By Vic Ing and John Wittine
Water Spider or Mizusumashi is a lean manufacturing term referring to a person in a warehouse or production environment who is tasked with keeping work stations fully stocked with materials, thus controlling the continuous flow of productivity.
It is far more than just a material handler since it requires that the water spider be intimately knowledgeable in all of the processes and materials they are managing. Just like a water spider in real life, they travel from point to point, checking in on every workstation on a regular rotation to ensure production can continue to flow at all times without interruption.
Doesn’t this sound like something every organization– regardless of what type of environment it is– could use? It is also a useful strategy to adopt as part of your company’s talent acquisition strategy.
Help Wanted – Water Spider Needed
When it comes to hiring, who is your company’s water spider? Who is watching for top talent for each of your departments, work cells or divisions? Who is intimately knowledgeable in each of these areas of your company and keeping tabs on the flow of candidates to ensure your next top hire does not end up working for one of your competitors instead.
Yes, you can task your managers within each of these divisions to manage their own recruiting– and most companies do– but is that truly the best strategy? By learning lessons from lean manufacturing and designating a company water spider to seek out and identify top talent puts you a step ahead.
You may be thinking that you don’t have any hiring needs currently and that your team is already top-notch. But you should know better than that from previous experience. You will have hiring needs– and much sooner than you’d like. Who is keeping your company’s name out there? Who is constantly marketing to the labor market your unique company culture and the benefits of being a part of your team?
Staffing Partners can be Water Spiders
Your company water spider doesn’t have to be one of your employees. A trusted third-party recruiter or staffing firm can be an ideal solution. You don’t have to pay them anything to do so. Most recruiters work on a contingency basis rather than take a retainer fee, meaning you only pay when they deliver someone you wish to hire.
Check Your Inventory Regularly
Whether your water spider is a part of your own talent acquisition team or someone outside of your company you have trusted with this task, presenting talent to your managers and supervisors before they even express a staffing need is key. This is why staffing firms and recruiters may be sending you resumes even when you haven’t asked for any. If they are truly a business partner, they are watching for talent even when you aren’t. In fact, the best are typically keeping a bench of workers for each of their business partner’s forecasted (and unforecasted) needs. You would be wise to pay attention. As of the latest U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics data, the average tenure for a worker is currently about 4.6 years. This means you’re replacing your entire workforce every decade. If this is truly the case for your company, it would behoove you to stay ahead of the curve rather than behind it.
Communication is Key
How does a good water spider keep up with the talent market for your company’s specific needs? Some obvious ones are for them to be in constant contact with trade schools, technical schools and local colleges and universities. Most schools carefully track what happens to their graduates after they leave and they want to be able to advertise that they found a great job. Attending local and industry-specific job fairs is another way to keep on the pulse of the top talent market.
Just like a water spider in a manufacturing facility constantly checking on each workstation, so should your hiring water spider. Recruiting is a machine that should constantly be running at all times. It shouldn’t start and stop based on current hiring needs. It’s about repetition and consistency of message.
Staffing agencies get asked often by customers considering them as partners, “how quickly can you bring talent to my door?” Internal recruiters are often asked the same question. The right answer is that a bench should already be built. The “machine” should constantly be onboarding new talent, an Applicant Tracking System (ATS) should always be filled with new applicants. A good water spider should be watching for talent even when everything is “good.”
What is Your Visual Cue on Candidate Inventory?
Manufacturers use visual cues to indicate low stock levels. How do you do this in the recruitment world? In lieu of a visual cue, regular meetings and communication with staffing partners should always be happening whether they are a third-party staffing partner or an internal contact. Again, you may think you’re “good” but that next superstar could be right now looking for a position. Your competition will get them if you don’t. A recruiter “just checking in” is a great thing. Take that opportunity to give them a forecast of what might be happening in the future. It costs you nothing to share what it could mean to your business if that next big account really does come in.
Water Spiders are Always Ready to Supply Talent
The baby boomer generation is aptly named. They are the largest segment of the population, numbering almost 75 million, and most are going to be retired by the year 2030. Many of them have already started retiring. For most manufacturing facilities, these are the senior employees who hold the most intellectual capital, which means they know things no one else knows they even know.
“Bob always did that. I’m not sure how he did it. Where’s Bob now? He’s in Florida on the beach.” These situations are like ticking time bombs. When will they go off? Will they return from their next vacation? What is frustrating to HR managers often is that they see this coming but the day to day demands of operations and shipping product take precedence over planning ahead for these future openings.
A Good Water Spider Checks in With Current Employees Too
A good water spider is constantly monitoring and checking in with not only the managers but also with the employees to understand better their own future plans. Often being in touch with the current workforce is job enough. Keeping in touch with the labor pool and the talent market often requires the assistance of a third-party or outside staffing partner. This can be a staffing agency or an HR consultant or contacts at trade schools, vocational schools, etc. Schools always have graduating students.
Staffing partners are always in touch with the talent market. They want to stay in touch with you for this reason. Why does a recruiter call you when just last week you told them to leave you alone? It’s because they know who’s out there and your next great employee could have just walked in their door. There’s no cost to have an agency looking for talent. Your costs often don’t start until the person starts working. It costs nothing to look at a resume.
The first step to being a leader in acquiring top talent is to identify who your company’s water spider is. There are plenty of options. What are you waiting for?