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Reading Assessment 1
Assignment Summary

Give your considered opinion to the following question:

          Some people say that businesses can’t behave ethically. The material that follows
           makes the argument that at least one business can and does behave ethically.
           Using the situation described below, and any other situations and material you
           want to use (properly cited), give your considered opinion on why a business can
           (or can’t) behave ethically.

Remember to check the syllabus to remind yourself of the requirements for a Reading
Assessment.

Background

Last month, the Harvard Business Review—probably the most prestigious business
journal in the world—came out with an article on business ethics that is both intriguing in
its own right, and has generated quite a bit of discussion.

The HBR article makes the case that a business can act ethically—and it can take steps to
ensure that its employees act ethically as well. It gives an example of how a business—
the Taj Hotel in India (parent company: Tata Group)—goes about doing that, and the
effect that its actions had in a very dramatic incident.

It would be easy to get mesmerized by the details of this incident, unquestioningly accept
the idea that the employer acted ethically, and not grapple with some thorny ethical
questions. This is a third year course, so I’m not going to let you do that.

I’m perfectly fine with you coming to the conclusion at the end that this company is
behaving ethically—in fact, that it’s a model of ethical behaviour that other companies
should adopt—but you have to have reasons for your conclusion.

Some of the questions that you will need to wrestle with as you write your rough notes:

          The Spiegel article asserts that there is Skinnerian conditioning going on here. Is
           that true?1 Is that something an employer should be doing?

          Is it right to for a company to have recruitment and training systems in place that
           may well result in your employees putting the lives of your customers ahead of
           their own?

          What’s the difference between brainwashing someone and training them?



1
    Not sure what this is? Hint: Psychology.


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          The Taj is owned by the Tata Group. Wikipedia reports that it can be said that
           “about 66% of the profits of Tata Group go to charity.”2 One way to look at this
           situation, then, is to say that the company sacrifices for its community. Does that
           mean it’s fair for it to want its employees to sacrifice for the community as well?
           Does this change your opinion of the ethics of what this company is doing in how
           it recruits and trains its employees? Should it?

          In the comments attached to the HBR article, almost all of the responses are
           overwhelmingly favourable. Does that effect what you think of this situation?
           Should it?

               o There is one comment (out of about a dozen) that is negative, calling the
                 article and the reaction to it “elitist sentimentality”. Why does the one
                 negative reaction stand out amongst all the positives? Do we give it more
                 weight than we should? Less?

          In the NPR story, Tom Donaldson, an academic from a rival business school has
           some sceptical things to say about the article. Do you think his points are valid?
           Why or why not?

          2012 is the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic. How does the
           behaviour of the employees of the Taj compare to the behaviour of the crew of the
           Titanic? Is it a fair comparison?

In your write-up, I don’t want you to engage with the question of whether or not what the
employees did was ethical. That’s a different question and (at least in my opinion) a lot
easier question to answer. The focus in this assessment is on the employer.




2
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tata_Group#cite_note-22


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                                The Ordinary Heroes of the Taj

Deshpandé, Rohit; Raina, Anjali
Harvard Business Review
December 2011.
Accessed January 3, 2012 from http://hbr.org/2011/12/the-ordinary-heroes-of-the-
taj/ar/1#.TwMwb_Hdj1M.email

On November 26, 2008, Harish Manwani, chairman, and Nitin Paranjpe, CEO, of
Hindustan Unilever hosted a dinner at the Taj Mahal Palace hotel in Mumbai (Taj
Mumbai, for short). Unilever’s directors, senior executives, and their spouses were
bidding farewell to Patrick Cescau, the CEO, and welcoming Paul Polman, the CEO-
elect. About 35 Taj Mumbai employees, led by a 24-year-old banquet manager, Mallika
Jagad, were assigned to manage the event in a second-floor banquet room. Around 9:30,
as they served the main course, they heard what they thought were fireworks at a nearby
wedding. In reality, these were the first gunshots from terrorists who were storming the
Taj.

The staff quickly realized something was wrong. Jagad had the doors locked and the
lights turned off. She asked everyone to lie down quietly under tables and refrain from
using cell phones. She insisted that husbands and wives separate to reduce the risk to
families. The group stayed there all night, listening to the terrorists rampaging through
the hotel, hurling grenades, firing automatic weapons, and tearing the place apart. The
Taj staff kept calm, according to the guests, and constantly went around offering water
and asking people if they needed anything else. Early the next morning, a fire started in
the hallway outside, forcing the group to try to climb out the windows. A fire crew
spotted them and, with its ladders, helped the trapped people escape quickly. The staff
evacuated the guests first, and no casualties resulted. “It was my responsibility....I may
have been the youngest person in the room, but I was still doing my job,” Jagad later told
one of us.

Elsewhere in the hotel, the upscale Japanese restaurant Wasabi by Morimoto was busy at
9:30 PM. A warning call from a hotel operator alerted the staff that terrorists had entered
the building and were heading toward the restaurant. Forty-eight-year-old Thomas
Varghese, the senior waiter at Wasabi, immediately instructed his 50-odd guests to
crouch under tables, and he directed employees to form a human cordon around them.
Four hours later, security men asked Varghese if he could get the guests out of the hotel.
He decided to use a spiral staircase near the restaurant to evacuate the customers first and
then the hotel staff. The 30-year Taj veteran insisted that he would be the last man to
leave, but he never did get out. The terrorists gunned him down as he reached the bottom
of the staircase.

When Karambir Singh Kang, the Taj Mumbai’s general manager, heard about the attacks,
he immediately left the conference he was attending at another Taj property. He took
charge at the Taj Mumbai the moment he arrived, supervising the evacuation of guests
and coordinating the efforts of firefighters amid the chaos. His wife and two young
children were in a sixth-floor suite, where the general manager traditionally lives. Kang


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thought they would be safe, but when he realized that the terrorists were on the upper
floors, he tried to get to his family. It was impossible. By midnight the sixth floor was in
flames, and there was no hope of anyone’s surviving. Kang led the rescue efforts until
noon the next day. Only then did he call his parents to tell them that the terrorists had
killed his wife and children. His father, a retired general, told him, “Son, do your duty.
Do not desert your post.” Kang replied, “If it [the hotel] goes down, I will be the last man
out.”Three years ago, when armed terrorists attacked a dozen locations in Mumbai—
including two luxury hotels, a hospital, the railway station, a restaurant, and a Jewish
center—they killed as many as 159 people, both Indians and foreigners, and gravely
wounded more than 200. The assault, known as 26/11, scarred the nation’s psyche by
exposing the country’s vulnerability to terrorism, although India is no stranger to it. The
Taj Mumbai’s burning domes and spires, which stayed ablaze for two days and three
nights, will forever symbolize the tragic events of 26/11.

During the onslaught on the Taj Mumbai, 31 people died and 28 were hurt, but the hotel
received only praise the day after. Its guests were overwhelmed by employees’ dedication
to duty, their desire to protect guests without regard to personal safety, and their quick
thinking. Restaurant and banquet staff rushed people to safe locations such as kitchens
and basements. Telephone operators stayed at their posts, alerting guests to lock doors
and not step out. Kitchen staff formed human shields to protect guests during evacuation
attempts. As many as 11 Taj Mumbai employees—a third of the hotel’s casualties—laid
down their lives while helping between 1,200 and 1,500 guests escape.

At some level, that isn’t surprising. One of the world’s top hotels, the Taj Mumbai is
ranked number 20 by Condé Nast Traveler in the overseas business hotel category. The
hotel is known for the highest levels of quality, its ability to go many extra miles to
delight customers, and its staff of highly trained employees, some of whom have worked
there for decades. It is a well-oiled machine, where every employee knows his or her job,
has encyclopedic knowledge about regular guests, and is comfortable taking orders.

Even so, the Taj Mumbai’s employees gave customer service a whole new meaning
during the terrorist strike. What created that extreme customer-centric culture of
employee after employee staying back to rescue guests when they could have saved
themselves? What can other organizations do to emulate that level of service, both in
times of crisis and in periods of normalcy? Can companies scale up and perpetuate
extreme customer centricity?

Our studies show that the Taj employees’ actions weren’t prescribed in manuals; no
official policies or procedures existed for an event such as 26/11. Some contextual factors
could have had a bearing, such as India’s ancient culture of hospitality; the values of the
House of Tata, which owns the Taj Group; and the Taj Mumbai’s historical roots in the
patriotic movement for a free India. The story, probably apocryphal, goes that in the
1890s, when security men denied J.N. Tata entry into the Royal Navy Yacht Club,
pointing to a board that apparently said “No Entry for Indians and Dogs,” he vowed to set
up a hotel the likes of which the British had never seen. The Taj opened its doors in 1903.




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Still, something unique happened on 26/11. We believe that the unusual hiring, training,
and incentive systems of the Taj Group—which operates 108 hotels in 12 countries—
have combined to create an organizational culture in which employees are willing to do
almost anything for guests. This extraordinary customer centricity helped, in a moment of
crisis, to turn its employees into a band of ordinary heroes. To be sure, no single factor
can explain the employees’ valor. Designing an organization for extreme customer
centricity requires several dimensions, the most critical of which we describe in this
article.

A Values-Driven Recruitment System

The Taj Group’s three-pronged recruiting system helps to identify people it can train to
be customer-centric. Unlike other companies that recruit mainly from India’s
metropolitan areas, the chain hires most of its frontline staff from smaller cities and
towns such as Pune (not Mumbai); Chandigarh and Dehradun (not Delhi); Trichirappalli
and Coimbatore (not Chennai); Mysore and Manipal (not Bangalore); and Haldia (not
Calcutta). According to senior executives, the rationale is neither the larger size of the
labor pool outside the big cities nor the desire to reduce salary costs, although both may
be additional benefits. The Taj Group prefers to go into the hinterland because that’s
where traditional Indian values—such as respect for elders and teachers, humility,
consideration of others, discipline, and honesty—still hold sway. In the cities, by
contrast, youngsters are increasingly driven by money, are happy to cut corners, and are
unlikely to be loyal to the company or empathetic with customers.

The Taj Group prefers to recruit employees from the hinterland because that’s where
traditional Indian values still hold sway.

The Taj Group believes in hiring young people, often straight out of high school. Its
recruitment teams start out in small towns and semiurban areas by identifying schools
that, in the local people’s opinion, have good teaching standards. They call on the
schools’ headmasters to help them choose prospective candidates. Contrary to popular
perception, the Taj Group doesn’t scout for the best English speakers or math whizzes; it
will even recruit would-be dropouts. Its recruiters look for three character traits: respect
for elders (how does he treat his teachers?); cheerfulness (does she perceive life
positively even in adversity?); and neediness (how badly does his family need the income
from a job?).

The chosen few are sent to the nearest of six residential Taj Group skill-certification
centers, located in the metros. The trainees learn and earn for the next 18 months, staying
in no-rent company dormitories, eating free food, and receiving an annual stipend of
about 5,000 rupees a month (roughly $100) in the first year, which rises to 7,000 rupees a
month ($142) in the second year. Trainees remit most of their stipends to their families,
because the Taj Group pays their living costs. As a result, most work hard and display
good values despite the temptations of the big city, and they want to build careers with
the Taj Group. The company offers traineeships to those who exhibit potential and
haven’t made any egregious errors or dropped out.



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One level up, the Taj Group recruits supervisors and junior managers from approximately
half of the more than 100 hotel--management and catering institutes in India. It cultivates
relationships with about 30 through a campus-connect program under which the Taj
Group trains faculty and facilitates student visits. It maintains about 10 permanent
relationships while other institutes rotate in and out of the program. Although the Taj
Group administers a battery of tests to gauge candidates’ domain knowledge and to
develop psychometric profiles, recruiters admit that they primarily assess the prospects’
sense of values and desire to contribute. What the Taj Group looks for in managers is
integrity, along with the ability to work consistently and conscientiously, to always put
guests first, to respond beyond the call of duty, and to work well under pressure.

For the company’s topmost echelons, the Taj Group signs up 50 or so management
trainees every year from India’s second- and third-tier B-schools such as Infinity
Business School, in Delhi, or Symbiosis Institute, in Pune, usually for functions such as
marketing or sales. It doesn’t recruit from the premier institutions, as the Taj Group has
found that MBA graduates from lower-tier B-schools want to build careers with a single
company, tend to fit in better with a customer-centric culture, and aren’t driven solely by
money. A hotelier must want, above all else, to make other people happy, and the Taj
Group keeps that top of mind in its recruitment processes.

Training Customer Ambassadors

The Taj Group has a long history of training and mentoring, which helps to sustain its
customer centricity. The practice began in the 1960s, when CEO Ajit Kerkar—who
personally interviewed every recruit, including cooks, bellhops, and wait staff, before
employing them—mentored generations of employees. The effort has become more
process-driven over time.

Most hotel chains train frontline employees for 12 months, on average, but the Taj Group
insists on an 18-month program. Managers, too, go through 18 months of classroom and
on-the-job operations training. For instance, trainee managers will spend a fortnight
focusing on service in the Taj Group’s training restaurant and the next 15 days working
hands-on in a hotel restaurant.

The Taj Group’s experience and research has shown that employees make 70% to 80% of
their contacts with guests in an unsupervised environment. Training protocols therefore
assume, first, that employees will usually have to deal with guests without supervision—
that is, employees must know what to do and how to do it, whatever the circumstances,
without needing to turn to a supervisor.

One tool the company uses is a two-hour weekly debriefing session with every trainee,
who must answer two questions: What did you learn this week? What did you see this
week? The process forces trainee managers to absorb essential concepts in the classroom,
try out newfound skills in live settings, and learn to negotiate the differences between
them. This helps managers develop the ability to sense and respond on the fly.




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The Taj Group also estimates that a 24-hour stay in a hotel results in between 40 and 45
guest-employee interactions, which it labels “moments of truth.” This leads to the second
key assumption underlying its programs: It must train employees to manage those
interactions so that each one creates a favorable impression on the guest. To ensure that
result, the company imparts three kinds of skills: technical skills, so that employees
master their jobs (for instance, wait staff must know foods, wines, how to serve, and so
on); grooming, personality, and language skills, which are hygiene factors; and customer-
handling skills, so that employees learn to listen to guests, understand their needs, and
customize service or improvise to meet those needs.

In a counterintuitive twist, the Taj Group insists that employees must act as the
customer’s, not the company’s, ambassadors. Employees obviously represent the chain,
but that logic could become counterproductive if they start watching out for the hotel’s
interests, not the guests’, especially at moments of truth. Trainees are assured that the
company’s leadership, right up to the CEO, will support any employee decision that puts
guests front and center and that shows that employees did everything possible to delight
them.

Trainees are assured that the company’s leadership, right up to the CEO, will support any
employee decision that puts guests front and center.

According to senior executives, this shift in perspective changes the way employees
respond to situations. Moreover, it alters the extent to which they act—and believe they
can act—in order to please guests. A senior executive told us that when an irate guest
swore he would never stay at the Taj Mumbai again because the air conditioner hadn’t
worked all night, a trainee manager offered him breakfast on the house and provided
complimentary transportation to the airport. She also ensured that someone from the next
Taj property at which he was booked picked him up from the airport. Did the trainee
spend a lot of the company’s money on a single guest? Yes. Did she have to ask for
permission or justify her actions? No. In the Taj Group’s unwritten rule book, all that
mattered was that the employee did her best to mollify an angry guest so that he would
return to the Taj.

The Taj Group’s training programs not only motivate employees, but they also create a
favorable organizational culture. H.N. Shrinivas, the senior vice president of human
resources for the Taj Group, notes: “If you empower employees to take decisions as
agents of the customer, it energizes them and makes them feel in command.” That’s in
part why the Taj Group has won Gallup’s Great Workplace Award in India for two years
in a row.

Incumbent managers conduct all the training in the Taj Group, which uses few
consultants. This allows the chain to impart not just technical skills but also the tacit
knowledge, values, and elements of organizational culture that differentiate it from the
competition. Every hotel has a training manager to coordinate the process, and given that
Taj properties impart training only in the areas in which they excel, they vie with one
another to become training grounds.



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Like all the other companies in the House of Tata, the Taj Group uses the Tata
Leadership Practices framework, which lays out three sets of leadership competencies
that managers must develop: leadership of results, business, and people. Every year 150
to 200 managers attend training sessions designed to address those competencies. The
company thereafter tailors plans on the basis of individuals’ strengths and weaknesses,
and it hires an external coach to support each manager on his or her leadership journey.

The Taj Group expects managers to lead by example. For instance, after a day of work,
the general manager of every hotel is expected to be in the lobby in the evenings, to
welcome guests. That might seem old-fashioned, but that’s the Taj tradition of
hospitality.

A Recognition-as-Reward System

Underpinning the Taj Group’s rewards system is the notion that happy employees lead to
happy customers. One way of ensuring that outcome, the organization believes, is to
show that it values the efforts of both frontline and heart-of-the house employees by
thanking them personally. These expressions of gratitude, senior executives find, must
come from immediate supervisors, who are central in determining how employees feel
about the company. In addition, the timing of the recognition is usually more important
than the reward itself.

Using these ideas, in 2001 the Taj Group created a Special Thanks and Recognition
System (STARS) that links customer delight to employee rewards. Employees
accumulate points throughout the year in three domains: compliments from guests,
compliments from colleagues, and their own suggestions. Crucially, at the end of each
day, a STARS committee comprising each hotel’s general manager, HR manager,
training manager, and the concerned department head review all the nominations and
suggestions. The members of this group decide whether the compliments are evidence of
exceptional performance and if the employee’s suggestions are good. Then they post their
comments on the company’s intranet. If the committee doesn’t make a decision within 48
hours, the employee gets the points by default.

By accumulating points, Taj Group employees aspire to reach one of five performance
levels: the managing director’s club; the COO’s club; and the platinum, gold, and silver
levels. Departments honor workers who reach those last three levels with gift vouchers,
STARS lapel pins, and STARS shields and trophies, whereas the hotel bestows the
COO’s club awards. At an annual organization-wide celebration called the Taj Business
Excellence Awards ceremony, employees who have made the managing director’s club
get crystal trophies, gift vouchers, and certificates.

According to independent experts, the Taj Group’s service standards and customer-
-retention rates rose after it launched the STARS program, because employees felt that
their contributions were valued. In fact, STARS won the Hermes Award in 2002 for the
best human resource innovation in the global hospitality industry.




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The Taj Group's hiring, training, and recognition systems have together created an
extraordinary service culture, but you may still wonder if the response of the Taj
Mumbai’s employees to 26/11 was unique. Perhaps. Perhaps not.At about 9:30 AM on
December 26, 2004, a tsunami rippled across the Indian Ocean, wreaking havoc on
coastal populations from Indonesia to India, killing about 185,000 people. Among those
affected was the island nation of the Maldives, where tidal waves devastated several
resort hotels, including two belonging to the Taj Group: the Taj Exotica and the Taj Coral
Reef.

Many guests were panic-stricken, but the Taj staff members remained calm and
optimistic.

As soon as the giant waves struck, guests say, Taj Group employees rushed to every
room and escorted them to high ground. Women and children were sheltered in the
island’s only two-story building. Many guests were panic-stricken, believing that more
waves could follow, but staff members remained calm and optimistic.

No more waves arrived, but the first one had inundated kitchens and storerooms. A Taj
Group team, led by the head chef, immediately set about salvaging food supplies,
carrying cooking equipment to high ground, and preparing a hot meal. Housekeeping
staff retrieved furniture from the lagoon, pumped water out of a restaurant, and restored a
semblance of normalcy. Despite the trying circumstances, lunch was served by 1:00 PM.

The two Taj hotels continued to improvise for two more days until help arrived from
India, and then they evacuated all the guests to Chennai in an aircraft that the Taj Group
had chartered. There were no casualties and no panic, according to guests, some of whom
were so thankful that they later volunteered to help rebuild the island nation. These Taj
Group employees behaved like ordinary heroes, just as their colleagues at the Taj
Mumbai would four years later. That, it appears, is indeed the Taj Way.




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Comments from the Harvard Business Review website:

Shrikanth Koppal 11/29/2011 05:17 PM:

       This extraordinary customer centricity helped, in a moment of crisis, to turn its
       employees into a band of ordinary heroes.I think it should be extraordinary in
       place of ordinary.Anyways, its an amazing piece. This incident is very close to
       my heart and I am glad that more and more people will be able to learn something
       important out of it.

Kalsang 11/28/2011 08:20 PM

       Ethics in action!

       Thanks for this wonderful article. Excellent hiring methods - true heroes are in
       semi-rural areas. I am proud to say Tibetan born in India. Thanks

Partham Mishra 11/17/2011 09:37 PM

       It’s so heart-warming as well as inspiring to understand how far an organisation
       goes to salvage its core assets i.e. customers' experience , safety , pleasure and
       there is a well concerted effort by Taj Group with the values and principles laid
       down by TATAs an erudite ,informed erstwhile business house of India which
       created legacy more about its values than the profit. Here I can cite a very
       interesting example of same devotion and dedication to salvage its core assets of
       business i.e. coal and its mining people in coal companies in India when there
       disaster strikes in any coal mine. I am not sure how far Prof Deshpande knows
       about the coal mines in India specially which belongs to eastern peninsula where
       there are hundreds of old , hazardous mines some of which more prone to
       accident than others. Our coal people works and wins those fossil fuel with simply
       cavalry, valour and terrific combination of wit and alertness sans any high level ,
       well orchestrated training or teaching (some technical training hardly leverage
       that charisma to work against so many odds). But the real leadership, teamwork
       and extreme dedication been seen when there disaster strikes or accidents occurs
       in any mine, the whole organisation just get knit so closely irrespective of post
       and position, jump into the rescue and salvage work right from general manager
       to the general majdoor and who keep their life at stake so many times to save
       every single life trapped inside. It’s rarest in other organisation in our nation but
       so often happens in the coal industry in India which is unfortunately not
       documented may be due to some baised against the otherwise unprofessional
       ambience of the age old industry. Its stakeholders may not get the attention as
       they deserved in normal time but in crisis and disaster, it traditionally asserts itself
       to the highest level to showcase how much it can go to care for human life and to
       save its property like coal blocks etc.




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Puneet 12/16/2011 07:51 PM

       It feels proud to see that a Great Indian conglomerate like Tata is today's leading
       examples of how this company not just write words like Customer Service in their
       communications but rather live it as each day and make this culture is a way of
       life.

Ajay Joshi 12/12/2011 07:04 AM

       The case study like this are all the more important in the country like India t
       present. This is because, there is urgent need of organisational loyalty and sense
       of service, in particular, in public service sector where self-centrred behavior is
       guiding all actions.

       This case study gives many applied and successful ideas, which can be replicated
       in government sector to get more motivated employees, who can behave as ideal
       pubic servants.

K.Ramachandran 12/10/2011 01:15 PM

       Quote:

       "To be sure, no single factor can explain the employees’ valor . "

       My comments:

       In my opinion , involving people is much more important . If that is done it makes
       a stong foundation for the values and culture and later it becomes the tradition .
       The ownership comes automatically , as the employess are so much involved in
       their job by putting their heart and soul. No scope for errors which makes them to
       take develop self developmental efforts and creative thinking and go all out in the
       customer satisfaction without fear or favour . The presence of mind and out of
       box thinking will come only in an organisation where it is appreciated and
       believes in empowerment of its people at operational level without interfearance .
       Purely rule based set up will kill the creativity and provide room for subjectivity .
       The only motto in every body's mind is zero tolerance particulary in the areas of
       customer safety and satisfaction . This comes naturally and is practiced by the
       design like the family tradition . The member just pick up the age old custom &
       culture is followed as foot steps giving importance to the established values . It
       can not be achieved by the sceduled trainings or by introducing any attractive
       incentive scheme . It should be within and people must enjoy people and that is
       pre conditon for selection. The perceived notion of the employees at Taj are heart
       felt and most of them are definitedly influenced by the great leaders of TATAs .
       At least most of them might have had direct interaction with J.R.D or heard the
       story of his great chaimanship of TATAs . Taj is a place where people believe ,
       business decisions alone are not taken at all times .The fact remains that the
       management has exhibited conciously and continuoulsly , the dedication and
       devotion along with openess in grooming and rewarding emplyoees providing


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       right amount of facts and allowing them to take decisions and raise up to all
       accassions including in crisis situations . I think that makes a big diffence and
       their employees are able to create histories which attracts every one and also get
       reported in HBR.

Sanity-monger 12/10/2011 08:58 AM

       Although I find this story inspirational, I also find it and the reactions in these
       comments disturbing. There is more than one way to view the extraordinary
       sacrifice of Taj’s employees and what might have motivated them. We read that
       Tata recruits in the hinterland in order to gain employees more willing to toady to
       the pampered clientele, due both to their cultural background as well as their
       financial desperation. Was it their training or these other factors that caused them
       to conclude, in those days of crisis, that the lives of the guests had greater value
       than their own? Either way, it is not a morally justifiable goal of an organization
       to encourage such a level of self-sacrifice. Had the Taj somehow been in any way
       responsible for the dire situation, or if we were talking about persons in public
       safety roles such as security personnel, then I think a willingness to put one’s life
       on the line would be justified. But for ordinary workers dealing with an
       extraordinary situation not of their or their employer’s making, such sacrifice
       speaks to an organizational malady rather than a situation to be lauded. The
       inability of the writer or (based on these comments) the readers of a publication
       like HBR to discern this perversion is yet further evidence of the degree to which
       modern business paradigms have gone off the rails. It is to such perversions
       (among other things) that movements such as the Arab Spring and Occupy Wall
       Street object, for ordinary plebes (heroes and otherwise) can see right through
       such elitist sentimentality.

Shrihari Udupa 12/10/2011 03:39 AM

       Times of crisis reveal the character of an organisation, this is a reflection of the
       values lived on a day to day basis by the leaders. if there is a dichotomy between
       the words and action, the employees see it through, they would leave the
       organisation and the so called leadership in lurch when the need is acute. The
       level of dedication displayed could not be achieved by lectures, it has come by
       leaders living the values and reflecting them in every action. Hats off to the
       culture and values at Tata..the brand speaks it all!

Sabina3520 12/08/2011 11:43 PM

       really very inspiring !! an extraordinary story of courage and great hospitality

Ashok Davidson 11/28/2011 12:03 AM

       Taj - The crowing glory of Hospitality: The word hospitality derives from the
       Latin hospes, which is formed from hostis, which originally meant "to have
       power." The meaning of "host" can be literally read as "lord of strangers." -
       Wikipedia


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Dr.Suchitra Shetty 11/27/2011 12:42 PM

       Amazing!!!commitment par excellence....Taj,an all time inspiration set....

Paresh Masade 11/27/2011 09:24 AM

       wonderful to know how culture of an organization can be built... a perfect
       example of leadership on ground...

Suresh Kochattil 11/27/2011 04:47 AM

       An amazing story of Ordinary men and women at Taj Mumbai who did their job
       despite being in the line of fire. I am proud to have been a part of the Taj group.
       They walk their talk.

satish 11/27/2011 03:43 AM

       No words coming out. Hatsoff..

Jagadeesh1 11/20/2011 12:26 PM

       Very inspiring,dedication and selfless service risking life.




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Transcript from a radio show about this (note the reference to Skinner, and the response
from another academic):

                Heroes of the Taj Hotel: Why They Risked Their Lives

Spiegel, Alix
All Things Considered: NPR
December 23, 2011
Accessed January 3, 2012 from http://www.npr.org/2011/12/23/144184623/mumbai-
terror-attacks-the-heroes-of-the-taj-hotel

On Nov. 26, 2008, terrorists simultaneously attacked about a dozen locations in Mumbai,
India, including one of the most iconic buildings in the city, the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel.

For two nights and three days, the Taj was under siege, held by men with automatic
weapons who took some people hostage, killed others and set fire to the famous dome of
the hotel.

The siege of the Taj quickly became an international story. Lots of people covered it,
including CNN's Fareed Zakaria, who grew up in Mumbai. In a report that aired the day
after the attacks, Zakaria spoke eloquently about the horror of what had happened in
Mumbai, and then pointed to a silver lining: the behavior of the employees at the Taj.

Apparently, something extraordinary had happened during the siege. According to hotel
managers, none of the Taj employees had fled the scene to protect themselves during the
attack: They all stayed at the hotel to help the guests.

"I was told many stories of Taj hotel employees who made sure that every guest they
could find was safely ferreted out of the hotel, at grave risk to their own lives," Zakaria
said on his program.

There was the story of the kitchen employees who formed a human shield to assist guests
who were evacuating, and lost their lives as a result. Of the telephone operators who,
after being evacuated, chose to return to the hotel so they could call guests and tell them
what to do. Of Karambir Singh Kang, the general manager of the Taj, who worked to
save people even after his wife and two sons, who lived on the sixth floor of the hotel,
died in the fire set by the terrorists.

Often during a crisis, a single hero or small group of heroes who take action and risk their
lives will emerge. But what happened at the Taj was much broader.

During the crisis, dozens of workers — waiters and busboys, and room cleaners who
knew back exits and paths through the hotel — chose to stay in a building under siege
until their customers were safe. They were the very model of ethical, selfless behavior.

What could possibly explain it?



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Getting To The Bottom Of It

Earlier this month, a study in the Harvard Business Review proposed an answer to that
question.

The study was done by Rohit Deshpande, a Harvard business professor who researches
both business ethics and global branding.

About nine months after the attacks on the Taj, Deshpande was in India interviewing
senior management of the hotel on a completely different topic, but found that the people
he was talking to kept steering the conversation back to the terrorist attacks.

"What was interesting about all those interviews with senior management was that they
could not explain the behavior of their own employees," he told me. "They simply
couldn't explain it."

And so Deshpande decided to do his own investigation of the company to see if he might
be able to untangle the cause.

Last year, Deshpande flew to India to review the company's HR policies and also do
interviews with the hotel staff, everyone from managers to kitchen workers.

What he published in the Harvard Business Review is his case study of the company.

Now, because this is a case study and not a double-blind research study, it's impossible to
draw definitive conclusions. But this is what Deshpande thinks:

"It perhaps has something to do with the kinds of people that they recruit to become
employees at the Taj, and then the manner that they train them and reward them," he
says.

From A To Z — Recruitment To Reward

First, recruitment. In their search to find maids and bellhops, the Taj avoids big cities and
instead turns to small towns and semi-urban areas. There the Taj develops relationships
with local schools, asking the leaders of those schools to hand-select people who have the
qualifications they want.

"They don't look for students who have the highest grades. They're actually recruiting for
personal characteristics," Deshpande says, "most specifically, respect and empathy."

Taj managers explained to Deshpande that they recruited for traits like empathy because
that kind of underlying value is hard to teach. This, he says, is also why recruiters avoid
hiring managers for the hotel from the top business schools in India. They deliberately go
to second-tier business schools, on the theory that the people there will be less motivated
by money.

And this strategy, as Deshpande points out, is highly unusual in India.


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"Let me put this into a little cultural context for you," he says.

"India is a country where people are almost obsessed about grades. In order to get ahead,
you have to have really high grades. But here is an organization that is doing just the
opposite — they're recruiting not for grades, they're recruiting for character."

Part of this focus on character is ideological, he says.

The Taj is owned by a corporation called the Tata group, which for the past hundred
years has been run by an extremely religious family that's interested in social justice: The
company typically channels about two-thirds of its profits into a charitable trust.

But Deshpande says there are also practical reasons for this focus on character. The Taj
hotel has made its name on customer service, and they are near maniacal about it, treating
it almost like a science.

For example, managers have mapped the number of interactions that happen between
customers and hotel employees in a typical 24-hour stay. There are on average 42, often
unsupervised, interactions between employees and guests.

Each of these interactions is viewed by the company as an opportunity for employees to
delight their customers with their kindness. So everything — everything — about the
training and rewards systems set up by the Taj is designed to encourage kindness.

Deshpande gives one example. "If guests say something or write something very
complimentary about an employee, within 48 hours of [the] recording of that
compliment, there is some sort of reward that is made."

Rewards range from gifts to job promotions.

This system — of immediately rewarding desired behavior — will likely sound familiar
to people interested in psychology.

It's by-the-book conditioning, the same kind of conditioning used by B.F. Skinner to train
his pigeons.

And in his study, Deshpande argues that it is this combination of selection and routinized
rewards that explains what happened during those terrible three days when the Taj hotel
was under siege.

The employees, he argues, were essentially performing the behaviors they were selected
and trained to perform. In this case, extreme kindness to customers.

Enabling Ethics

The reception area of the Taj Mahal Hotel reopened on Dec. 22, 2008, less than a month
after devastating attacks that rocked India's financial and entertainment capital.




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The reception area of the Taj Mahal Hotel reopened on Dec. 22, 2008, less than a month
after devastating attacks that rocked India's financial and entertainment capital.

And for Deshpande, all of this has much larger implications: For him, what happened at
the Taj is proof positive that organizations can create ethical behavior.

"I am absolutely convinced that corporations can enable ethical behavior, and I think
what happened at the Taj on [Nov. 26, 2008] is a great example," he says.

But Tom Donaldson, professor of business ethics at the Wharton School, says producing
ethics isn't so simple.

"If ethics could be engineered by the organization infallibly, we wouldn't be hearing
about so many scandals in church organizations," he says.

It's not that rewards don't matter, Donaldson argues. They profoundly influence behavior,
he says. But Donaldson wonders if all the training and conditioning done by the Taj can
really be said to have produced truly ethical behavior. What would happen, he wonders,
if those employees had confronted a different kind of ethical dilemma, one presented by
the customers they'd been conditioned to serve?

"I'd like to know what a Taj employee would do," he says, "for example, if one of the
guests ended up striking a homeless person, or one of the guests attempted to sexually
assault a hotel worker."

It's hard to condition real ethics, he says.

But for Deshpande, in the example of the Taj and the incredible sacrifices of the
employees who work there, there is still a clear, and very compelling, lesson.

"Corporate design is absolutely critical," Deshpande says. "For good, and for evil."




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