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SFPUC trims more than two months off time-to-hire, increasing staff engagement by 25%

Updated: Oct 30, 2023

Everyone hates their hiring process. So how did the SFPUC manage to slash over two months off time-to-hire?

In 2018, the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC) approved 600 positions to fill, but the HR hiring teams were only able to fill 250 of them. In response to long delays in recruitment, hiring managers began classifying positions as temporary in order to access a shorter hiring process – but this strategy just put the hiring team further behind, as they now had to hire the same position twice.


Mounting backlogs of unfilled positions and mounting resentment from hiring managers drove HR staff morale down, leading to high turnover: with a high vacancy rate in HR and a high percentage of new HR staff, hiring backlogs grew even further, leading to a loss of quality candidates and dangerous levels of understaffing across the SFPUC. Long time-to-hire resulted in further disadvantages to already marginalized groups, in favor of City insiders who knew the system. One of the SFPUC’s Strategic Plan goals was to have an Effective Workforce, and yet the agency was struggling even to meet its basic needs.


Something had to change.


From this starting point, PPI Partners Justine Hinderliter and Ryan Hunter embarked on a 1.5 year improvement project to transform and ultimately overhaul the SFPUC’s hiring process and culture.


As with all daunting tasks, the first step was to move beyond sentiment and assumptions to truly understand the problem and its real-life impacts. Because hiring data was spread across multiple poorly coordinated IT systems, the hiring teams could not track recruitments across their entire life cycle nor monitor their own workload. Working with the hiring teams to mine past hiring data, we discovered that their average new hire process took 7.5 months to complete (and often as long as 11 months!) and their backlog of approved but not filled positions had only grown.


To understand why this was happening the project team facilitated feedback sessions with hiring managers, divisional staff, and recent hires, helping the hiring teams listen to stakeholder frustrations and feedback non-defensively. Together with the stakeholders, the project team mapped the current process: The resulting 15-foot process map was ripe with improvement opportunities.

Hiring managers and the talent aquisition team mapped the process hand-in-hand.
The physical version of this map wrapped around the entire wall of the SFPUC's executive conference room.

With this map in hand -- and with data to back it up -- the team could finally identify which process steps took longest and where any given hire might be stuck. For example, though external agencies were a frequent scapegoat for lengthy timelines, the data revealed that in the vast majority of instances, the major delays were fully within the SFPUC's control.


The project team next took a deep dive to understand root causes of identified process problems; among them:

  • Communication was fragmented and voluminous: most communication with hiring managers happened via email and phone, hiring analysts often had to request information from hiring managers via intermediaries, and discrepancies could take weeks to resolve.

  • The hiring process was sequenced inefficiently: information requests happened throughout the process rather than being consolidated, and steps that could happen concurrently were conducted sequentially.

  • Tasks were not assigned to the right people: hiring analysts were asked to write job duties for positions hiring managers understood better, and hiring managers were expected to complete technical tasks that were better handled by a hiring analyst.

  • There was no single source of truth for recruitment status: hiring data was spread across multiple IT systems, and every hiring analyst tracked their assigned hires differently. Internal HR managers had no transparency into staff workload or hiring status, while external hiring managers relied on personal relationships and incessant communications to understand the status of their recruitments.

The project team next set out to design multi-pronged solutions to address the root causes they had uncovered:

  • The larger team redesigned the end-to-end hiring process to eliminate problems with process sequencing, communications, transparency, and information gathering.

  • A small team created standard work to promote consistent recruitment process facilitation, like scripts and hiring manager-vetted forms.

  • Our sponsor identified key emerging leaders and assigned them discrete sub-processes to address in the Lean Leaders cohort. These staff became improvement experts themselves through three months of intense training and coaching, each making measurable improvement to a piece of the end-to-end hiring process.

  • To harness the continuous improvement mindset already created, each member of the hiring teams was engaged and empowered to ideate and execute strategic improvements through weekly huddles.

  • Our expert data consultants worked with SFPUC HR data analysts to design hiring dashboards to address workload visibility and improve access to recruitment data.


Average time-to-hire melted away with staff-led solutions

By the end of the improvement project, these staff-led solutions resulted in:

  • a nearly 2-month reduction in time-to-hire;

  • broken down silos throughout the HR organization and agency-wide;

  • improved comprehension of roles and responsibilities within the hiring process agency-wide;

  • internal HR change-makers who continue to identify and implement solutions to the processes they support; and

  • incredible improvement in HR morale, teamwork, and retention – SFPUC HR became the most coveted HR department within the City to work for and HR’s engagement rate increased by 25%

One of the best parts, (besides, well, all of it!) is that all of these results were achieved without new IT implementation, with little or no new costs, and with intentional, consistent, and reparative change management and engagement with diverse stakeholders.




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