Smiling young executive sitting at his desk extending a handshak

Ask a Trainer: How Do I Get Executive Buy-In for Programs?

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

In this week’s Ask a Trainer guest post, Michael O’Brien advises how trainers can impress executives when pitching new learning initiatives.

Dear Michael,

I am a midlevel trainer at my organization. I recently had an idea for a new training initiative that I’m excited about. I shared my idea with my boss, who also liked it. The next step is to pitch my idea to a team of executives who will decide whether or not to allocate resources to this initiative. I’m quite nervous about my presentation. I know I need executive buy-in if I want my idea to succeed, but I’m not sure how to get that buy-in. As a former executive, what were you looking for when you were pitched a new idea? How would I go about getting your buy-in?

Back in my corporate executive days, what I wanted to hear was the overall impact a person’s project would have on our business. I think what is often lacking, though, is the “how”—how are trainers going to make their training sticky? In corporate America we do a lot of training and it becomes transactional and can sometimes feel like the flavor of the month. A lot of leaders do have a bias and feel like they’ve been down this road before, and they don’t want to go down the same road—which isn’t fair to the current trainer that’s now present in front of them.

First, I think it’s good for trainers to bring an influencer with them. Even if the leader doesn’t need to be convinced, someone around them may need convincing. The biggest recommendation I have, though, is to focus on what the impact of the training will be.

I would rather do fewer projects but go deeper with them so that the desired behavioral change behind the initiative will hold. If you are running two big projects and do one big idea for one project and then a different idea for the next project, that feels choppy and there is no consistency or congruency between the projects. This also makes team members think they just need to get through this one project to get to the next since there isn’t a common goal or idea connecting the different projects. In addition, it also results in learners continuing to do what they’ve always done, and there isn’t any tangible behavior change.


So, my advice to trainers who are pitching ideas is to pay a lot of attention to the impact you want to have and how you are going to achieve that effect, because that is going to be where you see top-line and bottom-line results.

Hear more about Michael O’Brien’s experiences as an executive and leadership coach on the ATD Accidental Trainer podcast. His episode will air on May 19, 2020.


If you have a question for Ask a Trainer, send it to [email protected]. You can find answers to previous questions by visiting the Ask a Trainer hub. Tim will be back next week to tackle a new question.

We welcome your comments and engagement on these posts. All posts are reviewed to ensure appropriateness based on ATD’s requirements for postings in our online communities.

Please note: Content shared in this column is provided by the author and may not reflect the perspectives of ATD.

About the Author

Michael O’Brien is president and founder of Peloton Coaching and Consulting. As a certified executive coach, he has advised, motivated, and inspired Fortune 500 executives, entrepreneurs, and other difference-makers at organizations like Brother International and Johnson and Johnson. He also serves as a mentor and volunteer with organizations that promote professional growth, such as the Healthcare Businesswomen’s Association and James Madison University’s College of Business. Before starting Peloton Coaching and Consulting, he was a healthcare sales and marketing executive and received his marketing degree from James Madison University. He lives in New Jersey with his wife and two daughters.

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