How to write a business case

Articulating an idea in a way that illustrates the benefits for the business usually takes its first formal format as a business case. This is used to set out the key solutions, advantages and a practical roll out plan to senior or executive leaders who must be sold on the idea without too many criticisms or concerns. 

There is no hard and fast rule when it comes to layout – you might find that your company has its own particular and preferred layout whether it’s an unspoken obligation or a mandatory template.

Or you might get to choose your own layout – just try not to be too creative about it as it needs to have some sort of degree of formality to be taken seriously. Unless of course it’s a case study that the business needs to be more creative then by all means have at it!

Whichever the layout, this post explains the key sections a good business case should have to make sure everything is covered. You don’t necessarily need to stick with the title of the sections but make sure the nature of each section is included.

Introduction

The first section should introduce the business case that covers the current situation ie the problem or situation your plan can solve. At this point you don’t particularly want to touch on your proposed solution – reveal this too soon without the background story and you risk the leaders being turned off too soon.

When people hear a controversial or seemingly outlandish idea without having worked through the motions to understand why the idea can actually work, no amount of explanation can convince them to change their mind once it’s been made too soon.

The introduction would normally stick to what is happening right now in a way that suggests that an answer or resolution is needed to stop this happening.

Implications

This section broadens the introduction or current situation. The introduction has acted as a hook, the beginning of the story that convinces and sometimes shocks the audience to pay attention.

This section covers the implications of what the current scenario is producing and takes the shock further. It’s essentially telling them to look at the things that are happening as a result of this problem.

To help you with this, stick to cold hard facts and figures, any that will help you portray the issue accurately.

It’s important not to put across your own agenda, which is easier said than done, but keeping to the figures and facts, and what they’re telling you is a good start. You shouldn’t be selective with this either, omitting certain facts from the case purely because it doesn’t fight your case very well.

On the contrary, you should include these not only to prove the integrity of the business case (by being transparent with the data) but to also help pinpoint exactly where the issue lies.

For example, if you’re trying to prove that your team’s performance is dropping due to lack of wellbeing initiatives, but miss out two team members whose performance is actually increasing, including these in the case can actually help your point.

The point isn’t that the team’s performance as a whole is declining, it’s that there are localised issues, and being able to see the differences between the high and low performing members can help your case if you’re providing a specific rather than general solution.

Detriment of taking no action

The ‘Implications’ section focussed on the facts and figures now, the result of the current issue. This section looks at the detriment of inaction and projects these facts and figures into the future.

These predictions highlight the potentially escalating nature of the issue, bringing home the big message that essentially says “this is a big problem and if we don’t do something about it now, it’ll only get bigger.”

At this point graphs that illustrate a trajectory of decline and/or peril will help the audience digest the information quicker.

As I talked about in this post about presenting data using graphs is a good way to show the overall picture without the need of specific numbers, or in other words, all the lines are going in the wrong direction and that’s bad.

So far, the business case has looked at the current situation, the implications of the situation and what will happen if no action is taken. We have them at the edge of their seats for a solution!

Proposed solution

And lo you have a solution. Not only does your solution correct all the wrongs of the previous three sections, it details the proposed approach.

It’s all very well in saying, for example, employees will be rewarded for their hard work to resolve an issue of lack of engagement, but it’s not enough to support your case.

In this section, you need to detail how your proposed solution will be rolled out, anticipating any questions you might expect the audience may have. These need to be written in clear actionable points, which will in turn essentially be the specific requests you are asking the audience to agree on.

They should know exactly what you will go away and do by them agreeing these points, as well as the consequences of them, i.e. resolution.

This can be helped by referring specific actions to specific people or teams from the previous sections, to the point where if you were to read back over the problem sections, they can be ticked off one by one as “sorted”.

You could have a separate section for Results but by doing so you run the risk of subconscious disassociation between the proposed solution and the results.

As such, I recommend keeping them together, as a single unit of solution and results rather than two separate points to consider.

You may also have a number of solutions up your sleeve and want to run each of them by the audience for their preference. In which case, it’s good to have some sort of clear comparison to the options, the strengths and weaknesses of each, and your recommendation with reasons.

Conclusion

The concluding section will consist of a summary of the case and a formal request to consider it as a whole as well as agreeing those actionable points.

Where applicable, it can be helpful to use this section to direct them to any appendices or annexes* that helped you with your business case, or any extensive and comprehensive pieces of data that aren’t necessary for the business case but still available should it be needed.

This basic structure is a good starting point when constructing your business case. It almost follows a story format: this bad thing is happening, causing all of these problems, and they’ll only get worse, until help comes along to solve the issue and as a result good things happen…

Very crude way of putting it but you get the gist!

Hitting the right note is your aim, particularly if you’re in front of a tough crowd to please.

* Ever wondered what the difference between an appendix and an annex is? An appendix is additional content relevant to the main body of text that you have put together but is better as an aside, for example case studies or tables of data. An annex is a supplementary document that has been put together by someone else but still helpful for reference or part of your research, for example a report on performance by the CMI, or a relevant article. 

 

The importance of good customer service in HR

My first customer service role was at the age of 16 at a local shop/petrol station, and I quickly learned about the multi-characteristic nature of the customer demographic. I then started to work with customers over the phone in another company where I discovered a new set of characteristics to add to this customer scope. Then I started waiting on tables which broadened the demographic even further to unexpected heights (those in catering know what I’m talking about)!

All in all, I began to see all types of personalities the world has to offer. Some were a delight to serve, some not so. Some were easy to deal with, some not so. Some taught me patience, and did not so.

To me, the customer demographic is a snapshot of the broad spectrum of personalities, and in my opinion, dealing with customers early on in a career develops important people skills that HR professionals can take with them throughout their careers.

The majority of us work with people who come with their own personality (or personalities) and dealing with some of them in a professional capacity can be a struggle, even under the implied constraints of workplace etiquette.

Customers are not obliged to adhere to, or behave under the scope of HR policies, company etiquette, or even social expectation. Indeed, they can throw at you whatever personality they want and there is nothing you can do about it other than react with complete and utter servitude and diplomacy in order to resolve the situation on your toes.

Typically, HR rarely deals with ‘customers’. Those who we provide advice to are ‘colleagues’ – staff, managers, business managers, senior leaders – but at times it can be difficult to handle situations with objectivity and diplomacy as you would with a customer.

So why are good customer service skills important in HR? Here are just five out many skills that are important in both settings:

  1. Co-operation

Using good customer service skills encourages co-operation. Rather than a position of servitude, we must be able to co-operate with our colleagues for the best outcome, one which has the least negative impact by personality negotiation.

Defusing situations before tensions rise is a key skill in both customer service and dealing with colleagues, and by understanding the same principles of the server-customer relationship, we can aim to co-operate better.

  1. Respect

We each deserve respect, and in my opinion, good customer service is demonstrated when a customer is shown respect even when they themselves are being disrespectful. This shows a huge amount of integrity.

Showing respect for teams and colleagues means that you maintain professionalism even under extreme confrontations, and will find it quicker and easier to reach diplomatic resolutions. It also demonstrates general good character which is a trait that will help you organically progress in your career anyway.

  1. Listening

A good skill in general, listening – or more specifically, active listening – in customer service means you provide the customer ample opportunity to voice their objections and opinions in whichever way they feel is more productive (even when it isn’t).

Even when they’re screaming and shouting, actively listening to this in a responsive, rather than a defensive way, means you’re assessing the emotion and frustration from their vent, thus understanding the impact a situation has on them.

Hearing what is being said, and the undertones not said, you are then much more likely to be able to identify the root of the problem they have experienced. This can be applied when dealing with a frustrated or upset manager for example and use other skills as a HR professional to provide solutions to their problem.

Even if solutions cannot be found, or at least not in the manager’s favour, actively listening will assure the manager that you have taken the time to understand the issue to give the tailored solution.

  1. Process improvement

As a follow-up from the point on listening, working with customers and listening to their problems provides you first-hand opportunities to identify process flaws or gaps.

You’re at the firing line of the negative impact these gaps have on the customers, and by providing them with solutions to resolve the situation, you are in the position to address these gaps on a more permanent basis by suggesting longer-term process improvements.

In the HR environment, dealing with colleagues and other stakeholders, you act as the fixer between company’s goals and weaknesses via its people. You are in the position of having the business acumen and people skills of an HR professional, and applying these to the day-to-day issues managers and employees experience.

Process improvement is just one step for bigger successes HR can facilitate, for example improvements on culture, employer branding and the employee value proposition.

  1. Going the extra mile

Customer service roles can sometimes be incredibly satisfying, especially if you’re the sort of person who likes applying discretionary effort to helping customers.

When applying the effort on the frontline, appreciation and gratitude is (mostly) expressed immediately, and the satisfying feeling it gives you makes you want to do it again.

Applying this in HR gets the same results (if you work in that sort of company of course). Just like coming up with discretionary and one-off solutions for customers in exceptional circumstances, HR provides enough opportunities to provide the same for colleagues and stakeholders without expectation of reward or special treatment.

It begins to teach you a great sense of occupational pride, knowing that you have sometimes the capacity to go that extra mile in order for big results to have a positive impact.

So by treating those to which we provide advice as customers, we carry that mind set of pleasing the customer through the things we do at work.

The company’s customers

As an aside, HR does in fact have distant dealings with customers in that whatever we do in our daily role(s) ultimately has a knock-on effect on the customer or end user.

We guide and support managers to deal with staff who are essentially the face of the company to its customers. How this employee is managed and supported by their manager is determined by the support we can give in order for the customer to receive good service.

The benefit of understanding this, and the skills and aptitude needed for good customer service, is that we can better place ourselves in frontline staff’s shoes.

We can begin to empathise with what can be a challenging role, considering, as mentioned, there are very few restraints within which customers should conduct themselves, other than the prohibition of expletives and violence.

The stress that comes with is can be excruciating, and as HR professionals we must be conscious of this fact and factor it into our advice and strategies.

The benefit of understanding the importance of the skills needed for good customer service means we can also work better in the business with our colleagues and stakeholders in general.

Adopting a customer-pleasing approach in the things that we do ensures we go about our work with pride, respect and understanding.

If you are currently in a customer service role and aspire to become an HR professional, I hope this has demonstrated the close link between the two and encourages you to emphasise these great skills to bag your first role.

If you work in a call-centre and you want to move away from that environment, check out this article I wrote on the host of other skills you can transfer away from a call-centre environment that you might not have realised.

 

Recording yourself to improve your verbal communication

I’m delivering this post, very aptly, as a video post today in which I talk about recording yourself to improve your verbal communication.

In this video, I cover:

  • The benefits of recording yourself, including getting over the ‘umms…’, getting used to your voice, and being conscious of your body language
  • How the recording set up is easier than you think
  • What to say when you’re recording yourself
  • And the things to avoid.

I’m hoping to do more of these video posts every now and then. Let me know what you think!