Implementing online training: getting executive approval
October 19, 2022
For safety professionals interested in moving training online, one of the biggest challenges can be getting executive approval for the project. While the benefits of the move may seem obvious to anyone who's job is to improve the overall risk profile of the fleet, executives don't always see those benefits so clearly and immediately. To get their support, it's important to communicate the benefits clearly, and do so using language they understand.
Talking to CEOs
To get a CEO on side, it's important to understand the core function of their job. A CEO's primary job is to increase the value of the business. That means creating a strategic plan to build the business, and ensuring the pieces are in place to execute that plan. As a result, getting support for online training requires us to frame the project as something that supports the strategic plan and helps the business over the long term.
When presenting the idea, common questions will include:
- What's it going to do for us?
- What's it going to cost?
- How do we get there?
Let's look at how to answer those questions in a way that makes it easy for the CEO to support the idea.
What's it going to do for us?
This question is about the business benefit that can be expected in the future. Instead of focusing on details like "we can do monthly training for drivers", make the response fit the larger objectives of the business:
- "It will allow us to do more training with less disruption"
- "It will help us improve the total risk profile of the business"
Both of those nicely support the long term strategy, since a better risk profile reduces expenses and a better trained workforce is a necessity in a service business like trucking.
What's it going to cost?
This question is generally less about specific fees, and more about the total cost of the initiative, once it's up and running. At the beginning, the CEO has no idea if you're presenting something that will cost $5,000, $50,000, or $500,000, so this is really a "rough order of magnitude" question. When answering, there are a couple of things to keep in mind:
- Provide the total annual cost, rather than breaking out individual fees and charges. If you break out the individual details, the CEO will just be doing mental math to come up with the total, so save the time and provide that up front.
- Break out the costs for the initial implementation and the ongoing annual costs separately. Most CEOs will assume there are some initial costs so they'll be expecting that.
- Don't worry if the numbers look big. CEOs are used to dealing with large numbers - wages, equipment, fuel, insurance - so the cost for online training won't look big in comparison.
How do we get there?
This may be the most important question of all, since it will tell the CEO how much work you've put into the plan. Any new technology implementation will have some headaches and require some disruption, so your answer should outline what you expect those disruptions to look like, how long they'll last, and what the associated costs will be.
If you have a good answer to this question, your answers to the questions above will have much more credibility. If your answer suggests you haven't thought it through much, expect more skepticism around the proposed costs and benefits.
Much like the CEO, the CFO has a specific purpose in the business and it's important to understand that purpose when seeking their support. The CFO's job is to ensure the company has the financial resources necessary to execute the strategic plan. They're financial risk managers, so their job is to ensure the business invests its money wisely to maximize the benefit.
When presenting to a CFO, common questions are similar to the CEO, but require slightly different responses.
What's it going to do?
For this question, it's useful to frame the response in terms of costs, or how the status quo prevents the business from achieving objectives. As a result, the answers might be:
- "It will reduce the operational disruption as a result of training"
- "It will help us reduce our compliance and maintenance costs"
As with the CEO, we talk about the benefits over the long term, but we tie them very specifically to financial issues the CFO will be dealing with on a daily basis.
What's it going to cost?
The answer to this question is often not as black and white as it seems. While it's important to note the total direct costs, including both the ongoing and one-time costs as noted above, it's also useful to consider the indirect costs as well - staff time and other internal expenses that might not be so easy to calculate.
For the indirect costs, hard numbers aren't always necessary. The CFO is in the best position to determine what an hour or day of someone's time costs the company, so the focus here is more about establishing a sense of the time commitment and related equipment costs.
As an example, if it's expected that an admin staffer will spend half a day a week, on average, administering the program, that's probably all the CFO needs to know - they can calculate the actual cost from there. If there are other supporting costs required (e.g. new PCs or tablets for drivers to access the training) those should be outlined but, again, specific dollar figures aren't necessary.
Where will the money come from?
Since the money for this new initiative won't be in the budget already, the CFO is likely to be thinking about where to pull from. Rather than taking all the required funding from a specific existing line item, in most cases the budget can come from a number of places. Consider all the places where the online training is likely to generate benefits (i.e. the items noted in the first question) and start by looking at what's allocated to each of those - fines, cargo claims, spill cleanup, maintenance and repair, etc.
Getting buy-in from executives for online training can seem difficult, but by understanding the purpose of their respective positions, and articulating how the project supports their purposes, the process can go much more smoothly.
In part 2, we'll look at how to get the rest of the company on board as well.