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Building a Business Case to get your projects approved: Denise Johnson, Talent & Leadership Development Leader

Uncategorized Feb 25, 2019


Summary of Vlog Post by Emma Lokar, HR Intern (Ready for her Summer 2019 Internship)

Denise Johnson, Talent and Leadership Development:
Building and Business Case to Get your Projects Approved

Building a Business Case in HR:
With over 15 years of experience in Talent Development, Learning, OD, and Leadership Development in several different sized companies Denise Johnson has learned the how to get your project or program approved. In many organizations Human Resources can be thought of as a cost center, and this can make it hard to get approval for programs and initiatives you are driving. Denise walks through how her Leadership Development Program got approved, and her advice for others working through similar obstacles.

You Only Have to Start One Time:
Denise explains it is all about business impact when trying to receive approval for a new project. HR can be looked at as a cost center, because they do not do a good enough job linking the work of HR to what is going to impact the business or how the work of Human Resources is going to impact the business.

“You only have to get things moving once. You have to start, but you only have to start one time”

When wanting approval for a new project the most important step in building your business case is to start at a place where you care about the business and knowing that a big part of what HR does to make the business successful is how we develop people. Part of Human Resource’s responsibility is to have the conviction to stand up for what is best for the organization.

“HR gets to stand up and wave that flag, the people flag”

Data is at the Core
When building a business case, once you know the impact your function has on a company there are so many data points to look at. However, before anything is taken into a consideration as a project or program it is essential to get clear with the company stakeholders:

-How are we going to move the business forward by doing this work?
-If we don’t do this work what would we be missing out on?

After these questions have been answered you can then begin to look at the data to navigate change. The data is how you build consensus among stakeholders. There are poll surveys, climate surveys, and engagement surveys. Good things come out of these surveys, but there are also opportunities.

“People are concerned about the opportunities, but often times there is solutions in those opportunities in formalizing how we are going to work with the leaders, and how we are going to move the business forward”

While Denise began building her Leadership Development Program she took the data and feedback from the surveys, information, and things stakeholders were saying around deficiencies, and paired that with where the business was heading in the short horizon. She took all of that and used it to organize a program targeted to high performing and high potential leaders to help move some of the data points on the information they already had.

“It’s playing directly into the things we are concerned about. We’ve got the data and some goals in terms of how we want to move the needle on the data”

Internal Sponsors
The next step in building your business case is gathering internal sponsors. This involves going out into the organization and gathering people that are passionate to help fund your endeavors to get things moving. Through this work upfront you are finding out what executives hot-spots, and interest are and then using the data you gathered to drive the point. This begs the question:

-How are you sitting with these sponsor’s who have varying opinions of what needs are within the organization?
-As apart of the business case how do you everybody on the same page?

It is important to understand that your initiative will not solve all the issues in an organization, and to make it clear that your program with target a key set of issues. Focus your program on addressing that short list of issues, and understand that it will not fix everything. Start with:

“Here are some issues, here is how we can prioritize things, and we have that data to support that, everyone can come to an understanding around it”

Now that you have the support of stakeholders, and internal sponsors your own your way to receiving approval. The next step in building your business case is getting funding from a financial perspective. Denise explains she got it by creating a hybrid program. Where she used external vendors, and created the rest in-house. This saved money by not outsourcing development, and facilitation. More importantly she leveraged leaders in the program. This not only took care of it from a cost perspective it also created some exposure for people participating in the program. It was an inside/outside approach combination which automatically had savings.

Who Needs to be Involved
When creating your business case it is important to get the target audience involved. This can be done through partnering with the Head of HR and HR leaders to determine who will go through and participate in the program. From there you can include those in the organization who are mid-level, business unit leaders, and senior executives. These groups are impacted the most by a successful program. For Denise her goal was to develop a talent pipeline, so we could add to succession planning.

“Act as an internal consultant and have the confidence to influence towards the business impact you are trying to sell. You need the courage to sit in front of senior leaders, and show that you are solving problems for the organization”

You’ve Built Your Business Case
The most important thing to remember when building your business case is to be aware of the impact the HR function has on driving revenue and profits. The next step is to have the confidence to go out into the organization to show what your program will do for the business as a whole not just your function.
1. Get clear with stakeholders
2. Gather data
3. Use data to get internal sponsors, and financial funding
4. Get your target audience on board
HR Masterminds: Experience as a Member of a Peer Group

Opportunity to learn about what other people are experiencing and problems that other people were working through, and contribute to that. As you contribute to someone else’s problem solving it builds your problem solving muscle.
Also, to share issues that I was working through and challenge my thinking, and have my thinking expand around how to approach things. It is important to get out of your house so to speak and get those ideas and insights from people who are seeing it differently.

“Getting while I’m giving, and getting while I’m being given to”


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HR leaders are tremendously represented, great energy, exchange of ideas, and networking. There is a residual benefit after attending. You begin to follow up on those connections and further develop those relationships you made at the event. It is nice to support and be supported.

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