Is your HR department moving from simply “setting” the corporate table to being a contributor to strategic conversations that take place there? In an earlier post, we looked at HR’s changing role in business today, the importance of thinking like a business partner, and the expanding vision that requires. Being able to write and present a business case is one way to contribute to long-range planning. It shows not only your interest, but also your ability to identify needs, research and consider solutions, calculate the costs and benefits, and synthesize the information into a document that makes your case clearly and concisely.

What Is a Business Case?

“Just what is a business case?” you may be asking. The U.S. Government Accounting Office defines a business case as: “A structured proposal for business improvement that functions as a decision package for organizational decision-makers. A business case includes an analysis of business process performance and associated needs or problems, proposed alternative solutions, assumptions, constraints and a risk-adjusted cost-benefit analysis.”  In other words, it’s making a persuasive case for changes and improvements you think would benefit your company.

When to Write a Business Case

Let’s say you’ve identified a real need in your company, a problem that requires a solution. Perhaps a solution already has been proposed, but you’re not so sure it’ll fix the root cause. Rather than go with it, you’ve moved off that solution, done some research, and found a new strategy. Or, you may have an idea that’ll improve some aspect of your company’s operation. 

We all know, proposing change isn’t easy. Egos are involved. Some people may interpret your suggestions as a personal attack. Writing a business case is a way to present your ideas to decision makers in a non-threatening way. The facts and figures will speak for themselves, moving attention from you to the ideas.

Steps in Writing the Business Case

Once you’ve done your research, it’s time to organize your thoughts and supporting facts into a business case. You want to include everything from stating the problem to having a sign-off sheet for people in positions to implement the change. Here’s an outline to help you get started. Adapted from the Table of Contents from a Business Case for Project Approval from the University of Auckland, New Zealand, it provides a comprehensive, step-by-step guide:

  • The Situation/Problem: You have probed to find problems to fix or results to achieve. Those should be clearly stated at the beginning. Take time to be concise. When writing, more words may be easier, but not better.
  • Opportunity: Present why this problem has not been addressed before, why this particular solution has not been tried, and why now is a good time to do both.
  • State the Solution and Its Benefits: Describe the benefits of your solution using evidence you’ve collected to support it. Demonstrate how it reaches deep and solves the root cause.
  • Tie to Business Strategies: Use language similar to that found in your business’s strategies, tying your solution to statements found there. Everyone likes to know their words/ideas have been taken into consideration. That includes the decision makers in your business. Your solution should move your company toward its long-term goals.
  • Detail the Costs and the Background: Show you considered two options (there are always at least two options) and how you reached the conclusion that the one you are proposing is the best.
  • Goals and Objectives: Go back to the evidence you collected and use it to set goals. Be sure the goals are measurable.
  • Other Issues: Depending on the solution, you may need to address issues like risks, constraints, what’s excluded, dependencies, and security. You might have more. Be up front with them all.

Culture and Process Matter, Too

The decision makers are interested in how your solution will benefit the company. The next step in your business case is to state benefits clearly. There are generally three types to consider: 

  • Process Improvement: Hard evidence can likely drive information on how the solution improves processes and what it does for the organization.
  • Cultural Returns: Soft evidence can show how the solution impacts your culture, moral, brand, and reputation.
  • Financial Returns: Most business cases focus on the financial return. Use the Return on Investment (ROI) metric to measure the “return on investment” for your proposed solution and to show how your business will benefit from it.

Financial Return on Investment (ROI)

ROI can be measured in terms of a payback period for the investment, as a percentage of return on a cash outlay, or as the discounted net present value of free cash flows on an investment. There are different ways to calculate it. Let’s measure the payback period for the investment. For example:


Monthly cost of solution used today


Total cost of proposed solution “A”


ROI (Payback Period)

$11,000 / $500 = 22

Solution “A” has a payback period of 22 months


Here’s another example from a presentation I gave at SHRM last year:

An R O I chart


Sign-off Sheet

The final section of your Business Case is the sign-off sheet. It’s commonly forgotten, but shouldn’t be. Why’s it important? The sign-off sheet shows buy-in. Those in position to make changes or adopt your suggestion indicate that they’re willing to make it happen when they sign off. Be sure to include a proposed deadline. 

A Team Effort

Is there a problem or situation that needs addressed in your business? Investigate, gather data, find the root cause, calculate the impact, and find solutions. Then you’ll be ready to make your business case. You don’t have to write it alone. As you develop the case, work as an HR team. One person can present the case, another can ask questions, helping you refine your data and presentation. Then, you’re ready to go!



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Joe Rotella, SPHR, SHRM-SCP
Joe Rotella, SPHR, SHRM-SCP
Chief Marketing Officer at Delphia Consulting
Joe is a leading thinker and a professional speaker in the areas of HR technology, marketing, and web usability. He is a well-recognized speaker for the Society of Human Resources Management.