March 2018
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March 2018
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Newsletter Article

Gaining Leadership Buy-In for E-Learning Initiatives

Would you be surprised to hear that the way to get leadership endorsement for your learning initiatives is right in front of you? No magic formula. No fancy talk. No reinvented, revolutionary, or biased methodologies. Just a straight-up, no-frills, undisputed method that will get any business leader to listen and take you seriously.

Ready? Here it is: All you need to do is present, support, and clearly communicate a financially sound business case. As you can see, the answer is obvious but certainly not simple.

Surprisingly, practitioners ignore the business component at their own peril. It’s rarely acknowledged, but learning is a business within the business. Ultimately, leaders didn’t hire you for your business acumen. But simply ignoring this fact won't get leaders to take you seriously. Since L&D is a business function, your leaders expect you to be business literate.

To really succeed, you must understand how to apply widely accepted business principles and financial guidelines to your e-learning efforts. Trust us—you’ll never convince leaders with fancy L&D evaluation methodologies. Rather, the first step is to make friends with someone in your organization’s finance department.

How leaders see e-learning

Let’s first define how leaders see e-learning internally. This is tricky because instinctively leaders see e-learning as two components—the “e” component and the “learning” component.

First, leaders consider the “e” as long-term tangible item, specifically the technology infrastructure that supports learning. This is what leaders typically refer to as the learning investment. For the purpose of this article, technology means tools (LMS, mobile devices, software, tech hardware) used to deploy and deliver learning.

Second, leaders consider the “learning” component as primarily intangible. As such, it’s not an investment but rather a period expense. Many of you are now screaming, “Yes! Learning is an investment!” Don’t take offense. A period expense is how leaders financially treat learning to account for it properly. Learning’s an expense since leaders place value on how it improves performance and not solely on financial accountability.


Two worlds of accountability

Leaders must consider and weigh two elements in their business decisions: quantitative (financial) and qualitative (non-financial).

Practitioners fail to respect the financial implications of their learning investment proposal. When the financial topic comes up, many LD people say, “Yup, this is where it all falls apart!” It’s not that your leaders don’t want to give money, but more about how you present a business case.

First, let’s address the financial aspect. Practitioners quickly interchange training investment with expense, and this is where they get into trouble. If you start throwing the “investment” term around, then it has to mean the same thing to your leaders. Their capital investment decision is about how your e-learning infrastructure (tangible items) and its operational support requirements contribute to long-term organizational growth.

The second element is to measure the non-financial aspect of the e-learning capital investment. Leaders expect you to leverage the investment (technology and equipment) to improve the organization’s overall performance. Essentially, the learning employees acquire through the infrastructure must demonstrate improving business performance that will indirectly lead to positive financial results. This is the purpose of an expense.

Naturally, one article will not turn anyone into a business expert. But one article will help you to realize the business relevance for e-learning. Learning can never be assessed in a vacuum especially when leaders must make critical resource allocation decision.

Rather than trying to convince your leaders of an e-learning investment’s learning benefits, speak to them about the business case. Show them evidence, both quantitatively and qualitatively in terms they recognize, to gain their attention. Learning bores; business excites. So, start being exciting.

If you enjoyed this article, please visit our recent LinkedIn Learning ( Gaining Internal Buy-in For E-Learning course or our Train-the-Trainer course designed for both recent and seasoned trainers.

When it comes to what leaders expect, don’t always believe what you hear. Recognize how leaders perceive training’s role within the organization and what they expect. They know training is essential, but it’s up to you to prove them right.

© 2018 ATD, Alexandria, VA. All rights reserved.

About the Author
Ajay Pangarkar is is a co-founder of and, and co-author of The Trainer’s Balanced Scorecard: A Complete Resource for Linking Learning to Organizational Strategy. He is a Chartered Professional Accountant (CPA), Certified Management Accountant (CMA), and a Certified Training and Development Professional (CTDP).
About the Author
Performance management expert Teresa Kirkwood is co-founder of and With Ajay M. Pangarkar, she is co-author of The Trainer’s Balanced Scorecard: A Complete Resource for Linking Learning to Organizational Strategy.
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