EHS professionals are often faced with too many projects and not enough funds to complete them. An effective business case can go a long way toward securing the resources you need to implement a project; however, success requires more than just a typical cost/benefit analysis. You can improve your chances of getting buy-in from key stakeholders if you make an expansive case that aligns with broader organizational strategies and objectives. Building a compelling business case can seem like a task more suited for a business analyst than an EHS professional, but if you follow the process outlined below you’ll find it easier than you expect.
Understand the Audience
Identify who will review the business case, who the influencers are, and who has the power to make the final decision. That is not always easy in matrixed or heavily dispersed organizations, so be sure to clarify these stakeholders before starting to work on your business case. No matter how compelling the case, getting buy-in from the wrong people will do nothing to move your project forward. Educate yourself on any unwritten rules about how things get done in your company. If these exist, seek out allies and insiders who can help you navigate the organization.
Think broadly, act narrowly
The strongest business cases address how a specific initiative supports achieving an organizational goal. Get a clear understanding of your company’s strategy, vision, value drivers, and short- and long-term goals. If you can align the business case with key organizational initiatives like Lean, 5S, Operational Excellence, or other enterprise-wide objectives, you will have a greater chance of buy-in. If you are unsure what types of enterprise-wide objectives are going on in your organization, start with the operations or procurement departments, who are generally well informed about corporate-wide efforts. Once you determine which corporate objective fits your initiative, zero in on how exactly it will support or enhance this goal and add details that are underwritten by accurate data.
Choose your data wisely
Once you know what you want to accomplish, who you will present to, and how your project aligns with the broader organizational strategy, it’s time to choose your data. With the wealth of EHS information available, it may be very difficult to discern what data will work best to support your case. A good rule of thumb is to support your case with both quantifiable data and quality-related data. For example, if your objective is to purchase an online incident management system, a quantifiable data point would be the cost of productive time currently spent on compiling manual incident reports. A quality-related data point is the number of incomplete manual incident reports submitted—which an electronic system would prohibit—and the resulting investigation delays. Putting both a dollar value and a quality measurement will be a winning combination for your business case.
Say it with pictures
We have all been victims of ‘death by Power Point’, those presentations that are chock full of bullets and long paragraphs of text. The last thing you want is for your audience to miss your main message because they are busy reading details on your slides. Instead, opt for pictures, graphs, tables and other data visualization tools that to make a big impact on your stakeholders. There are many free data visualization tools available on the internet to help you design professional and impressive looking infographics to enhance your presentation. Tap into your creative side to propel your business case to the next level and draw the audience in.
Test your case against objections
Any new intuitive involves some level of risk of failure. In fact, according to Gallup research (2013), nearly 70% of change-related business initiatives fail. It is not surprising then that even the most compelling business cases are met with skepticism from stakeholders. To ensure you are prepared to meet any challenges to your business case, spend time testing it against objections. Ask trusted colleagues to listen to your case and encourage them to poke holes in it and find the weak spots. Engineers, who are trained to find defects and fail-points, are excellent candidates for this task. For each objection you encounter, reinforce your business case with stronger data or prepare a plausible counter objection. Addressing these risks head-on and being prepared to mitigate them on the spot will make your business case credible.
Putting together a persuasive, data-driven business case to get stakeholder buy-in is no small task. It requires knowing your audience, understanding how to align your project with corporate objectives, having strong data, and including interesting visuals. The time and energy it takes to create a winning business case will is worth it when you receive that all important buy-in from stakeholders and kick off your new project.
Katie Florio is a Senior Health and Safety Advisor with UL EHS Sustainability.
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