help you demonstrate how learning will enable your company to meet the challenges or take full advantage of the opportunities. 
  1. How strong are your relationships with the members of the C-Suite? People in these positions value strong and trusted relationships. Rather than tell them your value, ask them questions. Find out if they will be willing to help you structure your reports in such a way that it will have the biggest impact for them. 
  1. Do you have a champion in the C-Suite? Identify one person who shares your passion for learning and development and work closely with that person to help you shape your metrics and priorities so that they align with the finance team. 
  2. Do you understand the overall current position of your organization? Is it expanding? Contracting? Merging? Being acquired? What you know about the current and near-term future of your organization will help you determine learning objectives. 

Statistics that are always meaningful to financial people are things like your cost-per-learner combined with a clear statement on the financial benefits of the learning. Another is how L&D can save on employee turnover expenses. Every CFO knows the steep cost of losing people and then having to recruit, hire, and train a new person for a position. In companies with thousands of employees, the cost is extremely high.

Let’s say that your company knows that replacing one employee costs 1x that person’s salary. If you can show your learning experiences are not only providing valuable information and giving people new opportunities but also reducing turnover by 50%, the math is easy to do. Chances are, the finance team will look for ways to provide additional resources to you and your team.

One final suggestion. Look at how your peers are reporting their results. Meet with the leaders of human resources, marketing, sales, operations and any other department. Spend time learning how they translate raw data into meaningful and clear reports. If they use spreadsheets, figure out how to provide your results in the same format. If graphs and charts, use those tools. You likely already have talented graphic designers on your team. Use their talents to increase the production value of what you report. 

I don’t know if my learning leader friend was ever able to shake the recurring nightmare. I certainly hope she was. Maybe you don’t have these dreams but I recommend putting in the effort to show your value to people whose passion might be different than your own. Your learning team and your executive leadership will all appreciate the work.

Ingenuit is a unique learning agency that combines expertise in learning, localization, and staff augmentation. We are ISO-certified in three different areas to ensure projects are on time, on budget, and on target. To view our solutions, please visit our learning solutions page CLICK HERE. If you need another set of eyes on your global learning solutions, the learning experts at Ingenuiti are ready to help. We offer a Global Learning Needs Analysis which is a session with our learning experts to review your learning challenges and consider solutions. Please click CLICK HERE to set up a time to talk.