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Nurturing organisational values

STR Team 

People and organisations with character have a strong sense of values. Having a sense of values means being guided in your thinking and actions by an inner core of standards and abstaining from what you consider wrong. What creates and drives strong values within an organisation? The following book extract from “Managers Who Make a Difference: Sharpening Your Skills” by TV Rao discusses how a sound value system can be established within a company. It is second in the four-part series of extracts from IIM Ahmedabad Business Books.

Individuals aren’t the only ones who have values — organisations also articulate what they stand for and prescribe their values. It is ultimately these values which create a firm’s work culture. To aspire to be a missionary and visionary manager, you must be instrumental in creating and nurturing these values. Let us look at two cases of Indian companies that show a strong value system.

Case study 1: How Tata responded to 26/11
26/11 was the biggest crisis the Tata group has ever faced. The behaviour of their employees at the Taj Hotel and the subsequent actions of the group were an excellent display of the values the company holds.

Heroism displayed by the staff
During the actual event, all levels of staff — from janitors, waiters, directors, artisans, and captains — at the Taj Hotel displayed extraordinary courage. There were 500 emails from various guests narrating heroics of the staff and thanking them for saving their lives. The sense of duty and service among them was unprecedented. Consider some of these points: 


  • There was a Unilever event at the hotel on the day of the attacks. The young lady who protected and looked after the HLL guests was a trainee. She had no instructions from any supervisor but took just three minutes to evacuate the entire team through the kitchen. Cars were organised outside the hotel according to seniority of the members. In the peak of the crisis, she stepped out into the firing and even got the right wine glass for a guest. 
  • Thomas George, a captain, escorted fifty-four guests from a backdoor staircase. He was the last to go out and was shot by the terrorists while trying to leave. His widow would later say that she did not know that the man she lived with for twenty-five years was so courageous. 
  • In a subsequent function, Ratan Tata broke down in public and sobbed saying — ‘the company belongs to these people’. 
  • When the hotel was reopened on 21 December, all employees of the hotel were paraded in front of the guests. 

    The Tata gesture

    Some of the provisions the Tata group made were as follows:
  • All category of employees including those who had completed even one day as casuals were treated as on duty during the time the hotel was closed. 
  • Relief and assistance was given to all those who were injured and to the kin of those killed. 
  • Relief was extended to all those who died at Chhatrapati Shivaji railway station and its surroundings, including the pav-bhaji vendor and the paan shop owners. 
  • During the time the hotel was closed, salaries were sent by money order. 
  • A psychiatric cell was established in collaboration with the Tata Institute of Social Sciences to counsel those who needed such help. 
  • Employee outreach centres were opened where all help-food, water, sanitation, first aid, and counselling-was provided. Sixteen hundred employees were covered by this facility. 
  • Every employee was assigned to one mentor and it was that person’s responsibility to act as a ‘single-window’ clearance for any help that the person required. 
  • Ratan Tata personally visited the families of all the eighty employees who in some manner —either through injury or getting killed — were affected. 
  • The dependants of the employees who lived outside Mumbai were flown to the city and were all accommodated in Hotel President for three weeks. 
  • Ratan Tata himself asked the families and dependants what they wanted him to do. 
  • In a record time of twenty days, a new trust was created by the Tatas for funding the victims of 26/11. Even non-Tata employees were covered in it. Each one of them was provided a subsistence allowance of Rs 10,000 per month for six months. 
  • Several lakhs were paid for the treatment of a four-year-old granddaughter of a vendor who had taken four bullets. 
  • New handcarts were provided to several vendors who lost theirs. 
  • Tata took responsibility for the life education of forty-six children of the terrorists’ victims. 
  • The settlement for every deceased member ranged from Rs 36 to 85 lakh in addition to the following benefits: Full last salary for life for the family and dependants; complete responsibility for education of children and dependants, anywhere in the world; full medical facility for the whole family and dependants for the rest of their life; all loans and advances were waived, irrespective of the amount; counsellor for life for each person.

    The Tata DNA
    How was such passion created among Tata employees? How and why did they behave the way they did? The organisation is clear that it is not training and development that created such behaviour. Rather, it has to do with the DNA of the company and the Tata culture.

    The organisation has always told its employees that customers and guests are their top priority. They also emphasise to their employees, ‘To think and act first as a citizen’. These values displayed themselves in the heroism of 26/11. Moreover, as a business, Tata believe that family values hold them together. This can be traced to its beginnings. The hotel business was started by Jamshedji Tata when he was insulted in one of the British hotels and not allowed to stay there. He went on to create several institutions which later became icons of progress, culture, and modernity, believing that ‘in a free enterprise the community is not just another stakeholder in business but is the very purpose of its existence’. Tata holds this statement very dear. It is these values that led to the extremely generous provisions the company made after the attack. The organisation’s attitude was that if they were going to spend several hundred crore in rebuilding the property, why not spend equally on the employees who gave their life for the hotel? (As narrated by H N Srinivas, HR Head of the Taj Group of Hotels at the National Institute of Personnel Conference held at Goa, in December 2009 and adapted from an email narration from Ravi Rajagopalan.) The Tata Leadership programme promotes the following values: integrity, understanding, excellence, unity, and responsibility. It is included as part of the Tata Leadership programme and Tata Business Excellence model and Tata organisations are constantly evaluated using these values.

    Case study 2: SAIL (Steel Authority of India)
    The following is a list of SAIL values that are part of the company’s appraisal system. Employees who do not follow these values don’t get promoted.

    1. Customer focus (internal or external as appropriate): Ability to empathise with customers. Firmly believes in and practices end-to-end customer service.

    2. Concern for people: Always keeps employee interests in mind.

    3. Consistent quality: Shows constant quality consciousness and designs all methods and processes to ensure quality in all aspects of work, products, and services.

    4. Commitment to excellence: Shows concern for excellence.

    OCTAPACE values
    OCTAPACE is an acronym for Openness, Collaboration, Trust, Authenticity, Proaction, Autonomy, Confrontation, and Experimentation. These values are considered important for organisations to get the best out of their employees. These are also known as HRD Values, and many organisations have been adopting them.

    Openness exists where people in the organisation feel free to express their ideas, views, opinions, and feelings to each other irrespective of their level, designation, etc. They are encouraged to express themselves and their views are taken seriously.

    Collaboration is the culture where people are eager to help each other. Personal power is played down and people are governed by larger goals like those of the organisation, country, and humanity at large. In particular, the organisational goals govern decision-making and people do not have narrow departmental or team loyalties when they are required.

    The ‘we’ feeling refers to the feeling of team spirit. Intra-departmental loyalties don’t get in the way of interdepartmental collaboration.

    Trust and trustworthiness deals with a culture of people believing each other and acting on the basis of verbal messages and instructions without having to wait for written instructions or explanations. When people say that they will do something or promise to do something it is simply relied upon. There is no need for extra monitoring and controls.

    Authenticity is speaking the truth fearlessly and keeping the promises once made. It is indicated by the extent to which people say what they mean and do what they say. Employees can be counted upon not to make false promises.

    A Proactive culture is one that promotes initiative and explorations on the part of employees. A proactive culture encourages everyone to take initiative and make things happen.

    Autonomy is present if everyone in the organisation, irrespective of level, has some scope in his or her job to use some discretion. The discretion may be in terms of work methods, decision-making, communication, or any such area.

    Confrontation is the culture of facing issues squarely. Issues are talked about and discussed. Even if people have to hurt each other the issue is faced and not put under the carpet. This culture enhances problem-solving abilities.

    Experimentation is the orientation on the part of employees to try out new ways of doing things and experiment with new decisions. It characterises a risk-taking culture in the organisation.

    Next week: Extract from The Persuasive Manager: Communication Strategies for 21st Century Managers by MM Monippally

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    First Published: Mon, November 22 2010. 00:29 IST