How to use the Kano framework for employee satisfaction?

Kano framework

Dr. Noriaki Kano, one of the eminent contributors in the field of quality management and process improvement, developed the Kano framework in the 1980s. The Kano model is a theory for product development and customer satisfaction.

The Kano framework has a ranking scheme that  distinguishes between essential and differentiating attributes related to concepts of customer quality. He challenged the conventional beliefs that improving each attribute of a product or service will lead to proportional increase in customer satisfaction.

The simple and universally applicable Kano model can be used to improve all relationships, at work as well as in our personal lives. Let’s understand the basics of the model and how to use the framework for employee satisfaction.

What is the Kano Framework?

There is a cost to adding a feature or functionality to a product or service. It is critical to understand how your customers react to a product feature. What is the impact of the functionality on customer experience and satisfaction?

Will customers pay more for a product feature? Does the functionality make your product or service less attractive to the customer?

The Kano model categorizes every product or service feature into five categories.

The Kano Framework
The Kano Model

First category: Basic attributes or “must be” requirements

These are implied features in a product. A customer does not express these requirements. These are the default features that your product or service must provide. The presence of these features and functionalities does not give you any brownie points. However, the absence turns out to be a dissatisfier.

What “must be” benefits do employees expect? Salaries paid on time. Uninterrupted air-conditioning and internet connectivity.

Getting paid on time does not excite employees. Employers are expected to pay on time. Delay in paying salaries would however cause employee dissatisfaction.

Second category: Performance attributes or Desired quality

Customers talk about these features. For instance, fast charging in a smartphone or the wi-fi connection speed at a café. The better the feature, the better is the customer experience.

These features are directly proportional to customer satisfaction. As you perform better, it enhances the customer experience and satisfaction. Hence, there is a need to continuously improve performance and outperform your competitors.

What are some parallel performance attributes for employee satisfaction?

  • Better food options in the cafeteria
  • Tax saving options in the salary structure
  • Training and development programs
  • Regular company offsites and events for employee engagement
  • Flexible work options for remote work

Third category: Attractive attributes or the Delighters

These are unexpected features and benefits. A customer is not accustomed to getting these and does not think that she pays for these benefits. For instance, a surprise upgrade to a first class seat is a delighter for a customer.

What are the parallels for these wow features for creating a happier workplace?

Delighters can be tricky to manage. You need to balance the implementation cost too. People expect repeat gestures after the first few instances. However these have an unproportionally high increase in customer delight.

Fourth category: Indifferent attributes

These are features or functionalities that have no impact on customer satisfaction. The customer is indifferent to the absence or presence of these features. Quite rare, however, spending on such features is a waste of resources. Once identified, companies should remove these from their products or services.

For example, a café owner may try installing an expensive air purifier. However, this may not have any impact on customer experience. Customers may not notice the difference. Paying for a more expensive option was a clear waste. The café owner should immediately revert to the cheaper option.

Look for such “indifferent” benefits you may have introduced for your employees. For instance, tie-up with an online learning start-up to give discounts to your employees. The idea may have come across as a delighter, however it may not have the same actual impact. It is important to get feedback and assess benefits and schemes.

Fifth category: Reverse attributes

These have an inverse correlation with customer satisfaction. Presence of such features and increase in their frequency causes dissatisfaction. For instance, the duration of pre-shift employee huddles. While employee meetings do serve a purpose, it is important to assess the impact. Ensure the agenda is clear and the schedule is followed.

Abusive managers and bosses fit perfectly into this category. Difficult employee exit practices are yet another example of the “reverse attribute” in the Kano framework.

The effect of time on the Kano Framework categories

Dr. Kano pointed out the effect of time on product attributes. With time, attributes tend to jump categories.

What was once a delighter would jump categories to become a performance attribute. A performance attribute would become a basic attribute or “must have” requirement.

Fast charging for smartphones when introduced was a delighter for customers. No one likes to wait a couple of hours for the phones to get charged. Fast charging addressed this customer need.

Phone buyers then started asking for the functionality on every new purchase. The level of fast charging thus became a performance attribute for smartphone manufacturers. The speed of charging is directly proportional to customer satisfaction.

In the near future, this will become a basic need. A smartphone without fast charging functionality will find no takers.

How to use the Kano model for employee satisfaction?

It starts with some thought followed by some actions.

How to use the Kano model
How to use the Kano Model?

Let’s start by creating a list.

  • What is that you need to do better?
  • What is that you need to do more often?
  • What is that you need to stop doing?

Answer these three questions and then add in a few delighters too.

Remember the effect of time we discussed. Hence, revisit the list periodically.

Human capital is the greatest asset of a company. Andrew Carnegie once said – “There is little success where there is little laughter.

Let us say a big thank you to Dr. Noriaki Kano and start using the Kano framework to create happier workplaces.

By Nitesh Verma

Founder - Business Management Blog. I am an independent business strategy consultant, helping companies take data driven business decisions. My mission is to find and implement simple solutions for complex business problems.


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