MTRC forges frontline connections and bridges gaps

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 29 September, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 29 September, 2011, 12:00am


Amid the hustle and bustle of some of Hong Kong's MTR stations, friendly station chiefs take a moment to greet those waiting on the platforms and engage them in conversation.

But this is no casual chit-chat. The MTR station chiefs are tasked with talking to particular individuals - identified as frequent passengers and considered to be au fait with the facilities of specific stations - to gather their ideas about possible further improvements to service and facilities. It is also part of an initiative to build a connection between frontline staff and passengers.

The results of these impromptu consultations include the addition of benches on the platforms of several stations, which act as resting places for passengers, particularly the elderly, says Dr Jacob Kam, operations director of MTR Corporation, the gold award winner of the HKMA Quality Award 2011.

The award's board of examiners are impressed that MTRC has excelled in motivating staff to embrace TQM and take initiative in the continuous upgrade of customer-oriented services and facilities.

MTRC has had a strong tradition of quality management to cope with the challenges of increasing customer service demands, advancement of railway technologies and expanding railway operations. The company received the ISO 9001 accreditation in the early 1990s, laying a foundation for the more advanced TQM. 'We aimed to be in better alignment with our corporate pursuit of 'continuous improvement' through the adoption of TQM,' Kam says.

Despite its ample experience in TQM, the company entered the HKMA Quality Award so that staff could further their dedication to the 'continuous improvement' concept.

'We always try to outdo ourselves, and we achieve this goal through benchmarking. Every year, we benchmark 27 aspects in our operation against 27 railway operators around the world. We have done better than many of these operators in most areas. At the same time, we have learned from others and have introduced their strengths into our operation,' Kam says.

Based on the judging criteria, MTR has had the opportunity to review its overall TQM implementation. Some specific suggestions in the examiners' assessment have inspired the company to delve further into certain facets of TQM.

'Take knowledge management as an example - although MTR has received recognition and won awards for its well-developed knowledge management system over the years, we believe we can still do better,' Kam says. 'As some experienced employees are getting closer to retirement, we need to develop more systematic ways to better preserve their professional knowledge to pass on to the next generation.'

Not only does the adoption of TQM call for a commitment of substantial resources, it also requires MTR to identify the most effective ways to maximise benefits. The company has achieved this by leveraging human capital in a more structured and effective manner.

'Under the 'continuous improvement' concept, we have faith that our staff is motivated to upgrade the quality of our services. MTR set up work improvement teams [WITs] over 20 years ago, based on the Quality Circle concept. Around one third of our 9,000 frontline employees are members of WITs,' Kam says. 'By instilling quality management concepts, such as Six Sigma, into frontline staff, they have learned to apply these concepts to improving their working environment and processes to upgrade safety and service quality.'

The WITs approach helps to encourage MTR staff to take ownership of their work. 'It is the realisation that [regardless of their position], they can make changes which will impact their working environment. Provided that their suggestions are constructive, the management of MTR is willing to commit resources to help realise their suggestions. This is the key to fostering a sense of belonging in the workforce. We believe that all staff can take initiative and make a contribution,' Kam adds.

The quality award's examiners agree that MTR has managed outstanding achievements, subsequent to its merger with Kowloon-Canton Railway Corporation (KCRC) in 2007.

'We unified the corporate visions, missions and core values of MTR and KCRC into four goals: excellent service, value creation, mutual respect and enterprising spirit. We encourage the entire MTR workforce to embrace these visions so that they develop a sense of mission and increase their dedication,' Kam says.

'This is reflected in our campaign - 'Service from the Heart' - in which our frontline employees take care of individual passengers and work to ensure that their every train ride is a pleasant one.'

Kam says the MTR adheres to TQM in its operation in three main ways: people, assets and process. In the development of human capital, the company begins with recruitment and invests resources into ongoing training of staff.

As for assets, MTR continues to deploy a lot of resources to build sustainable business development and provide top-quality maintenance and upgrades.

Process is the link between people and assets. 'It refers to the world-class management system and methodology. It is also closely related to a sense of belonging and dedication among the workforce and how it identifies with the visions, missions and core values of the company,' Kam notes.

MTR's efforts in quality management were rewarded when the company won the management contract for London Overground Rail Operation (Lorol) in 2009.

'We introduced our process into Lorol and have raised its ranking from 8th place - among 19 railway operators in the United Kingdom - to first place this year, with 96 per cent punctuality, meaning four train delays in 100 trains,' Kam says.