Six Sigma In Recruiting, Part 4: Lean Hiring

After covering some of the main tenets of Six Sigma in previous articles in this series, I am going to throw another term at you: Lean. You might be thinking to yourself, “Lean? My budget and headcount have been cut so lean that I’m amazed we can still get anything done!” While the term Lean might seem rudimentary at first glance, it isn’t. This is a concept that, like Six Sigma, was originally developed in a manufacturing environment and can be successfully applied to other service functions like recruiting and hiring. Rather than just trying to get by with less, Lean offers an organized and sophisticated approach to speeding up operations and improving metrics like time-to-fill. What is Lean? While Six Sigma translates into reduced errors, less variation, and increased customer satisfaction, Lean translates primarily into speed. Lean seeks to reduce the cycle time of a business process by eliminating things that do not add value and reducing the costs associated with these (e.g., eliminating unnecessary steps in a requisition approval process, or eliminating the costs of re-sourcing for candidates who were lost because they were left hanging too long). To clarify, Lean is a whole methodology unto itself, and some organizations take this approach without ever utilizing Six Sigma. The combination of these two approaches though (referred to as Lean Six Sigma) is a perfect blending of quality and speed. Value Mapping A key tenet of Lean is to map out processes and figure out where efficiencies can be created. This means literally drawing out a flow chart of your recruiting and hiring process and associating time with each step. While this might seem a bit literal, taking the time to do this can be helpful in visualizing how your organization’s work really gets done. While recruiting is not as systematic as manufacturing, the process is often less structured than it could be. Taking into account the fluid nature of the business, a more efficient method can normally be created. After a complete process map is created, some key questions are asked at every step:

  • How can we do this quicker?
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  • Does this add value for the customer?
  • Does this add value for the business?

For example, if a requisition process involves going to someone for a signature and the signature is rarely, if ever, not given, then that step might be a good candidate to be eliminated. Why must that person sign it? Why isn’t the responsibility delegated? This might be the way you have always done something, but creating efficiency means rethinking the status quo and asking tough questions. Identifying the time traps and steps that are not adding value in the process will help to streamline operations. Often, these non-value-added activities might account for 20% or more of the process time. How would your upper management respond to a 20% or better increase in time-to-hire? Time Is Money In recruiting, like most things in business, time is money. For example, putting a salesperson into an empty territory 20% faster can translate into significant shareholder value. We know this, but we also know that slapping bodies into chairs too quickly can be counterproductive for the organization. There must be a balance. As you look at metrics, such as time to fill and time to start, you must dig deeper to understand the details of the process that can lead to improvements. This can be as specific as understanding the variations in efficiency between individual recruiters. What makes Recruiter A faster than Recruiter B? Is it because one is more experienced? Or is it because one is just a better recruiter? While skill and experience weigh into productivity, there are probably process-related activities that differentiate them. Cost Versus Time Lean methods carefully orchestrate activities in the most efficient way possible, but the focus is always on making the overall outcome more efficient ó not just on cutting corners. For example, an investment in better screening tools earlier in the process may save wasted effort and costs later. What is the average daily cost of an open seat at your organization? As you try to keep costs down, this must also be weighed against the cost to the organization of each day that position is not filled (e.g., additional overtime pay, temporary labor costs, and lost revenue in our salesperson example earlier). To make your efforts truly Lean, the big picture must always be considered. Conclusion Even if you feel like your department has already cinched its belt and is as efficient, or Lean, as you can make it, there may still be opportunities for improvement. Taking the time to map out your processes and looking for additional ways to save time and resources can create sustainable improvements. Recruiting and hiring often aim first and foremost at getting the best candidate (quality), but time is still a factor. The good news is that you can have both. By taking an organized approach and using Lean methodology, you can improve the velocity of your recruiting and hiring processes. At a staffing firm, this might translate directly into additional revenue ó and in a corporate environment it can result in substantial bottom-line savings. In either case, you will be freeing up resources and improving the value of your operations.