Jack Welch, famed international business leader and CEO of General Electric once said, “An organization’s ability to learn and translate that learning into action rapidly is the ultimate competitive advantage.” If learning is so important, why do most training professionals struggle to get the funding they need? That’s a good question, and one I will explore in this article.

Is your training operation critical to your organization?

According to a recent study by Bersin by Deloitte (see References), overall spending by businesses on workplace training and development increased by an average of 12 percent last year. In addition, organizations with mature, highly effective learning departments spent 34 percent more on training than companies that did not have mature learning departments. Those organizations that are increasing their funding are delivering outstanding results that directly align with business goals.

So, how do you become a mature learning department whose organization sees so much value in what you do that you get 34 percent more funding than training departments in other organizations? In short, making your training operation critical to your business will give you the greatest chance to receive increased funding and expand the impact of training in your organization.

The question remains whether your training operation is designed to be a critical resource for your company. The fact that funding is increasing among organizations that recognize the value of learning is encouraging to any training department. But increases in funding have a specific focus. For example, spending for training is rising for variable activities but not for fixed resources or staff expansion. Growth is occurring in contract services, new initiatives, specialized training assignments, and to purchase existing courseware, freeing internal resources to take on strategic assignments (see References).

Oftentimes these expenditures relate to corporate initiatives, such as new-product launches, implementation of new sweeping policies, or major reorganization. But what if you are not getting the funding you need to be effective; what steps can you take?

Are you in step with the trends?

Progressive training departments are implementing a number of trends; perhaps the largest and most visible is the move to mobile. Mobile learning, and the potential that this delivery system promises, are among the most compelling of any training delivery channel in the last several decades—maybe in the history of training. The opportunity to provide training nuggets and performance support any time the learner needs them is highly valuable.

A second trend is the move to social learning. Harnessing and leveraging online resources to build teams, share knowledge, and solve problems with others are some of the most effective applications of this technology. Again, you can harness mobile technologies to aid in this sharing of knowledge as it is created or needed.

Finally, another trend is the move from training as an event to learning as a lifelong process. Building a culture of learning within your organization is a path the most progressive and successful companies have taken. I’ll talk more about that later.

Run it like you own it

Perhaps the most valuable perspective you can take is, “What would I do if this department were my own independent business?” Take a cold, hard look at your department’s performance, its value, and its messaging to your customer base, even if those “customers” are internal employees. The place to begin is in evaluating the services that you provide your organization.

Are your services vital to the company’s success? Conducting training because it’s an obligation, or for legacy reasons, is no longer sufficient—in fact, it never has been. If you see training only as meeting a requirement, or because this is the way the organization has always done it, your training may not be well aligned with the business’ needs, which often results in weak results and weak funding.

Ask yourself, “What is my department’s unique value proposition?” Recognizing your team’s unique or proprietary capabilities is fundamental to the value proposition you can provide. Why should your company choose “your business?” The answer lies in that unique value proposition. If you don’t have something uniquely valuable to offer, the organization won’t value it—and they won’t fund it.

Do you have advocates? Just like an independent business, stalwart customers who believe in you are a great asset as a reference and a means to build future business. Raving fans and backers, proponents, and believers in your department’s abilities are important to proving relevance within the organization. These proponents may provide you the best opportunity to lead your department in new directions.

Are you looking for opportunities? Being aware of trends and initiatives inside and outside your organization helps you to be proactive in developing strategies that integrate learning with the organization’s success. This will help you build business among your constituents. Here again, building allies within the organization can help you gain insight into situations you might not have otherwise considered, and enable you to identify opportunities where learning can play a pivotal role.

Are you effective? How do you know? What metrics have you put in place that enable you to build a compelling story about your department’s capabilities and the value you provide to the organization? Results—ones that matter—are central to your department’s success, and your ability to increase funding.

Be driven by business drivers

Do you understand your company’s business drivers? When you break things down to their basic fundamentals, key business drivers become easy to identify. They fall into one of three areas:

  • Reducing risk
  • Increasing revenue
  • Reducing cost

These key business drivers are fundamental to your organization and its success—and since the organization cares about them, you must care about them too. It is precisely this area where many learning departments fail to prove value and relevance. Defining how your learning project will reduce risk, increase revenue, or reduce cost is absolutely essential to your learning initiatives being valuable to company management—you know, the folks who are in charge of your funding. If you take nothing else from this article, consider how your department addresses the three primary business drivers, and how you express that to senior management.

Beyond the yawn

Unfortunately many employees still say that the biggest drawback to their corporate training experience is the quality of the learning experience itself. Oftentimes, training is designed merely to transfer information and, unfortunately, provides few opportunities for mental engagement, problem solving, and other opportunities to motivate the learner and elevate the learning experience. Learners report that training is boring, and a waste of time. These are harsh words, but often true. Plenty has been written about improving the learning experience. I won’t explore this further here, but be ruthless in your evaluation of the solutions your department provides and how well they create engaging learning experiences with lasting value.

Training or lifestyle?

Historically, corporate training has occupied its own universe within the corporate structure, at least in many companies. Learning occurs in one solar system, work exists in another. Progressive-thinking organizations, however, place learning and knowledge at the heart of job performance.

Changes in technology have opened doors to entirely new ways for learning departments to become integral to the fundamental operations of the organization. Mobile devices, for example, have become omnipresent and can be a vital support tool that enhances employee performance. This can be effective for sales, or operations, or corporate support, in fact, nearly every aspect of your organization. Thinking beyond merely the delivery of knowledge and looking to the application of knowledge leads to concepts like performance support and introduces new and exciting ways to expand learning into effective directions.

To be successful, however, you need to understand not just the content, but also the context. When will people need this information? What will they be doing at that moment? How much depth of information will they need? You must have a complete picture of the use-case scenario that surrounds the need for learning. Make sure you understand the processes and problems that need solving in a performance-enhancement scenario.

Concepts such as these lead to the potential for just-in-time learning. The nature, structure, and architecture of the just-in-time learning experience changes remarkably when compared to traditional classroom learning. Learning needs to be short, requiring only seconds, or a minute or two of the learner’s time. Rather than asking what you can do in 30-minute engagements, ask what you can accomplish in 30 seconds.

First, engagement needs to be quick and immediate; that is, the learner must be able to access the information in seconds. The longer it takes for the learner to access the information within the context of the job, the less successful the performance support will be. Mobile devices with their instant-on capability and solid-state memory provide access to information quicker than any other technology to date. This is why we are so apt to reach to such a device for performance support. Make sure to capitalize on such devices, and then make the content easy to access quickly.

Next, training content needs to be specific and to the point. The more the development team understands the use-case scenario, the more specifically the content can be pointed to the problem at hand. The more specific the training, the more likely a 30-second engagement could succeed, for example.

And finally, the solution must be present when the learner needs it. That may seem obvious, but often it is not. Smartphone devices and even mobile tablets are of a size and weight factor that can make them available to the learner 100 percent of time on the job. With performance-support tools targeted to known, specific scenarios, learning that is properly designed becomes available at that moment it is needed the most. Those are also the moments when it will be valued the most.

So where’s the funding?

In order for your department to be among those that are gaining support from their corporate management you need to ensure that your work is aligned with the three corporate drivers:

  • Risk
  • Cost
  • Revenue

You must gauge every training initiative and every training expenditure against these benchmarks, and you should create an ROI statement before beginning any development work. This is primary, and fundamental to any training project. If you can’t answer why you’re creating a piece of training, your learners certainly won’t be able to either—and that results in learners saying training was a waste of time.

Like an independent business owner, know your market: its values, initiatives, preferences, opportunities, and threats. You need to be relevant, if not vital, to those factors. Taking an aggressive business-owner perspective will help your department become proactive in positing learning as a strategic resource.

Objectively assess your department’s strengths and weaknesses. Use formal and informal means of collecting opinions and perspectives on your training endeavors from your target audiences. These could be simple chats over coffee with colleagues to something more formalized in terms of evaluative surveys and assessments. And of course consider multiple levels of evaluation, not just smile sheets.

Gauge your operations and your strategic plan against those emerging trends that are changing the landscape of corporate learning. You need to think beyond the classroom, virtual or real, and move learning delivery to the point of greatest value—the moment it’s needed the most—on the job.

You need to be proactive in promoting learning as a strategic resource. But in order to do that, you need to build a case around the ROI values achieved through learning. Raise the visibility of your department’s accomplishments and justify new strategic directions based on delivering results.

Follow these guidelines and your department will be in better position to be among those receiving the funding and corporate backing to set new directions in effective learning.


The Corporate Learning Factbook 2013: Benchmarks, Trends, and Analysis of the U.S. Training Market.” Bersin by Deloitte

“7 Trends Driving the Future of Corporate Training Services in Community Colleges.” TrainingIndustry.com