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How to win friends and influence the finance department

One man and three women looking at a heatmap on a monitor.
As a learning and development professional you know how important it is to get the buy-in of senior leaders for a training or development programme. Without active support, you know you'll be constantly defending it in senior circles and it'll be in constant danger of losing its funding.

You know the script. You scope out a terrific programme, identify a supplier you are sure will do a great job, and are excited about the value it'll add to the business. The managing director likes it and other stakeholders you've consulted are talking about who they can put on it.

And then finance gets involved. They ask what the return on investment will be and where you could shave costs – as if you haven't already been through all this already and made the case several times over. Worst of all, they ask whether it is really necessary or just nice to have?

When 'buy in' gets real

For most of your stakeholders 'buy in' is a metaphor; for finance it's literal. It's their job to weigh up the commercial value of the training.

You know they're right – if the training isn't actually contributing to the bottom line, either directly or indirectly, in their eyes it really is just a 'nice to have.' So, you're not surprised that they ask difficult questions. Still, finding answers that speak to their concerns can be difficult.

So what can we do to gain their support and push the great training idea through? Well, like any exercise in stakeholder management it starts with identifying their interests. What keeps the finance department awake at night?

One concern I have heard over and over again in my years in HR was the complaint that many of the staff didn't think 'commercially' enough. These people made decisions without thinking of the financial implications, passed up opportunities to cut costs, lacked the 'commercial savviness' for what makes a good 'business' decision. A learning and development professional who could offer a way of addressing that issue would certainly get the ear of the finance department.

Follow the money

But that'd need a way of defining what good commercial decision-making looks like in your business. You'll have heard enough senior leaders tell you that it's important and, probably, isn't as 'good' as it should be in places. But how do you articulate what good looks like? Then you'd need a simple way of assessing how people in the business measure up to that standard.

Fortunately, this is what we designed our Commercial Acumen Diagnostic to do.

A commercial acumen diagnostic tool will identify those people who are likely to make a good commercial decision, and those who take a risk every time. But perhaps most importantly, it’ll define what good commercial practice looks like in your business, and what drives it in terms of skills and knowledge. In essence, this diagnostic provides you with the data to create a 'lens' that will inform all your training provision – from the hard and soft skills – giving you the confidence that all your training supports and develops the business commercial objectives.

Do that, and soon you'll have a whole set of new friends and supporters with those in the finance department, who will champion your evidence-based decision making.

You can learn more about our Commercial Acumen Diagnostic in the video below.

Jo Lee, Senior Consultant, Leadership & Professional Development

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