By Lyndon Wingrove, Director of Capabilities and Consulting, Thales L&D

One of the big frustrations for learning and development (L&D) departments across the UK is the way that the budget put aside for employee training is often the first to go when cuts need to be made. However, this action represents a fundamental misunderstanding of the way business works in a modern, globalised knowledge economy.

Professional development is vital to your company's growth, but the board has to be convinced not only to slash the budget in times of financial hardship, but to free up the money in the first place. Here’s how to do it in a comprehensive way that won’t leave the board with any viable reason to vote “no”.

Understand what you need
There are several areas that learning and development can focus on, and in order for you to ascertain where your time and money would be best utilised, you need to be aware of the company’s short and long-term strategic goals and areas in which it might currently be lacking. For L&D to successfully align with an overall business plan, it has to identify a need that is not being met, but could easily be if L&D was embraced.

Be clear about what you want to achieve and why you want to achieve it
What exactly do you want to improve within employees’ skillsets? What would be a successful L&D initiative? Why do you need to improve this particular skill? Ultimately, if you can demonstrate a clear benefit, financial or otherwise, or a clear need being met due to learning and development initiatives, then the board will sit up and take notice.

Research, research, research
You need to ensure you know exactly what you’re talking about when you make your pitch for L&D funding, so examine all of the options, get testimonials from people you know and trust who have benefited from L&D and show the board members that you have come up with the most cost-effective plan out of all the choices on offer. Evidence that all possible plans have been examined will further strengthen your case —the one to bring to the board is the one that will do everything needed and specified at the best price possible.

Outline an ROI strategy
As far as most organisations are concerned, the bottom line is all that matters, so it is imperative that you can come up with a return on investment strategy to show the board that the money they would be sanctioning for learning and development is not going to waste. However, the benefits of L&D are not easy to quantify in monetary terms, so you may need to come up with an alternative way of proving that the investment has been worthwhile, such as increased revenue or greater customer satisfaction. Once you know how you’re going to define success or failure, you can devise your ROI strategy.

Demonstrate using case studies
One of the best ways you can make a case for any initiative to be undertaken is to highlight instances where it has worked in the past. If it can be proven that a certain strategy, preferably one that is closely aligned with what you are trying to achieve, has been beneficial for others like yourself in the past, there is automatically less of a perceived risk than there might otherwise have been.

Highlight the benefits of employee engagement through L&D
When employees are given the chance to develop themselves professionally, their productivity and general level of competence rises, thus making them more valuable to the company in terms of the high standard of their work and the speed with which it can be completed. They will also be inclined to stay with the company for a longer period of time, having become personally invested in its long-terms goals and challenges, which saves time and money invariably spent on hiring a new employee. They will drive the company forward with their new skills and passion for what they’re doing, which can only benefit all concerned.