Recruiting Operations and a Taco Bell Lesson…

Confession time at FOT. One of the dark secrets I carry from my college days is that I had an unhealthy relationship with… Taco Bell. I’m not proud, but there it is. I ran “for the Border” more than I (or at the time, my expanding waistline) would care to admit. What can I say? At 2 am, I liked a good taco supreme. Or three.

Now older, grayer and with a slower metabolism, I realize a few things. First, 88% beef tacos are freaky, no matter what the Border’s lawyers say. Second, and what I want to write about today: Taco Bell made getting those 88% beef-filled tacos crazy easy.

Here’s what I m talking about: Pull in to the drive thru, order a ton of grub, pay $3.87 for the bag and you’re done—the beauty of the late night food run existed because Taco Bell designed and executed a process that got cheap food in my belly fast, and that made a difference to me.

Apparently, it makes a difference to others, as well. BusinessWeek wrote about how process improvements play a huge part in the strategy at Taco Bell:

It’s as if the great advances of human civilization, in everything from animal husbandry to mathematics to architecture to manufacturing to information technology, have all crescendoed with the Crunchwrap Supreme, delivered via the pick-up window.

“The most advanced operational thinking in the world is going on in the back of a QSR,” (Quick Serve Restaurant) says Mike Watson, a former senior vice-president for operations at Wendy’s…The big brands spend hundreds of millions and devote as much time to finding ways to shave seconds in the kitchen and drive-thru as they do coming up with new menu items. “The majority of the business now happens around the back of the building,” says Blair Chancey, editor of QSR magazine. “So much money and R&D go into perfecting the production system because there is so much money to be had.”

I find this fascinating—they would rather improve back of house processes than introduce a new product. They don’t focus on mission statements and flowery strategies—they focus on wrapping the bean burrito as quickly and accurately as possible.

And that, folks, is the great lesson. Talent acquisition teams need people who can analyze a process and make it great. Résumé black holes, bad candidate experiences and applicant frustration are either caused by deficiencies in the process or deficiencies in the people managing the process. I want to assume it’s a process design issue, and that it can be fixed. Getting processes great is not “too tactical.”

I am not saying that you need to process engineer to the Taco Bell level (average drive thru customer interaction: 164 seconds, each of them under a microscope), but recruiting teams should focus on enhancing their core systems. We cannot discuss talent acquisition strategy if the operational side of the house is a mess.

Taco Bell pushes dollars toward “perfecting the production system because there is so much money to be had.” That, folks, is a nice reminder to stay grounded and make sure the operational side of the house is tight.

FOT Background Check

RJ Morris
R. J. Morris is based in the STL as the Director of Talent Acquisition and Management for McCarthy Building Companies, a multi-billion dollar national firm. Like many others in the FOT clan, he’s a sports nut who can endlessly draw the parallels between athletes, sports and the talent management game. I know, I know, as if we needed more of that. He has 10 years of practitioner experience leading talent efforts in corporate HR and another 7 years in leadership roles on the agency side, so he gets both sides of the desk. Talk to R.J. via emailLinkedInTwitter...


  1. Tom Logue says:

    Good focus on process. I was at a software conference a couple weeks ago talking with a guy who consults with organizations across the world on process and learning. He said he was recently in China helping the govt tackle the need for increasing cardiology care (thanks to junk food and urban lifestyles). They have plenty of people to throw at a problem but don’t want to take the 7-8 years needed to train a cardiologist. So they broke it down into processes… a stentologist, for example. You can train a group of 5 people to be one “cardiologist equivalent” in 2 years. Go China!

  2. Steve Boese says:

    Like the Taco Bell story, RJ. The other item that it highlights is the importance of a deep understanding and application of operational analytics to know that shaving a few seconds off of order fulfillment times will translate into increased revenue, and that compared to other areas (like store design, product, marketing, etc.), how these process improvements drive revenue comparatively. Pretty much every sub-function in a process can be improved somehow, the trick is to know where your efforts will yield the most results.

  3. Excellent article, with lessons for everyone in the food chain (pardon the pun – couldn’t resist) in recruiting and HR. That first impression, and every other impression in the dating process of recruiting is really critical to the successful engagement of the new employee. And many companies don’t even think about this, at any level, let alone where the magic happens with the direct 1:1 contact with the recruiter.

  4. What a great article. I can’t tell you how spot-on this sentence is and how much I want to tape this up somewhere (although out of context it would just look like I really enjoy bean burritos)”They don’t focus on mission statements and flowery strategies—they focus on wrapping the bean burrito as quickly and accurately as possible.”
    And to be frank, there aren’t a lot of places that wrap the bean burrito quite as well as they could. Not that I’m saying it’s easy – but focusing on how we can make small, strategic moves to improve the process could yield big results when it comes to acquiring and keeping good talent.
    – Stefanie

  5. Leilani Ho says:

    This is a great piece and I completely agree! The need to develop a timely and efficient process for both the HR team and candidate is a necessity for all organizations. Today it is all about instant gratification and expecting quality.
    With that in mind many organizations are turning to video interviewing as a solution. Users of video interviewing have come to realize that video interviewing saves time to hire, reduced travel costs, and increased quality of hire.
    Over the past 12 months organizations using video interviewing have met 85% of their hiring goals vs. the 66% of hiring goals achieved without video interviewing.
    For more information about the benefits of video interview from The Aberdeen Group:

  6. Mike says:

    I like the focus on operations, RJ. While it can obviously extend to all aspects of Talent Aquisition, I wonder how many recruiting departments have really taken a good hard look at their processes for sending jobs to search? Ask many managers to tell you the total costs of using headhunters, and the knee jerk response is to quote the fees (“Hurray, we cut headhunting fees by 25% this year!”). The reality is that fees are really just the “front of the house” way of measuring the costs of search. The REAL savings are in having a great process: improving time to fill, consistently evaluating your best vendors, streamlining contracts and payments, etc.

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