Monday, 27 February 2017

Differently Abled - a story from The Park Hyderabad

I was at the Park Hyderabad recently on a training program. Have been to the hotel so many times but this time the agenda and perspective was different, so I could notice a whole lot of things that I must have missed on my previous visits.  I also wanted to use the opportunity for my own learning; I wish to share here with my readers. It can also highlight the efforts of all unsung heroes and the ones who are in the limelight most often.
I did two,  two day programs, Train the Trainer and Supervisory Development Programme (SDP). The last day was meant for observation and learning for me. Glad it went in that order. I believe Training is not just a department but its a mindset. 
I am back with extremely fulfilling and enriching training experience at The Park Hyderabad (TPHD). Before I take you all into the differently abled inspirational story, let me share the general feedback about the hotel as that'll clearly highlight the reason why certain concepts, ideas and initiatives work there that may inspire some more stories too.

Let me follow the guest cycle as we call it in the hotel industry, right from arrival to stay and departure.
The arrival experience was absolutely great, I was in my room in less than 3 minutes upon arrival at the hotel. This was a great service recovery after I had to call hotel for the driver's contact at the airport, as travel desk didn't have my number. I am mentioning the incident as it shows a wonderful service attitude and recovery. I met Ms. Sahu, the Front office manager and learnt that they have created a wow team. It did create that WOW for me throughout the stay.

Housekeeping took great care, the room cleanliness was good. I must mention that the rug (carpet) that I was using as a yoga mat smelled fresh. To me that's the exceptional level of cleanliness. I am not auditing hotel cleaning at all here. The amenities for single lady travelers were very thoughtful and I thank the team for everything that they did. Made me feel like a royalty. Also gives me a lot to talk about in my training sessions. As it is rightly said that knowledge is all about sharing. Applauding whats good and working on things that are not so good, till the time they reach a level of perfection too!

The Train the Trainer Workshop - I had one of the best batches in my TTT programs, have been doing this for more than 15 years now.  One, the job knowledge was very good and I could also notice some of the participants being very passionate about certain aspects of their jobs. Be it  Chef Abdul Shakur Khan for the biryani knowldge or Kadheer for his passion for bars. Even Pankaj Kumar from Aish, our Hyderabadi speciality restaurant, who had qualities to be a good trainer. If I write the qualities of each participant this post will go into pages.I believe right feedback goes a long way.

The SDP workshop - The participants were enthusiatic, receptive and a fairly younger lot than the TTT batch. They delighted me with their presentations on creating a story as a team, where they had to trade  pins for items.  It was an inspiration for me as well, to see the staff attend full day workshop and then get back to their shifts, reporting back for training the next day..... on time! absolute delight for any trainer.
I got to spend some time with some of the HODs and managers. HODs, seeking feedback of their team members attending the training session. This is such a positive thing to do. Training filters top down and I experienced that at TPHD.

Met the Chief Engineer, who showed some to the useful things they had created out of scrap. That's the way forward and a great initiative towards sustainability.
Spent some time with the Executive Chef and learnt about the initiatives followed in the kitchens and the Food Production department as a whole. A dynamic person who permeates that quality in his team. Met HR and Training heads, the interaction was again with a lot of exchange of  ideas and synergy. Got to know so many things that they do,  make them anything but ordinary! Spending some time with the spa manager,  learnt about the new business plan and menu for Aura, our signature spa. Again a very insightful discussion and knowledge sharing.

Team members with disabilities

I was so very touched and inspired by the way they have been working. Got insights from Ms.Suchitra  Naidu, Area Director Housekeeping on this project and a whole lot of other things that they do. Ms. Naidu is an inspirational lady and time spent with her is a huge learning always. I met her exclusively to know more about her initiative of involving the differently abled team members into the work force at TPHD. The one hour that I spent with her, we discussed not just about this project but so many other equally interesting and inspiring ones. Will write about them, later.

Coming to the topic, the term disabled is often associated with people diagnosed with different kinds of physical and mental conditions. The conditions that often restrict normal functioning of an individual on a personal or social situation. The first thing that comes to mind when labelling someone as 'disabled' is the action itself. People aren't and shouldn't be labelled as anything, least of all disabled!  Who they are as a person is not impacted by a medical condition and it certainly doesn't contribute to their identity.

The term disabled has not been favoured in recent times with several alternatives coming up. People have agreed upon 'differently abled' being the most appropriate one to use. Individuals with mental or physical conditions are rightly called differently abled as they possess unique set of abilities and perspectives. Everyone has ability and everyone matters isn't it? It's just the matter of acknowledging it. 'Differently abled' doesn't hide the fact that they do have difficulties and challenges that might hardly matter to the ordinary human beings; but continues to empower them despite it.

Most often, differently- abled people see what we can't, hear what we can't hear and think what we can't imagine. This makes their ability; not inferior, not even superior but just different! The term differently abled recognises talent and value in everybody and treats them equally. The lack of certain mental and physical conditions  need not stop them from enjoying a fulfilling, enriched and loved life. Many differently abled people are known to flourish and rejoice in life with the right opportunities, support, guidance, encouragement, love and care.

I asked Ms. Naidu how she initiated getting differently abled team members on board. She had worked with ITC hotel Kakatiya, that employed  people with disabilities in the laundry, gradually involved them in some other areas too. She got inspiration from there. More than that, she spoke about a problem that she was facing in the laundry, linen and uniform room. It's a big hotel and has many employees. The morning scene in the linen room, where the staff go to pick their uniforms from, used to get tensed. Imagine many employees yelling at the counter staff for their uniforms. They would shout, pick up arguments and do a verbal volley if delayed, certainly not a pleasant way to begin the day.

She thought of getting staff in the uniform room with hearing and speech disabilities. She contacted Take One, an organisation that trains and empowers people with disabilities. It didn't matter what the people are shouting for. They'd just do their job and not get hassled. The outcome was different. The laundry and uniform room became so much quieter and everyone smiled. There was built the culture of understanding and humanity. No one wanted to shout but wanted to encourage the new team members. Slowly the other staff started learning the sign language. It was heartening to see everyone communicating with them in their language. Didn't matter which department they worked in everyone was learning the sign language... the language of love and understanding.

On talking about challenges that she faced, she said that while working in the laundry especially on the flatwork ironers, sometimes they'd have their fingers in the feeder. Whistles were given to them so that in case of any mishap or emergency they could blow the whistle and attract attention and help would reach them. They were trained on SOPs and each team member got better with every passing day. That gave them a lot of confidence, they moved from self pity to the level of being confident and self reliant.
This was evident to all, their families were  grateful to the hotel for giving this life changing opportunity to their loved ones. The mothers came and thanked Ms. Naidu.  Can really identify with their concern, as when a child is diagnosed with a medical condition, there are many questions that emerge such as what does this mean for his future? Will he be able to cope in the real world? How will their own life change after this revelation? How will the family deal with someone who is different from others?
When they saw their differently abled child do well as a professional, learning new skills and enjoying his work More than anything else he is happy! They'd but naturally be grateful.

Their uniforms have, ' Differently abled' monogrammed on them so that no can miss that especially the guests. The hotel guests may find it rude if the staff don't  respond to their requests, the message on the uniforms serves the purpose. They wear whistles around their necks to draw attention when needed. She spoke in details sharing incidents where the differently abled staff showed so much of commitment. She said some of them were immensely talented. One of them gifted her a portrait of hers for her birthday.The journey that started for a few 6 years ago from the laundry now has moved to other areas that are covered by the housekeeping department. Its heart warming to see so many happy faces and happy families have resulted from the small step that was taken by Ms. Naidu. 

She discussed many more ideas in this direction and making work place conducive for the differently abled. She swears by the loyalty that these people bring with them. Also the intelligence that they display. To add the care and understanding of human beings, qualities that are needed in the hospitality industry. I know her ideas will find wings and  will certainly write about them too.  
A portrait gifted to Ms. Naidu by one of her talented differently abled staff.