Making the Case for Transformation

For Mark Stelzner, defining what it means to deploy a tech-driven HR transformation is easy. He calls it a “big change that builds over time.” But that’s not all. He adds that it’s not just a massive process, it also must be an “impressive, memorable change.”

With that as context, explains Stelzner, founder and managing principal at IA HR in Nashville, it stands to reason that HR transformations require much work and strategy from start to finish.

(Editor’s note: Stelzner will present a session titled “Building the Business Case for HR Technology Investment” at the upcoming HR Technology Conference & Exposition® in Las Vegas.)

Among other required critical steps in making a strong HR-technology-transformation business case (including: become a forensic investigator, map current processes, talk to your employees), Stelzner stresses the importance of bringing C-suite leaders into the loop early and often.

“Before anyone in the C-suite approves a major HR transformation, they’re going to need to hear a convincing argument,” says Stelzner, adding that while the road from ideation to execution typically is a long, tough one, there are tried and true methods for HR to make its strongest business case possible.

In short, while C-suite stakeholders probably aren’t interested in notebooks of information about the HR department’s process needs, he guarantees they’ll pay attention to, say, dozens of giant sticky notes cluttering up the conference room or hallway.

“If you want to get in front of the CFO, be creative,” he explains. “Build a ‘process-map’ art gallery in the hallway between the CEO’s office and the coffee machine.”

He adds that this can be a fantastic opportunity to show executive stakeholders the herculean effort that the organization goes through every single day, month and year–just to hire, train, pay, manage and offboard employees.

Then, after you’ve gathered all your data, mapped your current processes and surveyed your stakeholders and employees, it’s time to pick a lane and present your case.

“You need to package your plan into a format and language that’s easily consumable by the C-suite and the board,” he says. He offers this tip: Get a copy of the last five business cases that were approved–for any department. Stelzner notes that it doesn’t matter if they’re for IT, marketing, sales or HR.

“Get a sense of the tone, the tenor, the language and even details that might seem unimportant, like the font,” he says. “And speak in a language that’s easily understood and expected based upon organizational norms.”

Also, some critical questions that will need addressing within a business case include: What is the impetus for change? Why do we have to do this now? What are the business benefits? What are the metrics, the scope and which processes and which populations are we targeting, and when?

“Of course, you also can’t ignore the bottom line,” Stelzner says, noting that HR must determine the critical financials and factors that are unique or nuanced to the organization, among other cost-driven considerations.

Chris Pinc, director of HR software product management, talent and rewards business at Willis Towers Watson, says making a strong HR-tech-transformation business case is an especially timely topic because so many employers currently see the need for a transformation of their culture and talent strategy just to adapt to changes in the business environment.

“HR technology is right at the center of that transformation,” he says. But he offers a warning. “It’s really important to start with the transformation goals first and then work back to the technology rather than the other way around.”

By that, he means, instead of saying “We need technology so that we can do A, B, C and D in order to drive our business transformation,” the argument really needs to be: “We know we need to transform our business, and in order to do that, we need this technology so that it will help us drive that culture.”

“The clearer that point can be made from the senior executives’ perspective, the stronger the case,” Pinc says. “It’s just unbelievable to me how many organizations out there are really transforming their business strategy.”

Pinc notes that many traditional organizations are getting disrupted by new kinds of competitors all the time, and they’re realizing they need to push through a digital transformation of their own. As a result, they know the kind of talent that they currently have is not going to be the same they need in the future, so they have to either retrain and re-skill existing employees, or attract a different type of talent.

“HR technology is right at the heart of being able to do that,” Pinc says.

He cites the example of attracting new talent who may be coming from a company where they were communicating on Slack, and suddenly everything is done through email.

“HR needs to impress upon leadership that they are [confident] the investment is going to help the company achieve its broader business goals,” he says.

For larger employers, an organizational development department can often help build that business case, but if those resources aren’t available, then there is the option of talking to the business executives and leaders about what the company is trying to achieve in a business strategy. Next, find out if the organization has the right people or not.

“You need to elicit that information from the business leaders first and then say, ‘OK, if that’s the kind of culture we need, these are the kinds of solutions we need to put in place. Some of the solutions will be technology. And some of them will be changes in leadership style, behavior and processes.’ ”

“The idea is to focus on that business strategy first, and how to create the culture that you need to support it by engaging your people around that culture,” he says. “Once you can make all of those arguments, then the technology you need becomes fairly obvious.”

Tom Starner
Tom Starner is a freelance writer based in Philadelphia who has been covering the human resource space and all of its component processes for over two decades. He can be reached at