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Implementing Lean in HR

Posted on June 5, 2019


waste vs lean

Brandi Leos, City of Tigard (LinkedIn & Twitter)

What I’m listening to – An all-female 90s playlist I created after hearing a new song, Ladies in the 90s

What I’m watching – YouTube videos on various home improvement projects


Over the past several months, my organization has been providing lean training to managers (including department heads) and employees from all departments.

The intent is to get people thinking about better ways we can do things – more with less, provide better service, or provide better quality (error reduction).

If you’ve read many of my Morning Buzz posts, you’ll know that my current role is HR manager but deep down, I am a management analyst at heart.

You’ll also know that I work for a relatively small organization (300 employees) and we don’t have a ton of staff or financial resources.  All this talk about lean got me excited, though I had never thought about Lean in the HR sense and in my research, I have found that lots of HR folks don’t quite have a handle on how to turn Lean, with its origins in manufacturing, into a workhorse for HR.

As I went through the three days of training, it was reinforced that this way of thinking has become part of my fabric and we have been implementing lean in HR for years. Here a few things to think of if you’re trying to create a more nimble, accurate, efficient HR experience for your customers – employees, managers, applicants.

Technology – Consider the technology tools available to you in human resources. Take a deep dive into the capacity of your technology and think about features you’re subscribed to but not currently using.

There will be growing pains when implementing new technology features but with patience and perseverance, you can improve something about your process. In my HR shop, address technology deficiencies have allowed us to collect more accurate data in less time, create (relatively) seamless interface between products, and speed up our time to hire.

Process – One of the main components to lean is reducing the amount of hand-offs in any given process. Think about processes within your department that include a lot of back and forth and consider re-routing approvals or reassigning certain tasks so one person does more than one part and maybe others can be eliminated.

In our shop, we had an issue with losing a specific form. This form needed a lot of signatures and those authorities would take the form, review it, and return it. One simple process change we made was to have the signing authorities come to us (on a regular basis) to sign the forms. Once the forms stopped leaving the office, they got lost a lot less often. The next step we will explore is electronic signatures and workflow routing to further improve this process.

Accuracy – Accuracy is obviously a very important factor in any process. One way to improve accuracy is to reduce the number of times (and people) who enter various information; in HR, this means an employee’s or candidates personal information.

A current process we have regarding background checks requires a new employee to complete an authorization form, which is usually scanned to HR. Our staff then enter that information into the background system and wait for a response.

I don’t know if you’ve ever tried to read the handwriting of an 18-year old seasonal parks worker, or Kent Wyatt, but good luck reading that social security number!

We’re moving to a new process where new employees will enter their information directly into the background system (through an email invite) which will increase our response time and ensure accurate information is provided.

Service – By implementing a few lean practices, you can improve the service provided to employees, managers, and candidates.  A few examples:

  • Set your applicant tracking system to let candidates know where they are in the process (this takes zero additional work and maybe three minutes of set-up time).
  • Provide short just-in-time training via video or in person to help your customers navigate your various processes.
  • Reduce the amount of approvals required for any given personnel action and consider doing regular audits instead.
  • Allow candidates to schedule interviews online and communicate often.
  • Put your benefits information on your website (including rates) so current and future employees can access the best information when they need it.
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