THE SECRET TO CREATING BUSINESSES THAT EXCEL
Values And Attention Density
What a business consistently pays attention to determines which circuits in the brain of its people are strengthened. If you can create experiences for people that reinforce your most precious values, then these circuits will be dominant. This phenomenon, termed Attention Density, can create businesses that live their values under all conditions.
The Extraordinary Story Of The Taj
The Taj Hotel Group has a long history in opulent hotels and extreme service. The legend has it that it was founded when JN Tata, a proud man, was insulted at a naval club because he was not English. He then vowed to build a hotel that was beyond the imagination of the British Colonials. On its own, an opulent hotel facility is just some very expensive concrete and furniture. What made it special was the extraordinary leadership.
The truth was poignantly revealed in The Taj’s saddest and yet proudest moment; when it’s Bombay Hotel came under siege in 2008.
Businesses cannot choose what happens to them but they can certainly build on the resilience and commitment of their nobler selves. In that one tragic incident the true force of Taj’s energy in their commitment to customers came shining through.
Throwing Out The Manuals
The people of Taj did not learn customer service from a manual nor from a technical exercise. From the time of JN Tata, customer service was a calling; something that connected to the very core of their being! There were no limits. They could not help themselves in caring for people who walked into their hotels. It was something they had to do and it was not derived from a desire to build a profitable business.
Courage Beyond Measure
The Taj did not have a manual that fateful day to tell people what to do if they came under siege. When the attack was carried out it was quite clear that lives were in danger. There was gunfire and some floors were burning. If you have spent some time in a hotel, you would know that there are many back entrances and service exits all over the hotel so that the staff can perform their service without getting in the way of the guests. The staff knew these exits and they could have chosen to use their knowledge of these secret passageways, to abandon ship, think of themselves and their loved ones, and save just themselves. But they did not.
Taj employees did not save themselves first. The front desk staff stayed at their phones calling room after room to brief the guests on what was happening and to advise them to lock their doors and open for no one. The front desk people must have been absolutely scared for their lives. Yet they stayed at their posts worrying about the guests in the rooms.
A Training Of Hearts
The Taj did not hire the “best and brightest” from the top schools. Instead they hired people from areas where respect for people was more important than the burning ambitions of those with first class honOrs. They asked teachers to recommend students who were cheerful, demonstrated empathy, respected their teachers, and were polite. They asked for students whose families needed them to get a job.
Once hired, The Taj invested 18 months in their training when not even the industry recommended a 12-month stint. How was The Taj’s training different?
For 18 months the training was done by existing managers who transferred not only the explicit and technical knowledge but also the tacit knowledge. This ensured that the values that made The Taj what it was flowed through the managers to the new staff.
The Case Of Thomas
A most heroic example during the siege was Thomas Varghese. He was the head waiter in their vastly popular Japanese restaurant. Thomas and the other waiters’ first response was to form a protective ring around the diners. He looked after them for days staying quiet and avoiding trouble. Finally he managed to get in communication with the security forces and found an unguarded back spiral staircase that they could use to escape. He led the people out, staying behind until the end to ensure everyone else got out.
In caring for the others he came into the line of fire and was killed.
Reinforcing Positive Values – The Essence Of Attention Density
Businesses face pressures from all corners and often react in the moment rather than focus on the collective wisdom that has accumulated in their history.
When we communicate values and train people we create connections in the brain circuitry. If we continue to respond as a business in commitment to these values the circuitry is reinforced.
If at the first hurdle we abandon our values and revert to thinking in terms of cost, the circuitry is broken and the value does not stick. It might be on the wall as the business mission statement but it does not exist in the experience of the people.
This is the essence of Attention Density.
Staying The Course On What Truly Matters
Even in the aftermath of the horrific event, The Taj stayed true to its nobler self. After the attack, the HR team was quite nervous with their staff-support proposal, because they were worried that it was too generous. The CEO, Ratan Tata’s response on reviewing it was, “Do you think we are doing enough?”
For the employees who died, their families received their last salary for life. They were provided medical care, counselling and every kind of help you could imagine. Tata even helped the vendors on the streets who had lost their carts during the siege and finally paid out millions of rupees.
The Impact Of Each “Customer Moment” On The Business
Business strength is built by creating the experiences that resonate with the values consistently no matter the cost. At The Taj, they were so committed to each “customer moment” that each employee was empowered to ensure a wonderful moment regardless of cost. They would not need a supervisor’s approval for turning around a bad customer experience. No “Sorry Sir, I have to check with my Supervisor”.
Attention Density theory means that if you even once reprimand the staff for doing it, people will run scared. Would all the decisions made by the staff be the right one? Of course not! But you stay true to your nobler selves.
Human Magnificence Shining Through
Attention Density is the secret of maintaining the business in its darkest hours and its brightest moments. By creating Attention Density in all the little things that the business does, you create an energy which cannot be explained by the human laws of physics.
The result is not the sum of all the steps taken and experiences created by The Taj; it is a “nuclear” reaction that releases energy from the collective attention density of people. It delivers performance beyond the limits of our earthly imagination, if we only trust our nobler true selves and the human magnificence of our people.