In Search of Operational Excellence in HR: 7 reflections for improving your processes

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Operational excellence is aspiration shared by all companies and one of the most common sources of competitive edge in business literature. It has become even more relevant today as the capacity for growth is undermined by the socio-economic troubles we are undergoing.

This “search for excellence” is also one of HR’s main concerns and that is why they are also currently immersed in improvement processes, especially since the circumstances now are testing the robustness of their processes.

Considering all these aspects, the search for Operational Excellence (O.E.) entails developing the company’s capacities to the maximum to guarantee the effectiveness and success of their business strategies, based on three fundamental pillars: process optimization, employee development and the profitability from leveraging technology enablement.

For HR management, operational excellence should reinforce its role as a cornerstone on which to build the organization’s efficiency, from the perspective of people management. Below, we share “Seven Reflections” that from a practical point of view are useful for improving processes as are the three pillars mentioned earlier:

  1. Re-think the logic, the assumptions, the reasons for a process and the way it is carried out. Why are we doing it, and why this way? For example, why not have my own in-house solution so my data is more secure, and I can better adapt it to my needs? It has been proven that, with some exceptions, in-house evolution processes are slower than others that a trusted technology partner can develop with more and better security capabilities.
  2. Re-configure process activities. Can we reconfigure what we are doing? For example, it is very common for English football clubs to have someone who accompanies new players through their first days to help them assimilate into the new team. Can we think of something similar for regulated onboarding in our teams? Given our experience, can we normalize remote working within our organizations, either fully or in a hybrid model in combination with in-person work?
  3. Re-assign the process executors (people) and the business areas involved. Who is doing the process, and why? Could someone else do it? This is the thinking underpinning outsourcing models (for example, for payroll operation and/or management). Would it be possible to decentralize certain HR decisions today? For example, transferring decisions on career or lateral moves to business units.
  4. Re-sequence the sequence of actions in the process, the order in which activities are done, and even the specific time at which they are done. An example, for when and in what order we do things, is expense management; professionals submit their invoices to be paid based on corporate policies. Why can’t we have advance payments that are afterwards compensated against the invoices, partially transferring this management to the employee? (Without considering at this point, fiscal or operative aspects).
  5. Re-locate organizational and logical locations, associated infrastructures, employees or departments, and more. If two business units must work in coordination, can we make it easier for them to sit together or have priority communication channels between them? This way of understanding location has been the source of the great processes for decentralizing functions, such as the figure of HR Business Partner, which emerged to make HR functions more agile and bring them closer to business areas.
  6. Re-deploy the necessary technology, tools, new knowledge and capabilities. What tools do we have, or can we get, for doing a process or a function more efficiently? The current technological landscape offers possibilities that were unthinkable two or three years ago. New capabilities, such as chatbots as employee service tools, the use of AI, process robotization, and others streamline our processes to the maximum and echo in other aspects like employee satisfaction, process success rates, among others.
  7. Reduce. Can we do the process fewer times, reduce the number of interventions, do it with fewer steps and resources, and so on? Shortening workflows and eliminating redundant actions are issues to think about. For example, can we do away with some steps in an evaluation process, such as the intervention of a managerial chain of command, or even the entire process by prioritizing continuous peer review and development conversations?

With all these examples, we are trying to make the case for the idea that, with the right framework, it is easier to identify what can be improved, and push us to creatively seek to better use our capabilities as an organization. This we come closer to the coveted operational excellence associated with the capabilities mentioned.

Obviously, many of these aspects require technology solutions with a high level of expertise that we are not always going to have. So, what if we were to re-assign, what would happen if I delegated all these technology aspects to a trusted partner and focus on what I know best: my people and my processes?

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