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Paul Naysmith

Six Sigma

Why I Wish I Got My Black Belt from Hong Kong Airlines

How cool would it be to kick your manager’s butt?

Published: Thursday, June 2, 2011 - 05:30

I greatly believe in training. I have been fortunate to work in businesses that also believed in having trained and qualified professionals in their organization. I have personally and professionally benefited from that philosophy, and I have gained new knowledge as a result.

Since graduating from university, the most time-consuming and costly training I have been asked to undertake was my lean Six Sigma Black Belt training. The training comprised nearly 50 hours of e-learning, six residential sessions over six months, and submission of two projects demonstrating all the tools and techniques that I learned. The instructors were excellent, and often I was reminded that I was going to learn more than 140 tools and techniques during the course. I used this number to brag to others about how proficient I was going to become.

I don’t think I have even 10 hand tools in my garage, but if having loads of hand tools makes an excellent garage, it follows that having lots of lean Six Sigma tools would make an excellent employee. After my training, though, I found that I favored techniques that were simple and effective. So taking a “lean” view of my skills, it could be argued that many of them were valueless since I was selecting and using only what would bring value.

OK, so I may not use 95 percent (or more) of the tools and techniques from my Black Belt training, but I have the potential to use them. Or do I? It has been five years since my training, and without practicing some very complex statistical analysis, I feel that this potential has been eroded.

This is why we need training and retraining continuously. For example, my first-aid certificate—also paid for by my employer—has an expiration date that encourages retraining to ensure I’m familiar with current life-saving techniques. However, even that has proved nonvalue added. During the nine years since my first-aid class, I’ve never had to use the knowledge in my workplace. In fact, I’ve used these skills only three times outside of work, and none of the incidents were life-threatening. For this case, though, it could be argued that it is better to have the training than not at all.

I often wonder if this argument holds true for other training. Is it really better to have than not have?

I regularly meet managers who complain that their people are “collecting” training certificates, insinuating that the training was unnecessary and somehow preventing business from happening. And I also hear training instructors complain about managers not attending scheduled training that would be of tremendous benefit to the business. However, in all cases of nonvalue-added training, the abuse of training or lack of it are due to the system that created it. As quality professionals, shouldn’t we be asking what training is necessary in our processes that would add value for our customers?

Concerning this article’s title, “Why I Wish I Got My Black Belt from Hong Kong Airlines”: It’s based on a report I read in The Wall Street Journal about a new training program that Hong Kong Airlines is planning. According to the report, “the airline plans to make it mandatory for its cabin staff to undergo training in Wing Chun, a type of martial art often used in close-range combat” due to an “average of three incidents a week involving disruptive passengers.” If you consider that in one week the airline moves more than 46,000 passengers, this is equivalent to one disruptive passenger per 15,000. If the average plane holds 300 people, that is one disruption per 50 journeys.

I would love to have been in the meeting when they assessed that Wing Chun was the best option as a mitigating action because I would have challenged it. I would have suggested an approach that considered ways to prevent a combative situation while simultaneously protecting the employee from any potential danger, rather than asking an employee to open a can of “whoop ass” on a customer. I theorize that one beaten-up customer would become one less repeat customer.

I may have created a contradiction here. I want to become proficient in Kung Fu, and my reason is simple: How cool would it be to have the opportunity to kick some manager’s butt, on the instruction of your employer, all in the pursuit of education? However, this proficiency would not bring repeat custom, either. Nonetheless, in the Kung Fu class, I would tattoo “PDCA” across my knuckles. Why? Because I would definitely like to impress PDCA on Mr. Manager, only with repeated applications.


About The Author

Paul Naysmith’s picture

Paul Naysmith

Paul Naysmith is the author of Business Management Tips From an Improvement Ninja and Business Management Tips From a Quality Punk. He’s also a Fellow and Chartered Quality Professional with the UK’s Chartered Quality Institute (CQI), and an honorary member of the South African Quality Institute (SAQI). Connect with him at www.paulnaysmith.com, or follow him on twitter @PNaysmith.

Those who have read Paul’s columns might be wondering why they haven’t heard from him in a while. After his stint working in the United States, he moved back to his homeland of Scotland, where he quickly found a new career in the medical-device industry; became a dad to his first child, Florence; and decided to restore a classic car back to its roadworthy glory. With the help of his current employer, he’s also started the first-of-its-kind quality apprenticeship scheme, which he hopes will become a pipeline for future improvement ninjas and quality punks.


Wing Chung Class for Hong Kong Airlines Flight Attendants

Yes, Wing Chun is for self defense.  But this is not the primary reason why FAs of Hong Kong Airlines take the classes.  They are more for mind, body and emotional balance.  There are preventive and de-escalation methods and procedures to follow when FAs are comfronted by physicallly disruptive passengers.  That's a separate training.   And yes, they are trained how to tackle offenders to apply handcuffs. 

Re: Black Belts & Hong Kong Airways

Paul, I agree with your general comment that non-violent methods should be a part of conflict management. But I don't think that Wing Chen is designed to "kick ass". Rather, it appears to be aimed at establishing control of a situation at close range. Many martial arts (including Aikido, which I study) teach conflict avoidance as preferable to actual combat. But if a passenger is out of control, and there's only one female attendant on the spot, it makes sense to me to have her able to defend herself and prevent the disruptive passenger from harming her or others.

I wonder, however, if Hong Kong Airlines has done any analysis of their frequency of incidents. Providing martial arts training to flight attendants is a reactionary response that doesn't address root cause. Perhaps they could use some SSBB training?