How can I get partner buy-in for e-learning?

by Viv on January 24, 2008

Towards Maturity in TJ is a survey of how private and public sector organisations use e-learning managed by e-Skills UK . Their thinking is based on the idea that there are stages that companies go through before reaching maturity, where e-learning is an enabler of a successful learning culture. Companies in the mature category tend to have more usage of e-learning, higher levels of ROI proven and general satisfaction from learners.

One of their key findings is that the involvement of directors is crucial. Of the organisations that are in the top third for business impact and availability of e-learning, 52% and 62% respectively have directors using e-learning. This contrasts with 28% and 44% on the same measures for organisations in the bottom third.

Whilst this linkage is not that surprising, it’s valuable to have data that shows a correlation between top management involvement and successful e-learning. The organisational structure of professional services firms makes getting top level buy-in challenging. Most literature assumes that you’re operating in a plc structure, so here’s a few ideas to make it more relevant to you.

First, lets be clear about the factors that making getting top level buy-in from partners particularly challenging:

    1. Dispersed decision making. As the owners of the business also work in the business, there are lots more individuals that need influencing about the benefits of e-learning than there would be in a plc. Often the people who are really making the decisions are not those that you would identify at first glance.
    2. Political capital. The nature of politics is that those who rise are those who have made the fewest mistakes. Partners are wary of having their name connected with an initiative that has a risk of failing. Only once an initiative has a strong chance of success will partners jump on the band wagon so that they can clock up some of their own political capital.
    3. Avoiding capital investment. The financial structure of a partnership with partners entering and leaving it means that there tends to be a culture that avoids making capital investment whenever possible. The culture is far more comfortable with paying for training on an ongoing basis than making a one-off payment to produce an e-learning asset.
    4. Initiative fatigue. Smart people are constantly thinking up ways that the firm could work better. This tends to manifest itself in a welter of initiatives, so if you’re promoting another one it will have lots of competition for air time.
    5. Successful already, why change? Partners have worked their way up through the firm and by dint of this consider that they already embody what it is to be successful in the firm. Hence there is little incentive to change anything unless there is a particularly good reason.


If you have your own success stories or horror stories about getting partner buy-in, please post them here on this blog.

Email me if you want my 5 top tips from my experiences of working within professional services firms.

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