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Is it possible to get off the hamster’s wheel?

By Mandy Chapman, Head of Oracle and Process Design.

In a previous blog, Mandy reflected on how HR teams are becoming increasingly busy and likened this to a hamster on a wheel – running around on a perpetual wheel of fire-fighting. This has more recently morphed itself with the Covid-19 lockdown and how people have had to continue to manage these challenges but with the added complications of now having to do it from home! Now she looks at the practical measures that can be taken to get off the hamster’s wheel and start delivering transformative change step by step.

In most organisations, there are three different versions of every process: what the business is supposed to be doing, what is documented in the process map, and then the actual reality of what’s going on in your teams. Your reality will likely be different from what you intended as bad habits, short-cuts and different employee behaviours creep in to knock you off-course. While we have, in the past, worked in an office environment it was easier to manage and control these versions but with lockdown the differences have fallen under the spotlight and are very often now highlighted as a business risk / issue.  

This is easy to resolve and you should consider putting in place a four-step improvement process to close the void between optimum and reality.

Agree process objectives

Firstly you should be able to identify your current process objectives. Why do our current processes truly exist – and link these to your business objectives and values. The recruitment process is a case in point. Are you a law firm or University and want to bring in the best high-performing talent or do you simply need to appoint suitable candidates quickly into roles? By defining and framing that objective, the rest of the process design can then be measured against it. Assuming this goal is truly the organisation’s objective, the next stage is to get to the reality of what is going on. It’s amazing in this first step, how a simple activity can focus the team’s minds on what they’re trying to do.

Delve into your processes

Next, consider implementing a process of discovery to strip out non-value added activities. That might involve major initiatives; important one-off changes, or small-scale changes around a single process – absence, payroll, recruitment, ER etc.

The key is to focus on these areas and look to reduce the tasks that do not add value and / or insert risk. Before you can do this you need to know what those tasks are. Get the team together to talk these through – visualise them with post its or in this new COVID-19 era, use an online tool. We’ve started to trial the whiteboard on Teams which is great, and have also dabbled in web tools like Lucidchart and Miro. For example, you might know that you have an issue with how your managers conduct interviews, and you want to analyse the elements of that process. This may entail shadowing managers on interviews in order to provide more support. In the days pre-Covid, we might have shadowed assessment days and tweaked guidance accordingly but now we must look at change in small digestible chunks, or micro-projects. Look to discover how issues impact on the business and then undertake root cause analysis into why these are happening. Once you have nailed that discovery, it’s all about agile step-change.

Prioritise key change

The third stage is prioritisation. Once the discovery process is complete, you will have access to more data, analysis and information. The focus now should be on simplifying; delivering improvements and more tailored guidance and identifying quick wins to help the business move forward. In the interview scenario, that could be about giving the interviewer unconscious bias training or guidance on competency-based interviews. You also might highlight a real break in the process that when removed could greatly reduce effort and improve quality. One recent client of mine reduced the time to hire by two months by removing some legacy approval rules from the process. Another reduced payroll spend by one FTE by shaping their processes differently with efficiency and service in mind.

These measures should be quick to achieve and help stop some demands coming into HR teams. Then plan the rest in manageable chunks. Quarterly sprints may be preferable to big one-off projects as they enable HR to get the organisation used to dynamic continuous change.

Get them working in bite sized chunks

Finally, designing the processes that need to be in place in the organisation. To take the example of candidate interviews once again, if your recruitment process is too manual and there is a lot of duplication of data or if the interview styles are not effective meaning that the wrong people are being recruited, then processes can be designed to specifically address these problems. Once you know what the future should look like, the final step is making that change happen.

That is all about taking your people with you and gaining buy-in for new ways of working. Continuous communication is a must. You’ll also need regular spot-checks to ensure the process still works for employees, HR teams and managers.

If you can implement a concerted improvement process of this kind; execute it properly and make change happen you’ll be well-placed to move forward, get off the hamster’s wheel and start taking proactive steps to change HR for the better today. Jump off the wheel and start moving!

About the author

Vickey Wallis

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