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How do organisations train employees for contingency? Does the star person at the top matter more for your company brand or the employees?

On 26 Nov 2011, the unthinkable happened at the Taj Mahal palace hotel in Mumbai when terrorists attacked the hotel, where 31 people, including 11 hotel employees died and 28 injured.

Some of the staff who were evacuated returned to man the phones, calling each room and instructing hotel guests. Efforts by employees who were empowered to make decisions saved the lives of 1,500 guests who were in the hotel.

In an article “Ordinary Heroes” which appeared in the Havard  Business Review and a TED Talk, Prof Rohit Deshpande and Anjali Raina attributed the exceptional behaviour to organisational culture.

The multimedia case study ‘Terror at the Taj Bombay: Customer-Centric Leadership’ by HBS professor Rohit Deshpande documents “the bravery and resourcefulness shown by rank-and-file employees” during the attack. “Not even the senior managers could explain the behaviour of these employees,” Deshpande is quoted as saying in HBS Working Knowledge, a forum on the faculty’s research and ideas. According to Deshpande even though the employees “knew all the back exits” of the hotel and could have easily escaped, many of them stayed back and helped the guests. “The natural human instinct would be to flee. These are people who instinctively did the right thing. And in the process, some of them, unfortunately, gave their lives to save guests.” 

Can organisational culture play a part in how employees handle situations/crisis they can never be ready for?

The authors suggest that the unusual hiring, training and incentive systems of the Taj Group combined to instill an extremely customer centric work ethic.

For instance, Taj prefers to recruit from smaller cities such as Pune rather than metropolitan like Mumbai.

Criteria for selection include traditional Indian values such as Respect for elders, Humility, consideration of others. Traits such as respect for elders, cheerfulness and neediness.

Trainees go through 18 mths (instead of industry average of 12 mths) of training in  one of 6 residential Taj Group skill certification centres.

At the managerial level, company recruits from lower tier B schools as MBAs who prefer to build careers with a single company are better suited for customer centric environments.

良禽择木而栖
liáng qín zé mù ér qī

Excerpts from “What the CEO really wants from You” by Gopalakrishnan

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