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.
I’d like to briefly write about my motivation for going to work. Before my previous position in one of the biggest banks in the Nordic I thought myself as a pretty traditional finance student who only works for career goals, bigger challenges and of course, money. My job there wasn’t too challenging. In fact, sometimes I believed that even a trained monkey could do it. Nevertheless, I felt really satisfied after leaving the workplace every day and never ever had I any grudging feeling of knowing that I have to get up early to work the next day again.
The reason was the people there. Sure I still felt like I want challenges and something that I could leverage to develop myself even further, but because of the great culture at the work I truly enjoyed every day I spent with my colleagues.
Money can only get you so far in encouraging people to better performance. In my opinion in today’s competitive business environment if you really want the best of your employees it’s not enough to offer high salaries or other benefits if the people there do not enjoy each other’s company and actually have fun while working.
Putting some effort in generating a good workplace environment is a win-win for both the employees and employers. By creating a superior corporate culture you engage employees in mutual goal setting and they are more committed to achieving these goals. You get more out of your employees for a small effort. That’s what I noticed as well last year. I wanted that our team as a whole succeeded in all the internal competitions and other goals. We were the top-performing team in our department even though we weren’t exceptionally good in any particular way. We just enjoyed working there and I suppose that reflected in our performance.
This is an effect that has been noted in previous literature as well. Harvard Business Review raises a research that showed that performance increases on nearly all levels – productivity, creativity and engagement – when people work with a positive mindset.
The article also notes that it’s very complicated to measure happiness or define it objectively. One of the biggest pitfalls is that people believe that success precedes happiness. Examples of this kind of though process are “I’m happy after I reach my sales target” or “I am happy after I get promoted”. That is also why it seems hard to find the best way to keep everyone happy. Yet it’s hard to ignore the benefits and value of happy employees.
Company by itself is just a term used to refer to bunch of people working towards a common goal. If the people don’t succeed, the company won’t either. That’s why last year my perspective towards a working culture changed completely. I still want a challenging job where I can aim for the stars, but I want to do it in a great company. And with a company, I do not mean a firm but a bunch of great people.