The story on employee performance in Taj Mahal Palace in 2008 got me thinking about organizational culture and hiring practices. I find it absolutely amazing how the employees were willing to put their lives at stake during the terrorist attacks and how they genuinely wanted to serve the customers the whole time.
I am willing to argue that this kind of behaviour is something that simply would not happen in any western countries. As I live in a country where social awkwardness is part of everyday life I find that the customer service attitude is even at its best only forced. It’s surface acting and we’re quite frankly used to that. However, I’ve found out that in Asia this attitude and values are genuine.
I have a personal experience on the issue as I was in Myanmar just some weeks ago and we rented motorcycles to make travelling and exploring a bit more convenient. It was quite late in the evening when our bikes began to show signs of struggling and it didn’t take long for them to completely break down. Then, all of sudden a local middle-aged man stopped by with his scooter and asked whether we were okay and needed any help. It then turned out that he was a manager in some nearby resort and offered us to stay there the night for free should we have wanted. Our own hostel was pretty close by so we turned the offer down but still it amazed me how genuinely friendly this person was towards people he really did not know.
This kind of behaviour cannot be trained. It’s something that you’re grown up to and the culture you live in has big impact on how you treat other people. Thus I find it no surprise that Taj Mahal Palace recruits people who, at least in the eyes of other recruiters, are probably not the most desirable candidates for the task. When your job is to serve customers, you really want people who genuinely value hospitality, kindness and right attitude for the job. These are not the people who have excellent academic success or who graduate from top schools. They are the people who have had to settle for a lower tier school because they’ve had to take care of their relatives, they’ve had a family business they’ve needed to run or they have not wanted to leave their acquaintances behind. They value people and detriment success or high status.
The last thing I want to ponder is whether this kind of attitude can be sustained in Asia for long time. I believe that there are fewer and fewer countries that still hold these values in high regard as the more modernized they become the more their values shift to western individual ones. Strong family ties break down and suddenly material success is more important than seeing your relatives every day. Perhaps in the future places such as Taj Mahal Palace is going to have big difficulties finding suitable employees that would put their lives in front of customers.