Taj Hotels can maintain its luxurious brand identity only if its workforce around the world is engaged
Taj Hotels Resorts and Palaces couldn't make things more challenging for itself if it tried. Hospitality is always a tough industry, but in addition to running more than 100 hotels around the world, Taj rents luxury jets, provides travel services, and has an air catering business. Maintaining a brand identity and consistent service standards can be tricky for any company, but Taj must do this on land, on water, and in the sky with 24,000 people, every minute of every day.
Today, almost every important hotel brand is entering India in a big way. Our old assumptions are being challenged.
Taj has overcome difficulties with a few strategic commitments. It's committed to engagement, which helps its 24,000 employees deliver the brand promise to thousands of customers every day. It's committed to well-being, which keeps employees healthy, happy, and engaged. And it's committed to delighting customers, whether they are princes or paupers. It's an approach that works, as you'll see in the following conversation with H.N. Shrinivas, senior vice president of human resources at Taj.
Gallup Business Journal: Why is Taj Hotels interested in employee engagement?
H.N. Shrinivas: Engaged employees are extremely important, given the role that our employees are expected to play and the results they're expected to deliver. You see, 78% of our employees are in touch with customers 24/7, 365 days a year -- thinking on their feet, delivering a wide variety of services, anticipating and understanding the needs and requirements of many different guests and customers. We want our employees to ensure that guests are not just satisfied but delighted and extremely happy, so guests feel like coming back and using our hotel services again. This kind of person should be cheerful and knowledgeable and should know exactly what he or she is supposed to be doing in relation to what the company strategy is.
We need to hire the right kind of good people, train them thoroughly and comprehensively, and empower them to delight the guests by going beyond the call of duty. Most importantly, they should understand customer needs and meet those needs in such a way that guests have a compelling reason to do business only with Taj Hotels. We want our guests to consciously reject the competition's offerings in every location, regardless of price.
How widely do your properties vary?
Shrinivas: For the high-end luxury brand, a room is in the region of $400 to $500 per night. In the Smart Basics category, we charge about $40 to $50. We charge about $150 to $180 in a Gateway hotel and $250 to $300 in a business-class hotel. But then there are the palaces, which we've converted into super-luxury hotels. These are places where Maharajas used to live, and we offer a very special, unique experience to customers. The room tariffs in some of our resort hotels or palace hotels is up to $1,000.
How do you maintain consistency in service across such a wide product offering?
Shrinivas: We follow a unique strategy of hiring. We hire people from interior towns and villages in India. We go to the colleges best known for quality of teaching and training and for having the best ratio between faculty members and students. And we hire students for their values.
What do you mean by "values"?
Shrinivas: We want our employees to embody values such as discipline, respecting parents, respecting teachers and faculty, being supportive to senior citizens, and being kind to children. In the Eastern world, these values are well-appreciated. We hire youngsters who come from not-so-wealthy families, who need jobs, and who are graduating from school. Then we get them to a city like a Mumbai or a Delhi, give them a good dormitory accommodation, and put them through systematic training in international standards of hoteliering for six months. These values, which are taught in the school and at home, with the training we provide, translate as service values while dealing with guests. That way, all our people know our values very well.
Speaking of values, isn't "joy at work" one of Taj Hotels' official core values?
Shrinivas: Yes. It's a very simple truth that only cheerful and happy employees can create cheerful and happy customers. A lot of value is delivered in the interactions between employees and customers, which is the "moment of truth" for us. So we try to create fun and joy at work. It makes engagement levels go up.
Employee engagement is a central business agenda for our company, and we see a clear correlation between highly engaged employees and customer engagement scores. Engagement gives a strong enough reason for customers to remain with us and reject competing offerings. That drives our occupancies; that drives our profits.
What are some tactics that Taj Hotels uses to engage its employees -- and keep them engaged?
Shrinivas: All people managers create action plans after their employees take Gallup's Q12 employee engagement survey. We have coaches appointed for different hotels, and managers can make an appointment, sit with them, and get guidance on how to implement some of the action steps to improve their team's engagement. Our company also has a management committee consisting of the top twenty leaders and an executive committee consisting of the top five people, and one of my jobs is to present our engagement scores to them, as well as the initiatives that are driving engagement. So everybody takes engagement very seriously.
We take well-being seriously too, because well-being makes a positive and favorable impact. A sound mind and a sound body help create a peaceful and cordial work environment. We have well-being coaches and counselors in each city. The human resources managers and the learning and development managers in the hotels coordinate the availability of coaches and counselors for employees and their families. We have a few full-time resources in the company who address issues of employee wellness and occupational health. They visit various locations to carry out a need assessment survey and identify such local vendors, coaches, and counselors as required by the hotels. And the coaches support employees to draw their 360 degree and Q12 action plans and implement these action plans.
That seems like an unusual approach -- using ultra-modern management approaches like employee engagement in ancient palaces.
Shrinivas: We put a lot of emphasis on engagement because it's central to our business agenda of creating competitive advantage in a furiously competitive environment. Today, almost every important hotel brand is entering India in a big way. They're bringing new technology; introducing new cuisine; and giving special offers, concessions, and loyalty programs. Our old assumptions are being challenged. So we should be pulling up our socks for outperforming the new competition so we remain number one.
We also see engagement as a requirement to survive -- and to excel. We want to excel, and we want to be number one. We have learned a lot from Gallup, and it has been a wonderful partnership and a huge support at various stages. The journey goes on, and one day, the dream is to be the most admired and respected hospitality company in the world for the sheer quality of service excellence. And that depends on our employees.
-- Interviewed by Jennifer Robison