How to Build Learning Buy-in from Leaders
How to Build Learning Buy-in from Leaders

How to Build Learning Buy-in from Leaders

Leadership Development, Employee Learning & Development, Company Culture   — 4 MIN


HR and L&D professionals are tasked with executing and monitoring learning programs to ensure employees engage and implement the training. For some topics, the “why” behind them is easier for the end-user to recognize, such as core competencies. Others, such as emotional intelligence and leadership development, take more effort for L&D to promote. In these scenarios, having leaders and executives buy into the training helps convey that growth and development are important at all levels of the organization.

We’ve got the organization on board for creating a learning program – now what?

Congratulations! Getting the go-ahead for a learning program is one of the biggest hurdles to climb. Unfortunately for many L&D leaders, this is just the beginning. It’s not enough to have leaders that support the idea of training but that also personally value upskilling and how it benefits the organization. HBR suggests some ideas for increasing managers’ role in training, leading to greater buy-in and execution:

  • Have managers tell you what they are looking for.
    Since executives interact with other members of the C-Suite and directors, they rely heavily on managers to provide insights into what the pain points for employees are and where they want their team to improve. Although executives are not receiving the same training as college new hires, they can benefit from the results of the research. By understanding what employees need, executives can better advocate for and implement learning that aligns with shared goals.
  • Create learning metrics.
    Developing quantifiable and reasonable metrics is critical to evaluating the overall return on expectations (ROE) for a learning program. If executives don’t see results, they are less likely to invest more organizational resources and less likely to take time out of their schedule to participate. Metrics help hold everyone accountable and give managers a framework for providing more inclusive feedback to their teams.
  • Create a specific role for managers.
    Since managers and executives interact with their teams more directly than the overall HR or L&D department, make sure that they have a role in learning execution. Sending out messages directly from the leadership teams helps create a sense of buy-in from the top down, which can encourage reluctant employees to participate. For example, creating events such as Lunch and Learns or Town Hall meetings that are facilitated by HR, L&D, and/or executives is a great way to reinforce the value the organization places on learning; this also shows executives’ commitment to employee growth.

Although remote work has made the creation and engagement of learning programs more difficult, a recent Gallup survey found that 70% of imbalance across team engagement levels was directly impacted by the reputation of the manager/team lead. These statistics further highlight the influence that managers who are advocates for training have on employees’ engagement and satisfaction with the learning program.

How can executives and leaders reinforce training on their teams?

Leaders across the organization have a responsibility to their teams to build them up and support their growth. This also means that executives and leaders must carve out time to model what personal growth and development look like. In a workplace where many employees leave their jobs because of a lack of development opportunities, a new or potential hire seeing a CEO participate in a learning moment leaves a lasting impression. People want to work for organizations and leaders that are committed to future-proofing their skills and recognize that learning is an ongoing journey—regardless of their tenure and position.

What training topics should we provide for senior leaders and executives?

Although many executive leaders personally value learning, there are leaders who think reaching that height of the ladder means that you’ve reached the top of the knowledge chain. For as many CEOs out there that are committed to organizational change (like those who sign the CEO action pledge), there are just as many who would rather push these initiatives down to directors and only want to hear how things are going.

Although L&D can’t change everyone, it can craft curated learning journeys that are designed for executive leadership teams. For example, Blue Ocean Brain’s microlearning offers lessons around themes such as leadership development, emotional intelligence, resiliency, and DEI—topics that are modern and relevant for executives across industries and company sizes. Looking for more ideas for how to engage senior leaders? Forbes Human Resources Council also outlines ways to help upskill senior and executive leaders:

  • Support their delegation.
    Remind senior leaders and executives (especially those newly promoted) that their role is more advisory than before, requiring them to take a step back and motivate their team to grow and perform. By encouraging senior leaders and executives to practice delegating, you are building up the next level of their leadership skills and giving them an opportunity to create stronger relationships with their teams.
  • Let leaders specialize.
    Ever heard the phrase, “Jack (or Jane) of all trades, master of none”? Although a figure of speech, it does a good job of explaining how taking on too many things makes it hard to be great at any of them. At the organizational level, try structuring your senior and executive teams so that everyone has a particular function that reports directly through them. Making your leadership team a group of specialists, allows them to feel empowered and provides a greater sense of connectedness to the company’s goals and direction.
  • Utilize executive peer groups and 360-degree reviews.
    Consider holding monthly or quarterly meetings where the senior leaders and executives can brainstorm, share their wins and challenges, and learn from each other. This allows them to go back to their teams with more innovative ideas and new ways to problem-solve. It also helps strengthen the organizational culture from the top down. Incorporating 360-degree reviews as well as tying items such as DEI goals into an executive’s overall performance helps maintain their accountability and minimizes their bias from influencing how they view their progress.
  • Encourage two-way street communication with direct reports.
    Everyone deserves to feel valued in the workplace. Senior leaders and executives must make recognition and appreciation a core part of their managerial role. Effective organizations make communication a priority, and they provide resources to help leaders and employees have meaningful discussions. Providing senior and executive leaders with learning on topics such as inclusive feedback can help build a culture of belonging for employees and shared buy-in for goals and expectations.

Even the most well-intentioned senior and executive leaders can have challenges walking the talk and making time for training. It’s important to acknowledge that employees are looking for leadership to model these behaviors and establish professional development as an organizational priority. By incorporating learning at all levels, your organization sends a clear message that you are investing in your people and supporting the mindset that learning is an ongoing journey. Everyone has room to grow, including your CEO.