Vent alert! So you’ve been warned, I’m going to have a little rant. I’ve been reading some articles recently and they’ve annoyed me just a tad. They’ve all had a common theme – the need for HR leaders to build a business case in order to get the financial backing and exec level buy-in for their engagement programmes.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not arguing with the principle – indeed, a business case is central to our approach. My issue is that people just keep parroting generic benefits – ‘Increase productivity levels’, ‘Boost revenue per employee’, ‘Improve middle management communication’, and ‘Reduce your costs’. Sometimes they back these up with research stats, which is something – but overall it’s all too ‘text book’. None of this really answers the most important question – what does a successful engagement programme look like for you?
A business case, which can be presented with confidence at the highest level of the company, takes its strength from specifics. It needs to be an analysis and reflection of your actual organisation, not one like it, or a statistical representation. It needs to show a pragmatic understanding of what has to change and improve, how that can best be done, and with what financial and operational results. And it needs to be defensible – every claim, every figure in it has to stand up to scrutiny, like that old maths homework notion of ‘show your workings’.
A board paper full of wishy-washy generic assertions is never going to cut it. Besides, I’d venture to say that most executive leadership would have a reasonable grasp of the upside of engagement. What they’ll be less sure of is the engagement levers within their own organisation, their potential impact and possible barriers and blockers – what needs to move to drive change; what can be moved with best effect; what is the financial value of any saving or enhancement; how can it actually be done, and with what priority and in what timeframe. A robust business case needs to tell the board what they don’t know, in granular detail, not a broad brush.
So as an HR leader you want to be walking in and asserting with confidence that....
- We’re not ‘improving internal communications’, we’re app-enabling our newsletter to a) slash the £30K production cost off the budget, and b) increase readership from 50% to 90%. We know one of our business challenges has been employee morale and culture, so we’re seizing the opportunity to share positive stories across the organisation.
- We’re not ‘enhancing employee morale’, we’re a) reducing staff attrition in our sales team by 5%, b) saving £150K per annum in recruitment and onboarding costs, and c) increasing revenue by a minimum 10%. Our historical data tells us that salespeople actually generate between 15%-20% more revenue in their second year of employment; our turnover is £750,000,000. Do the maths!
- We’re not ‘increasing information availability’, we’re making all key resources and systems accessible via one interface, retiring the Intranet and a) saving £50K a year into the bargain and b) taking usage levels from 20% to 90%.
- We’re not ‘giving employees more of a voice’, we’re moving to an agile feedback method that sees an end to the ponderous annual survey and its £40K price tag. Continuous listening will enable the business to be more responsive and implement change at a faster pace.
When we work with clients on a business case, we give them this type of itemised return, and the data to argue each and every one. But this only happens with their support, with stakeholders willing to put a lens up to their workforce and workplace, and with our help audit the organisation at a micro as well as macro level. We refer to this as the discovery phase, the solid business understanding on which everything that comes after is built. It’s a process that takes a little time and commitment from the C suite – the equivalent of half a day, say, but what would you rather have? An engagement strategy founded on soft statements - or hard facts?