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124 | How to ask your employer to fund your place on Inspiring HR, with Kathryn Bryan & Larissa Smith
Episode 12426th April 2024 • HR Coffee Time • Fay Wallis
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Looking to elevate your professional development and would like to ask for your employer’s support?

Whether it’s joining Inspiring HR or embarking on another professional learning journey, this episode of HR Coffee Time is here to help.

Guests Kathryn Bryan and Larissa Smith, alumni from previous Inspiring HR cohorts, generously detail their paths to gaining employer support for their professional growth. They also share practical advice to help you confidently secure funding for your own development.


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Fay Wallis:

Hello and welcome back to HR Coffee Time. It's wonderful to have you listening today. I'm your host, Fay Wallis, a career and executive coach with a background in HR, and I've made HR Coffee Time especially for you to help you have a successful and fulfilling HR or people career, without working yourself into the ground.

One of the things that can help you to have that successful and fulfilling career is investing in professional development for yourself. Whether that means having coaching, attending training, or committing to a program. But I know that for a whole range of reasons, it might feel hard to prioritize this for yourself, Or you might be worrying about how to ask your employer to fund it for you.

Because there is this funny thing about working in HR, often we find ourselves encouraging colleagues to sign up for professional development opportunities, and make sure that they get it sponsored by work. But when it comes to our own development, we can find ourselves hesitating. It's something that I know I used to find really difficult.

I can still vividly picture myself sitting in a meeting with a former boss of mine. I had a list of things written down in my notebook that I wanted to talk through with him and one by one, I talked through each item on that list and I ticked them off until I got to the last point, which was to ask him if he would agree for the company to pay for me to do the level seven CIPD qualification.

But even though I had the words written down in front of me, I looked at them , I closed the notebook, and I didn't say a word, and I never brought it up again. Even though I was constantly encouraging him to invest in professional development for everyone else around me, I just didn't seem to have the confidence to ask for the same thing for myself.

I didn't feel comfortable about it. And over the many, many years that have passed since then, gosh, that was such a long time ago now. I've noticed that I'm not alone in having found that difficult. A lot of people who come to me for coaching or to attend a workshop or to book onto a professional development program, like Inspiring HR, they won't even think of asking their employer to fund it.

Instead, they pay for that professional development themselves. So as asking for funding clearly wasn't a strength of mine when I had my HR career before becoming a coach. Instead of me giving you advice, I thought it made much more sense to ask other people who are experienced and confident at this to share their experience.

I am truly grateful to Kathryn Bryan and Larissa Smith for agreeing to share their ideas with us all for this episode on how to ask your employer to fund your place on Inspiring HR. If you're new to the show and you have no idea what Inspiring HR is, it's my group programme which I created to help aspiring or existing HR leaders to build their confidence, influence, impact and their strategic skills at work so that they are truly valued for the work that they do and can have an incredible impact in the organisation they work for.

And even if you're thinking, Hang on a minute, Fay. I'm not looking to join Inspiring HR. I've already done Inspiring HR, or it's not really the right time for me in my career at the moment. Please don't worry. The advice that they share should be helpful for any kind of professional development that you're interested in doing and that you could go on to ask your employer to pay for for you.

Let's go ahead and meet Kathryn and Larissa and hear what they had to say.

Welcome to the show, Larissa. It's So lovely to have you here. And I thought I'd start off by asking you if you could just tell us a little bit about yourself and the work that you do.

Larissa Smith:

Thank you, Fay. Yes, I'd love to. Um, so as you said, my name's Larissa. I'm the Human Resources Manager at Capital Generation Partners.

e been with the company since:

Fay Wallis:

Fantastic, thank you so much for introducing yourself. And as you are someone who successfully obtained funding from your employer to take part in the Inspiring HR programme, it would just be fantastic if you're happy to share your personal experience of how Inspiring HR

benefited your professional growth?

Larissa Smith:

Of course, yes. Um, So, since being in HR at CapGen, I've completed my CIPD Associate Diploma, I've been to numerous seminars and webinars, and as you mentioned Fay, I've taken part in the Inspiring HR programme, which is of course how we met. Now whilst the CIPD qualification helped me understand what my goals at work could be, and what I could be doing to help other employees reach their maximum potential, the HR Inspiring course really helped me with the how.

So it's given me the confidence to be able to procure the backing of leadership. As a result, I'm far more self assured, even when confronted with potential situations such as leaders who may not immediately agree with my proposals or actions. Some of the most practical advice that I acquired from your course, Fay, was to prepare as much as possible if I know I'm going into a meeting that could potentially be quite complex.

This means trying to hypothesise about what the other meeting participants might be thinking and to summarise about the questions that they might ask and prepare accordingly. Also learning about the DISC personality assessment was highly beneficial. It enables me now to think about how individual and contrasting personalities might approach things differently and how I can best respond based on their character traits.

It was also interesting learning more about my own personality and I have to say I was quite surprised by some of the results.

Fay Wallis:

It's so lovely to hear what you really took away from the program because I can never be fully sure because everyone takes something different and I think certain parts of it really, really resonate or are particularly helpful.

So, especially because you did Inspiring HR a little while ago now, it's really wonderful to hear how it's been helping you in your professional life. So thank you for sharing all of that, Larissa.

Larissa Smith:

Absolutely, you're welcome. No, I really, I thoroughly enjoyed the course.

Fay Wallis:

I'm just so pleased to hear that. But I better bring us back to the main part of today, which is about funding because I know that so many people feel anxious about approaching their employer for funding, especially it seems if we work in HR, we're just so used to supporting everyone else in the organization and prioritizing their development.

For some reason, it can feel hard to actually ask for support for ourselves. It would be brilliant to hear your advice that you would give to anyone who's listening today who's feeling a little bit hesitant or unsure about making that request.

Larissa Smith:

Um, my first question to them would be, why do you want to do this course?

If it's to upskill and it's relevant to their current role, then, they should take ownership and strive for what they want. Sometimes see employees who expect to be handheld or wait for HR or their line manager to encourage them to progress in their careers, which is obviously great, it's wonderful, but as adults, it's up to each individual to pursue what they want.

We're all in control of our own career path.

Fay Wallis:

Oh, such great advice. I always love it when people talk about the fact that we're so much more in control than we realise. I think it can be really easy to slip into that feeling of just hoping that someone else is going to suggest you do the development or book you on to something.

So I'm always saying, I don't think I've ever said it to you though, Larissa, but we've got more control than we realise. So it's really lovely to hear you say that. And. Building on that, it would be brilliant to hear what your advice is for anyone listening on how to actually ask their organization to fund their place on the program.

What was it that worked particularly well for you or how did you ask?

Larissa Smith:

So being in HR, in my role, I have, access to see the budget and how much is left. So that's obviously very beneficial for me, but I think if an employee asks, uh, for the backing to go on this course and the employer won't support it, then they could ask why. Is it due to the budget?

If the company can't cover the full cost of the training, they could ask if they would contribute towards the costs. So it might be useful for that person to think about how much they're willing to contribute before going into the meeting. As I said, obviously being in HR, I was fully aware of the budget.

So I had that advantage and also I was fully aware of my company's policy regarding professional development. But again, I would suggest that anyone applying should have familiarised themselves with the policy beforehand and also understand how much they might be liable to pay back should they leave the company, I think that's really important to look at as well.

Fay Wallis:

Absolutely. It's a bit of a horrible shock if you're suddenly asked to pay anything back. So it's great to hear that point mentioned as well. Have you got any other further advice for people who are considering the programme?

Larissa Smith:

I would encourage

people to think about putting in their learning and development requests at the beginning of the year as they don't know what the overall budget might be.

And towards the end of the year, you'd presume that the allocated yearly budget for professional development would have been partially spent, if not all. Before approaching my line manager for funding, I thought about the benefit the training would have for me and likewise the company. In my case, it was about building my confidence when working within the leadership team and to help me

improve my influencing skills. I'm really lucky that my line manager has always been really supportive, encouraging of my HR career. I think she saw how beneficial previous courses I've done have been, and therefore it didn't take much convincing for her to let me do the inspiring HR course. And I think that you know, they can really see the benefits that it's had.

Fay Wallis:

It's great to hear that you've got such a supportive line manager, and that they're able to see the benefits. I know one other person who was on a different cohort to you in Inspiring HR. She didn't actually obtain the funding up front. She had paid for it herself, but then she went to her employer and said, Would you fund it?

And they said, Well, why don't you put together a presentation to show us how it's helped you with your work. So she put together a whole PowerPoint presentation to say, this is the impact that it's had. This is what I learned. This is how it was useful. And I thought, wow, what a creative way of tackling it, but really being able to show people the impact it's having.

I suppose that is just something that's so much more convincing, isn't it? Than saying, well, hopefully it will be good.

Larissa Smith:

Fantastic. And I

assume that she got the, she got reimbursed for the course after sharing.

Fay Wallis:

I really hope so. Do you know what she

told me? I really hope that she did. After going through all of that effort and proving all of that, I'll have to double check with her.

I don't want to say, oh yes, she definitely got funding in case she didn't. And it sounds like because you did have such a supportive manager and you were able to show as well what an impact previous professional development had had on you at work from your CIPD that It was quite easy to get her buy in, but it would be great if you have any thoughts or advice for anyone listening who goes and asks for funding, but gets some sort of objection or concerns raised.

What sort of advice would you give around that?


Larissa Smith:

often think back to, one of our mentoring sessions, Fay and, I was asking for advice on an upcoming meeting that I had, that I had concerns around, um, how I was going to respond and, you know, we really looked at what questions might arise from it and what the other person might be thinking.

So, if I, if the shoe was on the other foot, And I was being asked to support a direct report with the learning and development request. A concern of mine might be how much time is required to be away from work to undertake the study. So I think anyone that is putting in the request, it'd be really beneficial for them to come prepared with this information and all the other information that You know, we've, we've spoken about in this podcast.

Also look to see if there's, the company has a policy around study leave. So, um, look at all the policies around study leave, reimbursement of costs. Think about what questions you might get asked, why, why you think it's going to be beneficial for you and for the company to do this course, and then put your case.

forward. And I just really reiterate, you know, it, this is your career, go and get what you, what you want from your career and go put the request in.

Fay Wallis:

What a lovely positive note to end on to encourage people to go for it. It's their career, go put that request in. It has just been wonderful seeing you again today, Larissa.

Thank you so much for taking the time to share all of your ideas and your experience with me and everybody who's listening.

Larissa Smith:

Thanks, Fay. It's been really lovely to be on. Thank you for asking me, and it's been lovely to connect again.

Fay Wallis:

Hi Kathryn, welcome to the show. Thank you so much for being here today and it would be fantastic if we could start off with you just telling us a little bit about yourself and the work that you do.

Kathryn Bryan:

Sure. Hi Fay and thanks for having me on the podcast. So I am a Head of Human Resources in an international organization employing around 100 staff in Brussels.

I'm also Deputy Director for Administration, so I deputize on other, other administrative functions as well for a director. When I say an international organization, uh, other examples are NATO, the European Space Agency, the OECD. And the work that we do is, is very much linked to the EU institutions and EU law.

I manage a team of, two or three people. depending on the resources that we have at any one time. And my role is to ensure that we provide excellent HR services to the organization. And that basically covers anything and everything to do with HR. It's very diverse. Anything that you might consider falling under the remit of HR, we take care of within our little team.

d I've lived in Belgium since:

Fay Wallis:

And I think you, well you definitely were, the first ever internationally based member of Inspiring HR.

So, it was exciting having you as part of the programme anyway, but wonderful to have our first non UK based person join us from the group programme. And I suppose that's the beauty of Zoom and technology nowadays, isn't it?

Kathryn Bryan:

Yes, exactly. Yeah, I'm glad to have been the first. And, um, yeah, it's definitely made it much easier to access the programme.

Fay Wallis:

And so as someone who successfully obtained funding from your employer to attend Inspiring HR, it would just be wonderful if you're happy to share your personal experience of how being part of Inspiring HR benefited your professional growth.

Kathryn Bryan:

Uh, sure. So, um, I was looking for a program or training course to help me in improving my skills and confidence and influencing at a senior level, working more strategically.

This is something I've got quite a lot of experience of and something I really get a lot from, but I also felt that I'd been missing out on a few key opportunities to influence effectively. Um, maybe I hadn't gotten buy in for a few key HR initiatives as easily as I'd expected to. So, when I found the program, it was really ticking the boxes and really calling to me.

And since attending the program, it sort of gave me a re boost of confidence, and made me look at things from a different perspective and think about how I can make sure that I don't miss opportunities to influence and persuade, et cetera. So it's always a work in progress. And of course we don't always, get buy in, but, I found it to be a good confidence boost, and a good reminder about considerations.

To help me, influence our senior leaders.

Fay Wallis:

It's fantastic to hear that it was really helpful with your influencing skills. Thank you for sharing that with everybody. Now, of course, the main focus for today is around the funding for the program. And I know that lots of people feel anxious about approaching their employer for funding.

It's a funny thing about working in HR, I think. We always encourage everyone else to invest in their own development, but we can feel a bit hesitant for ourselves. So I'd love to hear what advice you'd give to someone who is a bit hesitant or unsure about asking if they can have a place on Inspiring HR funded by the organisation they work for.

Kathryn Bryan:

Yeah, I completely agree. I mean, it was my first, first thought when you asked the question, we're often very much focused on helping others in HR and, and with others professional developments, making the case for initiatives and training that would benefit other employees. And we're not always so focused on our own development.

So I would really encourage people to go for it. At the same time, I think it's really important to prepare well and make a strong case on the the potential benefits attending the program, what the return on investment will be for the organization. I think in HR we've got lots of experience of making good business cases and advising others on how to make good business cases and I think that's an experience and a skill that we should make use of probably more often in making a business case for our own development.

Sometimes also we can be one of many individuals asking for funding. So it's also important to think about how your requests for funding can stand out. I also think that a lot of the work that we do in HR, it goes a bit unseen and misunderstood. And sometimes it's hard to quantify, compared to other professions, the impact that

that we can have and that professional development in HR can have. So anything that we can bring forward to concretely demonstrate the return on investment potential for training, which we would like to have funding for. Try to use examples which make sense to a non HR person, especially if the decision maker on your funding is not an HR person.

So things that might, you know, be an obvious positive, obvious return on investment for us. Try to see things from a different perspective if the decision maker perhaps doesn't have a direct experience in HR. Key points that I was reflecting on are really making sure that you demonstrate the concrete impact that your training will have.

What will you be able to do better and deliver better? Do you have any data which supports your case or could it be a financial impact, impact on turnover? Are there priorities for the organization which you can support by having this training? Can you upskill others in the organization by being trained so that there isn't an onward cost for other people to be trained?

Can you scale up the impact by training other people internally? What's the impact if you can't do the training? What will you not be able to deliver? And have you considered alternatives? This is a very long list, and of course it doesn't need to cover everything, but just really thinking about, okay, if I'm the decision maker, what considerations do I want to see in this?

And how will I be convinced?

Fay Wallis:

You're sharing so many fantastic ideas. Thank you so much, Kathryn. And you're reminding me as we're talking, actually, someone who just went through the last cohort of Inspiring HR contacted me just as she was joining and said, Fay, do you have anything I can give my employer to help make my case?

And it was at that point, I thought I really should start making some materials to help people with this. So I have got a sort of mini brochure for people to share if they're interested that I can send across, but I love that your advice just really shows the power of making a tailored case for yourself as well.

And when you mentioned about the fact that actually you can pass on some of the knowledge, what's been really, really lovely is hearing back from people who have been part of the program and where I'm sharing all different kinds of models and tools and using different kinds of coaching and facilitation techniques.

I have people say to me all the time, Oh, Fay, I've been trying out that technique or I've rolled out that model within the team, or I've just delivered some training and I incorporated some aspects that you used in Inspiring HR. So for me, it's been an amazing feeling to see that the impact of the work actually goes beyond what I'd expected.

It's been really rewarding to see so it's brilliant to hear you talking about it like that as well. Kathryn. Having heard all of that fantastic advice, it would be great now to know how you actually went about asking to secure the funding for your place.

What worked well for you and how did you ask?

Kathryn Bryan:

So I'm very lucky to work in an organization which supports and encourages continuous professional development. And we actually earmark financial resources for professional development. So of course, having that structure in place, helps. And this is something that we really fostered and built into our culture.

All of our staff only work for the organization for a fixed term period, and we want to remain an attractive employer. We also want to ensure that the organization is getting the very most out of their fixed term contract period. So it's very important to us to support continuous professional development.

And within HR, we've implemented the structures to support this. I understand that not everyone is in that position, and they might have to fund the training personally, or partially fund it for themselves, and I've been there before, in other organizations. In terms of the structures that we put in place, which might help others.

So firstly, we have an annual budget, which we receive from the countries which fund the organization. So we have to make a budget proposal. And within that model, we have implemented, a budget for each senior manager, whereby that budget can be used for professional development activities for their staff, and we build that budget up based on the number of staff they have in the department.

And this is something which so far we've managed to protect in the budget. We intend to do so. Budget discussions can be somewhat challenging. We always carve out this element for training. The budget's not increasing, but we're maintaining the budget that we have. It isn't huge, but it's a reasonable amount.

It's not a given that staff, receive funding for the training that they request. Their manager has to approve it, and the manager has to decide how to use the budget that they have. And the staff member needs to make the case for that. So many of the things I said earlier, we still need to do as individuals, but that is within the context of an environment where we support, professional development.

For me, I had discussed with my manager how I wanted to develop in one to ones and do my performance review. Um, and I had identified a desire to look at how I could improve my strategic skills and my influencing skills. So it also helped when I made the request to link it to, to those discussions that had already been ongoing, of course.

And I also set out what the benefits were for the organization of attending what I felt I would be able to do better after the training program. I kept it concise and simple, um, but tried to be concrete. What also really helped is the setup of the program. So as we said at the start, it's a remote program, so it was easy for somebody in Brussels to join.

And all of the other attendees are obviously joining remotely, which made it much more, much, much more efficient, if you like. And also the fact that the program is spread out over a number of weeks. The impact and the absence that you feel from the workplace is much less than if you were attending a four or five day program in person.

So that was a selling point, for me and for my manager in terms of the time that I would be away from core work. And you're also able to catch up on work later. So, you know, you can work around the program. So that was a real selling point for me, but also when I put forward, the request for funding to my manager.

Fay Wallis:

It's great to hear what your experience was because I don't think I've ever actually spoken to you about it in detail before, Kathryn, and you're making me think I should probably record a whole episode on budgets, on setting budgets, managing budgets, what kind of budgets you should be thinking about or trying to make sure that you've got in place.

So thank you for giving me an idea for a future episode as well. And again, so much helpful advice for anyone who's thinking they would love to come on Inspiring HR, but they're just not sure how to go about asking for that funding. It sounds like then you didn't really encounter, but maybe you did, any concerns or objections from your employer.

I was going to ask you if you had encountered anything and how you addressed them if you did get any concerns coming back.

Kathryn Bryan:

Uh, yeah, no, on this occasion, I didn't experience concerns or objections. The structure that we have in place, the discussions that we had had already on this topic really facilitated, this.

But like I say, not everyone is in the same environment. And, you know, I've been in situations before where, training hasn't been approved. And I think what's important to try and reflect on is, uh, well, think about Is it worth having another go? Is there any more information you can bring to persuade the decision maker that this is a good investment?

If that's not feasible, think about, you know, how might you approach something similar next time? Is there something within your control, that you could have presented differently? Could you come back to it in six months time and see if the appetite is different?

And then also, I mean, again, it's maybe it's a little bit easier said than done, but in HR, we can potentially influence more widely. So did you not succeed because there isn't the culture in place and the procedures and the structures in place to enable people to apply for funding and have it assessed etc. So maybe there's an opportunity to put something in place to help yourself and others.

Fay Wallis:

It's wonderful to think that there may be someone listening today who's now inspired to go away and try and influence at a really wide level to actually make sure there's funding in place for everybody and start thinking about what budgets could be in place that are going to

be a huge advantage to the whole workforce, not just to them. Although obviously it's great if it benefits them as well. It's been brilliant talking to you today, Kathryn. Thank you so much for giving up your time to share your expertise. And I can see how much thoughts and preparation you've put into our interview.

It's been wonderful talking to you today.

Kathryn Bryan:

Thank you so much, Fay. It's been a pleasure.

Fay Wallis:

That brings us to the end of this episode. I really hope you found it helpful and that it's given you some great ideas to try out to ask for funding for professional development for yourself. Who knows? Maybe it means I'll get to meet you and work with you in the next Inspiring HR cohort. It would be wonderful to have you as part of the group.

If you have any questions about it at all, please feel free to get in touch through my website, which is Bright Sky Career Coaching, or you can always send me a message on LinkedIn. You'll find me on there as myself. So I'm Fay Wallis, and that's Fay without an E on the end. And Wallis is spelt with an i s on the end instead of having an a c e on the end.

I am so grateful to our guests. Kathryn and Larissa, if you're listening to this episode, a big thank you for sharing all of your fantastic ideas and experience with us all. I truly appreciate you coming on the show and it was really lovely to see you both again. Another person I need to say thank you to is Louise.

Who is a new hr coffee time listener and she kindly wrote a lovely review about HR Coffee Time on apple podcasts It was such a nice surprise to see the review pop up on my phone last week. So Louise, if you're listening, thank you so much for taking the time to write your review and it's wonderful To know that you've been enjoying the show.

For some reason, Apple only lets me see reviews that have been written by people based in the UK. So if you're listening and you've written a review and you're thinking, well, Fay's never said thank you to me. Well, I promise it's just because I haven't seen it. So. This is a heartfelt thank you to you. I really appreciate all your support for the show.

Reviews make such a big difference in helping other people discover HR Coffee Time and giving it a try. A final thing to let you know before I say goodbye for today is that there are a couple of other HR Coffee Time episodes that are relevant to this one. So if it's a topic you've been interested in, you might want to hop back after you've finished listening to this and give them a try.

There is episode 88, where I was joined by guest Jo Taylor, and she kindly talked us through How to write a compelling business case and get approval for your idea. I think lots of the advice that Jo gave in that episode about writing a business case, lots of it applies to what we've been talking about in this episode today.

So it's well worth having a listen to if you'd like any more tips. And if you are interested in learning more about Inspiring HR, episode 97 is called Inspiring HR, the purpose behind it and what to expect if you join. Where I talk you through the program in lots of detail. I'll pop links to both of those episodes into the show notes for you.

So they're nice and easy to find. Thank you so much. Gosh, I'm saying lots of thank yous today. I'm feeling very, very grateful today. Thank you for listening all the way to the end of this episode, I know you have a busy life and busy work, so it's a real privilege to have been in your earbuds or your headphones or on your car speaker for all this time.

Have a great rest of your day, and I'm looking forward to being back again soon with the next HR Coffee Time episode for you.




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