Terror at the Taj: Harvard Case Study

It was in the news lately. I have not been able to locate the case study till now (they say not yet public). But there is a summary of the findings here.

It is prepared by Rohit Deshpandé of HBS. He flips the case saying why people demonstrated such bravery without having any training for the same:

A new multimedia case by HBS professor Rohit Deshpandé offers a flip side to the nightmarish scenes that unfolded in real time on television screens around the globe. Produced in collaboration with Ruth Page and David Habeeb of the HBS Educational Technology Group, “Terror at the Taj Bombay: Customer-Centric Leadership” documents the bravery and resourcefulness shown by rank-and-file employees during the siege. (The case is not yet available to the public.)

Video interviews with hotel staff and senior executives, combined with security footage of the attack, create a documentary-like account of events that took place over the course of 59 hours. The case also covers the hotel’s history, its approach to training employees, the “guest is God” philosophy inherent in Indian culture, and the question of how the hotel will recover after the attacks.

Underlying this framework is a central conundrum: Why did the Taj employees stay at their posts, jeopardizing their safety in order to save hotel guests? And is this level of loyalty and dedication something that can be replicated and scaled elsewhere?

He finds unique culture of Tata was the reason for this bravery:

Nothing in the employees’ training could have prepared them for such an unprecedented situation, Deshpandé says. Yet further interviews and text documents from the case provide background on the unique culture of Tata Sons, the Taj’s parent company, while also revealing the exacting process for selecting, training, and rewarding Taj employees for their work.

Awards are given for longer terms of service, for example, with Group Chairman Ratan Tata (HBS AMP 71, 1975) personally recognizing those who have served 10 to 35 years and more. Employees who have demonstrated outstanding service are selected for inclusion in the Managing Directors Club and recognized across the organization. Such incentives aren’t so unusual, of course. But interviews with senior management demonstrate how seriously the task of building a customer-centric culture and value system is taken at the Taj and its parent company, Indian Hotels.

The question of why the Taj employees demonstrated such loyalty elicited a variety of responses from students, Deshpandé says.

“For example, some suggested that it has to do with governance of the Tatas; two-thirds of their profits are donated to charitable causes, so the employees feel that they are working for a higher good.” But the IT firm Tata Consultancy Services has had many of the same difficulties with employee retention that other Indian IT firms experience. “In that case, the loyalty might be more to self rather than to the organization,” he says.

A definitive answer to the question of why the Taj employees behaved as they did may not be possible; but managers who read and view the case will likely come away with a clearer sense of what it takes to build a particular culture and value system and how to recruit, train, and reward employees in nonmonetary ways

Deshpande says it is the most difficult case so far. Would be great to read the full case whenever it is made public.

Also read some of the comments made at the end of the case. Terrific stuff from Ratan Tata and his entire team.

2 Responses to “Terror at the Taj: Harvard Case Study”

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