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How to... write a business case

Money. People. Time. Most senior HR professionals want more of those, so they can do the things they need to do: recruitment, internal campaigns, change programmes. So how do you convince those high up (usually the board) to give the resources to you, rather than to the IT director or head of sales?

The answer is to write a really good business case. But that doesn't mean a hundred pages of dense data. That's not what your board wants. Here's what they do want you to do:

1 Think bigger

It's easy to write a business case for something you want. It doesn't mean anyone else will give a monkey's. So think about your reader: what do they care about? What will your proposal do for the organisation? Or the numbers? Or even for them personally?

2 Don't go on

Most of us were trained at school to "show our working". Well, now's the time to stop. Most senior people don't want to know exactly how much exceedingly thorough research you've been doing for the past three months. They want to know what you're after, why, and what it'll cost them - then they want you to shut up. If you can't make your case in a page or two, it's probably not a very good idea.

3 Start with what you want

Even when we've managed to cut down what we're saying, many of us still write in the wrong order. We write as if we're still writing up scientific experiments, starting with the aims and building up to the conclusions. Don't. Flip it upside down. Start with your conclusion (usually what you're asking for). If your reader agrees, they'll just say yes, stop reading, and get on with their lives. And they'll be grateful.

4 Cut the HR speak

HR is filled with jargon. We're so scared of being seen as the fluffy lightweights of the business world that we have taken it too far the other way. We write in MBA-speak, which obscures the fact that our real skill is with people, unlike most chief executives and financial directors. So cut out the jargon (will they even know what a capability-based matrix is anyway?). Write like a normal human being. If you want to prove you're not fluffy, do it with cold, hard facts and stats.

5 Think heart, not just head

Clearly, you need to make a good logical case for whatever it is you're arguing for. But logic isn't enough. Decision-makers also want to see a bit of enthusiasm, or gumption, or honesty - something emotional that convinces them that you are something special and what you want to do is something special. Because, at the end of the day, your business case is a selling job. And we rarely buy anything from people we don't actually like.

6 Talk about the worst thing

If there's a glaring hole in your argument, or an obvious objection to what you're saying, admit it. Deal with it. Own up to it and you'll look smart, empathetic, honest, brave and a little bit humble. Hiding it might look defensive, or even a little bit dim.

7 When will they read it?

On their BlackBerry? Better make it even shorter, then.

Key points

- Convince people in as few words as possible.
- Start with the most important point; don't build up to it.
- Sell. Logic alone may not be enough.
- Being honest and engaging is equally as important as being businesslike.
- Write like a normal person, not a corporate robot.
- Don't avoid unpleasant realities - address them head on.