What HR Can Learn From Tech's Iterative Approach To Business

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Caitlin Lillie, Director, Talent, Work & Co

Rapid Prototyping of Policies Is Key To Success

Imagine you heard that Evernote recorded its internal meetings using Post­-Its ­­instead of using the cloud­-based note­taking and collaboration software for which the company is famous. That would be pretty startling right?

The very best companies don't just talk about their brand. They live it. It's pervasive. At Work & Co, we’re taking measures to ensure our core values are not only baked into the products we create, but also touch every department from finance to human resources.

Work & Co is obsessed with building great digital products and services. Our style of working with clients, such as YouTube and Virgin America, is hyper­-iterative. We use a system of rapid prototyping and continuous testing and improvement.

It turns out that constant iteration is a great way to approach HR, too. We’re finding that continuously evolving and studying the employee experience is more effective than a yearly rollout of policies. Embracing iteration for talent is also about listening; leaders must be willing to recognize that some decisions and policies will need to be improved.

Our hunch is that continually tweaking our work environment to meet employee needs will reap great business benefits­­ such as a virtually 100% retention rate. Here’s three examples of how a test­-and­-learn approach is helping us recruit and retain the best talent.

1. Slacking On Diversity.

HR tends to be a world rife with formalities. But it need not be that way. Surveys, often used in the past to inform company HR programs, aren’t real-time enough to reflect the changing needs of a workforce.

Real-time communication tools such as Slack have proven a great way to gain insights into employee needs. We transitioned much of our communication to Slack from email (which tended to be one-sided and added formality). Once we did that, we started to receive more open feedback. We loved the spike in honest discussion we saw across the company, so we looked closer at Slack to see how we could make communication on it even more effective.

One channel began as a women’s focused group, and we quickly became a hub for discussing gender diversity trends. Knowing these conversations shouldn’t happen in a bubble, we expanded it to a broader diversity channel open to both men and women.

While discussing effective family benefits and parental leave, employees mentioned how valuable having a community is for parenting and swapping tips. As a result, we tested a new channel for parents to connect with each other, which has also taken off.

2. Out With the Old (Styles of Mentorship).

Work & Co is top-heavy by design, with a partner involved in every project team. It’s a great benefit for staff, who get to work with renowned professionals in their given craft, regardless of their level. Rather than putting the onus on employees to request a mentor/mentee relationship, as has often been the case in other company models, we’ve always believed mentors were a right.

Now 150 employees later, we realized we had to iterate on our initial model to keep our mentorship program scalable and ensure employees got the career development support they desired. We looked for ways to make this update without losing the hands-on partner involvement that is core to how we work.

We didn’t just roll out a new mentorship program, however. We tested different approaches with small teams. We tried on how it would work with varying roles, structures, and involvement before landing on the multitier program we launched in May.

Work & Co employees continue to receive high touch mentorship from partners in their project work and long-term development, while also receiving additional mentorship and coaching from a second person within their functional team. Mentees help select their mentors, avoiding the mistake of the (often stale and contrived) corporate mentorship programs where mentees are arbitrarily assigned.

By embracing iteration, we could move quickly without having to wait for the “perfect” program before launching to employees, which could take years. We created a roadmap for our program’s future and can use real-time feedback and performance information to shape our future “releases.”

3. Stay Balanced

The diversity of skills and profiles within Work & Co enables us to design unrivaled products. Employees bring a broad spectrum of backgrounds that translate into groundbreaking digital solutions.

Because we seek this well-rounded profile in all our candidates, the application process is a vital touchpoint for Work & Co. We tested several models for candidate interviews before arriving at our Balanced Review process.

In the Balanced Review, candidates speak with a diverse group of team members across functional teams to evaluate a variety of skill sets.

Like other companies in the technology space, we’ve put special emphasis on increasing our company’s gender diversity. By including male and female interviewers in all of our candidates’ reviews, we got better feedback on how the candidates performed in regards to qualities like emotional intelligence and communication in addition to technical skills. Candidates also saw first­hand the leadership role that women and men play in our organization and potential career path for themselves.

The notion of being iterative, while familiar in the tech world, isn’t something talked about much in HR departments. Yet what companies today would say it’s not mission critical to enable talent to feel more engaged, productive and creative?

We’re not claiming that we have it “all figured out,” by any means. Acknowledging this pushes us to continually test, tweak, and update our approach to talent management. It’s been exciting to discover and build on programs and approaches rather than remaining rigid. As with any of Work & Co’s products, our policies are built to evolve and scale as our company grows.

About the Author

Caitlin Lillie is the head of talent operations at Work & Co. She has a dual background in digital product management and global digital talent acquisition. Caitlin earned her MBA from Georgetown University. Prior to Work & Co she served as Director, Mobile Products at American Express.

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