Editor’s Note: A recent research report sheds light on common challenges learning leaders face. These challenges were discovered through research and surveys conducted over the course of a decade. In this series of articles, we will explore these challenges and how learning leaders are responding. This article is the seventh of an eight-part series.

Training Industry research reports that nearly one-third of learning leaders have trouble securing a champion for training at their organizations. Acting as a “cheerleader” for learning and development (L&D), internal champions help “spread the word, build, carry and sustain the learning momentum … well beyond the walls of the learning department,” according to Thomas Harrell, CPTM, learning and talent development manager at Master Electronics.

By showcasing the return on investment (ROI) of L&D and, in turn, proving its value as a function within the organization, internal champions can help learning leaders gain the executive support and buy-in they need to deliver learning initiatives that drive change. “When a learning leader is able to secure an internal champion, the chances for success of the project increase. Typical[ly], the internal champion will rally around additional human and financial resources to see the project through,” says Dr. Kristal Walker, CPTM, principal consultant for 3C’s Training Group, LLC.

On the other hand, when learning leaders don’t have one centralized person to champion their efforts, “it’s harder to push a coherent agenda to make a case for training through to the people’s ears who need to hear it,” says Tom Whelan, Ph.D., director of corporate research at Training Industry, Inc.

Internal champions are invaluable resources for today’s learning leaders, but securing one requires navigating various challenges: recognizing and defining key L&D metrics and goals, proving business impact, and choosing the best person for the job.

Prove Your Impact

Proving results has long been a challenge for learning leaders, and it remains a major roadblock when trying to secure an internal champion. Harrell says, “If we do not take care as learning leaders to demonstrate how learning programs have impacted the business … then the business and team members do not see the value in learning.” Consequently, “they will not step up to be learning ambassadors [or] champions.”

To prove results, learning leaders must first listen to what executives want training to achieve and then design and implement the program accordingly. “If the [executives] say, ‘Hey, these are the metrics that this learning needs to hit,’ then you need to work towards that,’” Harrell notes.

That being said, he points out that executives aren’t L&D experts. If they don’t understand which metrics best prove business impact, remember that even if they’re in the C-suite, “You’re the person who understands adult learning theory, you’re the person who’s worried about how to measure impact and effectiveness … This is not the world they live in, so we have to be the voice of reason for them.”

Learning leaders should also make their learning initiative’s end goals clear to stakeholders from the start to highlight its potential impact on the business. Whelan says, “You can’t have a champion without knowing what the end state [of a learning initiative] is,” because internal champions can’t advocate for goals that are unclear or have yet to be defined. Ultimately, “the champion has to be willing to take risks or advocate for things.”

Walker agrees that it’s important to identify and highlight desired outcomes from the beginning. “For the learning leader, securing an internal champion for any learning and development initiative requires an intentional focus of identifying KPIs [key performance indicators] to prove success upfront, which tends to fall to the bottom of the priority list when designing training solutions.”

By aligning each training program to a key business goal or goals and designing it with that goal in mind, training professionals can explain to the executive (or small group of executives) responsible for meeting that goal how their program can help reach it. Then, it is only natural that the executive would become a champion for the program at hand.

Another way learning leaders can prove results is by highlighting smaller successes on the way to achieving larger goals. “I think that we also sometimes have to understand that the small increments and the small wins are really beneficial to the association’s customers and sponsors,” says Tricia Inderhees, CPTM, L&D leader for associate development at The Cincinnati Insurance Companies. After all, she says, “Sometimes those small wins compile to a big win.” To share these small wins, learning leaders can work with their organization’s internal communications team or host an open house to keep others informed on their progress toward reaching organizational goals.

Find the Right Fit

Uncertainty about what makes a good internal champion is part of what makes securing one so challenging. An internal champion is “a figurehead, someone who will go to bat” for L&D, according to Whelan. Therefore, it is important that learning leaders find someone as passionate about learning as they are to effectively champion their training initiatives.

Bob Little, corporate learning writer, founder of Bob Little PR and author of the e-book “Perspectives on Learning Technologies,” says, “You have to ask somebody [who] will appeal to the audience. You like to hope that the CEO will appeal to the audience, but he or she may not.” If this is the case, find someone else — another member of the C-suite, a high performer or high-potential employee, or another member of the organization who is passionate about the business of learning. Whatever their role in the organization, the best internal champions are individuals who can act as a “support system” for learning leaders when it’s hard to advocate for L&D singlehandedly, says Inderhees.

Don’t Be Discouraged

Securing an internal champion is no easy task. It is important for learning leaders to remain resilient throughout the process of securing an internal champion so they can gain the support needed to serve their organization. For learning leaders struggling to find this support, Inderhees advises, “Stay focused. See the opportunity in every ‘yes’ and every ‘no.’ See the opportunity when someone challenges you on how to demonstrate your value versus getting upset, or taking it more personally, or taking it to heart that people don’t necessarily care about learning and development — because they do.”

By proving business results, identifying and then sharing key goals with stakeholders, and determining who can best fill the role, learning leaders can effectively secure an internal champion — and tackle future challenges with an L&D warrior by their side.

Learning Leader Challenges

Don’t miss the other articles in this series: