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Your Guide to a Successful Recruiting Operations Sprint

Mike Joyner

A well-defined sprint creates urgency and accountability, a feeling of speed and momentum, and most importantly a shared purpose. This is especially true during times of intense change and uncertainty — doing a sprint can create the feeling of: “Finally, something I have control over. I’m going to crush this!”

We’re hearing from many of our clients that this is a time when hiring is paused, and they’re trying to figure out useful ways to refocus the recruiting team’s attention for the immediate future. A great way to do that? Host a sprint, focused on recruiting operations.

Operations are the heartbeat for a recruiting team. But when recruiting volume is high, it can be hard to find time to prioritize some of the high lift and high leverage projects needed for recruiting operations. During busy times, important and not urgent projects often get put on the back burner, until there’s a hiring manager who needs some data and they need it now. We at Growth by Design Talent believe that investing in operations is one of the highest leverage areas a team can focus on.

Why a sprint

A well-defined sprint creates urgency and accountability, a feeling of speed and momentum, and most importantly a shared purpose. This is especially true during times of intense change and uncertainty — doing a sprint can create the feeling of: “Finally, something I have control over. I’m going to crush this!”

Warning: When done poorly, a sprint can feel like disconnected busy work and a list of individualized tasks that were assigned randomly — the opposite of motivating.

The nature of operations work is that you’re never done, but there are well-established techniques that you can borrow from development teams (for you learning nerds out there, Agile and Scrum) that can help you make meaningful progress in a shorter time.

Here is an outline of sprint methodology to get great work done in a way that strengthens, rather than stresses, your team.

Build the roadmap and vision

Engage the team: Successful sprints rely on bottom-up ideas, not only top-down directives. Individual contributors who are closest to the work often have the best ideas for operational improvements that could increase efficiency and lead to better results. Gather the team to collect new improvement ideas given the current context. Be sure to include your backlog list of “If only we had time to make this awesome, we would…”

Connect with stakeholders: Assuming your hiring team’s work has slowed down as well (which is not always the case), this may be a good time to speak with interviewers, recent hires, hiring managers, and other stakeholders in the recruiting process to get their insight about what they want to see improved. This can be done through 1:1 conversations, focus groups, or surveys. If you get their feedback to inform sprint projects, remember to share back with them when the work is complete so that they can see the impact they had!

Choose a theme: Give each sprint a fun, rallying cry. For example: Crushing Candidate Experience (re-evaluating each step of the process with the candidate in mind), Spring Cleaning (a.k.a. data clean-up), or Hubble (market mapping for critical talent pipelines/constellations from your “star” employees, see what I did there?).

Set the timeline: With a sprint, the timeframe is very important. It must be short enough to keep the team focused but long enough to ship incrementally positive work. Create focus and momentum by limiting sprints to one or two weeks. Especially right now, we recommend making sure sprints are less than 30 days, rather than months-long marathons.

Define success clearly: What do you want to have accomplished when the sprint is done? Create a simple mission statement. For instance: “In two weeks, everyone on the recruiting team will know how to source for a ruby on rails engineer.” Or, “Every candidate touchpoint will be defined and updated to make it clear what we want the candidate to know, do, and feel.”

Build the team: Who is on the team that will be working through the sprint? It could be volunteers, people selected by managers, etc., but the important thing is that they are given the time and mandate to work on the sprint. If you were in an office, moving the team to sit by each other away from their normal space creates both unity and focus. You can make it fun by making t-shirts or hats or desk swag to make this more visual. If your team is remote, you can create a similar feeling on Zoom by having an always-on Zoom room that people can pop in and out of to quickly get feedback, share ideas, or just stay connected with each other. To create that sense of unity, you can create a custom virtual background for the sprint team, which can also serve as a way for them to stand out in broader virtual meetings.

Define the goals: Set and visualize the goals in a clear and motivating way. “We have n days to do x things and there are y of us.” Showing current as well as future finished state is key — we love Kanban boards for this purpose, but you can also use excel/sheets or your company’s internal task management tool. Other tools we and our clients have used are Trello, Jira, Airtable, Asana, and Miro.

Plan for recognition: To avoid burning out the sprint team, it’s important that space is cleared in their calendars for this work — ideally, it shouldn’t have to happen on top of their existing workload. Think ahead of time about how you’ll surface great work to leadership and managers.

Running the sprint

Kickoff moment: Everyone involved should attend the kick-off. In addition to reviewing the weekly sprint plan, goals, and process, you can also define new rituals in a kickoff. Rituals are key to a sprint — when are the daily stand-ups and weekly check-ins? How do you make them fun and interesting as well as useful? Use the sprint theme to guide you and rely on team members who are great culture builders and carriers.

Consistent communications: Communications should be sent consistently by one person, often daily to everyone on the sprint team. They should include an update on the total number of things you want to accomplish, how many of those have shipped, key highlights, high fives, and blockers to breakthroughs.

Weekly check-Ins: Every week the sprint team should meet to share big updates from the prior week and review projects that you’ve shipped (celebrate these wins!), outstanding items from the prior week, concerns or blockers to progress, decisions that need to be made, and the plan for the following week.

Finish strong

Celebrate: It’s great to close the sprint with a celebration: superlatives, the magnitude of progress (started there, ended here), leadership acknowledgment, and virtual cheers. Just because a meeting is happening over video conference doesn’t mean it can’t be fun: invite your team members to come to the meeting with a celebratory beverage or snack, have everyone put on a special background for the meeting, or invite one of the most beloved office dogs to surprise visit the call. Small gestures like this can break up the routine and help people have a few minutes of fun together after all their work.

Appreciate: That plan you made for how to appreciate great work accomplished during the sprint? Now’s the time to put it into action — make sure senior leadership and managers get a chance to see the great work the sprint team did. This is always important but becomes even more vital in a virtual work environment when it can be harder to get the same feelings of recognition.

This is a challenging time but doing great work doesn’t have to be put on pause. It’s actually an excellent time to focus on what’s important but not urgent, and this kind of sustained focus will allow you to hit the ground running when hiring ramps back up.

Growth by Design Talent helps early & mid-stage high growth companies design talent strategies to help them scale quickly and thoughtfully.

Thanks to Janet Frishberg.

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