skip navigation

Spokane County Uses Lean to Improve Its Job Application Process

As promised in my first blog post, I will be sharing a new story every few months from Spokane County’s front-line staff about how they’re leading our lean transformation at Spokane County - in their own words. This will offer readers a unique insight from staff actually doing government process improvement activities on their lean successes and challenges.

Our third lean story is from Linda McGlocklin, Computer Application Specialist in Spokane County Human Resources.

The Spokane County Human Resources (HR) Office is a well-oiled machine made up of many gears and components, all moving in perfect harmony and synchronization, tirelessly striving for and achieving continuous improvement.

But when the alarm clock goes off and reality hits, things aren’t always so perfect!

As you would anticipate in an HR department, we provide a wide variety of services related to employment matters: employee relations, legal compliance, employee development, benefits and classification/compensation, recruitment, etc. We’re highly process-driven; some of our processes are relatively new and some have been around for years (and years, and years!).

Our department was introduced to lean in 2013 by Spokane County COO John Dickson. Prior to taking the class I was skeptical - was this another class I’d attend, listen and learn… then promptly file the binder on my shelf and maintain business as usual? I’m happy to report: not at all! John led the class with energy and enthusiasm supplying the lean tools to make it all happen. I remember leaving class feeling valued, empowered and engaged, with an attitude straight out of the “Little Engine That Could”!

Lean led me to change the way I looked at the products/services our department provides. How could we simplify and improve our daily processes (i.e., eliminate waste)? Which steps were unnecessary and could be eliminated? What were we doing right and where could we improve? How could we measure things to ensure we were creating more value for our customers? Questions… so many questions.

One of our initial lean projects involved replacing our 15-year-old legacy applicant tracking system, “TRAC”, which was originally an MS-DOS product upgraded to Windows-XP format 17ish years ago. The company was going out of business, which meant we had no technical support and no upgrades/enhancements available. Our applicants were filling out paper applications (approximately 6,000 annually), mailing and/or hand delivering them to our office. These applications were manually entered into the TRAC system by an office assistant. Multiple copies were made for departments, interviews, files etc.

The process was slow, wasteful, antiquated, and overall not customer-friendly. Our vision was an improved customer experience - for our applicants, hiring managers, and HR staff. We wanted applicants to have the ability to apply electronically, 24/7/365; we wanted to eliminate (or reduce) the many hours HR staff was spending on data entry and making copies; we wanted managers to have faster turnarounds and efficient access to applications; and we wanted a better way to communicate with applicants.

After defining our vision, supported by strong leadership, our project began with locating, acquiring, and implementing a new and effective electronic application tracking system.

We held weekly meetings, keeping our team on track while staying focused on our goals. We worked together identifying needs, sharing concerns (internal/external), documenting benefits, noting drawbacks, eventually preparing and presenting to our Board of County Commissioners, who ultimately supported the purchase of NEOGOV (insert Hallelujah chorus!).

The NEOGOV system was in perfect alignment with Spokane County’s Four Strategic Pillars:

  • Customer service
  • Financial stewardship
  • Public engagement
  • Employee development

While NEOGOV was a great choice for all the right reasons, the work of our team had just begun. Our HR program manager was instrumental in keeping our team on task, on time, and accountable. During our weekly meetings, we worked together to define our project plan, timeline, staff involvement, implementation rollout, and all the work and craziness in between. The “go live” date was scheduled for March 31, 2015. We celebrated a soft release to a select group of departments to work out bugs on March 21st, then moved forward with the county release on schedule.

The implementation of NEOGOV has reduced workload, reduced waste, and is saving applicants time by requiring one standard application be completed for any number of county and/or other government positions. NEOGOV allows staff to contact applicants electronically for updates, test scheduling, interview scheduling, etc. Applicants are able to check their status at any time of night or day. County managers are able to get new employees hired more quickly, reducing the number of applicants dropping out because it simply took too long and they found employment elsewhere.

In moving away from paper applications, accessibility was a great concern. We did not want to eliminate anyone from applying for a job because they did not have access to a computer. After a bit of research, we discovered computers are widely available at libraries, the State’s WorkSource job centers, and schools, for applicants who lack computer resources or skills. We also installed four kiosks in our office for applicant use. Our NEOGOV project was such a success that it encourages us to continually explore additional improvement projects here in HR.

With each successful lean project, another HR product/service/process is improved - and we are one step closer to our gears and components moving in perfect harmony and synchronization, tirelessly striving for and achieving continuous improvement!

MRSC is a private nonprofit organization serving local governments in Washington State. Eligible government agencies in Washington State may use our free, one-on-one Ask MRSC service to get answers to legal, policy, or financial questions.

Photo of John Dickson

About John Dickson

John Dickson writes for MRSC as a guest author.

John is the chief operating officer for Spokane County a role that he began in March 2013. He is leading significant operational improvement activities across Spokane County government to make it more ‘Lean’, efficient and customer-focused. Over 200 county leaders and elected officials have already completed his 4-week Lean Leadership Course and significant cost savings/avoidances are being realized across the county.

The views expressed in guest author columns represent the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of MRSC.