Talent Development Leader

Making the Business Case for L&D

Wednesday, October 18, 2023

To L&D leaders, the value of learning in business is obvious—talent development and corporate strategy are one and the same. Yet, many TD professionals face the challenge of proving its necessity for their organizations. To make the case for learning, Kimo Kippen, president of Aloha Learning Advisors, joined Lisa Cairns, vice president of learning and development at Smith & Associates, and Nestor Navidad, director of digital learning and experience at Genentech, for a panel discussion moderated by Kimberly Currier, global vice president of leadership development at AECOM. The panel dissected this perennial challenge in last month’s Talent Development Leader webinar. Here are five big ideas they charged attendees to consider when making the case for TD in their organizations:

1. Take Your Own Medicine

If you want to find the business case for L&D, start at the level of the individual. Ask yourself the questions that you often ask others: How is your role adding value, and how can it improve? Take the time to understand why we train and learn in the first place, and why it is important to you and the company. When discussing the lessons learned through his experience, Nestor Navidad said, “It’s in our own learning journey to know why we are doing something.” His advice for making the time to be intentional about L&D is to bring your team together for training that is not L&D-related but is critical for the business. This will give you the knowledge necessary for successful collaborations with other departments. Step out of your comfort zone in the same way you encourage customers to do.

2. Embed L&D Into the Company

Put yourself in front of other departments within the business so the impact of TD is visible. Seek out projects and initiate involvement, rather than waiting to be asked to join. Participate in strategic and tactical planning by providing the services you know—consulting, development, aid in launching, and so forth. ATD Research found that 87 percent of surveyed organizations found it difficult to isolate training’s impact, which means L&D isn’t visible enough to the company. Treat everyone your team reaches as a customer, both internal and external. Maintain the high expectations of delivery to your peers and you will create relationships that will develop into future collaborations. This builds goodwill between departments and eventually, people will come seeking your help.

3. Speak the Language

The panelists emphasized throughout the discussion the essential need for L&D leaders to be able to speak the language of the business. Customers need to know that you understand the pains of operation and the value of the work. You will gain authority when you are able to demonstrate industry knowledge. Kimo Kippen urged leaders to do their homework, identify the stakeholders, and become close to their project management office. Setting up an ambassador or executive sponsor is a great way to alleviate any “TD language barriers” between departments and give you a department representative in your corner. Kippen noted how this can also create a link to early adopters of learning programs who can evaluate your implementations and give data results you can share.

4. Foster Strategic Alignment

When you make the case for talent development, are you presenting it as a strategic initiative to the mission of the business? According to ATD Research, organizations that reported on talent development performance to senior leadership were significantly more likely to be highly aligned in terms of business objectives. Create a strategy that tells the “story of the business” and increase that alignment.


First, identify the challenges facing an organization. Second, examine the history embedded in the company at each level. Third, establish the parameters for the discussion of change management and create an environment where people are comfortable in sharing in the conversation.

It is important that customers see how their expertise can assimilate into company culture, and organizations with formal values that specifically mention talent development were more likely to discuss TD performance with leadership. Create an alignment between L&D strategy and the mission of the business and the recognition of your work will climb up the corporate ladder.

5. Provide the ROI Data

You may be asked the question, “Is the work you are doing saving the company time or money?” In a survey conducted by ATD, only 41 percent of TD professionals rated their company as good or excellent at measuring the effectiveness of learning programs. Many organizations rely on data collection to be convinced of the necessity of learning; however, less than half of the survey respondents said that their organization provided data literacy learning opportunities for employees. Learn how to collect, interpret, and explain data, then calculate the ROI of talent development yourself. Begin with setting a target for improvement, and select calculable points to measure. Think across multiple dimensions and you will be able to use data to back up the work you do.


If the challenge of making the business case is strenuous, remember that you were hired for a reason. Your unique perspective will often conflict with customers and management, but if you don’t speak up on the need for learning, there will never be change. Create the space to have courageous conversations, and be intentional about wanting other people’s point of view on ideas. Trust the relationship between the mission of L&D and the goals of an organization. As Lisa Cairns reminded us, “There is no real divide between learning and development and corporate strategic growth. The more that you can be certain in that, the more the successes will come.”

Read more from Talent Development Leader.

About the Author

The Association for Talent Development (ATD) is a professional membership organization supporting those who develop the knowledge and skills of employees in organizations around the world. The ATD Staff, along with a worldwide network of volunteers work to empower professionals to develop talent in the workplace.

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