Vol. 11, No. 8
August 2009
PQ Systems
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Six Sigma and more:
‘Hire good people and treat them
like family’

Carole and I love the Caribbean! When you live in Michigan, you have a compelling urge to go south in the winter. Last year we wanted to get away, but, like many of us recently, needed a bargain. We found Sunshine Suites on Grand Cayman. We may have been so pleasantly surprised because we knew it was not on the beach and because the price was so low. Were we pleasantly surprised!

We found a small, spotlessly clean motel. They are called resorts in the islands. The employees fell all over themselves to be helpful. Our room was ready, beyond our expectations in terms of amenities, and immaculate. The restaurant was modest and informal. We could eat inside or outside. The food was delicious! It was so good that we ate there most evenings, when our habit is generally to eat somewhere new for every dinner. It seemed to me that the quality of Sunshine Suites was worth studying. When I saw the manager wandering around, I got my chance.

Greg Wray is the manager. Much of the quality of Sunshine Suites is, I suspect, a result of Greg’s management and leadership, but as the story unfolds, it is apparent that it is more than that. Greg has managed the resort for only 2 years, but has been part of the group of 23 investors who have owned the property for a longer period of time. He has been in the hotel business for nearly 30 years. Greg has been doing Christian mission work, when he has been able get away from his job, for much of the last 14 years. I tell you that because I believe being in touch with a larger calling is part of what makes an admirable leader.

Now, on to Sunshine Suites. Sunshine Suites is, as you may have already suspected, a privately held company. It started in 1999. It was leveled by Hurricane Ivan in 2004 and completely rebuilt. According to Greg, Sunshine Suites has the best financial performance and the highest occupancy rate on the island every year. Although Sunshine Suites is not a Six Sigma organization, its management system can provide a few tips for those of us who do Six Sigma.

Greg likes to say the “Guests are here to be served.” Although I did not find that message written anywhere, it is a fundamental part of the culture of Sunshine Suites. No matter what we wanted or which staff member we encountered, they were always helpful and friendly. I’m reminded of our friend and colleague, Jamshid Gharajedaghi, who likes to say “The difference which makes no difference makes no difference.” Sometimes in our Six Sigma passion to reduce variation, we forget to focus on variation that makes a difference to our customers.

Another likely reason for Sunshine’s high occupancy rate is that 60% of their guests are corporate clients. Given the commercial nature of Grand Cayman, one local staff member is responsible just to make connections with businesses on the island. In this international world of business, we sometimes forget to connect with our neighbors. They usually want us to succeed.

I love two phrases Greg uses regarding how Sunshine Suites is organized. “Find the right people and treat them like family,” and “The one closest to the broom sweeps.” The company has loaned employees money, given them money, and bought them cars when they need help. After Hurricane Ivan, all the employees were kept on the payroll to help rebuild the resort. Finding and employing the right people in a global environment, however, provides special challenges. Greg told me that, from time to time, the cultural differences among an international staff cause misunderstandings. Sensitivity to and resolution of these misunderstandings is high on the order of management’s responsibilities.

Being close to the broom was, in retrospect, part of the culture. We never heard “That’s not my job.” In fact, we never were sent to someone else for help. Whoever we asked always solved our problem, as guests, personally.

Greg has an open door policy with a little innovation. Since he lives on site, his office is also his residence. He keeps a brick outside his door so that everyone knows exactly when “the door is open.” His demeanor when strolling around the grounds also makes it obvious that he is ready to talk.

As part of Six Sigma, we all know that feedback is important. Sunshine Suites sends a comment card with the invoice that they use for continuous improvement, but the staff is also continually learning about guests as part of being of service. They even surprised one guest with a birthday cake!

I think Sunshine Suites and Greg Wray can provide us with a few ways to enhance our Six Sigma effort:

  • Be of service
  • Find the right people and treat them like family
  • If you are closest to the broom, sweep
  • Keep the brick out
  • Listen proactively

As always, I treasure your thoughts. I’m at support@pqsystems.com.

 

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