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Part 1: How an HR Department of One can Become More Agile

Discover agile hr policies including advice, templates and solutions for human resources leadership and hiring staff employees recruiting support for small business owners.

Sometimes as HR leaders we think that business concepts or processes do not apply to us. This is increasingly true for a small business HR leader who is just trying to get their head above water. The idea of implementing a business process when you are looking for a life preserver seems like suicide.

A worse mindset, and one we combat daily with our clients, is the idea that small businesses can’t implement certain business processes because they are so small. Surely that business process costs money and takes resources that the business doesn’t have. You know what I say to that.

Small businesses can do anything big businesses can do. They just have to know how to scale.

One area that HR departments of all sizes can innovate is to focus on the idea of becoming more agile. Of course agile is a software development concept, but it’s underlying principles have been adopted across organizations of all sizes. For an HR Department of One, adopting agile principles can help that practitioner be more effective and, here’s the kicker, free up their time to focus on the things that really help grow employees and in turn, the business.

Agile HR departments above all else are adaptable. They can change direction quickly and fail fast. They are also simplistic in execution, focusing on ease of use for the customer, the employee. The processes implemented by an agile HR team have the greater company goals in mind and are pushing towards those goals, adjusting all the time to ensure they hit their target.

In our work with small business HR leaders (or small business leaders handling the HR function) we have found two areas that HR can become more agile and the benefits that brings.

Recruiting:
Recruiting process are, and always will be, a work in progress. One area that we can all do better at is in the skills we look for in potential candidates. Our go to process for years has been to create a job description with a laundry list of all the skills and experience necessary to do the job, post that laundry list on a job board and check the boxes as resumes come in. Passing on only the ones who meet all the right check marks. Agile groups would do this much differently resulting in better hires.

Rather than focus on skill set, agile groups might ask about intrinsic skills like collaboration or creativity. They would ask the hiring managers how the right candidate would be successful and use that to shape interview questions. They would also spend time observing the team the candidate would be joining to ensure they understood the job and were looking for the right thing.

If recruiting methods were failing, they would constantly adjust, not keep posting on the same job board that produces no or the wrong candidates. There is always innovation that can be done in recruiting and not all of it is coming up with mind blowing new methods that haven’t been thought of before. Sometimes, trying an old method in a different way is just the innovation a recruiting process needs.

Let me give you an example of how we used agile thinking to change the way we recruit for a client.

This client has openings for hourly manufacturing line workers about 4-5 times a year. These positions are notoriously hard to fill by all traditional methods. The first year we worked with the client, we wouldn’t start hiring until there was a vacancy and by the time we had it filled, the line had been missing a person for weeks slowing down production.

Trying to be agile HR consultants, we sat down with leadership and brainstormed ideas on how to improve the recruiting process and how to adjust what we were doing. We went through several iterations, software teams call these sprints, to come up with the process that has been working for well over a year now.

We realized that more importantly than checking the boxes for skill set was to find the right type of person who would be content working on a manufacturing line. The work is repetitive which not everyone likes. Some parts of the line are isolated meaning that individual works alone for much of their shift. Other parts of the line are congested meaning that individuals work almost shoulder to shoulder day in and day out. Observing all of this made us realize we needed to focus more on personality traits than skill set.

And that the skill set wasn’t nearly as important as we thought.

As I sat and watched each individual do their job, I realized that with a few days of training even I, someone who is not mechanically inclined whatsoever, could probably do ok at the job. We had been looking for someone with a few years experience on a line, but the reality is the job didn’t require any experience. We helped the leaders see that by opening up the position to those with no experience and focusing more on personality and cultural fit, we might actually be able to keep the positions filled.

But we needed a major compromise first.

The leaders were a bit hesitant to go with the no experience requirement. They agreed that the job could be trained, but they weren’t sure they had time to train. They also had reservations about interviewing for mostly personality fit. Their question, which is a fair one, was could we really assess that fully in the interview process.

No, not really.

After a ton of discussion, here was our final solution. We will hire for no experience, but develop a standard training program that utilizes current employees to help get new employees up to speed quickly. Further, everyone is hired as temporary for 4 weeks. This gives us the opportunity to truly assess personality fit. Finally, rather than wait until we have an opening, we start the temporary process at the beginning of every quarter even if there are no openings. By the time the person is through the temp process and it has been decided they are a fit, there has always been a place for them.

To ensure the temporary process is attractive to individuals, we guarantee their pay for 4 weeks even if they are let go earlier. They don’t have to worry about only being needed for a week and then let go. If they leave at the end of week one, they are cut a check for the entire 4 weeks. Every perk is retro’d back to their start date as a temp rather than their regular employee date. This allows them to take advantage of benefits and paid time off earlier than other temp positions would.

This process is outside the traditional recruiting methods and took flexibility on the part of leadership and our recruiting team. We certainly aren’t the first to think of a process like this, but it does demonstrate how recruiting teams can use agile methods (creativity, flexibility and iterations), change the way they recruit and reap the benefits.

Rather than have a blog posts that runs over 2000 words, we decided to break this post up into two parts. Part two will be released on Thursday and will detail the other way we have found that HR Department’s of One can become more agile.

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