It's easy to criticize, bloveate, and pontificate. That wouldn't be possible without the sacrifice of so many with such incredible courage. Thank you.
By Kevin Meyer
I often talk about how "respect for people" is the oft-forgotten second pillar of lean – and how lean fails when that concept isn't embraced. Now we have another example of the power of people.
Four Seasons has long been my favorite hotel chain. Often not affordable or appropriate when I simply need a bed on a quick trip, but when I need a little datsuzoku it's where I try to escape to. My two favorites are their Hawaii (Big Island) and Hong Kong hotels. The service is unbelievable – and damn near psychic if you ask me. Now an article in their magazine explains why and how – and their method for hiring such exemplary team members.
“We’ve identified that our key competitive difference is our people,” says Annabell Shaw, Hotel Manager at Four Seasons Hotel London at Park Lane. “We spend a great deal of time finding the right people and making sure they’re equipped to give our guests an excellent experience.”
How do they do that?
Since the company was founded in 1961, the heart of Four Seasons culture has been the Golden Rule, the belief in treating other people the way you’d like to be treated yourself. To identify candidates possessing this quality, Four Seasons makes hiring choices based on personality. In fact, attitude takes precedence over skill sets.
As part of the standard screening process, every prospective employee is interviewed by up to four Four Seasons executives, including the Hotel’s General Manager. Questions focus on the essential character attributes of the Golden Rule, seeking individuals who are warm and caring, ethical and well-intentioned.
Attitude over skills. I know several manufacturers that hire for attitude – and creativity – over basic skills. The GM interviews hundreds – sometimes even thousands if it's for a new hotel like the one described in the article. Do the executives at your operation do that? Think about how it ensures the right culture, the right attitude – as well as showing the prospective employee the importance that management places on those attributes.
But that's not all. The article goes on to describe the importance of standard work – standardization as a baseline that is continually improved.
All new staff are instructed on “core standards,” including step-by-step procedures on everything from how to make a bed to how to serve a bottle of wine. Far from feeling like strict rules, these standards are seen as guidelines in the art of doing each small thing very well. They’re a proven way to demonstrate quality and caring.
At the same time, all staff are encouraged to be perceptive about each guest’s individual preferences—and to anticipate any possible requests. That might mean a housekeeper noticing that you prefer to sleep on the left side of the bed, so your slippers are placed there the next night. Perhaps, you like to leave the cap off your toothpaste. Or that you always eat apples but never touch bananas. The next day, you might get more apples!
There's real employee empowerment. Not "you're empowered, but don't cost us anything."
When the opportunity arises, staff are empowered to go beyond the call of duty and make independent decisions to assist guests—whether that means offering the house car for the drive to an important meeting, replacing a missing button on your jacket or giving your child a teddy bear.
It all boils down to respect.
Four Seasons regularly appears on Fortune magazine’s list of the 100 best companies to work for in the United States, and the company is known to treat employees with the same level of respect that they in turn are expected to give their guests.
There are daily staff meetings with the General Manager to discuss any issues from the day before. That’s when many new ideas emerge. In fact, the majority of innovation comes directly from employees, ranging from improving energy efficiency to new ways for removing wrinkles from a duvet cover. Staff always feel supported by management. And when they feel good about their jobs, they’re happy to share those good feelings with guests.
Daily meetings, embracing suggestions from the team, treating team members like you want to be treated – and how you want your customers to be treated.
Don't forget the second pillar.
By Kevin Meyer
Somehow I got roped into watching another mind-numbing show on TV… Extreme Couponing on TLC. How and why? If you're a married dude you probably understand. I was about to poke a stick in my eye when my lean lobe began to quiver – something just wasn't right, and there was a lesson in the madness.
Those of you who didn't have the pleasure to watch the show can probably figure out the premise. People with far too much time on their hands buy massive amounts of groceries, use massive numbers of coupons, and somehow get everything practically free. It is impressive – $638 worth of food for $2.64 in one case.
But it comes at a cost – an extreme cost – and one that is apparently hidden to these nincompoops.
First off they spend hours and hours researching deals. Then they spend hours and hours finding coupons – sometimes via dumpster diving or even paying a clipping service. Then they spend hours and hours making planning their attack on the innocent local supermarket. Then they execute – taking hours to find everything and check out – disrupting the store's inventory and a bunch of people's time. Finally they lug everything back home and find a place to store it.
And store they do. In almost all cases they had rooms and garages and such filled with groceries. Shelf after shelf. Meticulously organized, everything in reverse order of purchase or expiration. Everything their family needed for years… and years… and years. 150 years in one case.
150 years? Yes.
So explain that savings to me again. Tens if not hundreds of hours of time researching, clipping, executing, organizing. I don't know about you, but I do have place a financial value on my time, and it is far greater than "free." Hundreds of square feet of storage space. Expiring groceries that have to be thrown away. A decade or even century of extra inventory that will never be used, although a couple of them are actively thinking of how they have added their stash to their wills. Lucky kids. I hope Old Spice is still trendy in the 2060's. Maybe it will come back in style. Again.
Savings? Sorry, I think my wife and I come out ahead by going out to eat every night at one of our three or four favorite local restaurants. Nice places, not Subway or Big Boy. Usually a grilled local fish and glass of wine for me, a bowl of soup and salad and martini for the wife. We spend no time shopping, no time prepping, no time cleaning. And we get some nice relaxed conversation and great food prepared by pros who know us by name. Plus we have a lot of storage space we don't need. In fact just this past weekend we gave the Food Bank two more bags of canned goods from our pantry that haven't been opened in years – since our latest attempt at cooking. Which lasted about two days. Cupboards and pantry are bare. Maybe we can rent them out to these extreme couponers.
Sure it costs money, but my time is freed up and there's value to me in saved time, reconnecting conversation, great food, and a perpetually clean kitchen.
However I do need to say a couple of the people profiled in the show do have worthy goals. One really did just buy what she needed, and didn't maintain a massive inventory. Another bought hundreds of boxes of cereal – for a couple bucks after the coupons – and gave them to his church's food bank.
Good for them. But I'll still stick with seared ahi tataki at Giancarlos, mahi mahi with mango salsa at The Galley, or the cedar plank salmon at Windows. Thank you.
By Kevin Meyer
A few days ago I told you the remarkable story of Bangkok Airways, which I encountered while on my recent three week vacation to Thailand, Cambodia, and Hong Kong. Today I have another – and I apologize if you're eating breakfast.
So that's one of the stalls at the public market in Siem Reap, Cambodia. There are many more like it, as well as others selling everything from clothes to toys to pharmaceuticals. It really didn't surprise me as I've visited Asia many times and also spent nearly ten years in South America – open meat markets are common. But my lean-infused mind posed a question and observation:
1. Is refrigeration a waste? These types of markets are everywhere outside of the highly-developed countries and there isn't mass death and contamination occuring. How much do we spend on refrigerating (and cleaning?) every tiny piece of meat? I know up until a couple years ago I believed eggs had to be refrigerated – until I learned from a guy at work who raised chickens that they'll keep just fine on the counter. Where is the line between excessive, wasteful refrigeration and cleaning and necessary hygiene and sanitation? Beats me – I'm not an expert. But what if we've gone too far and we're wasting resources as an "evolved" society?
2. Notice the subtle visual management. All the parts of the pig are laid out exactly where they would be on the pig. If you want a snout you know where to go. Hooves, pigs knuckles, ribs, loins, even back to the tail which I hear is a potato chip like delicacy when fried. How often have we gone to the store with everything nicely pre-packaged asking "what the heck part of the animal is that?" Not here. You know what you're getting – and perhaps you can even gauge the relative quality by looking at other parts – or the expression on the beast's face. I saw the same visual layout with chicken parts, cows, large fish, you name it.
Here's one more photo of a relatively new building near the Grand Palace in Bangkok:
Perhaps a little hard to tell, but there's an identical air conditioning unit in every single little office. Hundreds of them (it's a large building). I saw similar examples with large apartment buildings.
Is central air a waste? Sure there's some production efficiency in large-scale utilities – wait did I just say that? But how much of that efficiency is wasted when it is delivered to areas that don't necessarily need it. Would smaller units that can be easily turned off create greater aggregate system efficiency? Aggregate "actual in use" efficiency vs. the "large scale production efficiency"? It's the same issue that electric cars and makers of single-home power plants (solar, geo, etc) are wrestling with.
Just some thoughts for your Friday morning. Have some bacon for breakfast!
By Kevin Meyer
I apologize for posts being few and far between – my wife and I were wandering around and exploring Thailand, Cambodia, and Hong Kong for the past three weeks. For me it was a time for datsuzoku and hansei leading to personal hoshin – a break from the routine to recenter, restore, restimulate, reflect and plan for the future. To top things off I just took the iPad and not a laptop so that I could stay in touch with necessary business issues but wouldn't get sucked into life as usual.
Today I'll start with the remarkable Bangkok Airways.
When I was planning this trip I decided I wanted to see a few different spots in Thailand, then pop over to Cambodia to visit the largest (past and present) religious complex in the world at Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom, before ending in Hong Kong with their incredible New Year's fireworks. The trick was to do this with the least amount of flying and obviously at the lowest cost – two components of value. I soon found the easiest approach would be to center most of the trip around the Bangkok airport, from which I had two primary options to pull off my requirements: Thai Airways or Bangkok Airways. Both had nearly identical convenient flight options.
Thai Airways is part of Star Alliance, which I am golden handcuffed to thanks to most of my flying being on United. I could earn more miles, play in their lounges, and probably be upgraded.
And then there was Bangkok Airways. Bangkok who? That's what I said too. Their advantage was that they were less than half the cost of Thai on each of every segment, and that added up. Big time. Each flight segment was less than an hour and I felt I could tolerate even really crummy service and equipment for a short time, so what the heck – I booked Bangkok Air and crossed my fingers.
For the first flight we arrived at the Bangkok airport and found the Bangkok Air counter. No lines. Uh oh – so people probably know something I don't know and avoid the airline, right? Can't be good. But then a smiling service agent processed our check-in in under 30 seconds, which included offering to change our seats to an exit row. The flight was full (really? where's the line?) but a cancellation had just opened up the exit row.
He then pointed out the lounge that every passenger could use. Yes you read that right – they have a nice dedicated lounge, perhaps not as plush as a Red Carpet Club, but still with free drinks, snacks, nice ambiance, and entertainment – for everyone. Keep in mind their prices are half of their competition.
About a half hour before the flight was to leave we went to the gate expecting to start the boarding process. No plane, quite a few people waiting. Here we go… the reason they're cheap. 25 minutes prior… 20, 15. Aha – the plane! Off come the previous passengers, then the doors open and we're ushered on. Not by section or row – a free for all. We'll be lucky to get out of there in an hour.
But no. In 10 minutes we were all boarded, settled in, and the plane left the gate 5 minutes early. Not just any plane – a fairly new, spotless, brightly-colored, A320.
It then happened the same way on each of the four other short hops we took with Bangkok Airways. No lines, nice lounge, last minute incoming arrival, rapid boarding, but leaving a couple minutes early.
Want to know something else? There was a full meal service to everyone on the A320 – not just on the 45 minute flights between Bangkok to Phuket, but also on the 35 minute flights between Bangkok and Siem Reap. Yes, an entire A320 served drinks and a meal, given time to eat, then cleaned up – in 35 minutes.
How do they do this? People. It took me a while to figure it out as I struggled to understand the differences between United and Bangkok Airways.
When you board on United it's by status and then section number, but it still results in a hoard of people trying to figure out where their seats are and stow unwieldy luggage. It takes nearly every bit of 30 minutes to complete the process, it feels rushed, and they are a lot of "please, please take your seat!" announcements. United will only serve a meal in economy if the flight's more than a couple hours long, and then it is basically a boxed lunch thrown at you while the two or three flight attendants walk down the aisle.
When you board on Bangkok Airways it's a free for all – but there are two or three or four extra flight attendants on board. They are focused on getting everyone to their seat – fast – and actually helping with luggage. Each flight attendant has a section of the plane, and in a daisy chain fashion they coordinate with each other to rapidly move passengers to the right section. Boarding of 100+ passengers was accomplished in under 10 minutes, and we did not feel the slightest bit rushed.
If you are in an emergency exit row they come by and with a very serious look on their faces point out the door mechanisms, instructional sheets, and ask you to be "their partner in case of of emergency." For the first time I took out the card and read it. They engaged me and encouraged me to own that partnership.
The number of flight attendants also helped with the meal service, which again was a highly-coordinated affair between drinks and meal trays. They even pulled off the special vegetarian meals for us. Within 30 seconds after takeoff they were already on the move so the instant we started to level out a tray was appearing in front of us. A tray with four separate dishes – not everything crammed into a box. Even rather tasty. Half an hour later, not feeling rushed, it was picked up and the plane landed a minute or two later.
This happened every time, exactly the same way. Standard work.
So yes I'm sure flight attendants "cost" less in southeast Asia than they do in the U.S., but what is the value? They turn their planes more often and the schedule appears very reliable, passengers get a decent meal on even 35 minute flights, planes are clean, there are no lengthy check-in lines, and there's a nice quiet lounge – for everyone. For half the price of Thai Airways, let alone comparable United flights.
That's why when I have a choice, which will unfortunately not be too often, I'll choose Bangkok Airways from now on.
That's value – to me, and also to Bangkok Airways.
By Kevin Meyer
And here I thought large-scale central planning was thrown out with the remnants of the old Soviet Union. Lean folks know that effective capacity is tied to demand, not to whatever the man behind the magic curtain (uh… running SAP?) believes it should be. Apparently the Chinese haven't learned that lesson.
Business Insider has a fascinating peek at the ghost cities of China. City after city – very modern and looking quite livable… sitting empty. Even a university built to hold over two million students (yes you read that right)… with eleven thousand enrolled.
The cost must be incredible.
Demand-based construction, anyone?