Do you have a Personal Learning Network (PLN)? Most of us have a range of friends, colleagues and peers that we love talking to and feel better after catching up with. Whilst you might have known some people for ages, others may be more recent acquaintances. Nonetheless, they all form an informal support and challenge network where you can explore ideas and get the benefit of their views and experience. Even if nothing tangible arises from the conversation, I usually feel that I have gained something from the relationship with my PLN.
We all have these networks to a greater or lesser extent (and if you don’t then you might want to start) but I also like to cultivate a Business Learning Network (BLN). Primarily within my organisation, this is where I network with colleagues in as many different roles and departments as possible. Why bother? Well, I find that my BLN is a useful tool for learning what is really happening in the business and what people really think.
A good BLN is particularly vital at budget time. Let’s say that you have worked hard to produce a well argued, fact based, concrete budget proposal. You’d expect it be approved, right? Unfortunately, we all know that it’s not always that simple, but your BLN can be your secret weapon to significantly increase your budget’s chances of approval.
However watertight your budget proposal is, your budget holder is only human. As such, although your hard work in producing a great business case will be crucial in persuading them, they’re also bound to be influenced by other things, including the opinions of the people around them. For example, if everyone at your organisation is excited about the proposed piece of learning, that’s lots of pressure for your budget holder to say yes! With this in mind, boost your budget proposal even further by ensuring your budget holder hears the right things.
So, where do you start?
It’s really important to consider who the key influencers are. For example, if your learning solution is designed to improve productivity in the customer service department, what will the customer service manager think? Try and map out the stakeholders who have the biggest influence in the area which your budget concerns.
It’s important to remember that people’s social influence is not always proportional to their position. Whilst the customer service manager may head the department, perhaps another member of the department has much more social influence. Think more broadly about whom people listen to and gravitate towards when any change is announced. You’ll then be ready to progress to actively building your BLN.
To build your network, you need to understand a bit more than just who the key influencers are. You need to find out where you can meet them and then comes the tricky bit… You have to be there! Being able to meet, chat and build relationships in this way is always advantageous; even if it only helps the influencer put a name to a face. Then again, strategic networking could also give you a valuable insight into key stakeholders’ issues and concerns.
My top tip would be to ask colleagues about their role and what challenges they are facing: people are incredibly complimentary when you express a genuine interest in them. Of course, it can be daunting to try and manufacture networking opportunities in this way, but to borrow a well-known sportwear company’s motto: JUST DO IT!
Nonetheless, if just the thought of engineering a conversation with key stakeholders fills you with dread, remember it is not the only way to build social goodwill. I always take time to say hello to colleagues I don’t know well, because when it comes to networking, everyone counts! Although some people will exert more direct influence over your budget holder than others, you never know who they will have a chance conversation with.
What’s more, if you take the time to talk to a wide range of colleagues, more people find out about you and your goals. A simple ‘how are you?’ in the morning builds trust and has an amazing effect on the way people (including your budget holder) view you professionally. Whilst your budget holder will still have criteria against which they judge your proposal and make a decision, I believe that people buy people, and that cultivating a strong BLN creates a positive mind-set in your budget holder when they apply their framework.
So, continue to focus on creating a brilliant business case but don’t forget the ways which social influences may impact the decision on whether your budget is approved. It only takes one yes to get a budget approved, but your budget holder is exposed to almost endless potential no’s. That’s why the secret to budget approval is strategic networking to build professional trust.
Want to know more about how to increase your L&D budget's chance of approval? Discover more in my free webinar.
Stephanie Morgan FLPI, Director of Learning Solutions, Bray Leino Learning
Sharing ideas and observations to help improve performance.
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