Time and again training professionals appear to have their backs against the wall when attempting to gain support for their training initiatives. Too often training professionals present projects to management by stating what the participants (employees) will learn rather than how the business will benefit from what they learned. Recognizing the business benefits training can provide requires knowing which questions to ask.

Humans will support, or buy-into, an idea or item that offers them specific benefits. Think about the things you purchase in your life and why you purchased it. Take a flashlight, for example. You don’t necessarily buy it for the light itself but rather to help you see in the dark (the benefit/need). In business, management allocates funds for expected benefits that will lead to an ultimate goal.

A business example similar in nature to training is advertising. Allocating funds to an advertising campaign promises an expected benefit of increasing awareness for the product/service leading to the goal of gaining more sales. In this example, the longer-term business objective may be to become a product leader in the marketplace. Advertising, like training, is an intangible business activity and its value is often questioned. Advertising, as in training, may not demonstrate tangible benefits or correlate to the outcome itself but its effectiveness is very apparent when it is stopped.

For every business activity – and keep in mind that management considers training a business activity – accountability is front and center. With limited resources (money, people, and time) available to the organization, your objective is to properly position training as an essential business need to gain unconditional support and to ensure its eventual success.

Positioning training requires preparation. Preparing a business case for training to those controlling the budgets and resources within your organization requires answering some specific business questions. These seven questions will not only help to face the challenges you may encounter when proposing training solutions, but will also place you in a much stronger position when demonstrating the expected business benefits to management. They will also hopefully help you to discover more questions to ask.

The 7 Questions…

1. Is there really a need for training?
Training professionals often overestimate the value training can provide. There are going to be times when a training solution is irrelevant or inappropriate. If we are going to change the perception of training then training managers must be honest with its effectiveness and need. Build credibility and value for training by recognizing when it is appropriate to use.

2. Do all employees need training?
Management’s fundamental belief in maximizing training investments is that all employees participate in the training (what we refer to as “people in seats”). Training success is realized when the “right” individuals are involved receiving the “right” training. Focus your training efforts on the people who will benefit most by conducting a concerted needs assessment. Then clearly demonstrate to management how the identified training need will deliver business benefits to the organization. This is also an opportunity to demonstrate the cost-effectiveness impact of the training by developing the appropriate employees in the specific skills needed.

3. What are the expected outcomes?
Training professionals often misdiagnose what training is attempting to solve. Your primary goal is to improve on existing processes and outcomes. All your management wants to know is how they will achieve business results. Your training expertise is developing learning solutions; your role as a training manager is to understand the business objective and align your training solutions to it. This leads back to the business benefits mentioned in the article earlier.

4. How will the training move us closer to our goals?
Managers expect that every business decision move them closer to a desired goal. Their ultimate goal is to achieve the organizational mission and vision. Management also recognize that their people are the key to their success. Having a clear understanding of the organization’s mission and the associated strategic objectives will help you to develop appropriate training solution that will lead them one-step closer to their goals.

5. What are management’s expectations?
Every operational activity’s business objective is derived and aligned with the organization’s mission. This is the starting point for every business unit manager and how they allocate their budgets to achieve their goals. This means that each level of management has certain expectations from monetary investments. Understanding what management expects from investing in training helps in gaining support. Your responsibility is to partner with them, get to know their business, then develop a training solution that will lead them one-step closer to their goals. For example, senior managers expect to see links between productivity and profitability, whereas business-unit managers expect to see immediate outcomes and results in daily activities.

6. What resources will the training require?
Many managers believe that there are more critical issues to address with the available resources before committing them to a training effort. Avoid this objection by accounting for the resources required and ensure that you ask for no more than you need to be effective. Itemize the resources required and how they will be used to develop a result-oriented training solution. When presenting to decision-makers and those affected by the training justify your position in tangible business terms and results.

7. What will the training cost?
Cost-benefit and profit-loss are terms unfamiliar among training professionals. Speak in the language management understands by proving that employee training is an investment resulting in measurable and profitable outcomes. Be careful of trying to present a “training ROI” case as this method is not often viewed as credible for non-tangible business activities. They will ask, “what will the training cost?” but respond with “this is what the training will deliver/contribute…”. Always speak in business terms, not training jargon.

Training is about developing abilities and knowledge that translate into sustained business performance. To gain credibility and facilitate buy-in, T&D must shift to thinking in business terms and focus on organizational performance.