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Jackie Clifford

Clarity Learning and Development


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How to build a business case for investment in L&D

Knowing how to build a solid business case for learning and development is vital for securing investment. Here are key considerations when looking to gain senior-level support for L&D initiatives.
low angle photo of city high rise buildings during daytime: How to build a business case for investment in L&D

When building your business case for learning investment, remember that you are preparing a proposal based on evidence. 

In your proposal you will lay out a hypothesis that a learning or development initiative will address an identified need. 

Your evidence should back up your hypothesis that what you are proposing will address the identified need in the most beneficial way, bearing in mind the resources that are available. 

In order to gather your evidence, consider the following perspectives: 

Perspective 1: Current challenges

Consider the challenges that your organisation is facing – both today and in the future.

In order to achieve buy-in across your organisation, it’s important to consider the challenges that are being faced at all levels. 

You should listen to what managers and team members are saying, both to you and to each other. You should also try to listen to what is not being said.

Once you have listened, it is important to validate that the challenges you have identified are real and are having an impact on the achievement of organisational objectives. 

At this point you should also ask yourself whether these challenges can truly be addressed via learning and/or development activities or whether a different approach would be more appropriate. 

For example, there is no point in providing customer service training for call handlers when the real issue is a software or hardware problem. 

By demonstrating that your proposed initiative can address one or more of the challenges being faced, you will have started to answer the question ‘what’s in it for me?’. This will be posed (consciously or unconsciously) as you present the initiative to your stakeholders. 

Consider the challenges that your organisation is facing – both today and in the future

Perspective 2: Organisational objectives

Alongside your consideration of the challenges being faced by your organisation, you must ensure that your proposals are aligned with the short and long-term objectives that have been identified at organisational, team and, potentially, individual level.

You will be asking for resources that include finance and time. You will be asking for attention and energy to be redirected to learning and development. Therefore, you must build a case for this to happen.

To consider the objectives through the L&D lens, ask yourself whether the required capabilities exist within the organisation to achieve the objectives. This activity will involve carrying out a learning needs analysis or a business capability assessment.

In carrying out your analysis, you may discover that the capabilities exist. However, they may not be in the right place. 

If this is the case, learning and development may or may not be the solution. 

You may want to adopt techniques from the disciplines of organisational design and development to redeploy the capabilities. Alternatively, there may be a requirement for recruitment.  

The core principles of a learning needs analysis are about discovering where gaps exist. You will need to ascertain whether the required skills, knowledge and behaviours exist to support the achievement of the stated objectives. If they are not present, this is the gap that needs to be closed. 

You will then need to provide solid evidence that the learning or development initiative that you are proposing will result in these gaps being filled. Importantly, this must be done so within the resource constraints that exist.

You may want to adopt techniques from the disciplines of organisational design and development

Perspective 3: Cost-benefit and return on investment

When you present your business case for learning and development, it is important to prove that the benefits of your proposals will outweigh the costs. This will mean achieving a positive return on investment.

When carrying out your cost-benefit analysis, you will want to consider both direct and indirect financial costs. That is, your initiative may require a budget to be allocated and it will definitely require time. 

Ensure that you are able to articulate the cost of the time involved. Take into account the time of all parties who will be impacted by the initiative. 

This includes those directly involved in any learning or development activity, as well as those supporting them. For example, line managers who will be asked to ensure that learning is transferred into the workplace. 

Presenting your business case

Finally, consider how you will present your business case. 

You should be prepared to communicate in a variety of ways. Prepare a proposal in writing using the format which is appropriate for your organisation’s communication style.

Using your proposal as the basis, prepare a presentation which covers the key points from your proposal. It should offer a compelling case that the proposals should be adopted. Tailor your presentation to the different audiences that you may be delivering to.

For initiatives which have impacts across your organisation, set up meetings with key stakeholders. You can discuss your proposals and listen to any thoughts or concerns that exist. 

In light of what you find out, be prepared to amend your proposals accordingly. 

You should be prepared to communicate in a variety of ways

Final thoughts

This article has provided a high-level overview of steps that you can take to ensure you can not only build a business case for investment in L&D, but that your business case is robust and relevant.

It is vital that L&D is fully integrated into the strategic and operational plans of an organisation if it is to truly make the difference that we, as L&D professionals, know that it can. 

Did you enjoy this article? read: Mastering business alignment: A strategic guide for today’s chief learning officers

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Jackie Clifford


Read more from Jackie Clifford

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