By Corporate English Solutions

23 January 2024 - 13:11

Negotiate like a pro to get that training budget

Negotiating a yearly training or learning & development budget can be challenging, especially in uncertain economic times. Many of us feel apprehensive and uncertain about how to navigate the complexities effectively. 

The British Council’s NEG-PRO framework provides a clear approach to support you develop and implement a considered strategy, ensuring you're well-prepared, feel confident and secure the training budget your initiatives deserve.

 

Reading time:  6 minutes

Alex, a training manager under pressure to succeed, has been given ambitious targets by the Head of L&D for next financial year. As he assembles his budget proposal, the echoes of cutbacks and financial constraints cast a shadow over his plans. Faced with reduced budgets and increased focus on immediate operations in the context of economic uncertainties, Alex finds himself not only navigating the challenge of developing a budget plan whilst managing limited resources, but also contending with his own stress and lack of confidence in negotiating. 

While few discuss these struggles openly, many of us are feeling the same. Why do we find budget negotiations so challenging?

In the words of Marvin Gaye, iconic singer, songwriter and producer, ‘negotiation means getting the best of your opponent.’ This traditional view often sets parties against each other, framing the interaction as a win-lose scenario. When the coveted 'prize' is the training budget, it's easy to get caught up in the atmosphere of a conflict. By shifting our mindset and approaching negotiating budgets as a conversation aimed at securing positive outcomes for all parties involved, the process can appear less intimidating.

How can we reshape our mindset? Although becoming comfortable and adept at negotiation requires time and experience, adopting a structured process to shape your thinking, prepare, and negotiate can boost confidence, initiate the process, and lead to mutually beneficial outcomes. 

Read on as we explore the British Council’s unique NEG-PRO approach and learn how you can use it to negotiate like a pro to get that training budget. 

How can I negotiate like a pro?

The NEG-PRO approach is a flexible framework for a more considered, curious, collaborative approach to negotiations. It develops your knowledge and understanding of the context, the needs and interests of key stakeholders - including your own – and offers strategies and tools to support you in six key focus areas: 

  • Navigate
  • Establish
  • Grow
  • Pitch
  • Reframe
  • Outcome 

Following the NEG-PRO approach, you can enhance communication, collaboration and creativity, fostering understanding and building consensus. Crucially, NEG-PRO is a framework rather than a linear process. It’s likely that you’ll have to come back to elements throughout your discussions so that you can achieve an outcome that benefits all stakeholders.

Lay strong foundations and build relationships

Caught in the hustle of preparing his budget proposal and maintaining operations, Alex, seeking efficiency, opts to replicate and adjust last year's training budget without investigating the evolving context or consulting decision-makers about their current needs. When he sends the initial draft to his manager, the Head of L&D, it comes back with a succinct response: a single word, ‘no.’ This setback prompts Alex to reassess his approach, taking time to prepare a more thorough and context-sensitive budget proposal. 

When you prepare effectively, your pitch is based on strong foundations that resonate with stakeholders’ needs and interests. During this phase, you should:

  • navigate the context 
  • establish the basis of your pitch
  • grow the relationship

Start by navigating the context and laying the groundwork: review your organisation’s mission, objectives, and values to pinpoint how training activities directly contribute to strategic goals. Align skills frameworks with organisational objectives to bridge gaps and future-proof employee competencies. Gather and review data from learning analytics, focusing on the return on investment from previous years' expenditure to bolster your case for upcoming training budget negotiations. Ask for feedback from business and functional managers, validating your ideas with their insights. Additionally, check last year's budget proposal to glean valuable insights and lessons.

And don’t forget the decision-makers themselves: grow relationships by talking to them to understand the context, their objectives and potential constraints on approving budgets. Approach these conversations as a collaborator rather than antagonist, showing you value the relationship – listening carefully, showing empathy and checking your understanding. Ask questions to probe their pain points, investigate what’s been done before and identify what worked, what didn’t, and the reasons why. Find common ground to build connection and foster a sense of trust with decision-makers. 

Navigating the context and growing relationships lays strong foundations, putting into focus what the organisation, functional teams and decision-makers need, why they need it, and how it will benefit them, their team and the organisation. These insights and connections will give you the confidence to establish the basis of your pitch, creating a compelling rationale for your budget ask. 

Consider the outcomes you aim to achieve and how these align with budget holders’ interests. What is the least budget you need for your ideal plan? What will you do if you can’t get approval for this? Identify essential priorities among your initiatives and assess the potential for scaling back certain activities. Brainstorm all the alternatives to achieving your outcomes with limited resources. Be creative in how you can deliver learning initiatives for less: explore collaborating with internal teams, internships, and using free online resources. Embracing creativity and generating alternatives can alleviate the stress associated with the prospect of budget reductions.

Pitch with confidence 

 When Alex logs into the call with his manager and the finance team to discuss the second draft of the budget, he’s feeling more confident. That is, until the Finance Manager starts asking questions. Alex had been so focused on preparing the detailed proposal, he hadn’t anticipated the variety of questions he might be asked. 

To be able to pitch with confidence, you should:

  • practise your pitch
  • keep calm if things don’t go to plan
  • seek to understand and collaborate rather than compete 

 Practise your pitch with people from the L&D and other teams and ask them to come up with a set of questions for you. By understanding different viewpoints, you will be better prepared for the direction the conversation might take. Strategise as you plan your responses, keeping your ideal outcome, minimum ask, and alternative plans in mind. Think about how much you want to share in the initial meeting and agree with yourself what you will and won’t say. 

Maintaining composure, especially when things don’t go to plan, is crucial. When faced with unexpected challenges or resistance, take a deep breath, acknowledge your emotions without judgment, and consciously redirect your attention to the present moment. By remaining calm and centred, you create space for thoughtful conversations, better navigating challenges and working towards positive outcomes.

If others are resistant or you’re having difficulty answering questions, seek to collaborate rather than compete. Instead of getting flustered and speaking off the cuff, ask ‘can you explain why this is important?’ or ‘can you tell me more about the constraints?’ to better understand the reasons for others’ views. Brainstorm potential solutions together or ask for time to revise the proposal rather than immediately agreeing to cut back on your budget or activities. 

Reframe and reach an outcome

After the initial meeting, Alex feels more nervous. During the call, he immediately agreed to reduce the training budget. While he has some alternative options to deliver his plan, he’s not confident that these can achieve the ambitious goals set by the Head of L&D. He procrastinates and eventually receives an email from his manager asking why he’s stalling. 

To be able to reframe your pitch and reach an outcome with confidence, you should:

  • proactively address stakeholder concerns 
  • adapt to stakeholder communication preferences
  • overcome blocks to reach a mutually beneficial outcome

You find yourself regretting an immediate agreement to reduce a budget that you believe is not in the organisation’s best interests, it's crucial to promptly address the situation. Schedule a follow-up discussion with decision-makers and carefully prepare for the meeting. Review their objections and questions to pinpoint their main concerns and strategise on how to address them effectively. In the meeting, acknowledge and address any concerns raised, and approach them with an open mind and collaborative spirit. Demonstrate a proactive and solution-oriented approach, fostering a constructive dialogue that instils confidence in decision-makers and increases the likelihood of them supporting the proposed budget.

Tailor your communication style to the preferences of your key decision-makers. With people-oriented communicators, emphasise personal connections; for process-oriented individuals, focus on clear, detailed information about how the budget will be spent. Address action-oriented communicators with an emphasis on results and efficiency and stimulate creativity for ideas-oriented communicators by asking for their support in brainstorming options. 

Achieve a mutually beneficial outcome by first isolating the components of the budget where agreement exists and obtaining sign-off on these aspects. Address blocked initiatives or programmes individually, overcoming obstacles by:

  • identifying potential drawbacks of not allocating budget to specific initiatives
  • emphasising the future benefits of resolving each block
  • providing benchmarks from industry standards or successful case studies to showcase the necessity of the proposed activities within a broader context
  • proposing a revised timeline for the budget implementation that addresses concerns about immediate financial implications

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In the intricate landscape of budget negotiations, many of us feel apprehensive and uncertain about how to navigate the complexities effectively. The British Council’s NEG-PRO framework provides a clear approach to support you develop and implement a considered strategy, ensuring you're well-prepared, feel confident and secure the training budget your initiatives deserve.

Don't put off thinking about budgets – start implementing NEG-PRO now to now to foster collaboration, proactively address challenges, and set the stage for successful negotiations.

Are you ready to get started? 

British Council has over 80 years’ experience of partnering with organisations and individuals in over 200 countries. Our holistic, research-driven approach to learning and assessment and forward-thinking industry leading solutions empower growth, positively impacting individuals and organisations. 

Partner with us to upskill your workforce in negotiation, influencing and communication skills to enhance engagement, performance and productivity.