How to Use Lean Principles to Improve the Candidate Experience

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As competition for top talent heats up among employers, organizations must stand out to the applicants they want to attract. One way to do this is to ensure an excellent candidate experience. Successful techniques like Lean thinking can help human resources and other team members find ways to improve the talent acquisition process and ensure a positive candidate experience.

What are Lean Principles?

Lean principles, or Lean thinking, is a philosophy to reduce waste, improve efficiency, raise quality, and increase value. Though initially inspired by Toyota manufacturing, Lean can be applied to many aspects of business, including hiring. The core values of Lean include:

  • Identify value: Determine what you offer and where your product or services add value, and find where there is waste.
  • Map the value stream: Understand your workflow and every step of how value gets to its target (the customer or end user).
  • Create flow: Ensure smooth delivery of that value from beginning to end, and identify bottlenecks.
  • Establish pull: Start new work only when there is demand or need for it.
  • Seek continuous improvement: Always look for ways to improve every step in your value process, removing waste and focusing on the most value-adding activities, and encourage all team members to participate and take ownership of this step.

“The process of finding the right job candidate, getting him or her through the application and interviewing process, and mutually agreeing to an offer is a long, winding road that too often goes nowhere,” writes Lynda Silsbee, founder of the Alliance for Leadership Acceleration and the LEAP-Leadership Acceleration Program. “Lean concepts can create a more direct route to hiring and, thus, make it less taxing on both parties.”

Here are three ways to improve the candidate experience through Lean thinking.

1. Review your current hiring processes and candidate experience.

Identify each key moment in your organization’s recruitment process, and determine the value that you are trying to provide at each step. You may find areas of waste, such as:

  • Being overwhelmed with sorting resumes and applications;
  • Delays in paperwork approval or interview scheduling;
  • Using too many methods of targeting candidates; or
  • Slow, insufficient HR technology.

When you identify areas of waste, consider how to create a more efficient system. This might include:

  • Automating processes to free up HR staff for other tasks;
  • Eliminating unnecessary employee or candidate data and files;
  • Rearranging office equipment for more streamlined movement; and
  • Cross-training employees in certain tasks to reduce delays if one person is not available.
2. Establish pull, or just-in-time hiring.

In Lean manufacturing, establishing pull, or just-in-time production, ensures that you are not working on unimportant tasks or overstocking products before they are needed. You can translate this to HR by focusing on proactive processes that give you access to high-quality candidates when you need them, rather than accumulating unnecessary data or scrambling to hire a new employee.

In many cases, hiring can be a frantic, reactive response to a sudden need for additional staff. HR must create a list of qualifications and requirements, post job ads, sort through applications, and interview candidates. This can be time-consuming and costly; and does not always yield the best candidate results. Delays and poor communication can frustrate candidates and create a low-value experience.

With a just-in-time hiring process, HR can have a ready list of qualified candidates to pull from when necessary. Direct some HR resources toward high-value activities such as networking, establishing relationships with qualified candidates, and using employee referral programs.

3. Encourage the Lean mindset throughout the organization.

One challenge to implementing Lean is turning it into a permanent mindset. Leadership at all levels should encourage all departments, at every level, to adopt a Lean mindset that is always on the lookout for waste and continual improvement.

Waste often happens with a lack of communication or a mismatch of goals. Make sure that HR maintains communication with other company leadership to keep goals aligned across the organization and encourage adoption of waste-reducing changes.

Consider setting up a feedback process for employees who identify waste and make suggestions for changes. Encouraging employees to be a part of the solution can raise engagement, creating a better work environment that will attract new candidates.

Like any other big workflow change, implementing Lean principles can be hard work. However, creating a more efficient, less wasteful HR process can help reduce costs for your company, focus HR resources where they are most effective, help you find better job candidates, and create a smoother experience for those candidates.

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