We all know when it comes to talking to executives, they usually want very few details: How much will it cost? How long will it take? This is especially true when it comes to training, which unfortunately is still used as a reactive measure instead of a preventative measure.

A well-planned and executed onboarding experience is a preventative measure:

  • Improves retention (Brandon Hall for Glassdoor, 2015)
  • Improves employee satisfaction (Axonify, 2018)
  • Improves new hire productivity (Brandon Hall for Glassdoor, 2015)

So, how do you approach leadership about this type of a training initiative? How do you get their buy-in?

Put on your sales hat

A little Sales 101 never hurts because if you want to gain buy-in for a potentially expensive and long-term program, you are going to have to devise the pitch and then deliver it.

Be prepared to:

  • Address pain points
  • Describe how your proposed solution can assist with those pain points
  • Explain why this should be a priority
  • Illustrate how you and your team can make the process as easy as possible

Let’s dig in a little.

Plan, plan, plan

One of the first things I was ever taught about talking to management about gaining buy-in: Never approach a leader with a problem for which you don’t have a solution.

If you want to pitch a program, do the research, devise a plan, and have the receipts. When I refer to “receipts” I am talking about the facts and figures that support your pitch. And don’t just pull some stats and throw around the numbers. Read the information around the statistics so you can explain it well and make sure you can actually use it. If you can’t explain it, you don’t understand it.

For a pitch like this, you need to use the facts and figures in a couple of ways to support your view.

Don’t be afraid to go dark…

Because most L&D efforts are considered cost centers instead of revenue centers, you are going to have to flip the script to get some support for a new, large-scale onboarding program. You are going to be able to use facts and figures, you just have to talk about them a little differently.

For example, instead of presenting a statistic like this:

Great employee onboarding can improve employee retention by 82%.

You are going to have to dig up something more ominous like this:

The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) reported that on average it costs a company 6-9 months of an employee’s salary to replace them. So, for an employee who makes 60k annually, that comes out to 30k-45k in recruiting and training costs.

Am I cherry-picking data? You bet I am. But that is just where I start. Take that piece of statistical information and make it more applicable to your organization. Find an example within your company of an employee who was brought on but did not stay past the first year. Find their salary and do the math. Find 5. Find 10. Present THAT to your boss.

Sometimes it takes the dark stuff to create a really clear picture of what is happening. Even if you don’t collect metrics on employee retention, you can work backwards to find what you need.

Remember, you are pitching an idea. We use dramatic data to hook learners into the “what’s in it for me” aspect of learning, so use your skills here as well.

…To lead them to the light

Once you have painted the dystopian hellscape that are the real ramifications of bad or missing onboarding experiences, it is time to give them a glimpse of an onboarding utopia with a solution.

We have already talked about receipts. Now it is time for statistics like the ones up top. All the great things that others have experienced through well-planned and executed programs.

But there are other things you can present besides statistics.

Reality checks

Find case studies of successful onboarding programs to share. Does a competitor do it better? Use it. Is there a company that your stakeholders really admire or want to emulate? Find out what they’re doing and use it to sell your ideas.

Costs are also part of the reality check. At some point in your buy-in conversations, someone is going to ask about money. Depending on the size of your organization and what you want to achieve with your onboarding program, this number fluctuates wildly. At this stage ballpark it—do some research, talk to some vendors, talk to colleagues, call some of those case study folks and ask them. Tell them what you are trying to do, and they are most likely going to help you. L&D solidarity!

Big numbers are ok. You want the shock value. You are going to use it to negotiate your project.

Picture it—you are in a meeting with leadership, you have taken them through the hellscape, you have shown them what the other side looks like, and now they WANT it. And someone asks: How much?

You ballpark some figures and heads start shaking. But you are ready with a counter.

“What if I can get a more exact number?,” you ask. Eyebrows raise and someone asks: “How?”

And you say…I know you know this one: “We can conduct a needs analysis for a fraction of that and know definitively what we need, which will nail down costs.”

Yes, I snuck out my soap box for this. When you need to know what you need to know, analysis is the answer. And you can do an analysis at a relatively low cost compared to just jumping into development. This number is far more palatable to people who count the cash.

You know what else it does? It gets the ball rolling. But even better? Now, there is an investment, even if it is small, in getting this thing off the ground.