How HR execs can use operational excellence to compete on hiring

As the economy recovers and job growth is on the rise, businesses are feeling the pressure to get roles filled quickly and effectively. As recent indices reveal economic growth reaching beyond pre-pandemic levels, reports on the Great Resignation crowd headlines. Employers that are regaining their footing more quickly as job openings surge know that making the hire is only half of the costly battle of empty or poorly filled positions. Getting the right new hires and ramping them up to full productivity can save on tangible and intangible costs with far-reaching consequences. But what role does operational excellence have to play?

Let’s explore a real-world example: A Fortune 100 company with strong organic growth had required hiring 200-300 employees per week but now was looking for solutions to grow that number. The demand for workers was increasing monthly and the HR process improvement team, already bursting at the seams, needed to come up with a streamlined recruiting process quickly.

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You may have heard the famous Charles Kettering quote that “a problem well-defined is a problem half solved.” To begin, we need to understand how the process is currently performing. This includes developing a project charter that lays out its scope, goals and objectives, along with collecting baseline data. If the process data isn’t available, temporary data collection plans can be implemented for the duration of the project. We also need to map the process. This should include the handoffs from department to department, rework loops when something is missing or goes wrong, and the flow of information throughout.

Related: HR has a new metric for measuring employee satisfaction

Exercises like these are more than demand generation for the Post-it Note industry. When done with precision, process definition reveals pathways toward saving time and money, and with critical personnel involved, a conversation naturally unfolds about how to make it better.


In the case of the Fortune 100 client, the process mapping exercises revealed, among others, mismatched expectations between hiring managers, recruiters and new hires. Orientation activities were taking too long and getting a new hire equipped and ready to report was subjectively unpleasant for the new recruits. But once the issues are exposed, the next stages of defining expectations, needs and goals can be supported by the data from past experience.

Important questions to consider include: How does information about recruiting and onboarding move through the relevant teams? Are there opportunities to establish Service Level Agreements to improve communication between recruiters and hiring managers or other involved parties? What does the sequence of your new hire orientation look like? This process should be logical both for the new employee and for those responsible for the paperwork, data entry, badges, keys, clearances, computers or any other tools needed to begin working. By checking in with all process participants, issues and questions will bubble up naturally that might otherwise be overlooked.

Consider the ESSA framework of eliminate, simplify, standardize and automate:

  • What can be eliminated from the process? In process improvement, we frequently find steps that we can just stop doing: for example, the report that no one reads or the extra approval that’s just a rubber stamp.
  • What can be simplified? Much time can be wasted in handoffs. If we streamline the workflow, we will accelerate the process. Much of the lean toolkit helps with simplification.
  • To what extent can we standardize across the organization? Let’s learn the best practices from across our company and implement them.
  • Lastly, what can be automated? Once we are sure that the process is optimized, we can investigate options for automation within the process. Process steps that are highly repetitive, where we can establish clear decisions rules, are excellent candidates for robotic process automation (RPA).
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In the case of our client, a new workflow was designed that reduced the average completion time of the new hire orientation by 85%. The overall recruiting process was reduced 50% end-to-end, permitting the HR department to process and onboard approximately 600 new hires per week and ensure that each one could report at their workstations with all the tools they needed on day one. When structuring solutions, opportunities to standardize processes, implement automation and reduce redundant approvals and hand-offs accelerated the process and reduced employee frustrations. Simply improving scheduling processes such as ordering new employee laptops and phones can also bring significant time gains.

As the economy continues to rebalance post-pandemic, businesses are again able to envision growth and expansion. HR has a critical role to play and will be most effective when processes are streamlined and efficient, both for the experience of the HR personnel and of potential new employees. Our experience has proven that operational excellence can play an important role in that success.

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