Getting and retaining management support for the learning function is essential in today’s economic environment. Reacting to pressure from the board of directors or analysts to meet quarterly earnings projections, management might look to the learning and development investment budget as a place to cut costs. Training may be curtailed, postponed or — in a worst-case scenario — eliminated. Now more ever than before, the CLO must make certain learning’s contributions to the organization are recognized and respected.
This means it’s a good idea to be proactive in communicating learning and development’s goals and accomplishments to senior executives and leaders throughout the organization. Here’s a guide to accomplishing this. The tips and tactics described are suitable for a sit-down with the CEO, a report to a management committee, a budget request meeting, a company-wide conference — any forum where the audience must not only be informed but also persuaded to support the CLO’s message.
· Determine what you want to accomplish. Complete the sentence, “When the meeting is over I want the audience to …”
· Know your audience. Determine who should be at the meeting, their functions and roles. Identify what learning contributes to each person’s operating unit and make certain your presentation addresses everyone’s concerns.
· Anticipate the reactions and the objections that may crop up. Prepare thoughtful, concise answers to anticipated questions.
· Have the evidence, but avoid too many details. Focus on the big picture. You can expand on a particular point if you’re asked to. Avoid digressing from your main message. The higher the level of the audience, the shorter their attention span.
· State a position based on your knowledge of the organization’s goals. What is the organizational response to the business issues you are facing and is it working? Describe how learning’s objectives have changed or need to change along with changing organizational strategies. Avoid speculation or, even worse, emotion.
· Consider all the factors involved, but above all don’t ignore the customer impact. When your employees are customer-facing, they are your brand, not the logo that hangs on your door. How employees react to change is directly or indirectly transmitted to customers. Among the most important consequences in today’s economic climate are lowered sales because of curtailed customer service and decreased product quality.
· Make it clear that a less-skilled workforce will have many negative repercussions, including the impact on recruitment and retention. Will your best performers want to stay if they feel the company is unwilling to invest in developing their skills? When you compete for people in the recruiting process, how will your organization score compared to your competitors?
· Focus on results, using metrics that are respected by the audience. Ask external training providers to provide metrics. Communispond, for example, can provide the results of academic research that quantifies the degree to which course participants have improved overall communications skills and each of 10 skills factors that contribute to communications effectiveness.
· Assess the value of measuring against all four Kilpatrick levels compared with the cost of doing the measurement. Sometimes, non-dollar ROI implications are more important.
Use Persuasive Dialogue
· Create a collaborative environment that builds agreement. This is essential if you want to generate enthusiastic cooperation as opposed to simply provide the audience with information.
· Put passion in your presentation. Show that you care deeply about what you’re discussing. Create some energy. The audience will share your enthusiasm because energy is contagious. Speaking with the kind of passion that moves an audience to action may not come naturally to you, but the skill is easily learned.
· Get out from behind the lectern because a lectern creates a barrier between the speaker and audience. Let your whole body enliven your presentation. Gesture naturally but decisively. Vary your voice level. Use dramatic pauses.
· Use your eyes as a communications tool. If you’re talking to a single person, look at that person in the eye. But look away occasionally to avoid causing discomfort. If you’re addressing a group, lock your eye on one audience member for as long as it takes to express a thought, then do the same with another listener. Eye contact with the audience is the single most important communications skills factor, according to an academic study of Communispond training participants.
· When it’s time for the Q&A, answer questions fully, trying as much as possible to tie your response to your main message. Probe to isolate and understand objections. If a question is unclear, ask your own question to clarify what was being asked. Though the questioning may seem harsh, you must avoid defensiveness or conflict.
Have a Plan ‘B’
· The audience may not buy your main message. Be prepared to suggest alternatives.
· Be creative when considering alternatives. Examine the possibilities of redeploying instructors, redesigning a course curriculum, changing the delivery mechanism or outsourcing a training function.
· Assess resource allocation issues simultaneously and in relationship to each other rather than in chimneys.
Consider the cost of inaction. The learning function may be curtailed. Employees won’t be at the top of their game and productivity will suffer because, without development, employees will always do what they’ve always done.
The CLO plays a unique and vital role in the enterprise’s success. To protect and enhance that role, you must be proactive in influencing management decisions. This is particularly important in an economic environment where the baby is frequently thrown out with the bathwater.