You may already know the value that a learning program could bring to your company. Unfortunately, most organizations still don’t emphasize the importance of learning and development as much as they should. The way people work, where they work, and how they work are all going through a major transition. Shifting global market trends are pushing organizations of all sizes to quickly adapt in their approach to business. Additionally, the people who make up the workforce are in a state of flux.

Consider a few key trends:

  • The types of jobs and skills needed are rapidly evolving. Thirty-nine percent of employers report having difficulty filling jobs due to the lack of available skilled talent. Workers with specialized technology skills are in high demand and are well paid. (See References at the end of this article.)
  • Global compliance issues are changing the workplace from the outside. While the skills needed and the people in the workforce are shifting, the regulations that dictate how companies operate are changing workflows, oversight requirements, and processes. Seventy-five percent of global compliance professionals say there will be an increase in regulatory activity and the average cost for organizations that experience non-compliance related problems is nearly $9.4 million.
  • Baby boomers are exiting the workforce and millennials are demanding professional development. Since 2011, approximately 10,000 baby boomers have turned 65 every day—and this will continue for the next 15 years until they all reach retirement age. Millennials will make up nearly half of the working population by 2020, and the most important factor in job satisfaction for this group is the opportunity to develop skills for the future.

Why learning?

Although the need may be clear, you may need to convince the rest of your organization to jump on board. However, building a business case for a learning solution involves much more than a static business plan. To understand what business case success looks like, let us examine what failure looks like.

Failure takes place when the business case:

  • Is not in line with strategic business objectives
  • Lacks alignment with CEO and CFO goals
  • Requests spending without financial benefit projections
  • Uses HR and learning industry terminology that is a “different language”

These failures all have one thing in common; they relate to a learning-driven agenda and not to a business-driven agenda. To develop a successful business case, you must consider how people will perceive it and how it will impact the greater good of the organization.

How can you convince the rest of your organization to jump on board? Whether you know it or not, you are about to embark on a huge marketing effort. In order to develop a successful, well-rounded business case for a learning program, you need to address business challenges, analyze current processes, identify organizational needs, calculate the impact of training and how those results will align with business goals, and build alliances throughout your organization.

Define the business challenges

A wide range of business issues from changing market trends to the multigenerational workforce can call for investment in a learning and development program. But at the end of the day, an organization’s performance hinges on the performance of its people. To maintain a competitive advantage, organizations must deliver learning opportunities to employees that increase their skills and knowledge so they can get better at their jobs, drive team performance, and foster leadership development. Not only will these initiatives help organizations achieve success, they will help cultivate an ever-green talent pool from current and future employees to meet ever-evolving business challenges.

Identify current processes and organizational needs

Before you can properly prescribe learning as a solution to a business challenge, you must examine your learning strategy today. Where are the inefficiencies? What are the organizational risks? What work isn’t getting done that should be getting done? Identify the checklist of specific pain-points and process inefficiencies that a learning solution could alleviate.

Oftentimes, mandatory and strategic training requirements exist in many different areas of your organization, and it’s your job to discover and compile them. For example, compliance training, often the primary driver for many learning solutions, is usually distributed in various forms among many different departments. Form a task force to find out who is carrying out redundant processes and activities. Look into the following areas:

  • Human Resources: Onboarding training, workplace-conduct compliance training, and leadership development training
  • IT Group: Systems rollout training, cybersecurity awareness, IT skills training, and internal process training
  • Product Support/Call Center: Product training for internal support and extended-enterprise customer training
  • Marketing: Extended-enterprise prospect and customer training
  • Sales: Sales training, leadership training, and new product rollout training
  • Alliances: Partner’s new product training and competency certifications
  • Health and Safety Departments: Mandatory compliance training

Taking the time to map out the various processes and training requirements across your organization will provide three major benefits: expose areas of redundancy and leverage opportunities, highlight the manual steps in each process (for example, email notifications or course assignments), and reveal weaknesses in your compliance management and highlight areas of risk.

Building the business case

Now that there is a clear understanding of the necessary considerations when building a business case, let’s talk about why learning is so important. A successful learning program is all about knowing and growing the capabilities of your employees. It’s about the individual. You can’t hire or outsource your way out of a knowledge or skills gap—and it is only going to become more difficult as the economy improves and the demand for skilled talent increases. The only source of sustainable competitive advantage and control for organizations is the ability to rapidly acquire and apply new knowledge and skills, which allows individuals to quickly adapt to new challenges while spurring innovation and growth.

A successful learning program is not just pushing static courses and content to employees. It is an interactive, dynamic experience that helps organizations understand what skills and competencies their employees have today and how they can help their people grow and develop to build the skills and competencies needed to succeed in an increasingly competitive global market. The business case should also highlight the longer term benefits that a learning program can have on organizational culture, employee satisfaction and retention, and customer experience.

Financial analysis

Once you’ve mapped out the processes, met with other groups, highlighted redundancies, and showed inefficiencies, you can calculate how much time and money is spent managing, training, and reporting with current systems and processes. With this information in hand, you’ll be able to present a case for centralizing and automating these functions.

A solid business case for learning should illustrate that developing internal talent is cost-effective to alternatives such as recruiting. Financial analysis should cover the payback period, which outlines how long it will take to recover the initial investment of the learning program and the return on investment. This showcases the monetary impact you predict your investment to yield.


Discussions with subject matter experts and case studies can help determine any associated risks with the learning program. Using a single learning application to plan, implement, and assess learning activities will streamline processes, automate administration tasks, and help reduce compliance risks.

Building alliances

Who can tell you how your business case is perceived and how it will impact the greater organizational good? No single stakeholder can. In fact, according to the CEB, the average number of individuals involved in today’s buying decision is 5.4. This buying team will often have differing agendas within it. That means that in order to build consensus for a learning business case, you’ll need to identify each of the buying-team stakeholders and then secure their support by tailoring it to their specific priorities.

Who are your stakeholders and what are their priorities?


HR is responsible for ensuring that the right people, with the right skills, are in the right roles in their organizations. They have to address employee engagement, generational workforce changes, and a highly-distributed workforce (from globalization to contract labor). A learning program should be an easy sell for the HR department. Building a learning-centric organizational culture will help attract, develop, and retain employees—meeting almost every goal of this department.

Learning and Development

Leaders in L&D have similar concerns to those in HR. They want to accelerate employee productivity and drive innovation at an organizational level to meet current and future business challenges. Learning and Development will most likely buy into a learning program that is easily implemented, delivers a simplified, individualized user experience that drives employee engagement, and will contribute to overall business improvement.


The IT department is tasked with offering safe, efficient, continuous, and seamless technology to support employees in the pursuit of business goals. They are the gatekeepers responsible for keeping the organization on the cusp of new technology to stay competitive in today’s market. IT’s concerns will focus on how easily this new learning program, and the learning management system that supports it, will integrate with third-party platforms, including talent or workforce management systems as well as ERP systems. Selecting a vendor partner that can seamlessly deliver key components such as content and the learning management application significantly reduces the threat of complexity with multiple learning vendors.

Business Unit Leader

Department heads and leaders are laser-focused on driving team performance to meet organizational goals. They’re interested in having the most capable and trained staff on an individual level to support the group as a whole. A learning program that delivers training opportunities in the moment and allows employees to get better at their jobs while doing them will win over business-unit leaders by helping their team operate efficiently and deliver outstanding business results.


While procurement might not be your most enthusiastic ally, these folks cannot resist a good deal. Simple, quantitative information will be your champion with this department. To win this group over, effectively measure return-on-investment and demonstrate that a learning program is a quality investment and will save the company money. Bringing in an off-the-shelf solution or partnering with a learning vendor is more cost-effective than developing a custom solution.

You might consider uncovering shared goals between these stakeholders. Then, arrange a meeting to help the team understand how a learning program meets each of their goals while also supporting the overarching business goals to enable a stronger, more unified, and supported stance.

Deliver the business case

Although the actual business plan will differ from organization to organization, the most important consideration for HR leaders is to ensure the outlined business challenges, organizational needs, learning solutions, and expected gains are persuasive and coherent. Do they support each other in a clear and understandable way? Do they tell a compelling story?

This is the stage you “sell” your recommendation for the learning program, but rapidly evolving business challenges underscore the need for any organization to build a learning-centric culture. If you follow the prescribed methodology for building a business case for learning, the pitch should sell itself.

References , June 2014

For more tips on building a business case, download the free eBook Cloud-Based Learning Solutions: Making the Right Choice for Your Enterprise at