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Ratan Tata pays tribute to slain guests,
employees of Taj
26/11 Mumbai attack: HR practices
converted ordinary Taj employees
November 27, 2009
Saumya Bhattacharya, ET Bureau Nov 24, 2011, 10.17am IST
We were able to change an adversity into a
Tags: Taj Mahal Palace Hotel
August 13, 2010
Taj Mahal Hotel: A time to heal
November 27, 2009
NEW DELHI: In the weeks that followed 26/11 — the day on
which rampaging terrorists killed some 150 people at 10
locations in South Mumbai, including 11 employees of the
Taj Mahal Palace hotel — Ratan Tata made visits to some of the bereaved families. The chief of the Tata group, which
owns the Taj via group company Indian Hotels, met a
woman who pointed to the garlanded figure of her late
husband and said: "My children never realised their father
was a hero." It took Tata by surprise, as he expected to
encounter anger and sorrow.
The above anecdote is narrated by Rohit Deshpande, professor at Harvard Business School (HBS), who was interviewing Tata for a five-part video case study on crisis management at the Taj during 26/11. Deshpande started to teach the course at Harvard from October 2010. His students, especially non-Indians, were transfixed by the topic and were incredulous why employees were willing to give up their lives when they had the option to flee.
The student reaction prodded Deshpande, along with Anjali Raina, executive director at HBS India Research Centre in Mumbai to delve deeper into the HR practices of the organisation. The uncommon valour of those who worked at the Taj convinced the duo to research the human resource (HR) practices of the organisation. After all, here was an extremely rare case of employees placing the safety of guests over their own well-being; and in the process some of them sacrificed their lives. "We wondered whether the HR best practices made them do this and decided to dig deeper into the HR processes," said Deshpande, while Raina added that: "It was intriguing to unpack the Taj approach to HR and speculate on the linkages between the hotel's HR policies and practices and the customer service experience."
The research of Deshpande and Raina spanned more than a year. They began by asking for manuals, wondering if there was training given to these employees for an incident like this one. There was none. An intrigued Deshpande started to research the HR practices of the company and found three pillars of practices that explained the courage and actions of employees: A recruitment system that hires for character and not for grades; training programmes that not just mentor employees but also empower them to take decisions; and a reward programme that recognises employees on a real-time basis. "I teach both MBA and executive programmes. In my experience, these practices have been unique," Deshpande said. Just one aspect— that of recruiting from small towns and recruiting for attitude rather than grades — was unheard of, he added.
This research is interspersed with tales of employee heroism — a 20-something banquet manager helping guests escape; telephone operators staying at their posts and alerting guests to stay indoors; and staff forming a human shield to protect guests at the time of evacuation. One executive chef at the hotel told the researchers that other...