Turbo Charge Enterprise Human Resources with Lean Startup

What we learned over the last year has been amazing. We’ve found that our employees feel more empowered to do their work, to innovate and to speak the language of leadership.   They feel more in control of their careers and have many open doors to pursue as a result.   On the flip side,  employees are also more aware of the challenges in their own organizations when it comes to running rapid experiments, and have begun to ask more from their leadership in supporting them in this innovation journey.

Just over a year ago I was hired as the first product manager for Intuit’s human resources group.  I am responsible for products and services and will help employees take charge of their careers inside Intuit.  As I’ve learned over the last year this is a pretty cutting edge position and there aren’t many enterprises applying this type of thinking inside HR.

The first gap that we’ve noted over the last year is that most of our HR employees didn’t view their work as a product or a service.  This gap caused us to view customer interactions as simple transactions.   We didn’t look to measure how much we were delighting our customers, and in many cases didn’t even refer to our customers as customers.

Once we began changing this product mindset we quickly realized that many of us did not have the skills necessary to gather deep customer empathy.   How could we focus our products & services for specific customers if we don’t understand what’s important to them?   To resolve this gap we began leveraging our Innovation Catalysts to coach & mentor teams to strengthen these skills inside the organization.  Additionally, we promoted one of our Innovation Catalysts to a product experience lead for the entire organization.  The goal here was to turbo-charge the capabilities of the organization by having a single individual focused on it.

The second gap we identified was that HR employees were not using Lean Startup and Rapid Experimentation as a method of agile operation.   Teams were operating in large siloes and the membership was not very cross-functional.  Teams understood what it meant and why it was important, but not how to actually break their solutions down into assumptions and build super-small experiments to test them.

To try to solve this problem we utilized our Lean StartIN 2 day events to turbo-charge the teams.   We had them bring their product or service to the class, and put them through an extremely intense 2 days of practical application of Lean Startup principles.  [Read more about the course we created]  This course helped HR employees better understand the behaviors of their customers, helped them refine their customer segments, and ultimately reduce risk in their projects.

With all products (including our Lean StartIN course) it is important to understand how it impacts your customer.   In our case we followed up with participants of the course a month after the completed it to find out how it had impacted them personally. In addition to the positive benefits I described at the beginning of the post, we also identified that participants would get back to their daily work and feel that leadership was not making decisions fast enough and not clearing a path for them.  They were moving faster than the rest of the organization!   We’re working to address that issue separately and I won’t elaborate on it more here.

Now that the teams were moving quickly and focused on more specific customer segments we needed to solve another key problem we heard from our customers.   What we were hearing from the business units was that they feel HR is buying / building tools and pushing them out into the organization.   They felt that HR was not really working with them to solve specific issues.

The next phase of our journey is to identify how we can get the business units to pull us into key issues and partner with them to solve the issues using our products and services (or with new ones).  As with any journey you have to keep making consistent steps and the adventure is in to trip and not arriving at the destination.

What are you seeing in your organizations?  Post in the comments below.

Lessons Learned:

  • Treat your HR teams like product teams – They should be able to produce positive ROI for their customers (employees) just like a product team.  They should be able to move quickly just like a product team.  They should create value for their customers just like a product team.
  • Your employees are your customers – You should strive to delight them just as you would an external customer.  If you can delight your employees then they can delight your external customers.
  • You can improve employee engagement by empowering employees – Getting employees to behave like intrapreneurs, move quickly and make decisions based on customer data will put them head and shoulders above their peers.   They will have the tools they need to solve any problem in any organization.