KMRC Conference Blog: Eva Lo

March 31, 2009

Eva Lo is Director of Knowledge Management at the Langham Place Hotel. She wasn’t at the dinner last night and I haven’t heard her speak before so this will be new. Great opening, next you are around call in, ask for me on the 9th floor and I will buy you a coffee and we will talk KM. Strong on working with people, creating a knowledge sharing culture not people.

A traditional hotel is run like an army with military precision, everyone carries out orders, generals make all the decisions. OK I get the point but just for the record the military does not work like that. Argues that work is too complicated now so that model will not work. People who serve food we call them service attendants we don’t want them to wait (as in waiters), want them to know your name, serve and sell we want their minds as well. Room cleaners are room attendants, they should talk to the desk. Actually they are doing that here in the Excelsior, I am getting on well with the cleaners on the floor, really chatty in a non-intrusive way and as a result I am leaving the room cleaner than normal. Maybe this is a Hong Kong thing? However naming something is not the entirety of change. Claim to be the first hotel to use knowledge as a competitive advantage.

Now listing what they do. Early in the morning they propagate information down the chain. The most senior people come together, then they brief their teams and so on down the chain. Isn’t this a military top down solution (says he tongue firmly in cheek of course). Claims they treat staff as intelligent entrepreneurs which is radical where the education level of most of the staff is low; share business information every quarter. Talks about an idea wall outside the canteen, try and resolve all issues there in 48 hours, or write on the wall who is dealing with it; nice idea that one its physical and interactive and has a response system built in. I will talk about more radical options to suggestion boxes when I close but I like this so far.

Staff surveys are run every six months, not every year and its a huge effort. They set up a hotel function room for people to fill out the form, treat them like guests while they are doing it. Once information is collected and analysed all departments create an action plan cascaded upwards, the discussed and negotiated; again good stuff this but I would like to hear some stories from the staff themselves. Admits that they survey customers to death and are drowning in information which matches my experience. They use the data but I am less sure how they can trust it.

No training department, but philosophy is that all staff are trainers. Training projects are sourced from the person in the hotel who does it best. Example of folding table napkins; turns out a junior waitress does it best so she does the training. Computer training is done by young people, bed sheet folding by the best chambermaid (sorry chamber attendant). I can see that this would work, and would encourage empowerment through action rather than statement. Slogan is Everyone is a trainer and they have run prizes for it which of course helps.

Getting interesting now, cross silo teams are created (nothing novel there) but they are chaired by junior people. Means the junior people have to be confident, senior people have to have courtesy and courage. That forces some interesting things in, breaks up power a bit, some naiveté which is a good thing, reduces entrainment, Would like to observe this over a period of time to see how it works. Curious but cynical (in the true meaning of the word not the popular one) is how I am feeling at the moment.

Finishing off now with some traditional stuff about KPIs and cascading this with monthly review. Seems to think this, plus meetings is novel, but I am less sure. Difference is bottom up meetings feed back into the top, non-hierarchical and people who join from more hierarchical hotels either love it, or leave! Good point this, an open culture is not for all and some people do not like to have their decisions questions, just as others do not like to be required to ask questions.

Finally talking about her KM system based on four stake-holders: Suppliers, Guests, Investors and Colleagues, and four key aspects to what they do: (i) Identify (performance review and analysis) (ii) Capture (innovation collection channel) (iii) Share (knowledge sharing platform) (iv) Apply (Improvement action plans). Again nothing special of itself, but lots of engagement, supplier joint training programmes. Artists in residence programmes for example was suggested by staff, popular with guests as they can see the paintings being created. Staff given budget to create new offerings for the shop and given trust and respect to do it. All good stuff here, but again I really want to hear the stories of the staff themselves. Mind you their Trip Advisor rating looks good and matches their internal material so this may be the real thing.

However, this is the top end of the hotel market with high margins and its in Hong Kong, I wonder how much it transfers? However this was a good talk. When I saw it on the programme I was dreading it, the normal local presentation of some idealistic solution which is never up to the overall quality of the conference as a whole. However this is an exception, and exceptional; I learnt a lot and I want to know more. For a conference cynic like me that is high praise indeed.

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