Knowledge Management Cases in Asia/Knowledge Management of a Chinese Dining Corporation in Hong Kong
Koo Ching Lan, Jasmine; Au Yeung Ching Sum, Sam; Chow Wai Yin, Yanny; Cheong Iok Teng, Stella; So Ka Kee, Katherine
In order to sustain a business in terms of long-term profit, enterprises such as catering industries need to be careful about controlling their knowledge resources in order to use and develop these resources effectively and efficiently inside the organization. This study examines how the concept of knowledge management is applied to a local Chinese dining corporation, and its level of attainment in the world of knowledge management.
The Chinese dining house we choose to study has a history of over 16 years in Hong Kong. Ten years ago, it sought expertise from specialized management consultants for improving the quality of services. In 2000 it started business in South Mainland China. It has been expanded in recent years from a restaurant to a dining holding corporation with more than 40 restaurants in Hong Kong, Guangzhou and Shenzhen. Its great success in running Chinese restaurants which provide various special menus for local cuisine from different areas of Guangdong attracts our attention. The Corporation receives awards for its innovation, outstanding catering service management and excellent customer relationship. It is worth exploring the innovation it makes especially in terms of knowledge management, which is quite a new idea in Chinese dining industry.
Scholarly articles on knowledge management in the dining industry are rare. It is a domain that has a vast room for research and exploration. We can only select twelve articles on dining industry or related fields to see how some sorts of knowledge management are applied to enhance the business performance. The term 'knowledge management' might not be used in all of the articles we choose but we are looking for the ways how strategies are employed to keep the employees' experiences and expertise, and how these are utilized for the benefits of the company. After consideration, it is decided that the literature review is presented by briefly introducing each article rather than by themes of KM since almost no KM articles on dining industry can be found. The following ones are written within ten years and several of them are not addressing the dining industry but industries in general, that is business management, such as Six Sigma and enterprise resource planning. The trend of KM in dining industry is only at the preliminary stage. It has a long way to go.
Data are fool’s gold unless converted to knowledge that best helps your business (Wilson, 2001)
Data can be collected easily but their values are not obvious unless the company converts them into a standardized and unified language which can be shared. The food service industry is the case that needs to convert the data into a system which is industry-wide. It helps the company in both regional and national aspects. The standardization allows company to keep track on the supply chain management for forecasting, planning and reviewing which in turn increases the effectiveness of the business operation. Although the advantages are obvious, some companies are reluctant to experience such changes. With the popularity of information technology, companies have no way but to do as what the society requires. (Wilson, 2001). Data collection and analysis is one of the crucial factors for developing knowledge management in dining industry.
Knowledge management and Six Sigma: Exploring the potential of two powerful disciplines (Leavitt, 2002)
American Productivity and Quality Center states that knowledge management (KM) and Six Sigma are the two best practices in business management (Leavitt, 2002). Six Sigma aims at process improvement while KM is to deliver information to the right people in the right time at the right place for decision making. Although their purposes are not the same, the two approaches intersect each other at communities of practice (CoPs). Many companies e.g., HP, Ford, Halliburton have created CoPs by using many Six Sigma approaches in reducing cost and increase gain. The two approaches allow professionals to learn from another arena. These not only improve operation efficiency, but explore opportunities for the company. It facilitates decision maker to formulate knowledge strategy and prompts business improvement actions by improving knowledge. (Leavitt, 2002). By making good use of the two best practices, the dining industry is sure to attain higher performance.
Developing a restaurant revenue-management strategy (Kimes, Barrash, & Alexander, 1999)
The goal of restaurant revenue management (RRM) is to maximize revenue per available seat hour by manipulating price and meal duration. RRM is commonly practiced in airline industry and lodging industry. It also applies well to food service. The paper explains in details with graphs, diagrams and tables how revenue-management strategy is developed for the 100-seat casual restaurant, Coyote Loco, in Ithaca, New York. It includes identifying hot, warm and cold business periods, and which revenue-management strategy to use: suggestive selling, reservations, host, menu variety, prices, promotions, clips and salsa. (Kimes, Barrash, & Alexander, 1999).
Best practices in human resources (Enz & Siguaw, 2000)
Training and knowledge building is one the best five human resources practices in the hotel which Cornell University Hotel School has chosen. To increase the service quality of the current employees and newcomers, hotels provide lots of information and knowledge opportunities to achieve this. Disney’s Polynesian Resort, the Hyatt’s, Coastal Hotel Group, Four Seasons & Regent Hotels and Resorts have all set up the training program to let employees to understand and commit to the business. Participants are encouraged to have personal-reflection to increase recognition to both themselves and the organization. All these enhance the personal-job fit and personal-organization fit which in turn increase strength to the operating structures. (Enz & Siguaw, 2000). Knowledge management in dining industry implies certain level of best practices in its human resources.
Finding the right mix: Franchising, organizational learning, and chain performance (Sorenson & Sorenson, 2001)
The paper mentions that franchising provides a common vehicle for entrepreneurs to pursue opportunities in creating wealth and growing their business. It says that maximizing the wealth created through franchising depends on successfully managing the interdependent relationship between the franchiser and the franchisees. At the same time, finding the right mix of governance structures in the chain directly affects the success of both the franchiser and its franchisees. The paper stresses on the relationship between governance structures and firm performance. Moreover, the organizational learning literature on exploration and exploitation portrays a trade-off between two types of learning without considering what might lead actors to engage in one at the expense of the other. The research also points toward potentially interesting new research topics like a learning perspective provides a useful frame for understanding both the mean and the variance of firm performance. (Sorenson & Sorenson, 2001). The organizational learning experience is helpful for the knowledge management of the restaurants we will study.
Implementing enterprise resource planning and knowledge management systems (Newell, Huang, Galliers, & Pan, 2003)
Enterprise Resources Planning system (ERPs) is a method of using computer technology to link various functions, and to facilitate information sharing, business planning, and decision making on an enterprise-wide basis. The benefits of using ERPs are (Newell, Huang, Galliers, & Pan, 2003):
- Replacing diverse legacy systems, so creating a common IT infrastructure
- Creating a common productivity measure
- Restructuring production, logistics and warehouse divisions
- Enabling centralized procurement
- Bringing higher efficiency through improved information sharing
For supply chain management, ERPs has the following functions: inventory record keeping, order entry, purchasing, product configurator, supply chain planning, supplier scheduling, inspection of goods, claim processing and commission calculation.
How ERPs integrates with KM implementation (Li, Chaudhry, & Zhao, 2006)
In the knowledge-based economy, it is more important for enterprises that ERPs can react according to the experiences and knowledge generated from within the organization. Implementation of ERPs strengthens KM because KM creates an integrated environment of knowledge-based processes of creating, organizing, storing, retrieval, transferring, distributing and applying knowledge for all ERPs users. ERPs provides the management team the ability to manage all business aspects of an organization including material, financial and information flows. The knowledge required for system implementation can be communicated in a timely and effective manner. For example, through the knowledge management mechanism in ERPs, the developers of different modules can rapidly master the skill and experience besides the knowledge of their own fields. (Li, Chaudhry, & Zhao, 2006). ERPs is implemented in the Chinese dining corporation we are going to study.
This article looks at what things are important to the menu development panel. It reports that a group of International Corporate Chefs Association members have expressed their views on the topic. One of the members Steven Jayson mentions that the crucial ingredients of menu development include the universal trend, customers and rivals. He adds that there are other factors affecting the menu development such as development of full-service restaurant, food quality, emphasis on customer service and value, fast moving society and the significance of children’s market. Another chef Paul Carr notes that the growing of elderly segment will bring food industry with opportunities since people retired early have more disposable income. Moreover, he explains that different menu should be designed for different divisions. There is no fixed one that can specifically serve for all divisions. Therefore special considerations should be given by developing different recipes and concepts based on special requirements. (Walkup, 2004). The menu development discussed by the chefs is useful in applying to the restaurants we are going to investigate.
Dinner houses hone focus on food, strategic recipes on spicier sales (Battaglia, 1999)
Enacting all manners of change, which range from refined menus to redirected marketing opportunities, dinner houses stay competitive to retain loyal return customers and attract new ones. Revitalization of employees by new programs boosts morale. Distinctive food, spiciness and strong taste has become the segment’s top priority. More food research and development, and menu changes need to be more emphasized in the long run, according to a vice president of a consulting firm. The chain O’Charley’s offers unique products of Italian, Chinese and Mexican foods. Cheesecake Factory enacts two major menu changes per year. Recent additions have included bold flavors, represented by a Jamaican black-pepper shrimp dish. (Battaglia, 1999).
The brain behind the big, bad burger and other tales of business intelligence (Levinson, 2005)
The article focuses on the business intelligence system — a variety of software applications which analyze the organization’s data and extract useful insights from it. The system has been failure when implementing in other industry but not in the restaurant industry. The article lists out several successful cases of several restaurants when they are using the BI system. For example, although the Monster Thickburger introduced by Hardee’s contains high calories which may harm to health, CKE restaurant still can successfully introduce it nationally. It is because they make use of the BI system. Since the Monster Thickburger exceeds expectations in test market, it decides to roll it out nationwide and eventually it has been a resounding success. Many of the big chains have been using BI software like Wendy’s, Ruby Tuesday, and T.G. I. Friday’s.
In the article, it also outlines what are the key factors in using BI system which make restaurant industry become successful and what problems other industry is incurred when they use the system. Eventually, it addresses recommendations to improve the operation of BI system such as avoiding old data, data consistency and accuracy, preventing redundant data, etc. Another means of implementing the system is to let the operators automatically embrace the new tool rather than force them to use the tool. It stresses that user’s concerns is more important, even at the expense of slowing down the rate of return. (Levinson, 2005). The success of applying the BI system in food industry provides good reference for the Chinese restaurants we are going to examine.
Appetite for stability: Consolidated Restaurants Inc. thrives on consistent food, strong locations and a steady staff (Roarke, 1997)
Consolidated Restaurants Inc.’s strategy on consistent food, strong locations and a steady staff bring it to continuous success since its founding by David Cohn in Seattle in 1951. It has built a business of fine dining places on grill food and oyster, and of upper-crust take-out stops. Consolidated offers an array of employee benefits. The full-time staff, who occupy 60 percent of its 600 employees, are covered by medical, dental and disability insurance. Everyone has a chance of rising to top management position. In 1995, Molly Hancock, a long-time company employee originally hired as a college student, became the chief operating officer. With tight family ownership, it insists on making use of internal human resources and providing a unique dining experience for each location. For $3.77 million, the Cohn family bought most of the city block the restaurant occupies. The real estate acquisitions are steps toward ensuring their long-term presence in the Seattle community. (Roarke, 1997). Although this kind of family owned business is different from the holding company which we are going to study, we can still learn from Consolidated that internal human resources are what it most treasures.
How Outback Steakhouse created a great place to work, have fun and make money (DeCottis, Sullivan, Hyatt, & Avery, 2004)
This article clearly describes the milepost of one of the success restaurant, the Outback Steakhouse, Inc. It outlines lists of key factors which make Outback to success like quality employees, low employee turnover, starting with a detailed statement, using rigorous hiring standards, etc. The founders of Outback Steakhouse believe that people are the key element to meet the company’s commitment. The idea behind the company is enabling the founders to have autonomy in operation, to generate enough income to fund a comfortable lifestyle, and to have fun doing it. They believe that the rapid growth of their business is a result of a high-quality, trained staff being at Outback. They are committed to grow a values-driven company with high quality of product, service and customer experience.
At the critical juncture, they recognize they need a more explicit understanding and statement about the Outback’s future and direction. After embarked visioneering with their strategic partner consulting firm, they realize that stakeholders need for a sense of place and to feel valued. Also, the cornerstone of Outback’s idea that a company is its people is the most important thing. The Outback theory of success stresses on staff training and regards high turnover rate as unacceptable. On the other hand, quality is also important so they obtain the best raw ingredients for the food served in the restaurants. Besides, they see the Outback culture as the means to attract, retain and energize their employees which makes them to feel Outback restaurant is 'a great place to work'. The company has focused on earning the trust of employees, and through them, the trust of its customers.
There are three primary avenues used by the company: education, integration and measurement. For education, one of the means called The Walkabout is executed. This is a meeting held ten times a year which is conducted by the founders, president, and other leaders of the company. During the meeting, all people share their experience with others and the restaurant leaders and managers are taught to develop a team which follows the Principles and Beliefs, a manifesto describes the culture that all Outback leaders are expected to create and maintain. Also, the training program includes sharing key ideas in 'Alley Rallies', which are preshift meetings to energize and focus employees.
For integration, a rigorous employee selection process is developed for hiring the right people. Outback takes promotion seriously and has carefully charted a career path for individuals who desire to be a partner. It also develops numerous tools and processes to support the development and advancement of both hourly and management crew. For instance, the Regional Walkabouts, which are training meetings providing managers with opportunities to share their views and the Principles and Beliefs to other crew members. Another example is the online database Career Portfolio, which allows crew to keep track of their development experiences and identify areas where they need more improvement.
For measurement, the company implements several measurement processes such as the Outback Experience Survey, accurate measures of turnover, etc. The survey helps the company to confirm the worth of implementing the Principles and Beliefs and the value of the quality hire by using the discipline of selection. As a result, it can be seen that the formula for Outback to success is hiring the right people and living the principles and beliefs. (DeCottis, Sullivan, Hyatt, & Avery, 2004). Again we see that quality employees are the key element for success.
Our group will investigate the major knowledge management activities done in the selected Chinese dining corporation. Semi-structured interview(s) will be conducted, so as to gather useful information and understand the corporation’s vision, as well as how Chinese dining corporation in Hong Kong applies knowledge management concepts into practice.
Sampling: A local dining corporation will be interviewed for one to two times.
Methods: There are three parts of our research.
Firstly, scholarly journal articles and other reliable sources regarding to knowledge management in restaurants will be extracted and analyzed. Secondly, one to two interviews, each lasts for one to two hours, with the representative of a local dining corporation will be conducted. Regarding the interview, we will start by asking preset questions designed by our group, and followed by several follow-up questions, so as to let our participant think-aloud when interacting with our group. The researcher will take notes and record the whole interview. Thirdly, we will analyze the information gathered from the interview, and combine it with the findings discovered from journal articles and other sources.
Research plan: A tentative schedule for the research plan is as follows.
- Mar 2007:
Extracting useful articles from databases and other electronic resources. Interviewing a local dining corporation.
- Mar - Apr 2007:
Analyzing the research data and relevant articles. Creating a book chapter in Wikibooks on knowledge management in restaurants.
The Chinese Dining Corporation Case Study
Our group has interviewed the Assistant Manager, Corporate Communications and Administration of the Chinese dining corporation, which has ten brand names, 5,000 employees and owns over 40 restaurants, each occupies over 13,000 square feet averagely. The following is a detailed transcription of the contents.
1. How do your jobs relate to KM?
The administration department in the dining corporation is responsible for implementing the knowledge management strategy. Knowledge management was firstly implemented three years ago. KM is important because there is a difference between information and knowledge. Therefore KM is used to distinguish the difference between knowledge and information and help to change the information into explicit knowledge that is valuable to the company. As the company was restructured at that time, it helped KM to be implemented more easily.
Why use KM
In 1991, the first restaurant was established and KM was implemented in 2003. When the business has run for about ten years, the CEO started to have a concept that only using the existing management method and the previous experience to management the business are not enough at all. Also, the sector of restaurant contains a lot of human affairs and it is essential to manage the personnel matters well in order to make the business successful. Therefore, they started to carry out a series of management strategy and KM is one of the strategy they added to improve the business.
2. What kinds of KM tools or strategies do you apply?
KM is very useful in gathering tacit knowledge from the chefs. It is very helpful for the management team to manage the daily operations in the restaurants and make decisions with the chefs. As KM makes people share their knowledge with each other, less influence would be bought to the company if one of the chefs or restaurant’s managers left. However, only some KM strategies are used inside the corporation and they are not systematic. For example, we provide some channels for the crew to facilitate the sharing of knowledge. In order to let the crew to share, we advocate the atmosphere of knowledge sharing by providing training courses and holding meetings. One of the meetings is called ‘Bottom to Top’ which requires only the branch subordinates to attend.
The moderator will take charge of the meeting and the focus group inside will be asked some questions about their work condition. So the crew in the meeting can express their ideas and feelings without having pressure since their boss would not attend the meeting. The aim of holding such meetings is to allow different crew in different positions can express their ideas freely. This helps to make an atmosphere of sharing because this makes everyone who works in the company to feel that they have the right to say and they are respected as well.
On the other hand, we regard communication channels as one of the KM tools, too. There are several communication channels that are provided for the employees. The first one is the Restaurant Daily News. We deliver the news everyday by sending emails to let the crew receive the immediate messages and the recent news about the Corporation. Branch manager needs to sign it to ensure staff members have read it.
The second one is poster. The poster would be posted inside the restaurants and it contains some real cases about the customers or some information about product analysis. This helps the crew to know more about how to manage the customer’s complaint effectively and to learn more on the new product.
The third one is VCD. We would distribute a 15-minute VCD to the crew per week. The VCD contains the recent trend of the corporation and the information of different departments. Restaurants especially arrange time for employees to watch the VCD to get the updated company information and news. The manager is responsible for supervising the staff to make sure that they pay attention to the content of the VCD.
The forth one is the Monthly Magazine, which is distributed to the management team monthly to share knowledge about business management. It contains information useful for managing daily operations of the restaurants, such as achievements of some branches become best practice for other branches to follow.
Each department has its own management manual which will be updated half a year. Since the management manual contains important knowledge, it should be carefully preserved to avoid the leakage of important information.
If the dish is created by individual branch instead of the dining corporation, then there may not have a standard recipe for the dish to be kept by the corporation. But, if the dish is generated by the corporation, then it must have a standard menu which shows clearly about the procedure of making the dish. In future, we hope that we can make a series of dim sum recipes and store them in a computer database. Inside the recipes, the content includes all the things such as ingredients, making procedures, cost, price list and the dishes’ pictures.
Most ingredients are supplied by the company's central Logistics Center, but it is still flexible for restaurants to order some materials by themselves from different suppliers based on their needs. However, for the seafood, all restaurants should order the needed materials from a specific list of suppliers provided by the company.
We are the first Chinese dining company in Hong Kong to get an accreditation certificate of Quality Seawater Assurance Scheme.
3. How does the application of KM tools lead to positive result?
KM is not yet fully practiced in our organization, as it was started three years ago, so we do not have a particular KM practice tool to facilitate our business. However, we believe KM practices definitely help to manage our business. Traditionally, knowledge is mostly owned by the chef who is the master of the kitchen but now KM promotes the culture of sharing. It makes knowledge to be owned by the organization, so even the chief cook leaves the company, the influence is lesser. Undoubtedly, it mostly depends on management practice to change to a sharing culture; KM is an auxiliary tool to achieve this.
Channels are needed for employees to speak up and promote the sharing atmosphere. However, it is quite difficult to urge each branch manager to share their knowledge with others, as they are competing with other branches of sale volume. Sharing atmosphere is required for practicing KM as knowledge is the basic criteria for KM. Therefore, our managing director holds meetings with all the branch managers and prompts them to share. Surely, he has foreseen the benefits and importance of sharing.
4. How does KM system help managers make better decision?
We hold meetings with the front line employees. Each meeting would have a target group of employee to discuss. Employees are encouraged to express themselves freely as no supervisors of those target group employees would be present. Questions asked are related to their main scope of work; they may need to report or give comments. The meetings provide chance for employees of different positions to voice their opinions. For the employees’ aspect, they feel that they are being valued and have the right to express themselves. This further promotes the atmosphere of sharing. The meeting minutes record all their suggestions to ensure that the opinions are being seriously treated by the company. Follow-up works will be allocated to improve conditions or tackle problems.
Furthermore, Daily News, posters, VCDs and Monthly Magazines mentioned above all help to enhance knowledge sharing. The Annual Magazine contains the recipes of dishes in the yearly culinary final competition. In addition, a management handbook with in-depth practical management practice knowledge deals with management affairs. The handbook includes all the departments’ knowledge. The knowledge mentioned in the handbook are announced and filtered by the department head to ensure the knowledge sharing has no negative effects to the department. It is updated half-yearly.
5. How KM is applied by means of food tasting sessions?
Special and unique ways are carefully designed to distinguish, define and gather information about customers’ different style and needs. These are the food tasting sessions organized twice weekly. You can also join their sessions if you like. The highest executives in the corporation attend the sessions at least once a week. There are two timeslots available, the ‘dim sum’ tasting in the morning, and the culinary tasting in the evening. We invite frequent customers and even complainers to come. The staff will record what they said and follow-up the issues raised.
The food tasting session serves as a platform for customers to express their opinions freely. It is easier to gather opinions and discover different customers’ needs and styles. Although many food tasting sessions have been carrying out in other similar Chinese dining companies, we are the one who keeps this session for as long as three years, from once a month, to twice a week now. This is not an easy tool to carry on but finding focus is the most important issue, because it paths the way for improvement.
6. How to manage knowledge in terms of technology support?
Regarding KM with technology support, the dining corporation has not yet applied it to the operations of different departments. Right now only Enterprise Resource Planning System (ERPs) is used in logistics, which we consider as a kind of KM technology. We have adopted ERPs since 2004 to facilitate logistics operations.
7. Is there any information overload problem solved by KM?
How to organize the information
The highest-positioned executives will filter the gathered information whether it is useful to the company or not. For example, we will see whether it has overlap or contradiction in the reports within the same department. When it comes to different departments, the Executive Director will oversee the reports and make necessary changes. If overlapped or contradicted information occurs, the Executive Director and other executives will hold meetings and try to solve the problems. Furthermore, the documents are organized and will be reviewed every six months to keep all recorded information up-to-dated.
Who owns the recipes
The menus belong to our company. We seldom videotape the flow of cooking dishes because there are 11 sub-brands within our corporation, and we would like to give each sub-brand a room to expand their unique way to run their business. For example, there will have some differences in producing ‘siu mai’ (a kind of popular dim sum) in different sub-brands.
How to manage and keep the recipes
There is a model created by the mother company that helps each branch to run their own business, but this is just 70% of the whole story. Each branch still has 30% freedom that let them run their own business. This is the difference between Chinese dining companies and fast food companies. Every branch can sell their brand new dish designed by a chef for two months. If the dish gains positive feedback from customers and staff, then the mother company will expand the dish available to all branches. At this time the ownership of that recipe will belong to the mother company. If it is not as good as expected, the mother company will let the chef decide whether he would like to modify the dish or not.
We would like to make a sense of creativity in the company. The way of running a dining company is providing standardization as well as creativity to customers. For example, we have a monthly culinary style competition, which we invite all staff in all branches to participate. Moreover, every year in spring, we will have the final round to test the winners in last year. Our big boss will attend this final round too. During the competition, we will distribute the Annual Magazine that shows all the recipes of the competing dishes, why they won, boss’s overall comments, and how popular the dishes were sold in last year.
8. Do you have KM best practice to follow?
The dining corporation itself introduces role playing in table booking, asking the employees to act as customers to be served and reflect their feeling afterwards. In fact, we set an example of good services in the Chinese dining industry in Hong Kong.
9. What is the KM cycle in your corporation?
Let me take the seawater assurance scheme as example. To ensure that the seawater inside the fishbowl maintains a high quality, a lot of checking procedures are carried out. There is explicit knowledge captured such as the supplier, the system of the fishbowl and a clear workflow. In 2004, a task force was established to be responsible for the assurance of the seawater quality. For the implicit knowledge, experts in fish culture are invited to share their experience, e.g., the seawater inside the fishbowl cannot be replaced every day. They also concern the degree of saltiness and the water temperature.
Once the task force gets any new messages or information about seafood, they will gather all the experts and inform them. Through gathering both the explicit and implicit knowledge, a check list of standard requirements is used. Since the world temperature is changing, and the Hong Kong Productivity Council would change the instructions on the seawater quality when necessary, the procedures for ensuring the seawater quality need to be modified continuously to meet the requirements.
10. What are your objectives of applying KM?
The objectives of applying KM in our corporation are to keep the enterprise alive; to empower the managers of next generation to take over the management; to uplift the image of the Chinese dining industry (as at the beginning of this year, over one hundred restaurants closed); to employ scientific and systemic management methods; to convey an impression to customers that the enterprise has an environment of good quality and good brand names; to set up an information repository for capturing, keeping, distilling and sharing useful information within the company and the whole Chinese dining industry; to aim at becoming a standard model in the industry, like MacDonald?, which has achieved strong standardization; and to nurture the culture (Collison and Parcell, 2004), encouraging the employees to share their experiences for the benefits of all.
11. What are the difficulties when implement KM and the ways to solve them?
Information can be obtained from many sources but who can tell what is useful. The decision-maker must have good judgement. For example, he is able to distinguish seven useful points out of ten points and the rest is ad hoc. Another problem is that business can continue to run without KM, so the staff would ask what they have to participate in it.
We have our unique methods to implement KM in the company. For instance, we have employed some soft methods such as the VCD, which has pictures to attract them besides text; it has a lucky draw, asking questions from the information inside, three winners for each time, each gets $50 coupon. It receives good response. On the other hand, a hard tool would be from the management mechanism, like adding sugar on bitter food. It enables the staff to feel the importance of knowledge sharing. Another example is teaching them the four steps of how to set customers as first priority. These four steps to handle complaints are: give name card, apologize, offer other choices, and lastly solve the problem, e.g., if the customer is dissatisfied with this table, bring the customer to his preferred table.
In order to gather more useful opinions, we welcome employees to raise suggestions in the 'Bottom to Top' meetings. Those suggestions which are crucial to bring changes to the company would be recorded in minutes as a knowledge gathering tool. When the opinions are accepted and implemented, the Restaurant Daily News will be the knowledge broadcasting tool to announce such acts. The employees will be happy to know that their contributions are recognized.
12. Do you have exit interview for any employee leaving?
The purpose of our exit interview is mainly focusing on improving the relationship between both parties. Questions are more sentimental than grabbing the employee's knowledge developed in the company. It is because we think we should do it before he/she resigns. On and on we encourage knowledge sharing for the employees' own good. Besides, what the employee says during the exit interview may not be accurate.
13. Are you afraid of exposing your valuable information to others?
No, it is because our culture is different from other companies. We like sharing information to others, even to competitors. Although the middle level executives would like to keep the information to ourselves, the high level executives would like to share the information to others such as selling cooking books, and training programme called ‘Rice Seeding Cultivation’ with the Institute of Vocational Education.
We have invested HK$19 million in this programme but have not been hiring any graduates from this programme. You can see we want to share our gathered and useful information and knowledge to people, so as to promote and improve the image of Chinese dining industry. Therefore, we do not keep any secret and useful information from others, but vice versa. Of course, having this kind of idea — sharing culture and keeping it up is not easy to do. We just aim at making things done properly.
Findings & Analysis of the Chinese Dining Corporation Case Study
Background of implementing KM
“No Chinese restaurant can survive over ten years”. Using the existing management methods and previous experiences alone cannot manage the numerous human affairs and the personnel matters arisen inside the dining corporation. The CEO of the corporation is desperately aiming at breaking this curse of short life of Chinese restaurants. He believes knowledge management is the only way to sustain the life of the dining corporation. Hence, he has implemented knowledge management into the corporation since 2003. The goal is to change the information into explicit knowledge valuable to the corporation. The critical successes of implementing knowledge management are infrastructure, infostructure and infoculture. (Pan & Scarbrough, 1999).
This corporation constructs its knowledge architecture by setting up organizational memories — meetings and food tasting sessions for employees and customers respectively to share their knowledge and opinions, and then filter the information into documents like restaurant daily news, posters, VCDs and manuals that help with the continuation of the business operation. Furthermore, the corporation sets up knowledge repositories — recipes in common, to keep chefs’ knowledge in the organization without any exit interview.
Although the corporation does not adopt comprehensive KM technology tools at this moment, it still has the knowledge sharing processes such as printed manuals and code of practices from meetings, focus groups and food tasting sessions. Besides, ERPs is adopted for accessing and managing the logistic issues. The online ‘recipes in common’ lets the chefs access the recipes available in the corporation.
This dining corporation has been creating a knowledge enterprising culture, which promotes knowledge sharing within and outside the dining corporation. For instance, the dining corporation launches in-house knowledge sharing meetings, food tasting sessions with employees and customers, as well as distributing filtered information through the restaurant daily news, posters, VCDs and manuals. Besides, it also promotes knowledge sharing outside the dining corporation such as selling cooking books to the public, and organizing a training programme called ‘Rice Seeding Cultivation’ with the Institute of Vocational Education.
Knowledge creation is the transformation of personal knowledge between individuals, e.g., dialogue, disclose, sharing and storytelling. Through the food tasting sessions, knowledge is created since the customer’s opinions are collected and used to analyze the customer’s style and needs. Besides, they also use storytelling approach to create knowledge. For example, the monthly published magazines with some successful cases of other restaurants are distributed to the crew.
Knowledge capture refers to the process of retrieving knowledge resides within people, artifacts or organizational entities. Besides storytelling, the approach of ‘learn from other’ is one of the main strategies used to capture knowledge. Through the briefing session held by the managers, the staff receive knowledge from the storytelling of other restaurants in the corporation. Also, from the posters inside the restaurants, they learn some real cases about the customer complaints or information of product analysis. The corporation also uses best practice capture method to train their employees. For example, role playing in table booking is conducted and employees are asked to act as customers to be served. This helps employees to learn about how to perform a good customer service.
The clear objective from the managing director plays an important role to promote the sharing atmosphere. The sharing meetings provide chances for employees to express themselves freely. There are various communication channels, such as the daily e-news, posters and weekly 15-min VCD contain the company latest news, details of the restaurants’ specials and customers’ complaints. Branches especially spare free time for employees to read though all these materials to ensure they are reached by the knowledge. Personal tacit knowledge is expressed into the form of explicit knowledge and shared.
Knowledge application: Benefits of implementing KM strategies and tools
In the dining corporation, a common used KM strategy is peer assist. A peer assist refers to a meeting or workshop where people are invited from other team to share their experience, insights and knowledge. For example, the regular meetings of ‘Bottom to Top’ not only advocate the learning environment but also develops strong network among people. It also successfully introduces the self assessment framework to the staff who are able to feel that their contributions are valued, recognized and rewarded. In the crew intranet, lucky draw is performed in the information session regularly to attract employees to answer the questions. Moreover, cooking competitions are conducted to allow all the chefs free to join. The winner will gain reward and the winning dish will be added in the menu of his branch restaurant.
Knowledge application: Obstacles of implementing KM strategies and tools
As mentioned above by the interviewee in question 11, selection of useful information to facilitate decision making needed wise judgement. Soft skills such as the VCD and lucky draw, are necessary to encourage the employees to create, capture, share and apply knowledge instead of hard sell. The management team set good examples in promoting KM in the corporation. Resistance still exists in implementing KM to the whole organization because more resources have to be invested in terms of technology, time, people and money.
Suggestions for advancement
From the interview, KM is only mostly implemented among the chefs and front line employees. It is not yet applied to other departments of the corporation, except the logistics. Some suggestions are given below to foster the whole organization towards the maturity of KM culture. Expertise from knowledge management consultants has to be sought to further apply sound KM to a corporation of 5,000 employees.
KM mechanisms, which are organizational or structural means used to promote KM, can be more utilized to strengthen KM in the dining corporation. Examples of these mechanisms are analogies and metaphors, brainstorming retreats, on-the-job training, face-to-face meeting, apprenticeships, employee rotation, learning by doing, learning by observation, etc. (Dalkir, 2005).
KM technologies can be better and further applied to the dining corporation.
- Knowledge creation: Data mining, and annotation
- Knowledge capture: Concept map, metadata, and ontology
- Knowledge sharing: Groupware, videoconferencing, and electronic discussion groups
- Knowledge application: Expert systems, decision support systems, case-based reasoning, and intelligent agent.
KM systems are the integration of KM mechanisms and technologies to support the KM processes. They are knowledge creation systems, knowledge capture systems, knowledge sharing systems and knowledge application systems. (Dalkir, 2005). KM systems should be properly developed to integrate various KM mechanisms and technologies in the corporation to improve knowledge management.
Data mining can be further enhanced in the dining corporation. According to Dalkir (2005), data mining is another name for knowledge creation or discovery in databases. It is a process of analyzing data from different perspectives and summarizing it into useful information which can be converted into knowledge about historical patterns and future trends, such as target marketing and sales forecasting. Technically, data mining is the process of finding correlations or patterns among dozens of fields in large relational databases. Statistical analysis software can be introduced in data mining.
The Chinese dining corporation we are studying takes a leading role in implementing knowledge management in the Chinese dining industry in Hong Kong. Although it has only a history of three years in KM, it has obvious positive feedbacks from the employees and customers. The corporation is keen in knowledge sharing inside and outside their restaurants. Intranet, Daily News, Monthly Magazines, Annual Magazines and 'Bottom to Top' meetings are excellent KM tools although more KM mechanisms and technologies can be introduced in the long run. The Enterprise Resource Planning system is applied in logistics. The CEO has a vision for improving the image of the Chinese dining industry in Hong Kong. The corporation sponsors generously the training of management level and contributes great sums to the charities. The future is bright.
We express our sincere thanks to the Assistant Manager, Corporate Communications and Administration of the Chinese dining corporation for accepting an interview with us in one of their famous restaurants. We give our thanks to our professor, Dr Sam Chu for his advice on writing the article and posting it on TWiki. We also have to thank our CITE technicians Murphy Wong and Simon Leung for helping us to solve the technical problems in using TWiki.
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