The editors of CLSIG Journal / CILIP (bit.ly/1CymEDn) have kindly permitted me to show my January 2015 “Agony Aunt” column here:
“Dear Agony Aunt,
I’m trying to business case a new role into my team [of corporate information professionals]. As well as justifying the role itself (on the basis of increased workload), I’m being challenged to demonstrate the value of the research and current awareness services the team and this role supports as we don’t directly generate fee-income for the business. Can you advise me how I might go about doing this please?”
Agony Aunt replies:
You are in good company as it is a frequent request from senior management that proposals for investments (in content or human resources, be those staff or consultants) carry plausible indicators of return. Where financial returns are impossible to “prove”, it is then necessary to focus on less tangible though no less valuable benefits.
Depending on the culture in your organization, your approach could be (a) to describe the current situation and explain why it’s untenable and then propose the remedy; or (b) to state the desired approval up front and then explain the reasons. Some cultures prefer the step by step approach of (a); other cultures prefer the directness of (b).
Either way, you want to make these points, using the voices of the beneficiaries to make your argument for you (yes, you may need to call in some favors here) in your proposal memo:
Users are telling us how much they value the services provided by the research team. Key benefits include risk reduction, increased competitiveness, time savings, and a firmer footing for decision making:
- Peter Jermac in business unit A: “Without the services from the research team, my group would be much less productive, and it would be much more difficult for us to get our work done. The quality of our deliverables is very much a result of the information support we are getting.”
- Alice Harris in business unit B: “On several occasions, the research team saved our bacon by alerting us to relevant new information so that we were ahead of the curve. The sharp eyes and minds in the research team are vital to our excellence.” [Etc]
Users estimate that without the information support they are now getting – or in circumstances of reduced service – from the research team, they would soon become more expensive for the firm in that they would have to fend for themselves looking for information. The time they would spend doing so would not generate business value, and they are concerned about their ability to even find what the research team can find. They point out the risk attached to being “amateur researchers”:
- Mona Reddon in business unit C: “A recent matter demonstrated how costly and risky it is for subject matter experts to attempt doing the work we get from the research team. It took two people an entire weekend to find and assemble the information we needed … and then, on Monday morning, in one hour the research team had found additional, essential information that materially altered our thinking.” [Etc]
At the moment, the research team is at capacity when it comes to serving the business groups. We barely manage the volume of requests we get, and all indications are that our work load will continue to grow. Users are understandably concerned about the turnaround time they can expect:
- Frank Lisbec in business unit D: “We have always relied on the fact that the research team could respond very fast to our requests for service. Lately, it has become clear that the team is run off its feet, and we understand turnaround times are at risk. That would be unfortunate and untoward for my group.” [Etc]
I therefore propose the addition of one information specialist to the research team, with specific responsibility for EFG functions. The investment (in the range of [salary plus benefits]) per year will amount to approximately XXX per year per business group, or YYY per year per person in the firm. Such an addition will ensure the continuation of high quality service from the research team over the foreseeable future of steadily increasing activity in the firm.
Several excellent information specialists are available at the moment as a result of corporate reorganizations and downsizing. They come with industry and legal knowledge such that any one of them would be productive from the first day.[Here, it is again a matter of the culture whether you want to pose alternatives (e.g. part time, contract) and describe the pros and cons for each. You may wonder whether there is an instinctual preference for the cheapest option; it could be to your advantage to stick to what you want and let senior managers come back with alternative suggestions.] At your convenience, I would be glad to meet with you to present the details of the role the research team has played in a number of successful outcomes for the business groups and the activity trends indicating that we are running out of capacity to meet the demand. [If a meeting is arranged, you will invite your most ardent fans to attend as well.]
Remember, the key to your request is that it is not coming from you. It is coming from the business groups. If necessary, meet with key users and explain to them the potential negative impact it will have on their groups if your team is not granted the extra position – help them understand that in fact, your request is their request.
It would of course be – I think you’d call it brilliant - if you could have your memo co-signed by a baker’s dozen of the influential people in the firm!
Very best of luck!