5 Reasons Every Learning Program Needs an Effective Executive Sponsor

Richard Posluszny ·

Apr 14, 2021

Kimo Kippen, the former Chief Learning Officer at Hilton and Founder of Aloha Learning Advisors, once said, “Executive sponsorship secures L&D’s place in the organization’s culture. Gaining credibility and demonstrating value gets L&D the invitation to advance. Results get us an invitation to a seat at the table.”

He nailed it. There’s just one thing: It’s not enough to just have an executive sponsor. They need to be effective. 

Prosci, a leading change management organization, surveyed over 8,000 practitioners, consultants and project team members to uncover best practices for leading change. They found that projects with effective sponsorship are 3.5x more likely to meet or exceed objectives than projects with an ineffective sponsor. 

But, what makes an executive impactful? It turns out there’s some guidance for that and it’s known as the ABCs of effective sponsorship:

    • Actively and visibly participate throughout the project
    • Build a coalition of sponsorship
    • Communicate support and promote the change

An organization relies on its leaders to bring about necessary change. Ultimately, a cultural shift needs to happen from the top down for learning-powered initiatives to deliver measurable results. 

With effective executive sponsorship, learning programs have a chance. Here’s why:

  1. Learning will be aligned with the strategic goals of the business.

As I’ve mentioned before, misalignment is the number one reason learning programs fail. Misalignment between learning teams and business units (BU) happens when:

    • There’s no executive sponsor in the initiative
    • The opportunities for learning to affect change across the organization are not well understood 
    • Business outcomes are not set by (or in collaboration with) BU leaders

Executive sponsorship is critical to the success of any learning-powered initiative. That’s why the process of securing buy-in with leadership is a part of our framework, Learning Ops.

Related reading: How to Achieve Alignment Between Learning and Business Units.

  1. Online training will be well-resourced and supported.

The flow chart looks something like this:

With buy-in comes alignment > with alignment comes funding > with funding comes systems, processes and technology that enable the measurement of your initiatives. 

According to Training magazine’s 2017 Training Industry Report, “Total 2017 U.S. training expenditures — including payroll and spending on external products or services — rose significantly, increasing 32.5 percent to $90.6 billion.”

As overall spending on training is expected to climb post-2020, strategically aligned programs with effective sponsorship will be first in line to be allocated funds. 

  1. Your training initiative will engage learners and drive performance.

Aligned learning programs, with adequate funding, are able to leverage technology that not only makes measurement possible but seamlessly integrates into existing systems. This helps make learning more relevant. 

In the second and third steps of our Learning Ops framework, we focus on creating engaging content that drives better performance and delivering a frictionless and human learning experience

This translates to:

    • Establishing learning objectives, mapping the learner journey and creating content that is intentional, structured, well designed and personalized. 
    • Integrating learning content with existing, owned properties such as your website, mobile app, helpdesk, CRM, etc. This enables you to meet your learners where they are by automatically delivering valuable content right within the interfaces and touchpoints they regularly access. 

Related reading: 3 Reasons Why Mobile-Optimized Learning is Now Non-Negotiable.

  1. Your learning program will be well-adopted and make an impact.

Frictionless, engaging and human learning experiences drive better performance. When you’ve done the work, upfront, to achieve buy-in and get aligned, you’re setting the foundation to create focused learning content that can augment behavior and achieve business goals.

Additionally, an effective executive sponsor will support your initiative across the organization through active and visible sponsorship. It’s this reinforcement that leads to a learning-centric company culture and higher adoption rates across the org. 

  1. Learning is measured and you finally get a seat at the table.

According to the Linkedin Workplace Learning Report in 2017, only 4% of CEOs see ROI from L&D. Adding to that, a Bersin research paper reported that only 14% of L&D departments felt they were fully aligned with top business executives. 

We clearly have an alignment problem. It would serve the C-suite to step up their game and exercise or level up their change management skills. Massive investments in L&D without effective executive sponsorship is simply a waste. 

When you compare the disappointing stats above with the findings from IBM’s The Value of Training Report, you have a compelling reason to establish Learning Ops at your company:

    • 84% of employees in Best Performing Organizations are receiving the training needed to accomplish their goals
    • 62% of new hires intend to stay when training is provided 

But, that’s only the start. 

Today, online training is no longer a “nice to have.” It can mean the difference between stagnation and growth. 

If you’re ready to learn more and make an impact, download our eBook.


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About the Author

Richard Posluszny

Richard Posluszny oversees Northpass' marketing efforts. When Richard isn't spreading Northpass' gospel, he can be found driving something sporty, at an art gallery or learning more about American history.

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