How Taj Hotel's HR found 26/11 heroes | business | Hindustan Times
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How Taj Hotel's HR found 26/11 heroes

A closer look at the Taj Group of hotels’ recruitment system; the main reasons why the workers of the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel in Mumbai could save the lives of about 1,500 guests who were in the hotel on 26/11.

business Updated: Nov 28, 2011 16:18 IST
Shrenik Avlani

The Taj Group of hotels’ recruitment system, longer training, emphasis on customer-centric behaviour and respect for elders while hiring and encouraging its staff to improvise rather than do things by book are the main reasons why the workers of the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel in Mumbai acted the way they did and saved the lives of about 1,500 guests who were in the hotel on 26/11 when terrorists attacked the hotel. This is the case made out by Prof Rohit Deshpande and Anjali Raina in an article titled ‘The Ordinary Heroes of the Taj’ which will appear in the December issue of the prestigious journal, Harvard Business Review.

The article, a study of the organizational culture and leadership in the Taj Group, recounts how the hotel staff took charge in the crisis situation and led from the front to ensure the safety of guests, first, and colleagues. The Taj employees helped 1,200-1,500 guests escape on a night when 31 people, including 11 hotel employees, died and 28 were injured.

Deshpande is a Sebastian S. Kresge professor of marketing at Harvard and Raina is the executive director of the Harvard Business School India Research Centre in Mumbai.

Deshpande and Raina attribute the response of the Taj employees to the hotel chain’s organizational culture in which employees are willing to do almost anything for the guests. The authors contend that the unusual hiring, training, and incentive systems of the Taj Group have combined to instill an extremely customer centric work ethic in the hotel’s staff.

Taj prefers to hire from smaller cities rather than metros – Pune, not Mumbai – because that’s where traditional Indian values – such as respect for elders and teachers, humility, consideration of others – still hold sway. It hires young people, often straight out of high school, who display three traits: respect for elders, cheerfulness and neediness. The chosen candidates are trained at one of the six residential Taj Group skill-certification centres for 18 months, instead of the industry standard of 12 months.

At the managerial level too, the company recruits from the lower-tier B-schools as they find that MBA graduates from these institutes want to build careers with a single company and tend to fit in better with a customer-centric culture. However, no one was trained for a situation like the one on 26/11.

Despite that the Taj staff displayed leadership skills and formed human chains around guests to ensure their safety. Because all Taj employees are empowered to take decisions as agents of the customer, it makes them feel in command. That night they took the decision and saved their guests first.

Deshpande thought of investigating the link between the Taj Group’s HR practice and organizational culture and the way Taj employees acted on 26/11 while working on a case on the brand architecture of Taj Hotels in early 2009.

“After finishing the brand architecture case, I requested and received permission from Mr Ratan Tata to develop a separate case focusing on crisis management and brand recovery. This time it was a video case and was taught starting last year at Harvard Business School,” said Deshpande.

Since the video case did not have enough exposure to the latter topic, Deshpande and Raina decided to delve deeper into the Taj HR processes. Hence the current article in Harvard Business Review, said Deshpande.

The interviewees included frontline personnel who had lost friends, colleagues, and family during that terrible crisis – Taj manager, Karambir Kang, being just one amazingly inspirational example.