Good news. After presenting your employee development business case to the board, your proposed L&D budget has finally been approved. With the finances in place and buy-in from senior management, the biggest challenges are now out of the way, right?
Maybe not. Getting informed agreement from your C-suite execs is undoubtedly a big achievement and the first major step towards the success of your program. But it’s not the only buy-in you need to secure. Before you can move forwards, there’s another group of “key people” you need to convince too. Your department heads.
But, why is their engagement in your strategy so important and what can you do to secure it? Let’s take a look.
Do department heads really need to be involved in training?
“We already have an HR or L&D department — aren’t they better positioned to run the company’s employee development program?”
“Why am I required to input into the process, given that I’m already busy with the responsibilities of my day-to-day job?”
These are some reasonable questions most of your department heads will be thinking, if not asking. And the first step towards engaging managers in the training of their teams is to recognize the legitimacy of these questions.
Then, you need to figure out how to respond.
Answer #1: Department heads are training experts, too
True, your HR team are experts in HR and L&D. But your department leads have valuable training insights, too. Their expertise lies in knowing first-hand:
- what knowledge and skill sets are required to do each job
- where the gaps in that knowledge might be
- who (or what roles) to prioritize
- when best to carry out that training so that can be put into practice straight away
- how to organize and structure a training program that works around what else is going on within the department
Answer #2: Leading training leads to engagement
Many employees view L&D as a tick-box exercise that’s separate from the job they’re actually doing. This disconnect usually leads to a lack of engagement. Involving department heads in the training process closes this gap.
It sends out a powerful message that employee development is not only valued but considered vital to the success of each individual and of the department as a whole. This, in turn, leads to raised levels of engagement.
Answer #3: Sustained support reinforces knowledge
Training doesn’t end when a training program finishes. Being able to provide post-training support as and when it’s needed is a key part of a successful employee development program. It leads to better knowledge retention and improved performance, and encourages a permanent shift in behavior.
If your department heads have been directly involved in the training process, they’re perfectly placed to offer that support.
Answer #4. Ownership leads to results
Giving department heads ownership over employee development means they have the power to design and leverage that training so that it leads directly to the improved performance of their team.
Why some department heads resist training
We’ve just mentioned four solid reasons for involving department heads in the training of their teams. And, on paper, the case is a strong one. But, in practice, many still hesitate to engage with the process.
While most managers appreciate and understand the importance of training in fostering employee engagement and improving the functioning of their departments, they often have very real concerns about getting involved. Most of these are practical and tend to include:
- Time — they’re busy people with a department to run
- Inexperience — they’ve never done this before and are anxious about what it will involve
- Capacity and performance — will they still be able to deliver to time and to standard if team members are taken away from their day-to-day jobs?
- Fear of failure — what are the repercussions if training goals are not met?
It’s worth clarifying here that the buy-in you need from your department leads is different from the buy-in you’ve received from the top. As soon as your senior execs have bought into the plan, they’ve moved on.
What you need from your department heads is ongoing active engagement in your employee development program. And, there lies the challenge and the underlying reason for many of these concerns.
Making it personal
So, how do you convince department heads to take an active role in employee development? Well, first it’s important to listen to and address their concerns (like those mentioned above).
Some solutions could include:
- Making training as seamless as possible. You can do this by providing managers with a training platform that’s easy to access, customizable, and intuitive.
- Designing short courses that can be fitted in between day-to-day tasks.
- Creating self-paced learning so team members can complete their training as and when suits them.
- Being available for them when they need you — to answer questions, reassure, and review.
- Sharing successes and statistics. If you’ve got examples of how other departments have improved performance by directing their own training programs don’t keep them hidden.
All of these will move you one step closer to convincing this important group of stakeholders. But are they enough? To convince someone, you need to listen to their concerns, but you also need to speak their language. And, different department heads will have different reasons to develop their team members. Hook them in by showing an understanding of these different reasons.
Here are a few examples to get you started:
Sales: Talking targets
Whether it’s selling a solution or closing difficult deals, show your VP or Head of Sales how they can connect training to sales goals. For example, they can use a sales training course to boost individual and team performance so they can meet and exceed their quotas.
HR: Setting standards
People working in HR play a big part in promoting a culture of innovation and advancement. They need to lead by example by being creative and thinking outside the box. If you need to convince your HR lead to take an active role in team training (and they, more than anyone, shouldn’t take much convincing) reference this standard-setting expectation.
Customer Support: Keying into KPIs
Great customer service is easy to measure. From net promoter score and customer retention rate to average resolution time and conversation abandonment rate, there are clear metrics that are tied to success. Explain to your Head of Customer Support how they can build a training program that targets all of their KPIs.
Marketing: Moving with the tech
Keeping up-to-date with new channels, technologies and tools can be a real challenge for marketing professionals. Show your marketing lead how they can design a training program that supports this. Don’t forget to mention that courses such as how to use marketing automation can free up time and deliver a clear ROI.
Engineering: Bringing innovation
Your dev people are probably the ones that most need to be alert for trends, technical solutions, and so on. Your Head of Engineering will be happy to hear they don’t need to worry the team will be left behind. They’ll be also happy to hear they don’t need to bring in external talent every couple of months. As long as they invest in continuous training on topics like cybersecurity and industry-related software.
Living with learning
Employee development is only really effective when it’s closely linked up with the job at hand. And department heads are key to making this happen. As well as recognizing the importance of training in general, department heads have the power to design bespoke training courses that truly resonate with individuals and with teams — delivering results and driving engagement.
As we’ve learned, these department heads may take some convincing. But, it’s worth the effort. Because if you hook them, everyone’s a winner.
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