"One pound of learning requires ten pounds of common sense to apply it."
Craft an elegant story around the business case.
Test it on some friendly nontrainers.
Deliver custom versions to executives, managers, and employee focus groups.
The next step in the process of becoming a learning organization is to secure buy-in from senior management. Without their emotional commitment, your chances of success, or even getting the budget to give your project a shot, are slim. The business case must hold up as a prudent and financial proposition of your project if you expect to get their support.
The business-case document alone is meaningless without a vivid tale wrapped around it. Delivering the presentation as a story makes it genuine and personal. It's your job to tell that story. Weave a narrative around your plan that lets your audience imagine what you are going to do with their company. Show them what's wrong with the system today and tell them how you can make it better. Make them see why learning is significant to the business process.
This is the one chance you will have to sell executives on the idea, so create a presentation that will impress and intrigue them. The show you put on through your business case should be delivered in such a way as to capture the hearts, minds, and emotions of the executives and other stakeholders. They need to see a compelling, enticing business case presented in a context that is important to them.
And while savings alone are an enticing selling point, you also have to make a case for expanded learning opportunities and the impact that learning will have on their business or function. It has to be about better and cheaper learning, not just cheaper. Don't waste that chance by talking about seat time and training technology. Be sure the presentation you give uses language and data that they will understand.
You, your presentation skills, and your ability to connect with your audience will determine whether management buys into your plan. That means each time you deliver the business case, it must be customized to the audience's specific interests and desires. Have several variations of the case at your disposal and be prepared to tweak whichever one you choose for the group that will be receiving it. Show them what's in it for them. If you are meeting with sales managers, show them how your program will affect their teams ' ability to sell. If it's manufacturing, describe how you will improve productivity by cutting training time in the plants.
Before you go into any meeting with an executive you've met with before, remind yourself what's most important to that person. Whenever we conducted meetings or delivered our presentation, we always had someone with us who took notes and comments during the presentation so we could focus on the message. We referred to those comments in later meetings to show that we were paying attention and that we were genuine in our commitment to tying training to their business goals. This is a significant point, because these notes became important as we progressed through the various presentations. We can't emphasize enough how important it is to personalize your message. If executives can't see what's in it for them and their team in the first five to ten minutes, you will lose them. Everyone wants to know how any major change is going to affect them personally .
How you tell your story is up to your personality and delivery style. We presented ours as a chronology. We defined the present state, and we related the process that we went through to gather our data, how the plan was developed, and what our project would accomplish specifically for the audience.
When we talked to manufacturing, we presented the cost and impact of the current training process on that department's operation. We explained how this new system would eliminate the requirement for large segments of their employees having to leave the production line for extended periods of time. We illustrated how their needs could be met through customized and targeted learning delivered in chunks that would eliminate the workforce's having to be in a classroom during critical production phases. We explained how this system would make training available at a time that was convenient to production schedules. When we presented to other functions, we highlighted the global aspect of the system and emphasized the fact that Rockwell Collins's geographically dispersed workforce would have easy access to required training. When we met with the CEO, we showed him our overarching goals and how every area of the implementation would affect the company's flexibility, productivity, cost efficiency, and, most important, the training department's contribution to the organization's vision.
We didn't just deliver the facts; we put them into context, which is the key to capturing the audiences' imaginations. Statistics are almost meaningless without some explanation, and it's especially unlikely that your audience will understand the significance of training statistics, such as seat time or cancellation rates, without your help.
Context is critical. A plan that is exciting to you because it delves into the importance of learning theory will hold little intrigue for an audience grounded in business philosophy and financial impact. Most executives don't know anything about training and they don't care to know about it. They cannot make the connection between software features and the business goals if you don't present your business case in a framework they can relate to. You have to tell your story using details that are important to them ”dollar savings, performance improvement, increased productivity. These are the issues that attract the attention of management. Features alone won't sell the case. They hold no value if your audience doesn't appreciate their benefit.
For example, telling executives that you are going to put servers in forty-five locations across the country holds no value for them and may come across as an exorbitant investment. But, tell them that because you are putting servers in forty-five locations every employee will have instant access to training, which means the cost of delivering training will go down 45 percent, and suddenly they will pay attention. It's a subtle distinction but one that is lost in many presentations. Benefits will sell your case. Don't assume that your audience will see the benefit of any feature until you've made that connection. If you're unclear about the differences between features and benefits, have one of your sales-training experts give you a crash course. You'll be amazed at the power you can put into your presentations by using this time- tested sales-presentation technique.
Keep in mind this important notion: If you present your business case as we are suggesting, your audience will be impressed. Every time one of us has delivered a business case to a client using this model, the client walks away not only impressed but also sold on our idea ”even if it's not what the client originally set out to do. For example, The Performance Engineering Group was hired by a family-owned beverage company to train its distributors. But a detailed cultural assessment showed that what the company really needed was a new approach to choosing distributors . Managers tended to select family members or high-profile sports figures without evaluating their merit as company representatives. The business case Chris Butler made was so compelling that even though this company was founded on a commitment to family, management agreed to rebuild its distributor-selection process.
If you paint a vivid picture of what's going wrong in the existing culture and what you can do to make it right, you will win over even the most skeptical managers. In all likelihood your executive team will never have had the head of training make a presentation that was as focused or as on target as yours will be. Typically, training departments present what they think is good for the training function, not what the organization has asked them to produce.
Our business-case approach will be refreshing in and of itself, and if you've done your research properly, you will already have begun building new levels of credibility for your training organization.