Better HR through Better IT: A Theoretical Limit in Practice


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Photo of the National Institute of Standards and Technology Human Resources Department
Photo of the National Institute of Standards and Technology Human Resources Department

Guest blog post by Susanne Porch, Director, Office of Human Resources Management, National Institute of Standards and Technology

What does an improved safety culture have to do with making hiring easier and faster?  A lot, it turns out, if you work at NIST. In the spring of 2014, Paul O’Neill, former CEO of Alcoa and U.S. Treasury Secretary from 2001-2002, spoke to the NIST community about the “theoretical limit” for safety. He explained that when an organization’s culture focuses on safety and everyone doing the right things, the theoretical limit for safety incidents is zero. This is pretty easy to understand and straightforward: doing the right safety things ensures that no one gets hurt at work.

This got our Office of Human Resources (HR) Management staff thinking: what’s the theoretical time limit for a successful and compliant federal hiring action under current authorities? If everyone was on board with doing the right HR things, could we make hiring faster? After some research and assessing our own hiring data, we concluded that the theoretical limit for a NIST hiring action, depending on recruitment type, could be as fast as 12 to 20 days. We then started asking: How do we move from where we are now to that theoretical limit? And, would everyone get on board with doing the right things to achieve that speed? The answer was a resounding yes. We shared the theoretical limit analysis with our customers and they agreed that if we improved technology and made HR things easy to do correctly, hiring managers would be on board. This “yes” allowed the HR staff, our IT partners and our customers to start our journey toward faster and easier hiring.

On November 17, 2016, after a six-month development window and six-month pilot with one of NIST’s research laboratories, we fully deployed a new IT application called HR STAT (Submission, Tracking and Analytics Tool). Knowing we needed HR STAT to work for all of NIST, the tool was developed, tested and deployed in partnership with our customers.

HR STAT allows customers to:

  • Submit requests for recruitment actions via an online portal;
  • Track the full progress of the request from initiation to new employee start date, including integration with the security process; and,
  • Know the expected start date of the selectee, based on a mutually agreed hiring timeline and built in timeliness targets.

Working in collaboration with our partners, HR designed the workflow to track an aggressive timeliness target (typically 35 days) for our mission-critical occupations at NIST—a first step in moving closer to the theoretical limit. The initial results are promising!

During the pilot phase, 20 cases were completed and our average timeliness was 58 days. In comparison, our average timelines for the 140 completed cases outside of the pilot was 66 days. Since full deployment, 52 cases have been completed in HR STAT; timeliness ranged from 12 to 49 with an average of 26 days. By comparison, in the first quarter of fiscal year 2016, average timeliness for the 125 completed cases prior to HR STAT was 73 days. 

In addition to speed, customers have reported via survey, direct email and anecdote that the application is easy to use and that the transparency provided is excellent.

As we continue to use HR STAT, we expect the benefits to grow. Full transparency and access to real-time data allows both HR and clients to address process issues and training needs. HR STAT represents what we need to deliver to our clients: collaborative HR services that are easy, compliant and fast.

HR STAT is better HR through better IT and, for us at NIST, it represents significant progress toward that theoretical limit and overall operational excellence.

For more information on HR STAT, you may contact Susanne Porch, NIST’s HR Director, at

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Last updated: 2017-01-19 10:21

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