The Purge: How Philips Removes Inefficiency From Its Hiring Process

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Oct 6, 2022
This article is part of a series called ERE Recruiting Conference Fall 2022.

Hiring processes often focus on finding more people or adding more tools, but how often are they analyzed for waste to subsequently drive greater agility? After all, a hiring process that’s not efficient is not effective.

Which is exactly why Asal Naraghi has been infusing Agile and Daily Management practices into recruiting processes at Philips. Naraghi, the company’s global head of strategic priorities, talent acquisition business partner for informatics and innovation and strategy, will be presenting at the ERE Recruiting Conference in Atlanta, Nov. 7-9, about “The Purge: How to Remove Inefficiencies to Improve Hiring Productivity.” She’ll provide insights and concrete advice on how to: 

  • Audit your process to identify inefficiencies
  • Address hiring challenges in real-time by shifting from traditional, fixed planning to an Agile flexible, responsive model focused on continuous improvement
  • Speed up your process to drive talent delivery and maintain candidate and recruiter engagement

I recently spoke to Naraghi about the inefficiencies that can plague recruiting and how she manages such issues at Philips.

ERE: Generally speaking, which parts of the hiring process at companies tend to become most inefficient, or at least most prone to waste? 

Naraghi: The answer depends on numerous factors, like scale, types of roles, and location. For instance, in my case, we need to hire 2,200 digital talents in India. And if you’ve ever had the pleasure of recruiting in India, then you know it’s a bustling ecosystem with digital talent everywhere. The same is true of recruiters’ inboxes. And so managing a large candidate inbox is one of the key problems to solve — because when you post a job, you can easily get 200 applicants in your inbox very quickly. And they aren’t all qualified. 

The second and most critical piece is the intake meeting, or as we call it at Philips, the recruitment strategy meeting (RSM) with the hiring manager. It’s usually not efficient; the upfront work of collecting the most critical information is often skimmed over for the sake of pleasantries and just understanding the job at a high level. Too often, the meeting — if it happens — fails to outline a clear project plan for the search  It doesn’t yield key job requirements, drive credible consultation based on data-driven market insights, or set the tone that talent acquisition is a subject matter expert where the hiring manager understands who is driving the process — which, by the way, should not be the hiring manager.

When I used to oversee the hiring for our factories at Philips, I would say, “I would never come on to your production line and tell you how to build a product. How is it that you comfortably come on to my line and tell my team how to hire?”

The same could be applied with writing code. I can’t code, and I don’t tell our hiring leaders how to direct their teams how to code, either. Our teams should be afforded the same level of respect toward our expertise. We are the experts, and we have full right to take up space here.

What can happen is that a hiring manager will ask for everything under the sun. And when that happens, I suggest to my recruiters to say: “Hey, why don’t we just do a Boolean search in LinkedIn based on the requirements you want while we are on this call? Let’s see how many people it renders.”

And you know how many potential candidates we uncover most times? Zero. Zero people, because the hiring manager’s requirements are absolutely unrealistic. This for me is the space between talent acquisition and hiring managers. The reality of what should be and what is.

This is partly why it’s up to recruiters to take control of the process and explain what will happen, when and why, really showing hiring managers what to expect. And 9 out of 10 times, that’s exactly what managers want!

At Philips, through a voice-of-the-customer tour we did, we found that managers want to be guided in the hiring process. That includes explaining to them what the market is like and what’s realistic. You’ve got to be their partner in the truest sense, and then what you’ll find is that hiring managers will lean in and feel like they can trust you. The caveat is, you have to know your space well, and the data is the best way to show it.

Otherwise, if they don’t trust you, that’s when they try to manage your process.

I’m thinking that processes are designed with efficiency in mind, but then they devolve to become inefficient. How does that happen?

Through a lack of rigor around the candidate data and refined process steps. One informs the other. It also happens through no objectivity and no control over the process.

For instance, there are many people in talent acquisition — and I’m talking about recruiting professionals here, not even hiring managers — who feel that they can interview well because they’ve been doing it for years. They feel like they don’t need a process to be engineered. Recruiting is often considered to be a social skill that some people are born good at doing.

And at the same time, you’ll have other HR-related colleagues who involve themselves in the process and want to overly engineer the approach, having never been efficient recruiters themselves. That’s also not good. The truth, though, is that the hiring process does need to be and can be engineered in granularity.

I treat the hiring process like an assembly line at a factory. That means that I look at productivity — and all the other leading indicators for productivity. Time to fill is one, but how many days it takes to post a job once it’s assigned to the recruiter is another. How often are we producing the product — hired candidates — on our assembly line, which is the hiring process. We’re constantly monitoring this through data.

I can’t stress enough that it’s all about the data. It’s foundational to everything. You need to look at data to drive and evaluate your processes and systems, and if you want to have the data in your systems, you need to drive the right behaviors with your recruiters. Otherwise, it all becomes very fast and loose. You’ve got to go into your ATS and break down every last step and inspect what’s happening. 

We have it down to a science, which includes always looking at candidate hiring-funnel stages. Again, in India, I know there are two cogs: at the offer stage and at the top of the funnel. I know precisely where the process is being held up. Truly, when you look at data cuts, you can almost always see where 80% of the problem sits. We always focus on the 80% problem, avoiding the 20% exceptional instances that steer us away from making the biggest impact.

So if, for example, in 80% of reqs, you see that managers have missed interview times, then you know this is an indication of leadership behavior, of lack of commitment to the hiring process. You can then build countermeasures to fix this. For us, the key is to look at some of the data daily so we can make quick adjustments. It’s important to figure out fast what’s going on through a regular cadence of investigation through retrospectives and Daily Management boards. The goal being: Fail fast and not wait six months to figure out what’s wrong.

And so you think recruiting pros aren’t looking at data enough?

I think there are a lot of people who rely on a lot of anecdotes and excuse-making because they don’t know how to effectively problem-solve. When I’ve taken over a new team, I’ve gotten a myriad of reasons as to why jobs can’t be filled. I call it the excuse factory. Many times, those excuses revolve around blaming things on hiring managers. But I tell them, “This just sounds like poor recruiter advisement. It’s your job to manage the hiring manager.”

My aim is to help my recruiters understand that it’s about the process or problem and not them. This isn’t a dialogue on subjective people issues. But to do that, let’s first be honest about what the problem really is, and if they play a role in it, then it’s great to see that they take accountability to fix it.

Let me go back for a moment to your remark equating the hiring process with a factory assembly line. I can imagine that this would offend some TA professionals.

Why, though? What is triggering about my comment? I’m not talking about treating candidates like widgets and creating a poor candidate experience. I’m not talking about how to treat people. I’m talking about the efficiency of your process, which is only a leading indicator of how you are treating the people. And it is efficiency that treats candidates better. 

Now, sure, you’ll still get recruiters saying a hiring manager was sick or their mom died or whatever. All of that is real and absolutely valid in explaining individual instances. But let’s recognize that these are the exceptions. I’m more interested in what the aggregate data sets tells us about the 80% problem. The whataboutisms explain maybe 20% of cases, but you shouldn’t spend most of your time on those exceptions. It’s the 80% that deserves your attention if you’re trying to make an impact at scale.

Do you think that most companies are even aware of the inefficiencies in their process?

I can’t make assumptions, but I do think it would be arrogant and wrong for me to say that Philips knows how to do everything right! In fact, at Philips we embrace the red. We want to identify our problems in the name of patient safety and quality so we can continue to deliver to our customers. The hiring process is playing a role in this. 

At Philips, we are marrying the concepts of Daily Management, Lean, and Agile, but in non-technical ways that embed rigor and structure and therefore drive efficiency. I also want to point out that these aren’t complicated practices — we’re not bolting on a large number of new ways of working to our process. You have to keep things simple and impactful.

It’s also incumbent on leaders to get low enough and look at what’s broken. Get under the hood, see what’s happening at every step. Too many recruiting managers are too removed from the problem. I don’t care how high up I am — I know my operation. I know how to poke at it to understand problems.

Uncovering problems is just information. We don’t personalize it; we investigate it as a team. Then, as a team, we come up with solutions to enable the teams better so they can deliver to our customers. Again, it’s about using data to understand problems and then developing countermeasures to fix them. 

I know you’ll be getting into greater detail on all this at the event, but what is it that you most want people to know about your efforts to ensure an efficient hiring process?

That talent acquisition is always about pushing boundaries. That’s how you innovate in all functions and ours is not absolved of doing that especially now given the current candidate ecosystem. You’ve got to move without fear of failure — because doubt kills more dreams than failure ever will. When I’ve had naysayers on my team, I’ve told them, “Let’s just try. Failure and mistakes are OK, but experimentation is what we need to do.” If people are afraid to experiment, you’ll never innovate.

Want more insights from Asal Naraghi? Experience her session, “The Purge: How to Remove Inefficiencies to Improve Hiring Productivity,” at the ERE Recruiting Conference in Atlanta, Nov. 7-9. 

This article is part of a series called ERE Recruiting Conference Fall 2022.
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