Taj People Philosphy and Star System

The employee at Taj is viewed as an asset and is the real profit centre. He or she is the very reason for our survival. The creation of the Taj People Philosophy displays our commitment to and belief in our people. We want an organisation with a very clear philosophy, where we can treasure people and build from within. * Bernard Martyris.
Senior Vice-President, HR, Indian Hotels Company Limited (IHCL)
Introduction In March 2001, the Taj Group launched an employee loyalty program called the ‘Special Thanks and Recognition System’ (STARS). STARS was an initiative aimed at motivating employees to transcend their usual duties and responsibilities and have fun during work. This program also acknowledged and rewarded hard working employees who had achieved excellence in their work.

The Taj Group had always believed that their employees were their greatest assets and the very reason for the survival of their business. In 2000, to show its commitment to and belief in employees, the Taj Group developed the ‘Taj People Philosophy’ (TPP), which covered all the people practices of the group. TPP considered every aspect of employees’ organisational career planning, right from their induction into the company till their superannuation.
TPP offered many benefits to the Taj Group. It helped the company boost the morale of its employees and improve service standards, which in turn resulted in repeat customers for many hotels in the group. The STAR system also led to global recognition of the Taj Group of hotels in 2002 when the group bagged the ‘Hermes Award’ for ‘Best Innovation in Human Resources’ in the global hospitality industry.
The Taj People Philosophy Since its establishment, the Taj Group had a people-oriented culture. The group always hired fresh graduates from leading hotel management institutes all over India so that it could shape their attitudes and develop their skills in a way that fitted its needs and culture. The management wanted the new recruits to pursue a long-term career with the group. All new employees were placed in an intensive two-year training program, which familiarised them with the business ethos of the group, the management practices of the organisation, and the working of the cross-functional departments.
The employees of the Taj Group were trained in varied fields like sales and marketing, finance, hospitality and service, front office management, food and beverages, projects, HR and more. They also had to take part in various leadership programs, so that they could develop in them a strong, warm and professional work culture. Through these programs, the group was able to assess the future potential of the employees and the training required to further develop their skills. The group offered excellent opportunities to employees both on personal as well as organisational front. In order to achieve ‘Taj standards’, employees were made to undergo a rigorous training program. The group strove hard to standardise to all its processes and evolve a work culture, which appealed to all its employees universally.
The group believed that talent management was of utmost importance to develop a sustainable competitive advantage. The group aimed at making the HR function a critical business partner, rather than just a support function. To further show its commitment to and belief in employees, the group created the ‘Taj People Philosophy’ (TPP) covering all people practices of the group. The concept of TPP, developed in 199,was the brainchild of Bernard Martyris, Senior Vice-President, HR, IHCL, and his core team. The concept, originally planned to be called as ‘The Womb to Tomb Approach’, covered all the aspects of an employee’s career, from joining the group until his/her retirement. TPP was based on the key points of the Taj employee charter. Key Points of the Taj Charter
Some of the key points of the Taj Charter are given below:
* Every employee of the Taj Group would be an important member in the Taj family.
* The Taj family would always strive to attract, retain and reward the best talent in the industry.
* The Taj family would commit itself to formal communication channels, which would foster transparency.
It was developed in line with the Tata Business Excellence Model (TBEM). Explaining the rationale for implementing the philosophy, Martyris said, “It is to achieve that international benchmarking in hospitality, and HR must fit into it”. According to him, the three major areas of TPP included work systems and processes, learning and development and employee welfare.
As part of the TPP, the Taj Group introduced a strong performance management system, called the Balanced Scorecard System (BSS) that linked individual performance with the group’s overall strategy. BSS was based on a model developed by Kalpan and Nortan, and focused on enhancing both individual as well as enterprise performance. BSS measured the performance of employees across all hierarchical levels against a set of predefined targets and identified their variances. Martyris explained, “We are looking at a matrix form of organisation which cuts across hierarchy. It is important to understand the potential of people”. Therefore, BSS was implemented even at the lowest levels of hierarchy.
The BSS included an Employee Satisfaction Tracking System (ESTS), which solved employees’ problems on a quarterly basis. As a part of ESTS, Taj carried out an organisation-wide employee satisfaction survey in mid 2000 of about 9000 employees. According to this survey, the reported satisfaction level was about 75%. The group aimed to increase this level to 90-95% and eventually to 100%.
The group also took strong measures to weed out under-performers. The group adopted the 360-degree feedback system to evaluate the performance of all top officials, from the managing director to departmental managers, in which they were evaluated by their immediate subordinates. The 360-degree feedback was followed by personal interviews in individuals to counsel them to overcome their deficiencies.
The Taj Group also established Centres of Excellence for its 14,000 employees at five locations in India, including Jaipur, Bangalore, Ernakulam, Chennai and Hyderabad. At these centres, departmental heads in each functional area were trained. These departmental heads later trained their own staff. The training included foundation modules and accreditation programs that familiarised the employees with Taj standards.
Apart from adopting stringent measures to improve performance, Taj also recognised and rewarded its best employees across all levels of the organisation. For this purpose, Taj created a unique employee identification tracking and reward program known as STARS. Describing the program, Martyris said, “It’s an HR initiative aimed at creating an association ‘between our star performers and our brand, the Taj’”.
The Star System The STAR system (STARS) was the brainchild of Martyris. The system was developed in accordance with Taj’s core philosophy that ‘happy employees lead to happy customers’. STARS, operative throughout the year (from April to March), was open to all employees across the organisation, at all hierarchical levels. It aimed to identify, recognise and reward those employees who excelled in their work. STARS was actively promoted across the group’s 62 chain of hotels and among its 18,000 employees globally, out of which 15,000 were from India.
STARS had five different levels. Though employees did not receive any cash awards, they gained recognition by the levels they attained through the points they accumulated for their acts of kindness or hospitality. ‘Level 1’ was known as the ‘Silver Grade’. To reach this level, employees had to accumulate 120points in three months. To attain ‘Level 2’, known as the ‘Gold Grade’, employees had to accumulate 130 points within three months of attaining the silver grade. To reach ‘Level 3’, called the ‘Platinum Grade’, employees had to accumulate 250 points within sic months of attaining the gold grade. To attain ‘Level 4’, employees had to accumulate 510 or more points, but below 760points, to be a part of the Chief Operating Officer’s club. ‘Level 5’ which was the highest level in STARS, enabled employees to be a part of the MD’s club, if they accumulated 760 or more points.
Points were granted to employees on the basis of parameters like integrity, honesty, kindness, respect for customers, environmental awareness, teamwork, coordination, cooperation, excellence in work, new initiatives, trustworthiness, courage, conviction, among others. Suggestions by employees that benefited the organisation fetched them significant points. Such suggestions in each hotel of the Taj Group were examined by the General Manager and training manager of the hotel the employee worked in. the suggestions could also be posted on the Web, which were constantly monitored.
Employees could also earn points through appreciation by customers, ‘compliment-a-colleague’ forums and various suggestion schemes. Employees could also get ‘default points’ if the review committee did not give feedback to the employee within two days of his/her offering a suggestion for the betterment of the organisation. In such cases, the employee concerned was awarded ’20 default points’. Hence, in an indirect manner, the system compelled judges of the review committee to give feedback to employees as early as possible.
STARS helped employees work together as a team and appreciate fellow employees for their acts of kindness and excellence. It enhanced their motivation levels and led to increased customer satisfaction. In one case, a bellboy in one of the group’s hotel who received an American customer wen out of his way to care for the customer. Noticing that the customer, who had arrived late at night, was suffering from cold, he offered to bring him a doctor. However, the customer refused the boy’s offer. The bellboy then, on his own, offered a glass of warm water mixed with ginger and honey, a traditional Indian home remedy for cough and cold. The customer felt surprised and also happy at the bellboy’s gesture. He left a note of appreciation for him, which added to his existing points.
According to the number of points accumulated, employees would receive a star, which could be pinned on to their coat. When a certain number of points were collected, employees received gift hampers, cash vouchers or a vacation in a Taj Hotel of their choice in India. The winners of STARS were felicitated at a function held in Taj, Mumbai. The winners’ photographs were displayed on a big screen at the function and they received awards given by the MD of the Taj Group. This award ceremony significantly boosted their morale.
The STARS program seemed to have generated lot of attention among the employees at the Taj Group. During the initial phase, not every hotel seemed to be serious about adopting STARS, but after the first awards ceremony was conducted, every hotel in the group reportedly became very serious about the implementation of STARS. Reportedly, customer satisfaction levels increased significantly after the implementation of STARS.
Commenting on the success of STARS, Martyris said, “After the campaign was launched, a large number of employees have started working together in the true spirit of teams and this helps us value our human capital. There are stars all around us but very often we look only at stars outside the system. Many employees do that extra bit and go that extra mile, out of the way to dazzle the customer satisfaction with employee recognition. Employee recognition is hence, directly linked to customer satisfaction. It is a recognition for the people, of the people and by the people”. STARS was also used by the group as an appraisal system, in addition to its regular appraisal system.
The Future The STARS was not only successful as an HR initiative, but it brought many strategic benefits to the group as well. The service standards at all hotels of the group improved significantly because the employees felt that their good work was being acknowledged and appreciated. This resulted in repeat customers for Taj hotels. And because of STARS, the Group won the ‘Hermes Award 2002’ for ‘best innovation in HR’ in the hospitality industry. Analysts felt that the fame and recognition associated with the winning of the Hermes award would place the Taj Group of hotels at the top of the list of the best hotels in the world. The group also received requests for setting up hotels in Paris (France), where the ‘Hermes award’ function took place.
The HR practices at the Taj Group attracted several Human Resources and Organisational Behaviour experts world over. In late 2001, Thomas J Delong, a professor of Organisational Behaviour from Harvard Business School (HBS), visited India and interviewed various employees in the Taj Group. After his visit, the Taj Group was “envisioned as an example of organisational transformation wherein key dimensions of cultural change went into the making of global managers”. Analysts also felt that social responsibility and people-centric programs were the core values of the Taj Group, which were well demonstrated through the ‘Taj People Philosophy’. Martyris said, “The challenges here lay in retaining the warmth and relationship focus of the Ta and inculcating a system-driven approach to service”.
Analysts felt that the Taj Group had been highly successful because of its ability to provide better opportunities and gave greater recognition to its employees, which motivated them to work to the best of their abilities. The Employee Retention Rate (ERR) of the Taj Group was the highest in the hospitality industry because of its employee-oriented initiatives. In spite of the highest ERR, Martyris felt that the retention of talent was Taj’s major challenge. He said, “Our staff is routinely poached by not just industry competitors but also banks, call centres and others. In 2002, in the placement process at the hotel management institute run by the Taj, more than half of those passing out were hired by non-hospitality companies. While we are happy to see the growth and opportunity for this sector, we also feel there is a need for introspection. Are we offering swift and smooth career paths to our employees? How am I to retain staffers from moving across industries?
In late 2002, the Taj Group, to demonstrate its strong belief in employees, announced plans to make further investments in training, development, and career planning and employee welfare. The group also tried to standardise its various processes and develop a common work culture. After winning the Hermes Award in 2002, the group also planned to nominate the BSS for the Hermes Award 2003.

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