How to Influence Executives On New and More Effective Ways to Learn

a teacher addresses students in an old-fashioned classroom from the last century

As an instructional designer, you should be an expert on new ways to learn and on the various learning options that best suit the population you are charged to help. Often, however, learning and development recommendations and concerns are ignored by business executives…sometimes because executives don’t appreciate the value of training vis-à-vis other investments they need to make and sometimes because as an instructional designer you are not persuasive enough from a business perspective in your arguments. You, your company and your learning population would benefit greatly, from knowing how to influence more effectively at the highest levels.

As we work with business leaders who bring us in for our instructional design consulting expertise, we often need to coach the internal learning and development staff on how to present their point of view to the business effectively. They usually know their stuff from an instructional design perspective.  They typically have done a good job evaluating the workforce and identifying the behavior-based competencies needed to improve performance. And they are usually skilled at designing programs that address those needs in innovative and action-oriented ways to engage and grow the learners. 

The problem? They struggle to effectively sell the business and performance value of their programs to the participants, their bosses and the business as a whole.  And without high enough buy-in from “the business” compared to other priorities, even the best learning solutions will run into headwinds.  So how can instructional designers better speak the language of executives so they get the necessary attention they, and their initiatives, deserve?

Focus on what matters most to who matters most 
Business executives need relevance, impact and proof. They are more persuaded by meaningful results than opinions and anecdotes. So identify the critical few business priorities that matter most to your business stakeholders and craft a compelling solution that is 100% aligned with making them happen.  For example, if you are designing and delivering new manager training, understand how it can impact employee performance, engagement or retention and how your key stakeholders are held accountable for those areas.  Or if you are focusing on sales training, make sure that your design will directly improve revenue, margins, win-rates, cycle time or portfolio mix.  The bottom line…design what will directly help your customers to succeed.

Know your stuff 
Your stakeholders are experts in the business.  You need to be an expert in learning, behavior and performance change.  Know best practices about how people learn new skills and knowledge.  Understand what is required for new skills to be adopted on-the-job.  And be sure that you are proficient in the processes, tools and techniques required to support behavior and performance change such as coaching, measurement, and performance management.  

Really listen to executive concerns
Effective instructional designers pay attention to what is holding executives back. Is it cost? Then focus on value. Is it conflicting priorities? Then weigh one move against the other. Is it a lack of understanding where learning fits into an engaged employee culture? Then provide relevant examples of the difference learning programs have made in other organizations.

When instructional designers face resistance from the C-Suite, they need to know how to present their case with confidence, with real numbers, and by establishing the mutual goal of what matters most to the business and the workforce. 

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