How to Build An Effective HR Business Case in 4 Steps

Jennifer McClure

Recently, I delivered a workshop at an event attended by senior human resources and talent acquisition leaders. After the program had ended, one of the attendees approached me and explained that she was having difficulty getting her executive team to agree to move forward with a leadership development program she had recently proposed. She was seeking any tips or tricks that I might be able to offer. Before offering advice, I gathered a little more information.

I asked, “Why did you initially decide to create a leadership development program?”

She thought for a minute before jokingly saying, “I don’t know. I guess because it’s the right thing to do”.

Okay. Sensing why she might be having difficulty selling her proposal to the executive team, I tried another angle.

“Is there a specific problem in your organization that you believed a leadership development program would solve?”

Seeing where the conversation was going, she smiled and said, “I can’t think of anything specific. I guess that’s a big part of my problem.”


To gain approval for any new program, initiative or process — anything that requires the decision to allocate money, time, or resources — talent advisors must build a business case and complete four critical steps.

1. Define the problem.

Problems in need of a solution can come in the form of areas that cause pain or areas that represent missed opportunities. There’s a reason that you’ve been compelled to investigate a solution. To set your business case up for success, you’ve got to be able to articulate the source of pain or opportunity to the organization.

Can’t explain the problem or opportunity? Then you’ll have even more difficulty explaining the need for a solution.

2. Use data to quantify how the problem negatively impacts business results.

Business executives speak the language of money. Talent advisors must be able to analyze available data and explain how not solving a problem is costing the company money.

Another way to see this? Ask yourself, “Where is the opportunity to make money because a solution has not yet been implemented?”

Help executives see how a failure to act on a problem will negatively impact their bonuses the bottom line. Through the smart use of data linked to their cash compensation, they will apply their focus and resources to your cause.

3. Evaluate possible solutions and make a recommendation.

The savvy talent advisor always proposes multiple solutions (or versions of a solution) to open up the minds of decision-makers. It doesn’t ever make sense to give your CEO only one option that she must approve or reject.

Your executive team hired you to utilize data analysis. They rely on your expertise to recommend the best solution. They expect you to be able to defend your recommendation and negotiate alternatives because that’s how business gets done.

4. Quantify how the recommended solution positively impacts business results.

The final step involves defining an implementation plan for your recommended solution. Using financial terms, you must detail how a successful implementation will enable the company to make more money, increase customer satisfaction, improve retention, improve employee engagement, etc.

To get approved, a business case must include liberal use of numbers with currency signs and/or percentage symbols. Keywords that executives pay attention to include: increase, decrease, improve, grow and reduce.

As you can see, my HR friend from the workshop left with some homework to do.

Talent advisors fill critical roles inside their companies: They function as the primary advocates for the people in the organization, and also lead or initiate key projects that can positively – or negatively – impact business performance.

As a result, talent advisors must master the art of building (and selling) an effective business case in order to gain executive approval to implement the talent strategies necessary to recruit, retain and develop the organization’s key source of competitive advantage.

By working through the four steps to building a successful business case, the aforementioned workshop attendee can increase her chances for gaining approval for her initiative — or understand why it’s not important to pursue.

And you can too.

Jennifer McClure is a sought-after Keynote Speaker and Executive Coach. She combines her experiences as a Business Leader, Human Resources Executive and Executive Recruiter with an engaging, entertaining and informative style to help Leaders unleash their potential and create massive positive impact.
Jennifer has delivered over 200 keynotes, workshops and corporate training classes, where she shares a blend of inspiration, “how-to,” best practices and strategic discussion based upon her 25+ years of experience leading human resources and talent acquisition efforts and working with senior executives.

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