Autonomy VS. Standards

One of the few readings that sparked my interest is “The Ordinary Heroes of the Taj”, where one particular sentence stood out:


“If you empower employees to take decisions as agents of the customer, it energizes them and makes them feel in command.”


This was articulated by Senior Vice President of the Taj Group, and he attributes the two consecutive wins of the Gallup’s Great Workplace Award in India to its believe in employee autonomy and empowerment. As evident from the case, the Taj Group’s favorable organizational culture is largely due to the empowerment it gives to its employees.


In another management course that I am currently doing, we did a case on The Ritz Carlton (Ritz). What I found surprising was how the two companies took an entirely contrasting approach in training their employees.


Ritz culture is one that is very formalized; its focus is primarily placed on formalized training to consolidate its position as a high quality and service hotel. However, as the key to a successful company is its ability to respond to the ever-changing needs and nuanced desires of customers, formalized training is often criticized due to its lack of relevance and transferability of these new skill sets to the realities of the workplace.


In Taj’s case, incidental learning is encouraged, autonomy acts as an enhanced training for their employees, by increasing their ability to respond to the unpredictable situations; such as the 2008 terrorist attack on the Taj. The question then to ask is whether Ritz would be able to handle the situation as well, if it were faced with the same scenario. Given that strict service standards are to be adhered to, would a fear of doing things differently then hamper Ritz’s employees to handle the situation equally if not better?


The problem about standards is that because people are so used to doing things in a routine fashion, they forget how they should react to unforeseen circumstances. They might have an idea of how to approach the situation, but the fear of doing something not in their SOP may hinder them from taking the first step. Should autonomy or standards then be given a higher priority?


Many companies are in favor of granting more autonomy to employees due to the numerous benefits of autonomous employees. The potential benefits are that of greater employee commitment, higher retention levels, a more motivated workforce, and most importantly happier  and more engaged employees. However, despite the numerous benefits, I feel that there are certain downsides of autonomy to be considered as well.


One of the main problems of autonomy would be how employees may confuse empowerment as having the authority to do whatever they want. This may result in poor or wrong decisions being made, as well as resulting in the cultivation of arrogance amongst employees. Some employees may also find autonomy mentally straining, and may prefer having a specific guideline to follow. Further, when too much autonomy is given to employees, there could be a potential sacrifice of standards. From the company side, many companies are afraid of utilizing informal learning due to the difficult in assessing the results of these training.


This problem is particularly important to the service industry, where while personalization is valued, basic service standards should also be of utmost priority. Therefore, when should the line be drawn? Should autonomy be given?


In my opinion, I do not believe that autonomy and service standards should be seen as two ends of a spectrum that cannot be reconciled. Autonomy and service standards can work hand in hand, and this is something companies should work towards. It is commendable that companies like the Taj Group seek to empower their employees by giving them a say and a voice. However, with that being said there is beauty too in Ritz’s approach, on having a structured and formalized system to ensure that their service standards are world class. Companies should therefore seek a balance between the two, to achieve the optimal outcome. For the hotel industry, I believe that setting standards should be given utmost priority. Autonomy should also be given, but at discretion. As the saying goes, with great power, comes responsibility. The same goes for autonomy. It is therefore imperative for companies to give this authority to the people who deserve and are able to handle it.


To conclude, companies need to incorporate the beauties of the two, whereby the use of one does not necessarily mean the forgoing of another. Instead, it is all about building an organizational culture that allows for both order and uncertainty to be managed.


Some food for thought… Should formalized training and informal training be seen equally? Or should one method be favored over the other? What should companies do to enhance their organisational culture?


Have a blessed weekend ahead!(:








Eating Healthy is As Easy As ABC

We all know that it is important to have a healthy diet, however, how then can the school motivate us to make healthier eating options?

It is pertinent that the concept of “healthy eating” is rapidly gaining traction in Singapore. Even NUS has followed suit as seen from its recent partnership with the HPB to introduce lower than 500 calories meals. However, I do believe that there are several other initiatives that can be adopted.

NUS Healthier Dining Programme

NUS Healthier Dining Programme

It is first important to understand why students are not eating healthily. Based on my own personal experiences, these are usually the reasons: 1) the lack of availability and 2) healthier food options are generally more expensive.

I have thought of an exciting strategy for the Business School to take to address these problems- “Eating healthy is as easy as ABC”.

  1. To increase the AVAILABILITY of healthier food options
  2. To BUNDLE things together
  3. To use CARDS

For Availability, I feel that it is necessary to introduce more healthy food options for the students, to make it more convenient for students. Just for the laughs of it, here’s a picture I chanced upon on 9gag!

Image on 9gag

Image on 9gag


I am sure I am not the only one to be guilty of this! That aside, what is more important which I feel is accurately portrayed by this ingenious picture is that what we consume is very much dependent on what we see. Therefore it is time to increase more healthy food options! To do so, I thought of two initiatives.

1.1 Fruit Vending Machine:

I feel that placing these machines in area around Business School that are a distance from the canteen would serve as a nudge to students to choose fruits over other unhealthy snacks. I personally would love this because every time I am in MRB and break time, my stomach tells me I should get a fruit but my legs would say no because the canteen is simply too far! I would end up getting a scone from Reedz instead.

1.2 Salad Bar

It is time to introduce a fresh new change (both literally and figuratively), our very own salad bar in the Business canteen! Many of my friends have said they wished Business School their own salad bar like how Science has their Platypus Food Bar. While it can be argued that the snack stall and the western stall do sell pre-packaged salads, these simply aren’t the same as compared to one that you can craft yourself! (In addition, the quantity and price of the salad at Business comes a far cry from what Platypus Food Bar is currently offering!)

Moving on to Bundling, I have thought of two initiatives

2.1 Set Meals

We can leverage on the recent introduction of the healthier choice logo in the canteen to come up with a set meal. Bundling less popular items at a lower cost would increase the value of what students think they are getting, making them more incline to get the set meal. This will also be a win-win situation for both the vendors as it will increase their sales volume. (Drew up an example of a set meal below)

Example of a Set Meal

Example of a Set Meal

2.2 Buddy Meals

I also feel that friends are a great influencing factor in what we decide to eat in the canteen. Therefore this will then encourage a larger number of students to eat healthy. This buddy meal will complement the set meals in the sense that when four students come together to purchase the set meals from the same stall, they get an additional serving of healthy side dish each.

Last but not least, the use of CARDS!

3.1 Disloyal card

Rules of a Disloyal Card

Rules of a Disloyal Card


How this card works is extremely similar to a loyalty card. I created the above image to make it easier to understand the rules. This will encourage students to try from the various different stalls, and learning that eating healthy can be fun and delicious too!

3.2 Scratch cards

Every time a student purchases a healthier choice drink, he will receive a scratch card, of which he might then stand the chance to win a free drink, a free fruit and so on. This creates the element of fun, making students more open to choosing healthier drinks.

The theme of this campaign can be “GO(AL) HEALTHY”, where students go healthy and achieve that goal of that healthy body they have been working for! We could have an afternoon of fun with healthy- eating related games and free fruits to kick start this event.

To conclude, I do hope that this will inculcate a habit of eating healthy in everyone, so that they carry this into the working world and influence the people around them as well.

Sherlyn (:

Let’s start making healthier options every day. Every bit counts (: