The Power of Process

Many of us have worked in organizations that practiced lean manufacturing or applied some of the tools and principles of the quality movement. Toyota was the pioneer and inventor of many of these practices and philosophies and, by using them well, has become one of the most profitable companies in the world. Toyota is the world’s number two car manufacturer and will most likely overtake General Motors for the number one spot within a year or two. It manufactures almost nine million cars a year, with the lowest defect rate of any manufacturer, and yet it makes the most money per car of any. It does this through a rigorous process called the Toyota Production System (TPS), which emerged from ideas and concepts developed by Toyota’s founder, Sakichi Toyoda, in the 1890s. Toyota has a lot to teach anyone who uses a systematic process to accomplish a goal, including all of us in recruiting. The entire cycle of recruiting ó from attracting a candidate to when we make an offer, including the many sub-processes within that ó can all be improved by applying some of Toyota’s lessons. By understanding the TSP processes more thoroughly and by applying some of them to what we do, recruiters can achieve lower costs and higher productivity. Recruiters are always looking for the holy grail that will solve their problems and make their lives easier. Usually that has meant grasping all sorts of tools and technologies to make ourselves more productive. We have learned the value of applicant tracking systems and have invested millions in them. Some recruiters are beginning to apply online screening tools, and we have passionately adopted job boards and Internet search. But all our research here at Global Learning Resources shows that recruiting costs continue to climb, as does the time it takes to fill positions. At the same time, hiring managers express concern over the quality of the candidates they get to interview. More and more we parallel General Motors and other American manufacturers. While GM has invested heavily in robotics and new plants, they have only made small improvements in profitability and quality. The time it takes them to make a car and the quality of their cars, while better than 20 years ago, is still not close to Toyota. Toyota has also invested in robotics and new plants, but slowly and only after learning a tremendous amount about how to make a car and how to build in quality. They have adopted an overall philosophy of evolutionary change. They make small changes, all the time, under the concept known as continuous improvement. For Toyota there is never a “completed” stage, but just an ongoing series of tweaks. Perhaps we should take some lessons from this master of process. Here are a few of the concepts that Toyota uses, adapted to recruiting. Just in Time This concept can apply to recruiting as well as manufacturing. We need to have pre-sourced candidates so that we can call them when they are needed to fill a position. This does not just mean having a resume on file; it also means that we know the candidates to some degree because of the electronic (or even face-to-face) communication that we have been having with them. They are not just resumes; they are people whom we can associate with a need. We can also apply this just-in-time concept to how we gather information about candidates on our websites. We should only ask candidates for the information about themselves that we need to make a decision about moving on. For example, if a person needs to have a college degree to work in your organization, you should ask them whether they have that degree right upfront. You can ask even before they have provided you with their name, email address, or any other information. By doing this, you prevent unnecessary information from filling up your system and you speed up the process for both the candidate and yourself. Jidoka Another principle we can apply to recruiting is that of Jidoka. Jidoka is the concept of fixing a problem when it occurs, and not waiting or putting it off for a more convenient time. This might mean that when a candidate is rejected, you immediately probe into the reasons as deeply as you can. You do this before you bring in more candidates and before you resume searching. By talking directly to the hiring manager, you can probably improve the quality of the next candidate, even if only slightly. Jikoda is also the belief that the person closest to a process knows the most about it and should have input to changing it. That is why Toyota allows a production worker to suggest changes to the workflow and see them adopted immediately. When a recruiter sees a needed change, when a small tweak would iron out a process flaw or speed up a recruiting activity, that recruiter should be listened to and allowed to make that change. If it works, everyone should else embrace it. Kaizen This is one of the best known and most powerful of the Toyota’s process concepts. Kaizen, or continuous improvement, is the hallmark of the Toyota Production System. The primary objectives are to identify and eliminate all waste. Kaizen also strives to ensure quality. Its key elements emphasize making a task simpler and easier to perform, re-engineering processes, increasing the speed and efficiency of the work process, and constantly improving quality. For those of us in recruiting, this should mean that we take a continuous and critical look at everything we do. We should ask why we fill out a certain form, get a certain signature, or do any particular step in our hiring process. By asking why, and by trying to eliminate unnecessary steps and duplication, we can save time and dollars that can then be used for more productive purposes. By focusing on quality, working with hiring managers to define it, and then tracking it, you can significantly improve how you are perceived within your organization. Vast improvements can be made incrementally and without great cost. There is often much more to be gained by working to improve what we have before investing heavily in new technologies that we are not sure how to use well and that may not even meet our current needs. Take the time to look at what you are doing, ask why, make frequent small changes, and focus on a few key improvements ó and you will be well on your way to recruiting excellence.

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Kevin Wheeler is a globally known speaker, author, futurist, and consultant in talent management, human capital acquisition and learning & development. He has founded a number of organizations including the Future of Talent Institute, Global Learning Resources, Inc. and the Australasian Talent Conference, Ltd. He hosts Future of Talent Retreats in the U.S., Europe, and Australia. He writes frequently on LinkedIn, is a columnist for, keynotes, and speaks at conferences and events globally, and advises firms on talent strategy. He has authored two books and hundreds of articles and white papers. He has a new book on recruiting that will be out in late summer of 2016. Prior to his current work, he had a 20+year corporate career in several San Francisco area tech and financial service firms. He has also been on the faculty of San Francisco State University and the University of San Francisco. He can be reached at


2 Comments on “The Power of Process

  1. Kevin –

    Great article. However (you knew this was coming!) your car quality info is dated. After 3 years (2001 models) JD Powers rated BUICK #2 after Lexus(top of the line Toyota) in frequency of repairs. (Guess what I drive). I will suffer maybe 1 more problem during my 250k miles (then I donate it) and save $35k over a Lexus (The survey says .25 more problem in 3 yrs) From my perspective, GM is gaining on Toyota, that came out #7 after Infiniti, Lincoln, Cadillac, Honda & Acura! However in the same report, Toyota received the ‘top corporate ranking’ (?).

    My other car IS a Toyota (Corola 39k mi)and the 3.8 liter Buick(Park Avenue-130k mi) gets better gas mileage than the (older) 1.6 at highway speeds and has had fewer problems (at three times the mileage).

    Now back to recruiting.

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