Anyone working in Operations at a small business will know that it can be stressful. When a startup is growing rapidly, the workload is piling up all the time... everybody is working beyond capacity and looking forward to securing the hires that can help ease that pressure. As the Ops team, everyone in the company is looking at you to make that hire.
In early 2018, CharlieHR was going from strength to strength. We had a product that users genuinely loved, as well as an ambitious vision for where we wanted the company to go. New roles were opening up at CharlieHR all the time - and yet it had become an ongoing struggle to get good candidates lined up for those positions. While the rest of the company was becoming more streamlined and effective, our hiring was stuck in second gear.
So what was broken? Why couldn’t we secure the hires that we so badly needed for the company to thrive?
Looking back, the answer is obvious. Charlie was built on a foundation of focussed proactivity: identifying our objectives and then pulling out all the stops to achieve them. Our work is structured around what we call High Performance Behaviours, and one of these is titled ‘Drive for Results’. It’s a concept that sits at the heart of everything we do.
In contrast, we had allowed the Operations team to become incredibly reactive. Admittedly, part of this is just the nature of the role: an Operations team exists to help the rest of the business perform at their best. But we’d become far too used to working on the back foot - fire-fighting, reacting to problems, making small fixes rather than being assertive about what we wanted to achieve.
In much the same way, the traditional hiring model is one of total passivity: you stick up a spec on a few job boards, then sit on your hands waiting for the dream candidate to walk in the door. Looking back, it’s no surprise that our hiring strategy failed to keep up with our expectations. Looking for a solution, we sat down as an Ops team to see how we could work on streamlining and improving our hiring process.
The engineering sprint
Anyone with a background in software engineering will understand what I mean by a ‘sprint’. A sprint is a block of work focussed around achieving a clearly defined objective, within a set period of time (at Charlie, this usually means two weeks).
The power of a sprint is that it can help to break down large goals into clear, manageable objectives, then works to focus whole teams of people around achieving those objectives. Even better, aligning teams around short, sharp bursts of effort gives the whole project a real sense of impetus and clarity - exactly what had been missing from our hiring process.
While the sprint has its roots within software engineering, we had already been applying the concept to cross-functional teams for a long time. Even our less product-focussed, more growth-oriented teams had been working within the framework, using the the concept to target sign-up or activation goals.
We decided to try and adopt the sprint concept and apply it to our own work in Operations. It took a couple of iterations to nail it down - but here’s what we came up with.
Here’s how we do a hiring sprint at Charlie
1. Set up a meeting with all the relevant team members at Charlie to clearly define the role and job spec
This is to ensure that everyone is aligned on their expectations of the candidate and the skill-set required. For such a fast-growing company, it can be hard to keep a clear handle on exactly what we want from each new hire - this step helps us to focus us our minds on the candidate we need.
2. Create a job description that clearly outlines those expectations
Recruiters and job listings alike will perform better if you provide a clearer and more descriptive job description.
3. Create the hiring deck
A hiring deck is a set of slides that we share with all prospective candidates. It outlines exactly what they can expect as part of the CharlieHR hiring process: details about phone screenings, how many office visits they’ll be asked to make, as well as who they will be meeting as part of that interview process. The hiring deck is useful because it really clarifies the candidate experience - they know exactly how the process works and removes any anxiety about what we need from them.
4. Share the completed job description and deck with hiring team so everyone is clear
5. Identify and post on all the relevant job boards
The best job boards can change a lot depending on the type of role being advertised, so it’s worth putting in some research.
6. Ask everyone in the company to share the new listing with their own networks
This is a really important aspect of turning hiring from a passive process into a proactive one - the traditional HR model of just waiting for candidates to turn up just doesn’t cut it anymore. You have to make your search for candidates an active goal for the whole business.
7. Ongoing review of candidates
The priority for days 3-9 is to be proactive about reviewing candidates as they apply. Are they of the standard that we set out to hire? Are we receiving many applications from people that we don’t see as being right for the role? If so, then it could be that the job spec is not doing what we need it to.
If we have got Days 1-2 right however, then the pipeline should be filling up.
8. Assessment of the candidate pipeline with everyone involved in the hire
Day 9 marks the end of the sprint. All being well, we have a good pipeline of candidates lined up and can move on to organising phone screens and interviews.
However, Day 9 also involves a review process held between the key people involved in the hire. In the past, there have been times where we weren’t really all that happy with the applications we had received, or we found that our objectives for the hire had evolved slightly over time, but that the recruitment process would drag on regardless. This review helps solve this: it gives us time to stop, reflect, and see if we are on the right track for the hire.
Faster hires, happier teams
Prior to adopting the hiring sprint, our recruiting time was hovering around ten weeks per candidate - over two months between recognising that the company needed someone and that person actually being brought in. While established companies might think that’s pretty good, within a startup context that is an eternity. Since we introduced the hiring sprint, we’ve managed to cut that time by half.
Even more important, though, is the energy and purpose that sprints have brought to the Ops team. Hiring had become such a source of frustration - a running battle that just didn’t seem to have a solution. Working within hiring sprints has changed the way I look at the problem by giving me a project to attack. Crucially, the sprint also helps to make visible so much of our work that traditionally goes on ‘behind the scenes’. Efforts by the Ops team that might have previously gone unnoticed are now plain to see for everyone in the business - and that’s a really encouraging change.
Faster and better hires is a great result - but so much about startup success is about sustaining energy and morale across the business. On that alone, I think the hiring sprint has been invaluable.