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Continuous Improvement... in recruitment and hiring?

Call it Lean, Kaizen, ISO, TQM, Continuous Improvement… after 25+ years of significant effort and umpteen variations, companies are still not benefiting from these operating principles as much as they could be. And they certainly don’t seem to be applied much outside of operations, especially not in HR. Why has this commonsense approach not taken root in recruitment and hiring?

First, let’s agree to refer to the philosophy generically as “Continuous Improvement”. Too many people associate “Lean” with job cuts, and in these economic times that just creates more fear and less participation. Remember, the original intent of Continuous Improvement was to

All this should lead to a healthier bottom line and an engaged workforce.

One reason CI fails is short term thinking. Strategic planning is supposed to look long term but organizational behaviour tends to be driven by the profit number for the next quarter. Management will want the CI program to start generating savings within 3-6 months. Usually this is accomplished with a few key people driving the initiative but as soon as those people move on or return to their ‘real’ job, the program usually falters since the key drivers aren’t there to sustain it. We need to develop a way of running the company that balances long term success with continued short term benefits to keep everyone motivated and maintain the sponsorship.

The core principles of CI are simple and applicable to all areas of business. What is unique is how your team applies it to your company. So before we jump into CI implementation or planning, let’s take a step back and look at the people within the company. Do your people fit within the new culture that you want to create? Before you start, take the time to assess the team and get your people engaged!

People become engaged in CI for various reasons. Two common reasons are: 1. The company is failing and their jobs are at stake or 2. People truly see value in the processes and benefits.  All too often, people may not see the benefits of CI or they might think that it is another way for a company to cut jobs or increase profits. How do we get the majority or all of the team on board without threatening them or having it viewed as program of the month? It starts with more questions.

  1. What is the new CI culture that you want to create and how does that fit with your current workforce?Are your people as committed as you are to quality, excellence and financial success? Are the levels of trust sufficient to withstand the level of change and uncertainty as you embark on the journey?
  2. Are your managers and owners on board and aligned? Are they willing to take the personal risks to make this work? They have to also be willing to listen to what the people are saying and openly communicate with everyone to share information. Regardless how talented you and your leadership team are, you need a very good facilitator who fits within your organization and can communicate with everyone at all levels. Once the facilitator is chosen, who are your CI leaders at all levels of the organization?
  3. How will you build grassroots engagement? CI is simple and straightforward. The only variable is your people, and they hold the success or failure of the program in their hands. This is where you need to do your home work. What makes them tick? What is important to them? Yes, the usual things will come out (job security, benefits, wages, etc) but what do they see as the most important thing to improve the company? If they owned the company, what would they change? Have an open mind and be willing to suck it up. Remember, if it is their idea, they will make it work.

CI needs to a core, shared philosophy, to avoid the “program of the month” syndrome. The easiest way to achieve that is to fully integrate it into the business model as a “way of doing business” with everyone participating. If it is viewed as a program then the true potential will probably not be reached.

Therefore, we also need to be serious about spreading the philosophy beyond the shop floor and into the rest of the organization, so that everyone is using the shared language of “growing capacity while reducing waste”.

The HR function, in particular, plays a pivotal role here in not just “doing CI unto others”, but in integrating the philosophy and modelling the right behaviours. That means HR needs to measure and hold themselves accountable for quality, productivity and ROI, and be on the lookout for systems that give them the tools to raise the performance of the organization over time. The HiringSmart process is one such system – helping the organization measure quality of fit, identifying top performers who are more productive and stay longer, and ensuring that every member of the team is positioned for maximum benefit.

So in summary, “average” performance and unexpected turnover are both serious forms of waste that have a heavy impact on the bottom line. People, culture, fit and leadership are all important parts of the CI puzzle.

Good Luck!


Wade Sanderson is an Operations and Manufacturing professional with a deep background in engineered-to-order and high volume production. He now consults with organizations on the implementation of Continuous Improvement initiatives. You can reach him at



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