Lean and Six Sigma in Talent Acquisition

By Lin Grensing-Pophal February 20, 2020
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​Organizations can reap big benefits from streamlining their talent acquisition processes. Top candidates are hard to come by in a highly competitive talent market and are prized by multiple organizations. The prize often goes to the company that can be first with an offer.  

But hiring processes can be fraught with too many bottlenecks, too many steps and too little effort to improve. Could Six Sigma and Lean come to the rescue?  

Karan Singh is principal of Los Angeles consulting firm Kersch Partners and an expert in Lean transformation and quality management. He holds a Six Sigma Black Belt from the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.

" 'Lean,' in essence, means eliminating nonvalue add from the process without sacrificing the quality of work," he said. Six Sigma "is applied to improve the process by reducing variation in the desired outcome."

In talent acquisition, Singh said, "it's best to apply Lean principles to remove any waste steps from the process before applying Six Sigma to tune the process to achieve consistent desired outcomes, improving recruitment efficiency." The focus, he said, is on getting "the right person in the right place at the right time."

While these process-improvement methodologies have traditionally been applied in manufacturing settings, other industries and functions are also finding value. HR is one example, including the talent acquisition process.

[SHRM members-only toolkit: Recruiting Internally and Externally]

Applications in Talent Acquisition

Peter Peterka is founder and CEO of Global Six Sigma, a training organization. "The potential of HR's effectiveness through Six Sigma and Lean is unlimited," he said. He points to a number of HR functions in which this methodology could be applied:

  • Creating a qualification template to help establish the ideal candidates with the right team, leadership and technical abilities.
  • Writing specific, detailed job descriptions to not only attract candidates, but also to help them completely understand what the job entails.
  • Forming a strategy that will help the company retain staff.
  • Making sure that team leaders and staff get the required training. "This might include conflict management or conflict resolution, communication skills and dealing with issues that affect team effectiveness," Peterka said.

While Lean and Six Sigma can be used across a wide range of HR functions, he noted that using it at the talent acquisition stage can be particularly important, as it helps attract the right candidate from the start.

Applying the Process to Talent Acquisition

The focus of Lean, as Singh noted, is twofold: to drive out waste and improve the customer experience. In talent acquisition, one of the most common wastes is time spent waiting. This could include "waiting for feedback, indecisions on hold prospects, waiting for offer releases and waiting on application information releases," he said. Singh has tackled this waste by redefining the process, educating stakeholders on timeline and deliverables, and, most important, keeping everyone engaged.

In the talent acquisition process, the talent is the customer. Therefore, steps need to be defined in terms of the "end-to-end talent acquisition process flow," and steps that don't add value to the customer [talent] experience should be removed. "Removing or reducing those wastes will make the recruitment process leaner," Singh said.

Trista Jones, Six Sigma Black Belt certified and senior manager of talent acquisition with Lawson Products, has used Lean and Six Sigma to achieve real results. A few years ago, Lawson took steps to restart the company's growth. One of these steps was the adoption of Lean Six Sigma methodology and tools to improve operational efficiency in all areas of the organization, including in HR.

The company reduced its recruiting cycle time by 56 percent by improving the company's social media presence, simplifying the job application and better defining Lawson's sales representative position. This was accomplished through a wide range of process improvements, including the use of technology to streamline some processes.

Lin Grensing-Pophal is a freelance writer in Chippewa Falls, Wis.

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