by Sunil Kumar V Kaushik
Sunil Kumar V Kaushik is a freelance Six Sigma trainer and consultant who is also an ASQ Influential Voices author. Hired by a major hotel chain in India to train its senior management on Six Sigma practices, Kaushik was retained to complete a process improvement project in September 2013 for the chain, which operates in 16 countries and employs more than 9,000 individuals.
The director of the Bangalore branch, who was also the project sponsor, shared that for the previous year, the company had experienced a large spike in customer escalations due to numerous mistakes from the staff. Kaushik gathered a sample of the mistakes through interviews and analyzed the details to learn they were all linked to not following the process.
For example, when a family came to the restaurant with kids, staff members did not ask if the parents required special seating for their infant children, and if the customers requested one, the employees did not put in effort to finding one, or bluntly would tell the family they did not have one. Also, several customers had to repeatedly request water that was not served on time, and even some regular guests requested specific tables to avoid certain employees whom they thought provided poor service.
Kaushik felt it difficult to put in place a process to fix these issues, as they all involved human interactions and the only measure could have been to learn how much effort the staff had made to please the customer. When he looked at the tenure of the staff to validate if there were needs for additional training, 64 percent of the employees were on the job for less than one year, while 20 percent were less than two years, and only 17 percent had been working for the company for more than two years.
It became increasingly clear that training, or lack thereof, was at the root of the problem due to a large population of relatively new staff members coming in contact with customers.
-Muri, a Japanese term that means stress, exists throughout organizations, and the elimination of it plays a crucial role in its growth and sustainability.
-While the hotel industry is growing at a very fast rate in India and other parts of the world, attrition has become a very big problem, one of the primary reasons being work stress.
-This case study discusses the techniques that were used to understand the root causes of stress, to quantify it, and arrive at solutions for a popular Indian hotel chain that will remain anonymous.
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The sponsor agreed with Kaushik’s findings, confirming that retraining should be provided on a regular basis. The training’s duration varied from 10 days to four weeks depending on the role, and it took an employee approximately six months to comfortably learn everything and be able to work independently. The change, though, was not of much use, as the trained employees would usually quit within a year, and then the cycle would begin again. Kaushik understood the problem’s root cause was due to attrition, which was hovering at 41 percent.
To further investigate the issue, senior stakeholders participated in a brainstorming session—a task many of the leaders expected to use to devise solutions such as automation or mistake proofing to reduce mistakes. But such moves were not likely since this was the hotel industry, which requires human interaction with customers, and leaders soon agreed that if the attrition was decreased to more reasonable levels, there would be multiple benefits, such as an increase in customer satisfaction and reductions in cycle times and hiring and training costs. But first, to rule out the monetary benefit factor, which is one of the common causes for attrition, a benchmark study was completed—salaries were on the same lines with competitors.
To learn more from the employees, Kaushik conducted one-on-one interviews with a small group spread across different departments, tenures, and levels within the organization. He found it difficult to earn their trust, allowing them to openly and truthfully provide information. The employees all said they were happy to be part of the company, but they did not answer why so many people quit. Many were scared to say anything ill of their managers or the working environment, forcing Kaushik to dig much deeper in search of answers, which were still insufficient.
The project’s sponsor was informed of the difficulties and convinced that without the support of the front-line employees, no impactful change could be brought to the organization. The leaders began addressing the groups in person regarding the importance of knowing their problems with a clear emphasis that improvement would be impossible unless the employees shared the real cause(s) of the high attrition rate. This led to the first-ever meeting between front-line staff and senior leadership.
Following the meeting, employees were handed a satisfaction survey containing 30 questions—a questionnaire that would guarantee anonymity to spark honest conversation of the real issues present hindering positive growth. In total, 226 frontline employees—including those in the food and beverage, and room-service fields—provided answers to the questions.
The leaders thanked the employees for the feedback, saying they were unaware of the issues. Randomly, employees were handpicked at all the levels for focus group sessions, and this time, they were more vocal about the issues. The feedback included 73 percent of the participants saying they had issues with self-respect, including the general manager (GM) who complained that he was often treated like a servant when greeting top entrepreneurs, ministers, and other VIPs at the hotel. He said it was very easy for him to lose his dignity.
Upon learning more of the GM’s background, including that he had changed jobs three times in two years, Kaushik was curious to know the reason why. The manager told Kaushik that he had been in the hotel industry for years as a GM and could not handle stress. He then moved to a service organization as a vice president, where the culture was vastly different. The GM said in the service organization, he didn’t have anyone to make him his coffee or turn on his computer, unlike in the hotel industry, and he felt he had lost his authority, so he moved back to the hotel industry within six months. Hearing this and other feedback, Kaushik learned that:
Based on the survey response, it became evident the company was in a bad spot. The problem was difficult for Kaushik to approach because it was completely related to people, stress management, and interpersonal skills. To further illustrate the causes and effects for the muri in the organization, the survey’s findings, employee interviews, and lessons learned from brainstorming sessions were mapped to an Ishikawa diagram, which can be seen in Figure 1.
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Sunil Kaushik, PMP, SPSM, CPSCM, ASQ Certified Six Sigma Black Belt (CSSBB), is a freelance Six Sigma trainer and consultant. Also an ASQ Influential Voices author, Kaushik blogs at www.trainntrot.com. He is getting set for an around-the-world bicycle tour to promote sustainable quality.
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