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Do you remember the last time you wrote a business case for office supplies? Things such as pencils paper and envelopes? Neither do I, even though it’s apparent that we need these things to get work done. It’s been decades since we have needed a funding justification for simple office supplies. I would also suggest that other items in the more recent history of business technology fit in the same category.  For example, I don’t remember having to create a business case to provide a laptop to a new hire, depending on the industry of course. These are all just tools of the trade in our knowledge-based economy. I may find multiple providers that will deliver me an item at a more attractive cost than their competitors, however, that’s not the same as creating a business case.

A business case is exactly what the term describes. It records the justification for starting a project. It describes the benefits, costs and impact, plus a calculation of the financial case (which is often referred to as return on investment or ROI). So by extension, let me ask, do we still need a business case for a talent management system? Is there any scenario in the current state of our market that a talent management system is not required? Can we agree that a talent management system not only is beneficial but a critical imperative in conducting business?

Most likely if you’re reading this post, you have some opinion on whether or not a talent management system is a mission-critical application to any organization looking to be successful in the modern marketplace (I assume you agree). Yet, somehow, we find ourselves still engaging in business case creation, analysis and presentation to obtain funding. This is true for either new functionality acquisitions or for the more classic “system refresh” analysis, which occurs from time to time as we contemplate replacements of what we already have.

We want to ensure we are not placing an undue emphasis on whether a talent management system is required. I believe a talent management system needs to be categorized in the same way as papers, pencils and computers. Talent is mission-critical to conducting business.  Most recent research shows that two thirds of the average company’s market capitalization is “intangible assets”—in other words, intellectual property and people.

So Why Do We Do Still Do It?

Probably the best answer to this question would be the same answer that was present when we were looking to purchase computers for businesses in the early stages of their adoption: apprehension.  

People had anxiety about not realizing the potential or appreciating the impact that “it” all could have on our core business. .

Do We Really Need Computers for the Computer Department?

It was early in my career, the mid 80s, when I was given my first managerial job. I oversaw a multi-location roll-out of early Local Area Networking technology. I was still in my 20s and had little to no management, let alone leadership, skills or training to take on the project—however, the reason I was given this job was because I was the savviest when it came to utilizing computers in a connected capacity. I had a staff of 2, all of them with considerably more experience in the workplace than me. Yet, my depth and understanding of networking technology in this environment continued to give me the edge I needed to lead this small group.

As I built this department, the first thing I thought we needed, well, were computers and wires to connect them. First I explained the need for computers and their connectivity, but that appeared not to be sufficient. Next, I had to justify the expenses for the hardware. Still, little support. I was baffled by the situation. After all, I was hired specifically to do this job. How was I going to run a computer department with no computers?

One day, I decided to take a walk around the local building to see what other people and other departments did in this distribution company. As I walked the halls, I saw that most of the work being done by the call center operators and the warehouse fulfillment teams could be done faster, better and cheaper utilizing computers for communications. It was then that it dawned on me that it wasn’t about a business justification, but it was the fear that all these employees had. They used their own systems of telephones, pick sheets and paper logs—and they were afraid they were all going to be obsolete if we utilized computers.

From that day, my tack changed. I begin training the various teams on how to use the networks. I gave them tours of the operation center and allowed them all to familiarize themselves with this new way of communication, production and servicing their customers. I allowed them to ask questions. One warehouse manager trusted me enough to ask me how he could move his computer at home from one room to the other because he was fearful that the data would slip off the disc. It might be comical to read this, however, the reality is that fear can be a very powerful and immobilizing force. It was about a month later that all my budget requests for new computers and their connectivity were approved.

Moral of the Story

So, the next time you find yourself having to justify something as ubiquitous as a talent management system to senior management, remember it’s not about the cost, or its usefulness or whether it will have impact. It is most likely because of the lack of understanding of what a talent management system is and what it can do to improve an organization’s performance. Take the time to teach and familiarize others what this powerful and impactful technology can do for them.

DISCLAIMER:  This does not mean that you won’t be required to write a business case analysis when you find yourself in front of a budget committee or other decision making authority.  Often you will find yourself doing this as a competition for funding.  In this case, we have moved beyond “need” to “project prioritization”. 

Are you on the hook for a Talent Management business case?  Need to create a series of business impact statements or a compelling story?   Let me know via Twitter @bollinger -- #businessimpact