Recruitment has always been a good indicator of how the wider economy is faring. Since the global downturn, many recruitment companies have been squeezed. The rise of Internet-based recruitment, including social media tools, has added to their problems. Employers are watching their costs and they understand the alternative routes to new employees. As a result, recruitment companies need to up their game.

The entire recruitment industry is built around people, and that means a commitment to excellent customer service is central to success. Despite this necessity, many recruitment organizations are not focused on process effectiveness and do not understand how it directly impacts the customer experience.

Established in 1997, First Recruitment Group, a technical and commercial recruitment firm, has experienced growth in the United Kingdom and with their recent overseas expansion. Constantly striving to innovate, the firm recognized the opportunity and competitive advantage to be gained from adopting Six Sigma into the business.

Embracing Business Improvement in the Company’s Culture

In order to maintain and build upon its success, First Recruitment Group identified that they needed to transform their business model in order to respond to changing market conditions and client expectations. This included implementing radical changes to the end-to-end recruitment process so that staff could react more effectively and more quickly to increasingly prescriptive client requirements. The senior management team decided to initiate a business improvement program in partnership with a consulting firm, which ran a series of interactive workshops and guided the team. As an indication of how seriously First Recruitment Group took the program and the company’s commitment to it, all of the key internal stakeholders participated, including the managing director and four departmental managers.

The focus of the improvement program was to ‘keep it simple’ so that everyone in the company could understand the program and – more importantly – buy in to it. It also had to give the team the skills to effectively collect and measure data, as well as learn how to use data to influence business performance.

Implementing the DMAIC Model

The team began a DMAIC (Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, Control) project to improve the recruitment process in the workshops. During the Define stage, they quickly realized that not everyone was in agreement about who was actually the customer. Some team members identified the vacancy candidates as being the customer rather than the actual paying client. The first workshop focused on ensuring everyone understood who the ‘real’ customer was and what they wanted. The voice of the customer technique was used and supported by analysis of client feedback. From listening to the voice of the customer, a list of critical-to-quality components (CTQs) could be measured, which confirmed a number of existing measures but also introduced a new measures, including “how much it costs to not fill a vacancy.” The Kano model also was adopted in order to better understand performance and customer delighters.

After identifying and selecting a number of measures, the team developed a data collection plan during the Measure phase. It focused on the overall effectiveness of the entire recruitment process, as opposed to the previous approach of rewarding the number of calls or time to send out CVs.

During the Analyze phase, client histories were reviewed to identify who were the best customers. The team also analyzed market sectors to identify where First Recruitment Group performed best. In addition, an exercise was conducted to map the actual recruitment process. This involved following a client vacancy request through the recruitment process to the point a candidate was offered a job.

Multi-variable analysis techniques demonstrated there was a correlation between the number of candidates being placed and a low number of CVs being sent to the client. This indicated that greater time spent on the quality of the candidates directly increased the likelihood of First Recruitment Group successfully placing their candidate. This evidence demonstrated to the team that when it comes to getting a result, it is quality that really matters and the scattergun approach to sending out CVs has limited success.

First Recruitment Group implemented a number of key business changes during the Improve phase. They identified a stream of non-value-adding activities by applying service industry wastes – duplication, delay, unnecessary movement, poor communications and errors. They also used process mapping techniques to show the value stream – it mapped what was really going on, how long each activity took and identified waste.

One of the activities carried out by First Recruitment Group was the coding of new candidate details or categorizations (e.g. discipline, geography, qualifications) on their database. The team questioned the value of this activity to clients. It was identified there was considerable variation in the quality of coding between candidates by staff. The candidate database had the facility to search only on keywords and use Boolean logic to rank candidates on keyword and search relevance. Using a multi-variable analysis software tool, they were able to determine the effectiveness of the database by analyzing how successful codes were applied to nearly 70,000 candidates. The results demonstrated that the coding system was applied inconsistently by staff. Therefore, the team decided to begin using one simple code and rely more on keyword searches.

The team also questioned the added value of formatting every candidate’s CV. This was a legacy activity left over from when most candidates did not have access to word processors. They concluded that this activity was redundant and by removing it from the process they shaved off five minutes per CV handled. Because First Recruitment Group handles and processes nearly 17,000 CVs every year, this equated to more than 1,400 man-hours saved.

An analysis also was carried out on how many CVs a client would read through and evaluate before selecting candidates (this included CVs submitted by competitors). The team estimated how much time a client wastes reviewing CVs. One of the main problems clients had was the variation in the quality of candidate specifications. Consequently, First Recruitment Group developed a client specification checklist to standardize and set minimum candidate search requirements for all of their staff to follow.

The team used visual management techniques to help develop these consistent client specifications. This solution saved the client time because it included a candidate summary that showed at a glance that a specification had been met. In addition, First Recruitment Group focused on only sending out a maximum of three, high-quality CVs to clients.

To support the Control phase, the company developed an intranet-based dashboard. It is available to all First Recruitment Group employees and measures in real time the effectiveness of the recruitment process. The dashboard takes the status from jobs and creates a number of key ratios throughout the process indicating overall recruitment process performance on a single placement and overall department level. It automatically updates as a job progresses through the process. The dashboard also uses visual management to flag problems to the team.

Focus Leads to Success

As a direct result of the program, First Recruitment Group achieved a 60 percent reduction in the recruitment process time. They implemented a cultural change in their approach to quality – employees now better understand client needs and satisfiers. Every team member knows the importance of identifying their best clients and focusing on them, while the wider organization now understands how to use data and its importance for improving performance. The table below is an example of how by providing teams with indicators (in this case the Electrical and Instrumentation department) allowed them to focus on quality and change their performance:

Recruitment Measures for Electrical and Instrumentation Department

Quality Indicators June 2010 January 2011
CVs sent per vacancy available 5.9 : 1 1.5 : 1
CVs sent per candidate interviewed 9.2 : 1 4.5 : 1
CVs sent per candidate placed 20.2 : 1 5.5 : 1

Path to Recovery

While economies around the world have started to recover, the pressure is still on the recruitment industry. Unemployment levels are expected to remain high until well into 2011 and employers are continuing to look for ways to cut costs. The seven point plan developed by First Recruitment Group can help companies to stay ahead of the competition in the months ahead:

  1. Identify the customer(s)
  2. Determine the voice of the customer
  3. Identify CTQ parameters
  4. Determine CTQ measurements
  5. Map key processes to find opportunities to improve
  6. Develop a value stream map identifying value-added and non-value-added activities
  7. Continually focus on performance
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