Hypergrowth at Slack puts the pressure on HR

Phil Wainewright Profile picture for user pwainewright September 5, 2019
Hypergrowth at fast-growing collaboration vendor Slack creates challenges for recruiters but HR workflow automation offers relief

Passenger rocket ship leaves earth © DanieleGay - shutterstock

Eric Schmidt once told Sheryl Sandberg, "If you’re offered a seat on a rocket ship, you don’t ask what seat. You just get on." At fast-growing collaboration vendor Slack, the HR team have been having a hectic time seating those new recruits, as Senior Business System Analyst Jessica Barry told a conference in San Francisco last week:

Slack in the last year has been in hypergrowth mode, which has been a very exciting time, lots of achievements, lots of milestones, and an experience that I can't think many compare to.

In that time, we have nearly doubled our headcount. We have expanded our global presence with a number of offices, remote locations and regions. We have implemented numerous systems as well as updated or optimized systems that we already have. We have implemented all kinds of new tools and a lot of new processes to help support the growth globally.

Like many digital businesses, Slack uses a collection of SaaS applications for internal operations. In HR and recruitment, these include Workday, Greenhouse, LinkedIn, G Suite, DocuSign and Zoom, along with Looker and Google Data Studio for analysis. It also uses its own Slack application for collaboration, along with API designer Postman and workflow tool Workato for integration and process automation. It's important to connect up processes across this landscape of applications to help people keep track of what's on their plate, says Barry:

The experience working between many applications can become quite a fractured workflow to get their work done throughout the day — who they're talking to, and what they need to actually connect and use their applications for.

Barry is one of an emerging breed of business systems specialists in such companies, whose role is to adapt the technology to help business functions do their work more effectively. She was speaking in a panel on people systems at last week's peer-organized Business Systems Magic conference.

Hypergrowth takes a toll on recruiters

Hypergrowth on the scale that Slack has been experiencing creates many challenges. Co-ordination is difficult when interviews are taking place acoss time zones or different offices. Global growth brings new regulations that have an impact on the presentation of job postings and application forms, while the candidate experience and company culture needs to stay consistent across all these different locations. All of this takes its toll on recruiters, she explains:

You can have interviewing fatigue, because folks are spending such a significant volume of their time sitting in interviews. Job postings are constantly changing. New processes are being introduced all of the time. The number of jobs a recruiter might work on is a significant volume. It becomes very hard to hit your targets when you're constantly being hit with a tidal wave of new requirements.

And then, of course, insights is really hard. We're trying to drive the decisions that we make. But it's very hard to discern a lot of your insights when you need to act faster than you can keep data up in your systems. Your availability, your activity, is more important than your data entry timeliness.

The pressure on employees can have quite a negative impact, she says.

Knowing that you're working at a frantic speed, [that] data is missing from the systems that you need ... You're on the front lines to manage expectations from hiring teams, interviewers, candidates, [to] get the job posting done correctly, and stay on top of everything. That can cause quite a shift in the employee experience for recruiting teams, and everyone along the line ...

There's a lot of expectation being put on hiring managers, and a lot hinges on them advancing things through the process — there are downstream impacts to the rest of the teams that are seeking to support the recruiting process.

Automating HR processes

There was clearly a need to standardize and automate processes so that the HR team wouldn't be overwhelmed by all the change and new data they had to cope with. One of the first processes the team tackled was automating updates to job descriptions so that recruiters didn't have to do this manually any more. Now, every time a requisition is created or edited in Workday, this triggers workflow in Workato that picks up the appropriate template in the Greenhouse recruitment application, says Barry.

It really helped alleviate a lot of the burden on our recruiters, trying to keep two systems in sync. But it also made sure that anyone who was part of the hiring team had real-time, updated, correct data.

The team has also started designing automations that trigger the creation of a Slack channel for each new job, which comes already populated with relevant documentation and links to action forms, such as requesting a job change, or scheduling an interview. Hiring managers can view a resumé directly from the job channel and advance or reject the candidate without having to leave Slack.

Similarly, there are auto-generated interview channels, which help keep interviewers, the hiring team, the recruiter and co-ordinator all in sync. The interview schedule, candidate details and resumé are all contained and kept up-to-date in one central point. Post-interview, the workflow process prompts the interviewer to complete a scorecard. Barry concludes:

This is one way we're trying to help eliminate all of that fractured work experience, by surfacing up scorecards and also helping the hiring manager and recruiter keep track ...

We really want to focus to improve the employee experience, by delivering things directly to folks wherever possible through Slack, making sure that approvals and information makes its way to them.

We want to make sure that the actions that we're taking are going to be impactful, but they don't necessarily need to be complex.

My take

Using Slack as a hub for HR processes is an idea that's been talked about for a couple of years now, so it's not a surprise to find Slack itself adopting this approach. Recruitment and onboarding are processes that traditionally span several different applications. When a company is expanding as rapidly as Slack, that creates a huge volume of busywork that needs to be automated away so that it doesn't become a barrier to growth.

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