The Kaizen of Toyota Recruiting

As the number-three most-admired company on Fortune’s overall list of most admired companies in 2007 (and second within the motor vehicle sub-section), it’s not surprising that Toyota’s workers have a lot of passion for what they do.

So says Dana Green, talent acquisition & relocation manager for Toyota Motor Sales USA, Inc., who recently chatted with ERE about her work for TMS (the marketing, sales, distribution, and customer service arm of Toyota, Lexus, and Scion in the United States).

Green shared how the recruiting successes at Toyota keep the company on the top of Fortune’s admired list, and a targeted employer among job seekers.

“The Fortune list is a great marketing tool for us, and I think particularly with college students. They keep up on a lot of the business trends. A large number of the candidate population comes from people who are interested in the marketing industry. Really, it allows us to market the recruiting department, but it’s really a team effort,” she says.

Toyota workers are proud of what they do, she explains. In her 20+ years of HR experience in multiple industries, including retail, medical, banking, and automotive, “I’ve never had that in another organization. I can honestly say at Toyota I do feel that.”

This experience, she claims, helps her define the attributes she seeks in new workers.

“To some degree, we look for similar attributes and that passion in future employees. We’re always looking for new and better ways to improve business,” she says. “One founding pillar is kaizen — Japanese for continuous improvement. That is something everyone can contribute to. It’s a respect for people, so we look for that in recruiting, as well as customer service, and those willing to focus on quality.”

Inside Toyota’s Recruiting Department

The current recruiting structure of Toyota Motor Sales USA is matrixed, with recruiters at headquarters and in field offices. At the TMS division, approximately 25 associates have some responsibility for recruitment (including five recruiters at headquarters, about 12 HR generalists with some recruitment responsibility, and eight field administration managers with HR/recruitment responsibility).

Her division uses Taleo for its applicant-tracking system needs, and “as you know, technology is ever-changing and Taleo has been able to stay at the forefront of the changes. They have a recruiter-centric focus,” she says.

Green says the recruiters stay connected by researching and documenting processes; providing training in specific recruitment-related areas; creating, as needed, information sessions for recruiters and hiring managers; and providing statistical/analytical reporting.

“We have a fully documented recruitment process that has been delivered to recruiters, and we host regular training/informational sessions on behavioral interviewing and applicant tracking system usage,” she says.

Staying Ahead of the Curve

In late April 2007, Toyota Motor Corp. became the world’s top auto seller in the first three months of the year, passing rival General Motors for the first time. In the first quarter, Toyota sold 2.348 million vehicles worldwide, compared to GM’s 2.26 million vehicles.

However, she admits that Toyota growth, and growth in recruiting in particular, is still mostly traditional.

“I think with the way technology is changing so rapidly, I think we’re trying to figure out the best way to find candidates. We advertise on websites, do some niche recruiting in magazines and newspapers, and email blasts. We also text-message college students, which is kind of new to me,” she says.

During new-hire orientation, the company includes a section called the Toyota Way. The orientation is doing some remodeling, but it’s currently a two-day program that features the history of Toyota, information on production, and other pertinent company information.

As for work-life balance, she says she absolutely loves the things we’ve come up with.” Some of these benefits include a flex scheduling program called “Flex 40” choice. This offers workers either an extended lunch break or the ability to come in early and leave early, or come in late and leave late.

The company also offers the “Fixed 980,” when workers do 10 hours a day, with an hour for lunch, in a nine-day period. This gives workers who participate in this program every other Friday off.

“A lot of people have opted for it,” says Green. “We have people who love what they do; it’s a passion, so you tend to work long hours anyway.”

This option allows the salaried workforce at headquarters (though not necessarily for the sales teams) this choice.

The company also has a fitness center at headquarters, and all of the associates nationwide have access to fitness centers.

“We do a number of career fairs. We just had an investor fair here, talking to associates about retirement, college education. They way we look at work-life balance, it’s also a life you’re balancing,” she says.

However, while the manufacturing facility has a daycare onsite, the TMS division does not.

Green points to the flex 40 (allowing people to come in as early as 7:30 or as late at 9:30), adding that it’s not specifically for childcare but allows for flexibility.

Green says her division also offers part time, anywhere from 16 to 24 hours a week.

“The needle is constantly moving and we do hear a lot while we’re out recruiting,” she says. Toyota is out there, but Green admits it’s not on the cutting edge.

“We have several people who research these work-life trends. We do hear stories about high-tech industries and the free lunches at Google. That’s not our environment here. We hear a lot of it and do a lot of research and have to find what fits our environment,” she says.

One person manages work-life and she has a couple of other assignments, but the bulk of her time is learning new opportunities in making work-life simply work better.

“We feed her with information we hear in recruiting, what the corporate leadership board publishes, monthly research, and networking news,” she says.

Attracting New Workers

Still, the number-one draw for current and future workers is the automotive industry. A lot of people have worked in dealerships or are around it and find it exciting and challenging, explains Green.

Despite many generations of automotive enthusiasts, even Toyota feels the effects of retiring baby boomers.

“A number come back and work on a project basis, and that allows us to keep that knowledge and pass it on to the next generation,” she says.

Her company also features a retiree website, which started because it had a number of retirees who would get together for lunch and discuss questions about medical, dental, and other benefits.

“This website started two or three years ago, and it’s a way they could share all that info in one place,” she says.

“The second draw, if you’re in Southern California, is it’s a great location. Once we get our corporate philosophy out there, that really attracts people,” she says.

At the same time, recruiting in Southern California tends to be a challenge, with relocation dreams battling against a daunting high cost of living to a potential new employee.

“It’s a nice place to come and live. But if you’re from the East Coast, a lot want to go back after graduation. The housing market is a big question mark, and with the softening real estate market, it’s a challenge. We want a balance, so we recruit nationwide, coming out of the college arena,” says Green.

“When you’re talking to a candidate, and they’re looking for a home, they’re sometimes shocked. We do a real-estate tour as part of our relocation program. If you can get past that hurdle, that’s great,” she adds.

Elaine Rigoli has nearly 15 years of experience managing content and community for various B2B and consumer websites. Elaine has written thousands of business and technology articles and has been quoted in The Wall Street Journal and eWeek, among other publications.

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