Even though the Conference Board found that Human Capital is still the #1 global challenge facing CEO’s, you still hear the universal complaint from recruiting leaders that they are underfunded and simply don’t have the budget to do bold and exciting things in recruiting. I find that this lack of funding isn’t because recruiting doesn’t have a high impact, clearly it does. In fact, the BCG and Google have both independently found that recruiting had the highest business impact of any people management function. But instead, you can attribute their weak performance in budget battles to the fact that recruiting leaders simply underperform when building a strong business case.
Having helped many functions in this area, I have found that recruiting business cases are almost always put together100% from the internal perspective of someone that works in recruiting. This is severely damaging because the people that approve the funds for recruiting are business people with a background in finance, who have a completely different strategic business perspective. If you really want to know the secrets of a compelling business case, look no further than the sales function.
Recruiting is just sales… With a crummy budget
The sales function is well funded, not because of emotion, but based on the business impact that they demonstrate. The lesson to be learned is that if you want to expand your budget in recruiting, you need to go about building your case for more funding in a more business-like manner. We can and should all learn from the well-funded functions of marketing, IT, sales, product development, production and supply chain. Studying them reveals that the best business cases are based on the many different “budget approval factors” that business people care about.
A business-like approach to business case writing requires you to emphasize business impacts and quantify every result and problem by showing its dollar impact on revenue. So if you want to make your business case in recruiting nearly 50% more powerful, you need to include components that are almost always part of the business case from better-funded functions. While recruiting proposals may average only a dozen “selling points”, other function’s proposals can include up to 50! This article is designed as a “tickler checklist” to remind you of the 60 critical “power factors” that most in recruiting inexplicably leave out of their business cases.
The first and most important lesson for recruiting leaders to learn is that most recruiting business cases don’t fail because of what’s in them, they fail because what is not in them.
Adding a few powerful “budget approval factors” in the right areas can make all the difference
The first step in any business-like approach to building a business case begins with working with the CFO’s office, the undisputed king of budgets. By partnering with them, you can learn valuable lessons on how inserting the right powerful phrases will have an immediate and positive impact on getting more funding. For example, if you include a traditional statement like “The increased budget will enable us to cut time to fill by 10 days”, you will not likely impress executives. However, if you add phrases like, “In revenue-generating positions alone, hiring 10 days faster will increase corporate revenue by $4.5 million over the 23 open revenue-generating positions that we plan to fill this year in sales, business development and accounts receivable. This revenue gain figure has been verified by the CFO’s office”. These types of phrases add directly to “the value proposition” because they show a strategic impact by increasing revenue and they add credibility by showing that the CFO has verified your contribution.
And external focus can also help
Rather than being internally focused, the recruiting business case should also include phrases that are externally focused. For example, executives are extremely competitive, so they are constantly seeking a competitive advantage over other firms. So including a phrase like “In head-to-head competition, we currently lose three out of four recruiting candidates to our direct competitors”. However, “If our new XYZ approach is approved, our firm will be the first firm in our industry to have it. And by itself, it will provide us with a competitive advantage because other firms outside of our industry that have implemented the XYZ program have improved their head-to-head success ratio by 50%”.
Goals for your business case effort
Obviously, the goals of a great business case are met when you receive your increased funding. But you must realize that you can’t reach that ultimate goal until you have first met other sub-goals. These include putting together a written proposal, getting approval from HR and getting on the agenda of the budget committee.
Next, you must conduct what I call “approval research” which focuses on identifying which of the possible 60+ “budget selling points” have the most impact on those that sit on the budget committee. The best way to identify the relevant selling points is to informally work with the staff of budget committee members and to get them to force rank the budget approval factors on your list. You should then identify the committee members that are most likely to support, be neutral or to block your budget proposal, based on the approval factors that are in your proposal. Obviously, after each success and failure, you need to also conduct an analysis that reveals what went right and what went wrong, in order to continually improve. The final step is writing up and including each of the “approval factors” that are used by current members of the budget committee.
Critical “budget approval factors” and phrases that instantly make a business case more compelling
The following is a long list of business case elements that I call “budget approval factors”. They get their name from being cited by budget decision makers as primary reasons why they have approved or rejected budget requests. I have found that each of those listed factors in this section have had a measurable impact on getting recruiting proposals approved. As mentioned previously, start by identifying which of these 60 elements are frequently used by your executives and budget decision-makers at your firm. Obviously, you can’t use them all, but you might be surprised when you learn how even a handful of them will make a major difference in your funding. I urge you to take a rapid scan through the power approval factors in this checklist so that you can quickly realize how many critical areas that you have been omitting from your business cases. Remember that each one that you add might by itself tilt the budget decision toward your side. These powerful “budget approval factors” are separated into three parts/categories.
Part I – Strategic Budget Approval Factors That Must Be Included
These 20 business case budget approval factors cover strategic issues. In a competitive environment, without them, your chances of receiving any funding are dramatically reduced.
- Show the total revenue impact of your project – CEO’s care most about “top-line growth” (corporate revenue). So don’t be subtle, start off with the total estimated impact that your new project will have on increasing corporate revenue. Use total impact phrases like “The business impact of the new salesperson referral program is estimated by the CFO to be over 14% of sales or $76 million in added revenue”. Another example would be “Increasing the on-the-job performance of new hires (quality of hire) by 10% as a result of the new assessment process, will have a corresponding increase in revenue per employee of 5% per year over 100 hires, or and added $23 million extra revenue.
- Show you directly impact other corporate strategic goals – there can be no doubt, executives care most about the corporation’s strategic goals, in part because their bonuses are based on meeting them. Those strategic goals usually include revenue/profit, product development, production, customer satisfaction, market share, time-to-market and the product brand. Also, be aware that issues that are raised by outside financial analysts should also be considered as important as strategic goals. You must, of course, show the direct connection between any improved recruiting results and those strategic goals. Start with strategic goal impact phrases like “10% of our customer service positions are vacant due to our slow hiring process. For each 1% of open positions, the CFO found that customer satisfaction went down by 1% at a cost of $1.5 million in lost future sales. Thus slow recruiting will cost us $15 million this year in the customer service area alone”. Also, show how the program will reinforce and add to your firm’s critical success factors
- It solves a business problem, not a recruiting problem – strategic thinking evaluators think in terms of business problems. So if you utilize words that focus on functional problems, like cost per hire and time to fill, you will reveal that you are internally focused on “recruiting problems”. Instead, start every component of your business case focused 100% on business problems. For example, use phrases like “Sales are down 14%, and that lower revenue impacts the entire business. The data shows that the root cause of the sales problem is the weak performance of new sales hires, as a result of the inadequate assessment of sales candidates during the hiring process”. Remember executives spend all day talking about business problems, so show the impact of recruiting on those talked about business problems.
- Convert recruiting results to $ – it’s impossible for many to fully understand recruiting results and to compare them to sales or production results. Unless you convert them to a standard of comparison, their dollar impacts on corporate revenue. So work with the CFO to convert recruiting results like the quality of hire, retention, vacant position days and higher offer acceptance rates to their dollar impact on revenue. Use phrases like “The sales hiring initiative hired sales people that sold 39% more during their first year, increasing sales revenue by $23.4 million in the first year”.
- Use the language of business – there is no disputing that the langue of business involves numbers and dollars. That means that rather than using “words” in your proposal to sell it, it must be dominated by numbers and dollars. Use phrases like “The total revenue impact of this project is estimated to be $3.4 million because new hires will be retained an average of 12 months longer”. Rather than “wordy” phrases like “the quality of hire will go up significantly”, say “In already measured jobs, the metrics from the pilot proved that on-the-job performance will improve an average of 13.4%, which will across all jobs, be a $3.1 million impact”. If you must use words, include strategic ones like strategy, positioning, competitive advantage, ROI and adding shareholder value.
- The consequence of delay/doing nothing – remember you must put a dollar cost on any likely major failure if you want to get the attention of executives. But if you want fast action, you must also show that delaying a decision will make a problem much worse. In fact, sometimes your strongest selling point is that both costs and the severity of the problems will escalate if you delay. Consider phrases like “If there is no action within three months, we estimate that the costs will escalate exponentially from 1% to 12% of the total budget in that area”.
- A data-driven and metric-rich approach – everyone at the executive level operates in a data-driven environment. So it’s essential that you show that all major decisions on your project will be made based on data. Being data-driven means that you must utilize results metrics and show that everything that is important will be monitored and measured. Consider key phrases like “Metrics have been developed to monitor every important aspect of the project. Our results metrics have been pre-approved in advance by the CFO, the COO, and the 6 Sigma team”. Including predictive metrics makes a good proposal much stronger.
- A list of the WOW’s – often evaluators only remember one or two key items from a proposal. And those items are generally called WOW’s because the reader at least mentally thinks WOW in their head after reading them. It’s essential that you have at least two WOWS’ in every proposal, and the more the better. Consider phrases like “The CFO literally said WOW after hearing about this amazing feature”. Some WOW features might include generating a profit in recruiting, writing your own software or hiring an industry icon to run this program. Pre-test your WOW’s to make sure they get the desired response.
- We will be first – executives that care about winning always like to be the first. You can assure them that you’re being innovative and on the leading edge with phrases like “We are the first in the industry to try this approach, so our initiative will give us “first mover advantage”. An alternative approach that can also add value involves stating that the competitors already have the program. Because sometimes the fear of falling behind competitors may cause some executives to approve it.
- Provide a competitive advantage – all executives are highly focused on competing with their competitors. As a result, you must also show that this new initiative differentiates us, is hard to copy and that it provides us with a competitive advantage. Often conducting a competitive analysis is the best way to show that you know what they are doing and where our firm is ahead. Use phrases like “Benchmarking reveal that we are the first in our industry to use blind resume screening and interviews. And as a result of this lead, we expect 10% of new technical hires to be diverse, which exceeds our competitor’s average of 4.6%”.
- CFO-specific budget approval factors – CFO’s dominate budget cutting, and they have their own unique set of criteria for approving projects. These CFO budget approval factors often include a low initial investment, a short payback period, an immediate start up, no new headcount, low costs/hi-efficiency and increased productivity. Some also care about no Sarbanes-Oxley issues, strong results metrics, a positive impact on cash flow, and a positive ROI. Be aware that even if other executives approve, a CFO may unilaterally block you if their funding criteria are not met.
- CEO-specific budget approval factors – CEO’s also have their own unique set of criteria for approving projects. They often include a focus on top line growth (revenue), an increase in market share, an impact on shareholders/the BOD, increased corporate capabilities, new product development, enhanced future growth opportunities and a sustainable competitive advantage. Having the support of the CEO and no resistance from the CFO are an unbeatable combo for getting a large budget increase.
- Speed – in a world where being the fastest matters, executives have learned to look for speed aspects in proposals. If the team has accelerated deadlines or is breaking a time barrier, it should be mentioned. Use phrases like “Filling jobs faster in the product development area will reduce new product time to market by 21% or 45 days, the fastest TTM in the industry”.
- Innovation is included – at firms that emphasize innovation, in order to be respected, recruiting projects must also include it. So consider phrases like “This project includes innovations like the use of virtual reality in assessment and the use of the text interviewing on the mobile platform”.
- Prepared for the future – projects that are forward-looking get a higher priority because they prepare the firm for the future. It’s important for a firm to aim ahead of “where your competitors will be”. So projects that have a forecast, a workforce planning component, and predictive metrics are more likely to be approved. Consider using phrases like “The forecasting element can accurately predict future turnover so that managers have enough time to find top quality replacements, so there is no lag in production”. If you program has an “alert feature” that warns managers of upcoming recruiting problems and opportunities, it is even stronger.
- Project scalability – you must reassure executives that if things go well, you can rapidly scale-up an initial effort so that it can be applied throughout the firm. Consider phrases like “scalability is of course built into our plan, the volume can be cut by 50% if business revenue drops, or if it proves to be wildly effective, it has the capability of being up-scaled to meet the needs of the entire firm globally”.
- Include your competitor’s reaction – it simply naïve to assume that once you implement a new program, that everything is set. This is because, in the highly competitive world of recruiting, it is likely that your talent competitors will react and respond to your recruiting actions in some way. In order to show that you are aware of those possible countering actions, include phrases like “We anticipate that our talent competitors will also match our diversity program in response to our initiative. But because we will have one year of data by then, will be able to utilize it to maintain update the program and maintain our lead”.
- Include the environmental factors that impact success – all programs are based on assumptions about the environment that the program will operate in. It’s essential that you show executives that you are aware of those environmental factors and that you will monitor them and track how over time changes in them impact the operation of your program. To show that you are aware of these e-factors, consider including phrases like “The success of the recruiting effort will depend highly on a high unemployment rate. Should our continuous monitoring show that the rate has fallen below 4.5%, this “active candidate” approach will likely no longer work”.
- Skin in the game – many executives expect that there be some accountability and consequences attached to getting more resources. Practically what that means is that there should be some punishment or negative consequences when a major project fails. In this area, considering using phrases like “The entire team has “skin in the game” because no one will receive their bonus if the project’s goals are not met each quarter”.
- Calculate the program’s ROI – the single most common calculated ratio in business is a return on investment or ROI. It is highly valued because it compares program costs to the value of its results, and this makes it possible to compare diverse programs across many functions. You simply have no choice but to calculate the ROI of your program. But also, consider including phrases like “the program’s ROI is 16%, which is a full 6% above the average ROI for all approved projects during last year”.
Part II – Tactical Budget Approval Factors That Make A Proposal Easier To Support
While these 20 business case components don’t cover strategic issues, they will have a significant impact on whether you will get funding in a tight competition and how much.
- Show there is a need/demand – rather than assuming that everyone is aware of the need, clearly spell it out. Realize up front that you have no chance of getting funded if you can’t show that your future users/customers want and, at least, plan on trying your program once. Consider phrases like “We surveyed hiring managers and 89% said they shared the need so that they would, at least, try the new referral approach at least once”.
- List the many benefits – obviously, in any successful proposal, you must list and explain the program’s its many benefits and advantages. Be sure and quantify each of the benefits with numbers and dollars. Use phrases like “With its advanced predictive analytics and real-time reporting, the program will rank among the top five in the industry”.
- Reveal the likelihood of success – everyone wants to invest in something that has a proven track record, so reveal the average success/ failure rates of your program. Include phrases like “The project has an average success rate of 86% at firms that have implemented it”. When you have a high-risk project, obviously you also want to explain that you know specifically what the risks are; their probabilities and that you have plans for handling each of the major risks.
- Explain “why” it works – no one is likely to support funding for a new initiative unless it is clear that the team knows precisely “why” the solution works. Experts always know why something works and what factors will cause it to fail. In addition, knowing why something works allows you to fix a process when it breaks and to continually improve your results. Once you have identified “the critical success factors” that make it work, it is a good idea to include phrases like “The primary reason why blind interviewing works are because it reduces the visual discrimination that can occur during face-to-face interviews”.
- The project has an executive champion – overhead functions are much more likely to have projects approved if they have an executive champion or sponsor from the business side of the firm. Having an executive champion shows that at least one business unit has found this overhead project to be strategically important. Consider using phrases like “The head of our most profitable business unit is our executive champion. She fully supports the proposal and to demonstrate that support, she has agreed to monitor our progress and to fund 10% of the effort”.
- The effort has a strong leader/team – strong program leadership is likely to be one of the most important success factors. As a result, consider using phrases like “The project has an excellent leader, with three years of experience in the area and a 100% on time and under budget success rate”. And also show team strength with phrases like “each of the team members is highly rated and each has complementary skills”. It’s important also to demonstrate that your team has the necessary competencies and that at least one of the team members is an expert in the subject area, our firm’s critical success factors and the future path of our expanding industry.
- Show your team’s past success rate – in order to build confidence in your team, it’s critical that you include information about your success rate on previous projects. You can do that by using phrases like “Our team has an 81% success rate in meeting project goals, including being on time and under budget. Our 4-year track record shows that we can meet the difficult challenges that we will face on this project”.
- Include a continuous improvement process – no matter how well-designed your initial program is before it will get approved it will likely be required to have a continuous improvement component. Utilize phrases like “the project plan includes periodic failure analysis, a scheduled audit and a metric-driven continuous improvement component to ensure that the process and the results continually improve over time”.
- Worst case scenario planning- no one is willing to fund Pollyanna’s that don’t prepare for the worst. So include phrases like “We have calculated and prepared plans for both the best and worst case scenarios for this project. As a result of this preparation, there will be no major unanticipated and not planned for surprises”.
- Demonstrate that the program fits our culture – executives are not likely to approve anything that disrupts their firm’s corporate culture or values. So include phrases like “Three executives have independently verified that the program closely fits our culture”.
- It will impact individual executives – it’s naïve to assume that executives are not, at least, a bit selfish. So it’s important to subtly show how the major players will personally benefit from any new project. Consider phrases like “For those SBU’s that use it, the program will likely increase their business unit results and thus their executive’s bonuses by 3% per year”. Obviously, before you can say that, you need to identify the appropriate bonus formulas and the strategic goals of each of the major business units represented on the budget committee. If key executives are also encountering significant business problems, it’s always a good idea to demonstrate how your project will help to alleviate those problems and improve their KPI’s. If executives also seek the limelight, also mention how “They are likely to be recognized internally and written up in the media externally if they participate in our STEM diversity hiring initiative”. Inferring that a new recruiting program may help an individual increase their power/influence, get a raise or a promotion can, in some cases also be a positive addition to your business case.
- Prioritize your targets – strategic executives simply don’t treat all of their customers/users the same. So in your proposal, it’s essential that you identify who will be your highest priority customers or users. Include phrases like “Top priority in recruiting will be given to revenue-generating positions and jobs that have been designated as mission critical”.
- It will not distract from regular work – executives are always concerned about projects that will distract from day-to-day operations. So it makes sense to reassure them with phrases like “The effort will require a minimum of management time and the work will be done in such a way that it does not distract from our primary tasks”. You can also reassure executives by stating that no new equipment, office space or other scarce resources will be required.
- Provide alternatives – in a volatile world, executives expect you to plan for all likely contingencies. So consider phrases like “We of course of put together a “Plan B” for each of the pre-identified potential problems or roadblocks.”
- Compare your results to other functional results – executives think in broad strategic terms across the entire business. So it won’t be enough to have the best numbers in all of HR. Instead, you must compare your results in ROI and business impact with those attained by powerful business functions like finance, marketing and business development. Consider phrases like “Our ROI is 16%, which compares favorably to the ROI in finance of 8% and in supply chain of 17%”.
- A list of the likely problems – everyone expects project leaders not to be naive. That means they must upfront be aware of all of the likely problems and risks that may occur during the project. Show that awareness with phrases like “The team has through benchmarking and risk analysis has identified 23 possible problems, and for each, we have at least one action to minimize or prevent each problem.
- Results are measured and rewarded – it is an axiom of business that “whatever gets measured and rewarded gets done”. So show that your project measures and rewards performance results with phrases like “For every 1% measured increase (over the average) in the on-the-job performance and retention of their new hires, each recruiter will receive a $500 bonus”.
- Technology is included – at firms that emphasize technology, in order to be respected, recruiting projects must also include it. So consider using phrases like “This project includes technology like skype interviewing and the use of virtual reality in assessment.
- An easy to understand executive summary – it’s critical that on a quick read, everyone understands the concept, your goals and how/why the program works. Because many evaluators will rely heavily on the executive summary, it must be written so the concept is simple, logical and that it is easily understood after only one quick reading of the summary. It’s essential that the executive summary is pretested to ensure that everyone who reads it immediately understands what you’re trying to accomplish and its value.
- Anticipate and answer tough questions – you will, of course, be expected to answer tough questions during any in-person presentation. However, it’s also important to anticipate “bone-chilling questions” that will probably arise while executives are immersed in reading your proposal. As a result, it makes sense to include a phrase like “We have anticipated 25 potential questions that may occur to the readers of this proposal, and for each we have provided a one-paragraph answer”.
Part III – Not Required, But These Approval Factors Still Add Value
Including these 20 remaining business case elements are not deal makers or breakers, but each will likely contribute to your getting extra funding.
- Know the knockout factors – even when you include all the positive elements of a business case, it can still be rejected as a result of what are known as “knockout factors”. These are negative elements that are so powerful that the mere existence of only one can cause a proposal to be rejected on the spot. Typical knockout factors include misspellings in the proposal, multiple added headcount, a lack of a global reach; there are no metrics and major data-security issues. When you’re dealing with finance professionals, a single math error can be deadly, and with engineers, a single error in the formula, data or statistics can be a deadly. You don’t mention these factors in the proposal, but you do identify them and then pre-test the proposal to ensure none are present.
- There is a written plan – decision-makers feel more comfortable approving large amounts of money for a project when there is a comprehensive written plan behind it, with goals, milestones, and project abandonment points. Consider using phrases like “We spent six months writing and refining the 63-page project plan and it follows the required project planning template to the letter”.
- Specify your deliverables – be sure that your proposal specifies each of the specific deliverables that will be produced in each important area. Include deliverables that cover the volume to be produced, the timeframe in which they must be produced, the quality level of the output, the costs and the satisfaction level of the users. Consider using phrases like “Each of the 12 project deliverables is listed, along with their due date”.
- Include multi-year results in your estimates – every business function estimates the future impact of their new initiatives. But instead of only including first-year results, that are likely to be minimal. Estimate those results over the next 2-5 years, because that multi-year estimate makes the results appear larger. Use phrases like “Over the next 3 years, the accumulated impact may reach 10% of revenue or $34million”.
- Influence the influencers – because those that make budget decisions will assuredly be influenced by other executives, make a list of those likely influencers. And then include elements in your business case that will help get the support of those influencers. Consider using phrases like “Even executives not directly involved in the recruiting project will benefit with better quality applicants, as a result of the stronger employer brand that the project will create”.
- How much upfront money is needed – even though a large amount of up-front money may not stop you from getting funding, it can raise a red flag, especially when cash is This is an issue also because that large amount of up-front money will obviously be lost on things like land purchases if the project must be terminated early on. Spending the bulk of the funds later allows it to be saved if the project must be ended half way through. Consider phrases like “The project requires a below-average amount of upfront funding, less than $15,000 initial funding and no capital equipment or improvements”.
- No new headcount – CFO’s remember tough times, so they are usually against adding any permanent employee headcount. So consider phrases like “the project relies on current under-utilized employees, temps and contractors for the first six months, and at most, one new employee headcount will be required in the second year”.
- Show that you have considered a pilot – executives often say that they are risk takers, but more often than not they want to invest in a sure thing. That’s why they expect you to have done your benchmarking on existing best practices before you implement any new solution. They often also expect a “proof of concept” test to be undertaken, which might involve a small mini test in one department or a pilot project within your firm. If you conduct a pilot, it’s essential that you include the results. But you haven’t, at least, included why the pilot wasn’t feasible or necessary”. Consider using phrases like “The 6-month pilot program in the call center exceeds the expected results by 11%”.
- When to ask for the funding – asking for funds when money is tight reduces your chances of success. So work with the finance office to identify the times during the year when there are frequently budget surpluses.
- Specify the budget range – when you specify the amount of money that will be needed, be sure to include a range in case the total amount is not available. Always be prepared to answer no, if they offer amounts that are below the minimum that you have calculated is necessary for success. Consider using phrases like “Additional budget requests will only be made after milestones have been met” to show that you are a tightwad with “their money”.
- Show user costs – in many cases, a program will be rejected simply because the cost to the user/customer is considered being too high either in dollars or in the use of employee or manager time. You can help to alleviate those fears by using phrases like “The average cost to the user is only $512, which is 34% below the average industry cost for the same program”.
- List the program’s steps – most that are involved in budget approvals don’t need a lot of operational details. But they do expect your team to have already determined the implementation and operational steps of your program. So at the very least, list the basic steps to show that they are in logical order and that you haven’t omitted any critical ones. Usually, that means limiting the included list of steps to ten. Consider using phrases like “An outline listing the eight basic implementation steps can be found on page 12”.
- Minimize legal issues – if your organization has a high level of concern around potential legal or regulatory issues, try to head off any concerns. Consider including phrases like “The entire program has been reviewed by both internal and external lawyers, and they have found that there is only a minimum level of legal risk”.
- Minimize data issues – when a large amount of data is involved, be sure and show that the required data is available. Also, show that you have taken steps to ensure data quality and to avoid data security issues. Use phrases like “The CIO has verified that the required data is already available and it meets our data quality standards”.
- Transparency – the very best programs are highly transparent so that there are fewer surprises or secrets when operations begin. Use phrases like “In order to maintain transparency, the monthly reports and the results of the internal audit will be posted for all managers to see”.
- A model program others will follow – if the program is extremely well designed, it can serve as a model for others developing new programs. You should also show how the program is well-designed by listing all of the key features and best practices that make it a “leading edge” program. If your program meets that level of design quality, utilize phrases like “The design and the impact of the program are so significant that it is expected to serve as a model for other new recruiting programs”.
- Show it has an impact on diversity – in many organizations, there is a major focus on diversity. So consider including phrases like “The program has a diversity component, which is designed to overcome our identified barriers to diversity hiring, so we expect a 12% improvement in diversity hiring in targeted jobs”.
- Mention that an existing project was written up – all existing strategic programs with a major impact are written up in the annual report. So when you are seeking continuing funding, use phrases like “The strategic program was prominently highlighted in our 2015 annual report”. Also, be sure and mention if an existing program has won awards, if it was presented at an industry conference and/or that it was written up in the press to show it has external credibility.
- There is a “next up” program to follow – if the evaluators really like your current proposal, they will likely also want to know what you are planning as a follow-up. To meet that expectation, consider phrases like “After successfully implementing predictive metrics/analytics, we hope to next move on to an alert system that “nudges” managers to act on problems immediately after they are notified”.
- The support document must be highly scannable – your team may have put in hundreds of hours in preparing the support document for your budget proposal. However, it’s important to realize that most of the budget committee will not actually read the entire document. As a result, it is critical that the document is put together so that it is scannable. Increasing its scanability may require a detailed table of contents and the use of colored font to highlight key areas. If it’s a paper document, labeled tabs may be required. It’s also critical that you pretest the document to ensure that strangers that are not familiar with it can scan it completely in less than five minutes. And during that short time, be able to quickly find all of the key “must-see” components. Obviously, many of those “must-see” items will include the budget approval factors that you have decided are essential.
The secret to a powerful business case is to put it together from the perspective of a finance executive or a CEO. It shouldn’t read like it was written by a recruiter. This fact needs to be highlighted because, after 35+ years in recruiting, I have found that most recruiting leaders forget that the people that are approving their projects don’t know much or even care much about recruiting. Why, because they are business people with a business mindset.
As mentioned earlier, I have found that the primary problem with most business cases emanating from HR or recruiting is not what’s in them, but what is not in them. Omitting critical “budget approval factors” (and their associated phrases and support materials) has been in my experience the #1 weakness in 95% of recruiting business cases that I have reviewed. Now you might think that including many of these nearly 60 components in a business case will make it longer and more complicated.
But length isn’t the main issue, it’s omissions! When proposal evaluators continually find information that precisely covers the actual approval criteria that they use to approve business projects, they instead will be pleasantly surprised and pleased. In part because those factors are so seldom found in proposals emanating from HR. If you don’t believe the impact that these “power factors” can have, conduct an A/B test and see if a test section of your business case isn’t much better rated than the standard version when it includes many of these “power factors”.
And finally, remember that whenever you get stuck when writing up a business case, you can seldom go wrong by once again “showing them the money”.