In our 12-part series, Kate Wadia – Service Delivery Director at Phase 3 Consulting - guides the HR professional through how to navigate, succeed and lead with HR tech project-work. From the inception of the business case to the handover into BAU, we’ll follow an indicative project timeframe to explain the way and the why of a project step-by- step, to give you a full toolkit of practical points, a deciphering of definitions and the top tips to get results important to HR and the wider business.
Before selecting your system you must make your case for systems change. So often the basic business case is a frantic and furious scribble treated as a necessary inclusion in project kick-off: it becomes a piece of homework rather than something meaningful.
Sometimes the considered capturing of the case is missed out altogether.
In either scenario, the real case for business change may never be actually made.
This article will tackle when and how to identify the benefits of systems change, the structure that your HR argument can take and the who, when and how to appeal to your project audience.
Context: proactive versus reactive change
Change in your HR systems strategy inevitably arises reactively to change created elsewhere. Drive or you will be driven on the case for it!
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- Organisational maturity drives change: a first implementation, a scaling up of operations, re-modelling of HR service delivery, merger and acquisition
- The activity of suppliers drives change: tech providers de-support, release new products and services, contract cycles near an end
- Appetite of employees or would-be employees drives change: tech-talented workforces, candidate pools, culture change all demand different and better
Once the context for the project is established, what is the context for the business case for systems change?
I encourage you to regard the business case as more than a mandate of organisational project or procurement method. Most commonly HR need to bid for budget.
You may be tasked to justify choice between options on spend or approach or to prepare for tender.
Many methods expect a formal, written business case to be included in the PID (“project initiation document”) and in this context the business case sets the baseline parameters for the project ahead.
Identifying the benefits of new HR technology
A key part of the argument is the cost/benefit analysis for HR tech. You will need a clear expression of the why of the project. Be three things: relevant, realistic and real.
- To be relevant, focus your arguments on the organisational or HR strategy. What needs to be happening? Do you need to grow, keep up with competitors, attract talent, reduce costs, achieve changing behaviours?
- To be realistic, don’t over-egg the savings and include the costs (sometimes called “dis-benefits”) too. I’ve seen absurd estimations of time to be saved by automating employee process.
- To be real, then give your points a decent sense-check. The nature of HR means that quantitative returns are only part of the story and you may have a very keen sense of the qualitative benefits that really justify the spend.
Which benefits should you include?
Even your qualitative benefits are most effectively captured as precisely as you can. Think about a benefit as an outcome achieving an impact. Without the latter, benefits don’t convince.
For example, it may sound great to achieve closer systems integration, but unless HR can point to the fact that integrated systems reduce time in dual-keying and risk of error then the case is not made. Where else to look?
- Automation of process leads to time savings. Quantify hours saved and cost of hours, remembering time saved for the many stacks up to more than for the few!
- The availability of management information improves compliance. Identify where pain points are currently in managing this.
- Improving accuracy in HR or payroll cuts not only overspend but effort. Assess how much could be saved here.
- Productivity gains could be made from the availability of clearer analytics on performance, as well as from increased engagement. Perhaps you can assess the potential in pockets of the business or amongst your competitors.
- Changing contractual structure or the systems map could achieve a direct cost saving on licensing or avoid the payment, perhaps in duplicate, of services not used or over-charged.
- A change in system, closer integration or development of new modules may result in closer compatibility: with IT strategy or other internal and external partner systems and new technologies you need to work with
- Fitting candidate and employee experience to your preferred employer brand may well reduce attrition, get ahead of the game, attract talent. Can you evidence this guess?
- Address risk reduction as an end. Inadequacies in automation, information or compliance creates considerable risk. Specify those that apply to your context.
- Solve day-to-day problems and ease pain! Show that the impact will be an upward trend on employee satisfaction, motivations, involvement and innovation.
Presenting your business case
Let’s look at the who, when and how of putting forward your case for change.
The convincing case is subjective to its audience. It makes sense, after all, for HR to balance the interests in the HR technology between those comprising your audience.
Whilst I caution against desperate and misleading attempts to get the numbers to “stack up”, do take a finance focus by taking head-on how you have dealt with returns, considered costs and costed options. See different risks – financial risk, security risk, strategy risk. Check that your premise for recommendation is not unduly weighted towards one organisational interest and asset (that of its people) as opposed to other commercial or market dynamics.
When and how to present is naturally often suggested by context. Yet this overlooks an opportunity. You have an opportunity for greater appreciations, not least within the HR department itself, but also in tee-ing up competing bids for budget – and doing that right – with some advance planning.
Mid-contract activity on next selection or renewal negotiation is too often neglected in the HR systems world in favour of a race to the finish line. I’d start looking at a major system change 18 months ahead. Allowing time for your choice period, less than 12 months is going to be tight unless you happen upon a choice of one of the more agile solutions.
The audience is relevant for format too and particularly when it comes to the degree of detail. A business case is typically written up as a document but if that’s not prescribed then feel free to stick at a visual presentation and embed the right links to find the detail.
My step guide here doesn’t go into templating for you (Google will soon sort you out!) but it’s worth understanding if a methodology is prescribed internally by a project management office or procurement teams.
Here is a sense-check structure, based on formal methods for PM-ship pinched, tucked and tailored to do the pragmatic thing and concentrate on what the case aims to achieve:
- Go for the overview: key point, context, recommendation
- Present the options: repeat the recommendation
- Show off the benefits: and offset with the costs
- Address risk: risk of recommendation and of other options
- Add practical notes: particularly timing, budget and next steps
- Conclude: stress your overview cut down to concluding size
Step 1 in short
The business case for HR technology is one rarely to make itself and that’s quite rightly so.
Taking a timely, logical approach to gathering and presenting your championing of HR argument for new, developed or improved tools in tech will not only win you cross-functional and leadership support, but help to form your own thinking and effective decision-making once project-work steams ahead.
Keep it real. Making the case and writing that down adds true value only in so far as you believe in that you’re writing. There’s little sense in fictional figures, formality of formats or pretend perfection at draft one where uncalled for.
Next month I’ll look at how to turn your convincing case into step 2 and system selection.
Kate is Service Delivery Director for Phase 3 Consulting, offering an independent take on the UK HR Systems Market. Her passion is for bridging the gap between technology and people at work and translating for HR professionals the language of HR systems. Her career was spent in private and public sector HR generalist management before she moved into consultancy. In her writing and her day-to- day work, Kate explains how to work well with technology and technology projects in an HR leadership role, using simple techniques drawn from HR experience, project management, business psychology and analogy with everyday life.