How HR Hackathons Can Improve the Employee Experience

by Elias Rassi | Posted | Industry Buzz

How HR Hackathons Can Improve the Employee Experience

While at work, have you ever thought “why is this process the way that it is?” or “isn’t there a better way we could be doing this?” We all work within certain constraints. They can be time-based, resource-based, and they can be a huge cause of frustration. We’d love to improve the way we work and fix the little things, but there never seems to be enough time or resources to get it done. But there’s one way you can make change like this happen at a team, departmental, or even organizational level.

Hackathons first got their start with computer developers and are treated almost like a party where groups of programmers collaborate for an extended period of time on a particular project. Sounds like fun, right? Well, the concept is making its way to other areas of businesses, including HR.

If you’re unfamiliar with the concept of an HR hackathon, the idea is similar to a traditional hackathon: People from HR and other areas of a business get together and think of ways to make HR better. LinkedIn and Cisco are considered to be pioneers in taking this fresh approach to improving the HR function.

Interns help solve HR issues at LinkedIn 

LinkedIn’s Non-Technical Hackathon hosted more than 200 interns from the Bay Area for a 16-hour event at the company’s headquarters in Sunnyvale, California. The challenge presented to the interns was low levels of employee engagement across the entire employee lifecycle from hiring and onboarding to day-to-day work and development.

The winning solution came from a team of interns from Yale University who designed a machine learning-based mobile app that allows interns to give and receive feedback from management, learn about opportunities that are related to their interests, and connect with employees and other interns who can help them achieve their goals. Here’s the kicker: The interns had zero HR experience.

Global effort to hack HR at Cisco

Cisco’s HR Breakathon split 800 employees, many of them working in HR and others from different departments, into 120 teams from all over the world to create new HR solutions in 24 hours. The result: 105 new solutions for its global workforce of 71,000 people to address a wide range of HR issues such as recruiting, onboarding new employees, and learning and development for employees and the leadership team.

Lessons learned from LinkedIn and Cisco

So, what can we learn about the value of HR hackathons? Here are a few of my key takeaways:

1. It’s about people:

Hacking is really about problem solving in creative ways. It doesn’t have to be about anything technical. So, if you think of it from this perspective and apply it to HR, you can imagine the possibilities that could come from such an event.

HR is in the business of people. Heck, businesses are in the business of people. But imagine if your HR team asked employees how their needs can be better met? What do you think that would do for the employee experience?

2. It’s about speed:

Let’s face it – traditional business structures of approvals and bureaucracy don’t really encourage innovation. Hackathons are great because they enable innovation within a certain time limit. Look at the two examples I provided. Teams of people joined forced, brainstormed, and came up with real solutions to real problems in not weeks, not days, but hours. So, what’s stopping anybody else from trying? Here’s a good tip I learned while researching this article: Getting organized first will help the event run smoothly. I also learned that having good WiFi and food and drinks are really important.

3. It’s about improvement:

Let’s use onboarding as an example. At one of my former jobs, I was given my laptop with a handout to help me configure my email and hard drive, and my onboarding was over. Out of its Breakthon, Cisco employees came up with YouBelong@Cisco, a mobile app designed to help new employees and their managers their first day and next few weeks on the job. Which do you think offers the better employee experience?

4. It’s about the end user:

We’re like one big test lab at Halogen and promote the use of our own product extensively. Last year, our development team ran an Innovation Challenge. The idea was to gather feedback from employees on how we can improve our product. What do I know about product development? Nothing. I’m a PR guy. But, I’m also an end user of our product and I use apps all the time on my smartphone, tablet, and TV.

I submitted a suggestion about smarter feedback. Guess what? So did a lot of other employees! The Innovation Challenge gathered hundreds of suggestions and 20 ideas moved on to the next phase of the challenge. Some ideas have already been built into our solution and many more will be available in the next product release. I’ll ask the question again, what do you think that would do for the employee experience?

Hacking HR is really hacking the business

The idea of HR being “hacked” may raise a few eyebrows. I think that’s a good thing. And I think the time to do it is now. Don’t let me be the one to try to convince you. Take it from an expert. Bersin by Deloitte’s 2017 predictions for HR say:

A focus on employee experience will overcome process design in HR. Using the idea of design thinking, HR teams in 2017 will stop designing "programs" for onboarding, learning, collaboration or other purpose, and instead study and design integrated, high-value "experiences" that excite, engage and inspire employees.

Cisco’s Senior VP and Chief People Officer, Fran Katsoudas, said the Breakathon was designed to hack all the “little and big things” that prevent HR from providing a great employee experience. Thanks to that mindset, LinkedIn and Cisco were able to hack their HR function to make employee experiences better.

Imagine if more companies adopted this mindset.

Wouldn’t that be a good thing?

Your turn: How would you hack HR to improve the employee experience? Leave a comment below or let us know on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram or LinkedIn!

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Emerging Trends in HR

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