Selling the HR Business Case? Try this!

If you attended this week’s HR TECH FEST in Melbourne (Nov 28 to 29, 2016) as we at Peoplogica did, you will have been amazed by the insights, presentations, and information provided by thought-leaders and case-study presenters, as well as the abundance of technology-related solutions and analytical services on display.

A ‘hot-topic’ discussed often with great passion was ‘How do HR people get internal business executive buy-in for their critical HR priorities and the associated business cases?’ Surely, if HR can identify a towering HR-related problem, everyone else in the organisation can see it! Don’t the executives know that our TALENT is the most important asset we have? Alas, no.

Fortunately, Jason Averbrook (author of ‘HR from Now to Next: Reimagining the Workplace of Tomorrow’) and Manu Narang Wadhwa (Global HR Executive, currently leading HR Transformation & Capabilities for American Express International) led an interactive session with delegates to identify ‘How to get the C-Suite’s Attention?’

This session provided excellent tips, many of which directly overlay with the ‘selling methodology’ of the many technology vendors present at the event. Here is a selection of the topics discussed: -

Get corporate sponsorship:

To align HR’s workforce technology proposals to the corporate suite, you need to have the sponsorship of someone who has great influence WITH the corporate suite. This can be an existing C-suite executive, a former C-suite executive or someone who has significant credibility with the C-suite (a third-party, a long-time partner, or a supplier). This sponsor needs to have three characteristics:

  • YOU have credibility with the sponsor
  • The SPONSOR has credibility with the executive decision makers
  • The SPONSOR wants YOUR proposal to be successful.

Manu from American Express suggested if you don’t have such a sponsor, you should develop one – quickly. Manu’s sponsor was the CFO because of the vital importance of the economic cost justification and metrics associated with her many successful business case proposals. The CFO helped her develop iterative versions of her drafts prior to final presentation.  

Create a business ‘hook’ to C-suite initiatives and speak their language:

To achieve strong alignment and relevance for your proposal to the executive suite’s strategic initiatives and priorities, you need to provide a direct link between these strategic initiatives and your proposal benefits. If you work for a listed company, then this is relatively simple. You look at your own corporate website to view the ‘Investor Relations’ presentations (which typically list all the strategic initiatives for the coming financial year and includes commentary and metrics for markets, revenue, products, talent, business processes, and technology). It is almost impossible NOT to find some link for a HR technology business proposal from this information. Latch on to them and frame your business proposal to DIRECTLY support selected initiatives, using the advice and guidance of your SPONSOR. This simple approach allows you to step up to the executive-level conversations using the business language and focus associated with these published organisational targets and direction.

Build a cross-functional team:

The interactive discussion included the importance of developing a pilot-study or ‘proof-of-concept’ (POC) to demonstrate to the executive suite how a HR technology project could be developed, integrated, tested, implemented, and adopted within an organisation. To achieve this, a cross-functional team was recommended to include people from within an organisation and any external parties (vendors, consultants, trainers, etc.).  Once a pilot/POC was successfully completed, it could then be used to prepare project plans and costs for a much wider project roll-out on a phased basis. What many technology vendors are prepared to do is to discount the cost of their direct contribution to a pilot to showcase the business value of their solutions. If they don’t – ask them. This pilot cannot however be controlled by HR as it the ‘business’ which owns all the cross-functional talent which is necessary to support a pilot initiative, and it is only the business which can quantify the ‘value’ or ‘ROI’ associated with the pilot. A pilot may also need its own ‘business case’ preparation and approval before commencement. If approved, you will achieve project visibility, awareness and expectation at the executive level. Your sponsor can help you. If the pilot is successful against stated performance metrics, you will have much less resistance for wider adoption later.

Focus on Agility, rather than Risk:

Jason Averbrook encouraged HR management to consider becoming more agile as a basis of achieving greater organisational innovation and thereby creating an environment for talent retention. HR needs to utilise and adopt greater organisational position and power; one of the best ways is to become the ‘talent advocate’ rather than the ‘HR-police’. HR managers need to use their passion to reinforce their expertise but also need to be able to ask for advice. The appetite for HR management risk-taking needs to change according to Jason, by working in a blended manner with all the relevant people, processes and technology within the organisation to achieve collaborative outcomes – particularly to support new HR business case proposals.

You may already be executing many of the above tips, or even have other suggestions or inclusions that work in your environment. If not, try some of these tips on small projects to develop your own expertise; seek out tips from others in your HR team, and develop a sponsor for guidance and mentoring. The focus is to help you become more effective in building business cases for HR technology progression and success.