How to Make the Most of Your L&D Budget During Uncertain Times

First and foremost, learn what your stakeholders’ key initiatives are and ensure your learning and development strategy will lead directly to those business outcomes.

As we head into a new year full of uncertainties, how can you as a Learning and Development (L&D) leader position yourself and your strategy as a must-have budget item?

FranklinCovey has worked with thousands of clients to maximize their L&D programs and ensure they drive results through collective action. In my past few decades with the organization, I’ve found there are three key ways to make the most of your L&D budget while also meeting your goals during economic uncertainty.

  1. L&D leaders must understand the mission-critical objectives driving their organizations during these periods of turbulence. Becoming a trusted business partner and having a seat at the table where companywide decisions are made is never a given. When an HR leader is not “at the table,” it’s most often because key stakeholders don’t believe their HR leaders are making meaningful contributions to business objectives. In contrast, when an HR leader does play an active role in decision-making and budget spend, it’s because their L&D efforts are directly connected to building the skills and capabilities the organization needs for success during the downturn. So first and foremost, learn what your stakeholders’ key initiatives are and ensure your L&D strategy will lead directly to those business outcomes.

Sometimes, it helps to think of this metaphor—riding a wave versus pushing a rope. If your L&D strategy feels like pushing a rope, which is essentially impossible to do, you’re not driving any kind of meaningful results and your efforts are not in step with your organization’s top objectives. Rather, if, as an HR leader, you feel like a surfer riding the wave of focused energy and momentum—in other words, if your L&D strategy is viewed as a central, enabling component of your organization’s success—you have become a key partner with the other leaders in your organization. Make sure your L&D efforts allow you to ride the wave.

  1. Determine what types of behaviors, skills, and capabilities are needed by employees to help move critical objectives forward. Most organizations have pockets of high performance but fail to create widespread high performance. The most effective L&D leaders clearly understand what makes their best performers the best and then systematically work to turn sporadic high performance into widespread high performance. This process is often the most meaningful tool an organization has at its disposal to improve results against the most important business objectives.

Once you’ve honed in and discovered the behaviors and skills you need to exist at every level of the organization, decide:

  • Which people in your organization already emulate those skills and how to codify what they are doing
  • Which employees don’t yet embody the needed skills and behaviors but certainly could with further training and coaching
  • Which employees will most likely never change their behavior or learn the skills needed
  1. Create a plan to develop these necessary skill sets among your people. Of course, with the latter group, you know what you need to do, as difficult as it might be. For those top performers, simply keep their paths clear for growth and help them feel supported. As you might have guessed, the real L&D potential lies with the middle group. These are the people who, with the right kind of focused development and consistent support, could realize real behavior change. The synergies that occur with this type of organized and directed L&D effort is what we at FranklinCovey call collective behavior change—where L&D becomes a true partner to your business.

It has been my privilege to have a front-row seat watching some of the best-run organizations in the world implement a process like the one described here. In particular, during the global financial crisis and then again in the early days of COVID, I witnessed many L&D teams not just survive but thrive as they took on the important work of turning pockets of high performance into widespread, institutionalized high performance.

More Than Buzzwords

With so much uncertainty ahead, it’s hard to know exactly how things will play out. One thing I do know is that the current downturn probably will be different than what we’ve experienced in years past. When I first started in the business of leadership and organizational performance 22 years ago, words such as culture and talent were occasionally tossed out, but not in ways that left you believing they were true competitive advantages. Today, culture, people, and talent are not just buzzwords. Employers and stakeholders now understand that L&D-driven initiatives are actual competitive advantages and more so, vital to an organization’s success—regardless of the economic climate.

As we head into 2023, I hope you create an L&D strategy that propels your employees and organization forward. If you can focus your efforts on this collective behavior change I’ve described, you’ll find yourself “at the table,” not only in this downturn but for the rest of your career.

Download this free guide to learn how to impact your organization’s results by turning average employees into high performers.

Paul Walker
Paul Walker is the CEO of FranklinCovey, a world leader in helping organizations achieve results that require lasting changes in human behavior, often the most difficult challenge any organization faces. When accomplished, it is also the most durable competitive advantage. To expand your reach, achieve your business objectives, and sustainably impact performance with unlimited access to FranklinCovey content, visit: