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The Interviewer’s Guide to Hiring for a Kaizen Culture

Posted by Jeff Roussel

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Jun 16, 2020 9:30:00 AM

Two young businesswomen having a meeting in the office sitting at a desk having a discussion with focus to a young woman wearing glassesOrganizations that practice kaizen work hard to maintain a culture centered around continuous improvement. The best defense against push back and poor engagement is hiring only those employees who are likely to thrive in a culture of positive change.

Ideally, the conversation about continuous improvement will begin the moment a candidate is considered. Talking about the principles of kaizen during the interview will show the potential hire how important it is to the organization. The right questions can help you identify those who will do well in your organization and those who should look elsewhere.

Here are a few questions that will give you insight into how the candidate thinks.

Should employees trust the processes and procedures are in place for a reason, or is it OK to question whether there might be a better way?

This question will give you insight into how the potential employee thinks about roles and responsibilities. People who are reluctant to question the status quo might not be well suited to an organization that relies on employee input for continuous improvement. Of course, other employers may have tainted the candidate's view, so you might have to pull on the threads a bit to find their honest opinion.

What is the most innovative suggestion you’ve made for improving the results of your work? Was your proposal implemented?

This is a great opportunity for the candidate to impress you with their creativity and initiative. Even if the previous employer failed to head the suggestion, it will tell you a lot about how they think. You can also explore how the employee felt to be part of an organization that did or did not act on employee ideas for improvement.

What is the most useful feedback you’ve ever received from a manager or leader?

This question sets up a good conversation about how the candidate receives coaching and advice. You can learn more about whether they are open to constructive criticism or whether they villainize anyone who tries to give feedback. The type of feedback they received will also be instructive about what kind of employee they have been.

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What is your approach to problem-solving when faced with a difficult challenge?

Don’t expect every candidate to respond with A3s or the DMAIC cycle, but this question can help you learn more about how your potential team member thinks. Look for people who start by gathering data to understand the root cause of the problem, collaborate with others about potential solutions, and experiment until a successful change is implemented. Ideally, they will have some examples to share.

Are you familiar with the concepts of kaizen and continuous improvement?

We are not suggesting that you disqualify someone who has not had CI training or that you automatically favor someone who has. The point of the question is to explore what they might have already learned and to give them the opportunity to show interest if they are unfamiliar. You can explain why these concepts are important to the organization and how they inform the culture. Any candidate who has never heard of kaizen during the first interview but learns more about it before the second should get a few bonus points.

Describe a time you made a mistake at work and what you did to correct it.

The point of this question is to explore the candidate’s feelings and reaction to failure. Are they willing to discuss something that went wrong, or are they more focused on appearing flawless? The details of the mistake are not important. What matters is how they took corrective action and demonstrated that they learned from the problem and took steps to make sure it didn’t recur.

Have you worked with a cross-functional team to solve a problem?

Collaboration is at the heart of kaizen, so a discussion about teamwork is certainly in order. Dig into how the team was managed, what role your candidate took in the effort, and how they felt about sharing responsibility.


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What were the most important goals of your last (or current) organization?

Obviously, you aren’t judging your potential employee on the prior organization’s strategic goals, but this question will let you know whether or not the top-down objectives mattered to your candidate. You can start a conversation about strategic alignment and how it is a priority in your organization.

What could we do to improve the hiring process that you’ve experienced so far?

We love this question for three reasons. First, you might learn something about how to make the process better for future candidates. Next, it is a clear signal that you are serious about always seeking to improve. Finally, you’ll learn how comfortable the employee is with providing feedback.

None of these questions are binary with a right or wrong answer. What they do is frame the conversation around improvement and help you learn more about how the candidate thinks. With these and the appropriate follow-up questions, you’ll get a better sense of whether this person would add to your kaizen culture or detract from it.

Topics: Kaizen, Improvement Culture

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