Seven Challenges of Communicating the Value of Learning to Your C-Suite

CEOs, CFOs, and COOs face constant requests for additional funding for the various activities needed to make the organizations they lead successful. At the end of the day, they make budgetary and personnel decisions based on what will produce the most value for their companies. That is their job. To make these decisions, the various teams in their organizations compete for dollars and people.

It is no secret that communicating the value of learning to the executive leadership of most organizations is a significant challenge.

Let’s consider two components of this challenge. The first we can call “Playing Defense.” In the annual budgeting process, learning leaders need to defend the budget allocation of the previous fiscal year. Where and how did they spend their resources? What was the return on investment (ROI)? Can they show how the funds and hours dedicated to learning actually strengthened the organization?

Defending a learning budget is not easily done given the nature of what we do. To put it another way, other divisions are likely better prepared to defend their budget because often they have clearly defined KPIs that can easily be turned into visualizations that tell a story to the C-Suite in a language already familiar to them. Learning leaders have struggled to match other divisions which becomes painfully obvious when layoffs occur. Those of us who have been around awhile remember that during personnel cuts, members of the learning team are most often the first to be let go.

The second component we can call “Playing Offense.” Learning leaders need to be able to show the value of their products and services when making the argument for a budgetary increase. To be blunt, if we want more resources, we have to be able to show how additional funds and people will increase the overall performance of the organization. If the C-Suite leaders decide to increase your budget, they likely have to decrease the budget of some other division or decide they are going to dedicate a portion of profit to what you want to do. They are making investment decisions that can have a profound effect on the health of their organization.

What follows is a series of questions that highlight these challenges:

Is your learning aligned with your company’s organizational and financial goals? Your executive leadership team will most likely weigh every choice against the overall short and long-term objectives which, at least for publicly traded companies, are commonly available. How familiar are you with these goals and can you connect your learning goals to them?

Are you effectively communicating the value of learning to the C-Suite? How frequently? What methodology are you using? Communicating value only during the annual budget planning session is not likely to help you play defense or offense.

Are you supporting your value claim with qualitative and quantitative data? Learning teams sometimes focus on narratives and examples of excellence in learning. Chances are, this approach will not carry a lot of weight with a chief financial officer who likely thinks in numbers, not words.

Do you have a learning champion among the C-Suite? Of course, you have to communicate the value of learning to the entire executive team, but have you developed a close relationship with one or two people on that team who have a passion for learning and understand the value you bring to your organization?

Do you have the right members on your team who can lead the effort in tracking performance and communicating effectively in both quantitative and qualitative terms?

Do you have the right tech stack to be able to measure the impact of your learning? Without the ability to gather and process data, it is unlikely that you will be able to tell a compelling story to your executive team.

Have you benchmarked the performance of your learning team with other companies or available industry standards? Your executive team will not have this information at their fingertips so being able to show how your team is outperforming its peers in other companies will go a long way to demonstrating your value.

We invite you to join the July 16, 2024 webinar to learn how learning leaders from Starbucks and Ford Motor Company answer these questions. Please click HERE to register.