We like to believe that because we are making business decisions, we do so rationally. We analyze the information, seek more information, discuss our ideas with others, then make a sound fact-based decision.
The truth is that we make our initial judgments about almost everything in our amygdala, the neural centers in the limbic system linked to emotion. As Jonathan Haidt explains in The Righteous Mind, the purpose of the rational mind is often to act as a lawyer who will justify our prejudgments.
We don’t mean to say people don’t make rational decisions. We do, but our first reaction is not likely to be rational, and we may not even be aware of it.
That is why we spend so much time on cultivating alliances, learning the decision process, and understanding what drives the way decision-makers think. You will need to align your efforts with their priorities to improve your chances of a positive initial reaction.
The first step in developing a sound business case is to learn the language, and the lexicon of business is Finance. If you are new to Finance, you can take free online courses from major universities or take a course at your local business school. Learn the language and leave HR-speak in your office.
Find out how Proposals Work
Seek people in your organization who have had success in getting proposals approved. If your company has a formal review process, learn how it works. Find out if reviews are on a regular schedule or if they happen when proposal come up. Learn whether your company reviews functional portfolios or individual cases.
Identify the Decision-Makers
Learn who makes the final decision and what their priorities are. If you don’t get a good idea by asking, review previous projects to see who approved them and why. The final decision authority may be the CEO, CFO, or a group of executives. Your case may be reviewed at several levels before it reaches the final authority, and you will need to understand how to negotiate each level.
Find out who has influence, and build your idea around the influencers’ priorities.
Seek an executive sponsor or champion. Somewhere in your organization is an operational leader who will support your ideas. Engage that person in conversations about organizational performance and how you can help. That person may have a problem your idea will solve.
Study the factors driving decisions in the business. If you can’t get the information directly, read financial reports, shareholder communications, and internal communications. Recent news article can also help. If you can, learn what is keeping decision-makers awake at night.
Build your idea around your organization’s strategy. If it is developing new products, your product managers will need talented people to do the work. If it is cost-cutting, your proposal should be focused on efficiencies.
We have already mentioned that you need an executive sponsor, but there are other allies you need on your team.
Writing a business case proposal isn’t easy, especially for those of us who are “people people” and not inclined to love numbers. That doesn’t mean you need to become an accountant. You only need to get Finance on your team.
Nothing gets attention like a business problem with financial impact. Seek operational leaders who can benefit from your ideas. Talk about how you might help them get better results. They will become your champions.
You may need external experts if you do not have in-house capability. Vendors, industry experts, and colleagues may be of help. Don’t go it alone, and don’t overlook the expertise in other areas of the business.
In our next blog about the business case for an HCM initiative, we will talk about how to clarify the business need and explore alternatives. That discussion will prepare you for calculating the ROI of your solution.
 Haidt, Jonathan. The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion. New York: Pantheon Books, 2012.
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