In most HR and People circles, investing in your team's learning and development is a no-brainer. Who doesn't think it's important to invest in your team's growth and happiness?
Nevertheless getting buy-in from the exec team can be a bit tricky especially at early stage startups.
We've compiled some strategies and tips that we've seen work well.
Speak in terms that'll resonate with the leadership team
There are typically four business cases to be made for L&D:
- Upskilling the team to improve performance
- Engaging the team to go above and beyond
- Retaining your employees
- Improving your employer branding to help with attracting talent
How you craft your pitch and weigh these different arguments is dependent on the unique context of your business.
If you're on a hiring spree, you might want to emphasize the need to invest in your people managers to support the growing org or how it's time to boost your employer brand to help with recruiting.
And if you're losing some key members, you might want to highlight the retention piece and how it's important to engage the team when morale might be waning.
In any case, it's important to be clear what the objective is that L&D will help accomplish.
Create a little urgency
Once you've identified the one or two business cases you want to make, it's important to pull together some supporting arguments.
Ideally you want to highlight factors that'll drive some urgency that compellingly answers: "why is it important to invest in L&D now?"
Here are a few common examples of when investing in L&D is more time sensitive:
- Your team is growing rapidly: you're promoting more and more ICs to become people managers, relatively inexperienced managers are managing bigger teams, and you're hearing more issues bubbling up. People managers play an outsized role on performance and morale with how they're interfacing with both execs and their direct reports. Unfortunately, 'learning by doing' won't be as effective with how little overlap there is between being an IC and a people manager especially at the pace you want to grow and perform.
- The team is underperforming: whereas we all want to be preemptive with investing in people managers as we're growing, reality doesn't always match that and having poor managers is directly impacting performance. It's not all on the managers though - perhaps developing a great internal culture around feedback isn't quite there yet or the team is stressed out. The list goes on.
- Remote and hybrid teams: being remote can be lonely with fewer opportunities to build bonds with the team. Creating opportunities for the team to interact with one another and share experiences is important. If it's done in a way that isn't just another ordinary meeting, that's the cherry on top.
- Homogenous teams: the data on how diverse teams outperform homogenous ones are pretty compelling. That's truly just the tip of the iceberg in terms of why it's critical to invest in DEI.
- It's what employees care about: if you don't have your own internal dataset to reference, Culture Amp's benchmarks are pretty clear about how important L&D is. Even as a mini thought experiment and zooming out for a sec, are there many other things in the professional context that you or your colleagues care more about than your own development?
- Competitors are offering personal learning budgets: competing for talent is pretty fierce and more and more companies are offering their teams a personal learning stipend. There's a decent chance that it's a component of your competitor's offer package. If not, it could be a nice edge until they inevitably catch up.
This list can get pretty long, but the key thing here is identifying the organizational cues that investing in L&D is no longer a nice-to-have.
As with any pitch, try to keep it tight and concise so each point lands. The less of a laundry list, the better.
Round out your case with relevant details
As with anything, bringing specific data points related to your business can really fortify your point.
You've got the core components of your pitch together (objectives, why invest now) and it's just a matter of gathering some supporting tidbits.
Here are a few places to look for some inspiration:
- Internal data: engagement and pulse surveys, performance reviews, anecdotes you hear from the team, the composition of the team, key functional KPIs (e.g. hiring targets, attrition), companywide metrics.
- External data: industry benchmarks (like this one from Culture Amp on the importance of L&D), what key competitors are doing, what type of solutions are available, and articles that the team might find credible ('Why startups should train their people' by Ben Horowitz).
How Foreword can help
Foreword is a marketplace for live, online workshops and we specialize in supporting busy startups and fast growing companies.
That means we know what's important to invest in and what constraints you're operating within (time, budget). All of our workshops are highly curated with facilitators that have been vetted by experts in adult learning and development (learn about our quality pledge).
Please reach out if you're also looking for some personalized support with getting internal buy-in.