In my last blog, I talked about marketing your training to participants. I concluded that while it may be appropriate for general learning it would not be appropriate to strategically align learning to your organization’s goals because the goal owner is responsible for identifying the specific target audience and ensuring that they take it. So, while you may help the owner communicate the benefits and expectations of the training, there is no need for learning and development to market it in the traditional sense of marketing. The owner, however, may very well want to market it to their organization, especially if it is voluntary.
Today, I want to talk about a related topic, and that is selling your training to senior leaders. Here the general rule is much simpler: Don’t do it! Now, I know that you may be tempted to sell the training because you firmly believe it will be of value. You have completed your needs analysis, and you know that training, specifically the training you are recommending, would close an important gap in employees’ knowledge, skill or behavior resulting in greater organizational capability and better results. Because you are convinced of this, it is only natural that you want to convince the leader as well so their employees and your company can benefit from the training.
Here is the problem: At the end of the day, you can design and deliver the very best learning that meets all of your carefully researched and planned objectives. The participants may love it and give you high satisfaction ratings. They may demonstrate that they learned the material through a test. But if they do not apply it, it is scrap learning, a waste of time and company resources.
So who is in a position to ensure that the participants actually apply your great learning? Sadly, it is not you. Only the senior leader is in a position to compel their employees to apply the learning. You can (and should) provide advice to the leader about steps they can take to ensure the highest level of application. You can advise them how to kick off the training, how to let their supervisors and employees know what their expectations are for this training, and how to devise a reinforcement strategy of positive and negative consequences. (The Kirkpatrick’s’ rightly focus on the importance of this step.)
If the senior leader does not have the time or inclination to undertake these steps to ensure application, chances are the application rate will be very low, resulting in low impact and almost certainly a negative return on investment.
This is why hard selling training to senior leaders simply will not work. They have to believe in it. They have to want it. They have to be committed to it enough to dedicate the time to make it successful. You can share your training proposal with them and outline the expected benefits but no hard sells. If they are not convinced, you might try explaining the benefits one more time, but if they still do not seem convinced, walk away. These should be business discussions about how you can help them achieve their goals through training. And you need to be clear about what will be required from them in terms of their time and commitment. If they don’t see the benefits, or if they do but don’t have the time or energy to do their part to achieve them, then let it go and don’t take it personally. Respect their judgment.
The danger here is that you go into hard sell mode, and you succeed. They give in, and you proceed to deliver the training. But because they never really believed in the benefits, or they do not have the time to do their part, the training is not properly positioned or reinforced, and consequently the application rate is low. It is a waste of time and resources. You succeeded in selling it but the training failed to have impact. And all of this was predictable.
Thus, my advice: No hard sells. It simply won’t work because the leaders have to be fully committed, and it shouldn’t take a hard sell to get that commitment. They will realize the training is in their best interest or they won’t, and this can be accomplished through a business-like discussion of benefits and costs. Don’t try to force them to do training when they don’t really believe in it or are not fully committed to it.
In other words, be more of a consultant and business partner and realize that this means they will not always take your advice. And that is OK.