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Wednesday, 11 March 2015
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That's not a Business Case, Part 1

“That’s not a Business Case!”


The Need

I was recently asked to help with a business case for a course. It was a “soft skills” course that would contribute to team building, collaboration, creativity and productivity. The client knew instinctively that the course was important to the development and performance of her people, but she had to convince her boss that they should spend the money now instead of next year.

Now anybody who has been in those shoes will recognize the challenge. When budgets get squeezed, there can be an instinctive reaction to cut out every cost that won’t directly add to this quarter’s bottom line. And I’d be the first to admit – it’s easy to waste money on poorly planned training. But it can be much more expensive if we fail to train at a time when the business needs it. We just need to make sure we understand the problem we’re trying to solve, and how to shape our solution so it will pay off.

When I talked to the manager of the people concerned, I learned:

  • Most of the team members were very new. They were all working independently, not as a team. There were problems with quality and productivity as a result.
  • The people who left had gone to a competitor. They had told their remaining colleagues that they were leaving because various promises hadn’t been kept.
  • When the new people were hired, the interviewers highlighted the training they could expect, and this was a deciding factor for many.
  • The course in question had been announced before it was approved, so everybody was expecting it to take place.

And I knew that in their business, employee retention and engagement were crucial to their success.

The First Attempt

My first attempt was very simplistic. “You can’t afford not to!” The very high risks of bad business outcomes were so obvious, I felt like I’d be insulting her intelligence if I spelled it out in detail. And she readily understood. But her response set me back, “But that’s not a business case.”

Now there are times I would cheerfully rise to the challenge and enthusiastically debate why in fact, it was a very compelling business case. But this was not the time! What she needed to give her boss was a detailed picture of the participants, their roles and what capabilities they would gain from the course. Happily this was easy to obtain, and she got her approval.

But I couldn’t help thinking I could have made her job easier.

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