How to Build a Business Case for Your HR Transformation
I spend almost every day helping organizations think about it. That word is weighty — it makes me think of a long, dramatic journey. A big change that builds over time. An impressive, memorable change.
So it would stand to reason that HR transformations require a lot of work and strategy up front. Before anyone in the C-suite approves a major transformation, they’re going to need to hear a convincing argument. Despite the fact that every single HR transformation our team has authored has been approved, I know that the road from ideation to execution is a long one. So here are the tried and true methods we employ every single day. I hope you find value in our journey.
Become a Forensic Investigator
Start by digging into the information about your transformation. Think of yourself as an HR private investigator. You’re looking at every process, contract, data point, fee and challenge. The idea is to collect every artifact, policy, process and bit of information, then capture it, organize it and put it in a formal format. Frankly, you’ve probably never done this before. It’s a lot of work, but it’s critical to earn support of your big-picture project.
Build a library of every single step of the HR life cycle. From the first moment you attract a candidate, through onboarding and the entire talent-management life cycle, you need to get a true sense of how you actually operate today. This is the only way to get a view of the entire ecosystem.
Map Your Current Processes (And Find Money!)
Next, it’s time to make a process map. I know you’re sitting back saying, “This is like watching paint dry,” but I recommend finding your biggest conference room with the most glass or walls or whiteboards, gathering a lot of markers, brewing a big pot of coffee, and maybe even stockpiling some candy and snacks. Then lock each of your functional and operational teams in the room and literally draw, step by step, how you do everything, who it touches, and the associated pain points.
Remember that this is meant to be an “eye chart.” Worried that you have 834 steps for your merit process? Concerned about the 42 approvals for a new requisition? Thinking about the manual interventions, spreadsheets, duplicate entry, paper, and errors? Write it down — every single action. You won’t be able to truly express what’s difficult or unsustainable or expensive about your status quo until you visually map it out.
Bring C-Level Leaders Into the Loop
Now’s your chance for visibility. If C-level stakeholders weren’t interested in notebooks of information about your HR process needs, I guarantee you they’ll pay attention to dozens of giant sticky notes cluttering up the conference room or hallway. If you want to get in front of the CFO, get creative. Build a process-map art gallery in the hallway between her office and the coffee machine.
This is your chance to show executive stakeholders the herculean effort that the organization goes through every single day, every single month, every single year, just to hire, train, pay, manage, and offboard employees.
Everyone touches one point in the process, but very few people understand the full process from start to finish. If your HR team is spending their time supporting 700-plus steps for an annual process, they are not doing 20 other things that are critical to the organization’s strategic growth and opportunity. Showing stakeholders what you’re spending your time on will help them understand what’s holding HR back from being a strategic partner.
Talk to Your Employees
I’ve talked before on Voice of HR about employee expectations. We all have high expectations about work, and we’re often disappointed. If you want to build a better HR organization, you need to understand what employees want. Capture the organization’s voice, and use that voice as a catalyst for change.
You might be surprised by what you find out. For example, we worked with the HR team at a large petrochemical company. They went into their HR transformation with the premise that their biggest pain points were around payroll and benefits. Then they surveyed their employees and found that employees felt the current payroll or benefits processes were relatively close to expectations. However, they did identify unexpected areas that their employees felt were broken, such as HR strategy and communication.
Asking employees for their input helps you understand and prioritize what would drive the most beneficial behavioral change. What would get you the most high-fives in the hallway? How can you show employees you’re listening?
After employees share their feedback, follow up with them. And be sure to find your advocates. I promise, employees will want to help you make work better.
Present Your Case
After you’ve gathered all your data, mapped your current processes and surveyed your stakeholders and employees, it’s time to pick a lane. You need to package your plan into a format and language that’s easily consumable by the C-suite and the board.
Need help building your case? Here’s a tip: Get a copy of the last five business cases that were approved — for any department. It doesn’t matter if they’re for IT, marketing, sales or HR. Get a sense of the tone, the tenor, the language and even details that might seem unimportant, like the font. Speak in a language that’s easily understood and expected based upon organizational norms.
Here are critical questions you’ll need to address within your business case:
- What is the impetus for change? Why do we have to do this now? What are the business benefits? Is it de-risking? Is it acceleration? Is it fostering growth?
- What are the metrics? How are we going to measure success? Do we care about industry benchmarks, key competitors, internal standards, or all of the above? Are we prioritizing improving our engagement scores? And how are we going to know we’ve arrived (because frankly, once you start transforming, you’re never done)?
- What’s the scope? What’s the functional, geographical, and operational scope? Which processes and which populations are we targeting, and when?
- Who are our sponsors in this process? Who’s been a good steward? Who’s been involved throughout? Who will be surprised to learn about this initiative? Are there winners and losers, and if so, have we thoughtfully considered the political ramifications?
- What’s our timeline? Are we going for a “big bang” approach or staging the initiative over multiple years? How does the proposed timeline align to our fiscal year?
- How are we embracing change? Is there a tried and true approach to continuous organizational improvement? How will we communicate with employees, and who will drive the message? Have we secured all necessary executive sponsors as key advocates?
- How does this dovetail to other transformational elements that are affecting the organization right now? Are there other modernization efforts throughout the enterprise?
- What are the critical financials, and what are other considerations that are unique or nuanced to the organization? Is this our first move to the cloud? How do we treat capital versus operating expenses? Will internal project resources be allocated, if approved, or do we have a chargeback process?
If you can get these elements down, you will absolutely get your business case approved. And if you need help, advice, or simply an empathetic ear, please reach out to me at any time.
With over 25 years of experience, Mark Stelzner has worked for organizations of every size and vertical. He has spent his career fostering relationships through attention to detail, natural curiosity, and a self-deprecating sense of humor.