Estimated reading time: 5 minutes
Negotiating a yearly training budget or Learning & Development budget from business managers can feel like a battle, especially if budgets are already stretched. Maybe it’s because you're worried about rejection or not getting what you want. Our unique and strategic NEG-PRO approach will help you get the budget you need.
Why do we find budget negotiations so challenging?
When we negotiate informally with people we have a good relationship with, we’re open to looking at the issues from the other person’s perspective. This open mindset helps us achieve mutual goals and enhances the relationship. Negotiating a training or learning and development budget is essentially the same even though it’s in a more formal setting – it’s about securing positive outcomes for everyone.
Even if we reframe the idea of a negotiation, we can still be left worrying at the thought of initiating the conversation. This could be down to an organisation’s culture, or maybe a fear of failure is preventing the conversation from happening. It’s easy to feel:
- a lack of confidence in your negotiating skills
- unqualified to lead negotiations
- unable to articulate the reasons why you think learning initiatives are necessary
- uncomfortable about initiating a conversation about budgets with managers.
How can I negotiate like a pro?
“Negotiation means getting the best of your opponent.” Marvin Gaye, singer, songwriter and producer (1939-1984)
To get best from your manager and achieve the outcomes you want, approach the negotiation with a flexible and open mindset.
- Try to understand the business manager’s needs from the beginning and how they tie into learning and development initiatives.
- Spend time analysing these needs and matching them to different solutions.
- Prepare for discussions and actively listen.
- Be open to reworking your training budget proposals and be creative in finding mutually beneficial solutions.
The NEG-PRO negotiation approach
The British Council’s NEG-PRO approach will enable you to prepare effectively, communicate with confidence and overcome challenges. This systematic approach can be used as the backbone to your discussions with budget holders.
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.
Build confidence: prepare well for your budget negotiations
Several key themes run throughout the NEG-PRO process: confidence, collaboration, and creativity. Knowing how these themes interact will enable you to see the bigger picture and build a strong rationale for your training budget needs.
Effective preparation lays strong foundations for your pitch. During this phase, you need to:
- Navigate the context by doing your groundwork.
- Establish the basis of your pitch.
- Grow the relationship.
To navigate negotiation successfully, you will need to scope out and understand the needs of the business manager. It will mean approaching these conversations as a collaborator rather than antagonist – listening carefully, showing empathy and checking your understanding.
Use open-ended questions to probe their pain points, objectives, and motivations. Following up questions is equally important – always ask ‘Why?’ You might reveal hidden fears based on a manager’s past experiences. Knowing this will allow you to factor in these concerns and address them up front.
If this proves challenging, use multiple choice questions, such as exploring whether productivity or engagement is a greater barrier to performance currently. If this also fails, investigate what’s been done before and identify what worked, what didn’t, and the reasons why.
Establishing the answers to these questions puts into focus what the business manager needs, why they need it, and how it will benefit them, their team and the organisation. This will give you insight, as well as the confidence and credibility to develop and pitch for your learning and development initiatives and solutions.
Manage conflict: a collaborative approach to reframing your pitch
To overcome challenges and reach an outcome, you should:
- navigate the context to get to the root of the issues
- grow the relationship so others trust you
- reframe your initial proposal.
Exploring problematic issues in detail is a vital part of being a collaborator and will also help you gain insight into how to reframe your proposal. Remember that the aim is to keep driving the negotiation forward, rewording phrases to minimise antagonism and build collaboration.
- Could you explain why this factor is particularly important?
- What do you see as the solution?
- How should we move forward?
- What would benefit us both in this scenario?
Reach beneficial outcomes: develop creative solutions
To generate creative ideas, you first need to look at business needs and challenges from all angles and break these down into their component parts.
As well as finding new angles and alternative solutions, a creative approach to your pitch for your L&D training budget reinforces and puts into practice the flexible and open mindset that sets you out as a collaborator.
If negotiations stall despite your attempts at reframing your position, there are two other strategies to consider: jumpstarting or concluding negotiations.
Ask the business manager which parts of your previous proposals are worth reviewing. Revisit and agree each step. Doing this can help identify specific sticking points and helps keep the discussion moving. The alternative is to ask a third-party to step in and help both sides take a more objective approach.
Being a successful negotiator doesn’t come naturally to many of us. Developing negotiation skills by using the NEG-PRO approach, along with training, coaching and mentoring, can enable you and your team to develop confidence, collaboration, and creativity.