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Building a compelling case for change


BuildingExperience shows us that HR programmes often don’t make it past the first investment hurdle, especially in times of uncertainty. It is therefore critical, says Janet Curtis, that HR not only gets the numbers right, but develops the business case in a way that gains buy-in to the proposed changes.

It’s too easy to assume that the end goal in developing a business case revolves around getting executive or board approval. This is of course essential, but how you build the case for change can make all the difference to the success of your transformation.

We recommend taking a broader view on creating the business case and using a robust process for developing commitment to the transformation. Here are some principles for making sure your business case not only gets approval, but delivers on the benefits that were promised.

1. Know where you’re starting from

Analysing your current state doesn’t have to be a major undertaking, but understanding the key drivers that are influencing HR performance is critical for success.

“The business case has to tell the story of what is not working well today.”

The business case has to tell the story of what is not working well today and most importantly, why it’s not working well today. This is not just about hard facts; it’s about gathering information that will clearly show the urgency of the changes and what will happen if you don’t make the changes. Typical questions include:

  • What services are we delivering today and how much do they cost?

  • What are our current performance indicators?

  • What are the variances across the business?

  • What are our HR IT costs?

  • What are our HR procurement costs?

  • What are the pain points for our clients? For HR?

  • How effective is our workforce planning? Talent planning?

2. Get the basics right

A robust business case for change includes benefits, costs and ownership. Sounds easy enough – but it takes a lot of effort to ensure the numbers tell a story and are agreed by business unit leaders. The numbers need to include: all costs associated with the implementation and on-going costs, key performance indicators (KPIs) and targets for benefits.

However, to ensure the business case delivers what was promised, it is essential to build these elements into the implementation plan. Business leaders can then actively monitor progress on the changes. Ultimately, these numbers need to be built into the business units’ budgets. This way, business leaders not only have intimate knowledge of the changes, they also have a significant incentive toward making the transformation successful.

Part of the story should also include the risks associated with the transformation. By recognising these risks and discussing them with the leadership team, mitigating actions can be taken to minimise these risks and, fundamentally, change people’s behaviours to drive a successful outcome.

3. Clearly define your future

Envision the end-result first. What is the role and ambition of HR? What level of benefit from current performance should we expect? What does good service look like? Is it clear and compelling? Does it define a value-added business impact?

“By getting business involvement early on, HR leaders will ensure the roll-out is about delivering benefits to the business.”

An aligned HR operating model, with clear service objectives, high-level activity maps, and performance indicators and an assessment of the change impact will bring the business case to life. Being clear on your future operating model will provide real meat to your business case, gathering support and momentum for your plan. Ask yourself the right questions to show how HR needs to operate to deliver the vision and benefits:

  • What is important? What does the business need, and where should HR’s focus lie?

  • What services will HR deliver? How does this look and feel?

  • How will HR deliver? How will activities be delivered? What should sit where? What is the role of the line and the impact on technology requirements?

  • Who will deliver the services? What does the management structure look like? What are the key roles and responsibilities in the new model?

  • What is the impact? What roles, technology and processes are most impacted? What should the implementation plan look like?

4. Business involvement

By getting business involvement early on, HR leaders will ensure the roll-out is about delivering benefits to the business and not thought of as an HR-centric initiative. Business leaders should be involved in designing the changes so that they can both understand what’s going to be different and have detailed input into the cost and benefit trade-offs articulated in the business case.

It is important to actively get the backing of the business unit leaders at each step of creating the business case. In the initial stages, this involvement can help you understand the perception of current performance, business priorities and expectations. It can also highlight conflicts within the leadership team on HR requirements early on.

As you progress with your business case, having business leaders engaged in the design of the future operating model enables them to clearly understand the changes at an individual role level. The HR leader is unlikely to have the clout to push through important behavioural changes within the business unit, so having the business unit leader on-board with the changes is essential in the change process.

If you can get to this level of detail, the business case takes on an increased level of robustness and avoids frequent changes to the model, extensions of the plan or delays in implementation.

All the difference

Following a few simple principles will make all the difference in the success of your business case and ultimately, the success of your HR transformation. Getting executive or board approval for your proposed investment is clearly not just about the numbers. Selling your concept of the future and working with key business leaders to refine the business case, at every step in the transformation, will give real meaning to the numbers and drive bottom-line results.

Janet Curtis is a director at Orion Partners

One Response

  1. HR as Driver or Facilitator ?
    Dear Janet,

    Very well cristalised and captured.

    A friend had asked me to help out with her company in providing some cues on change initiatives through HR. This article would certainly be a good read in setting the framework, especially the pyschological implications, towards designing the roadmap.

    My own experience in rolling out a business case was modelled along similar lines. Unfortunately, things did no go as well as I had expected or believed were the required service priorities.

    When you are entrenched in a command and control environment the inevitable support would most likely to be a psuedo-buy and compliance driven. Over time, when the focus and preoccupations shifts towards short term survival, most of the principles begin to fade and before you know, the program of change evaporates due to lack of leadership committment.

    You are spot on when you wrote, “The HR leader is unlikely to have the clout to push through …..

    Anyone who feels otherwise, have either never faced the realities of working with incompetent leaders resigned to think HR is a “hiring and firing” job or one lucky person to have a very “powerful” HR guy.

    I believe the biggest challenge in the change process lies not so much in achieving the short wins and results. It is more the long term goals – sustaining the momentum towards altering the DNA of the work culture such as believing in and fostering innovativeness. How do you move people from compliance to committment driven?. How many change programs out there at targeted at the cultural dimension and measure factors below the iceberg, which incidently represents the biggest chunk of the inertia.

    Thank you


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