Silver award winner Manulife (International) has derived a great deal of pleasure from competing in the HKMA Quality Award 2011, says Michael Huddart, executive vice-president and chief executive officer. 'Although participating was hard, we had a lot of fun in so doing. It was a great team-building exercise. We forged collaboration across departments and among individuals who don't usually work together,' he adds. The company reaped numerous benefits by taking part, not least because independent quality experts have given Manulife their seal of approval in its adoption of Total Quality Management (TQM). Manulife consistently communicates with the public about its passion for customer service. By participating in the award, the company had the opportunity to reinforce this message internally, and further motivate its employees by letting them know how vital they are to top quality customer service, Huddart notes. 'Through our participation, we have sent out the message that quality and services are the differentiators. Everyone is a marketer giving services tailored to the specific needs of each customer.' On a personal level, Huddart says he has learned a lot from the award's detailed and stringent judging criteria, which has inspired him to identify some areas for further enhancement. 'The message has gone out to the entire workforce as well,' he adds. In his view, one of the biggest impacts of the adoption of TQM is on staff communication. 'We have put increasing emphasis on achieving strategic and tactical objectives. We have employed multiple tools, including a CEO video discussing quality.' Manulife has also beefed up the content of its staff newsletter and regularly features key performance indicators, communicating the company's expectations to employees, Huddart notes. 'We also use panel meetings to engender ideas. Communication is vital for continuous quality enhancement. Everyone needs to be aligned towards the same goals.' The company launched its 'Engagement Journey' initiative in 2004 to further motivate staff. 'We define engagement as employees saying positive things about the company. We believe the operation motivates them to deliver the best services, and we nurture a sense of belonging so that they will stay,' Huddart says. 'We have got measurement of staff engagement in place and developed processes to engage [staff]. The 'Engagement Journey' demonstrates our commitment to career development. We have incorporated various programmes to deliver that and help employees make progress in their careers. We also invest a lot to upgrade the skills of our employees.' In addition, Manulife has used traditional tools, such as Lean Six Sigma and ISO 9001, to improve quality and test processes and ensure it has adequate documentation of best practices, and that these practices are completely integrated into the operational systems. Although Manulife is renowned for its strength in execution, the company has encountered some challenges in building the processes for quality improvement. 'People are vital and we have a great team. Using tools like Lean Six Sigma to improve quality further, we needed to develop people's skills and have enough individuals trained to attain Lean Six Sigma certification,' Huddart notes. 'The biggest challenge is time as people are forever busy. Luckily, Hong Kong people are highly motivated to upgrade their professional knowledge and skills,' he adds. The positive results from adopting TQM are reflected by the high level of staff engagement. 'Our 'Staff Engagement Study' revealed that many employees are very positive about the company and are motivated to perform better and better,' Huddart notes. Another tangible benefit is the reduction in time to process claims - from weeks to a matter of days - after the company put the claim process through a Lean Six Sigma-inspired improvement process. 'Many agents tell me that they use the efficient claim process as a selling feature,' Huddart says.