India: Chandan Chattaraj

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Chandan Chattaraj - Executive Vice President Human Resources, The Oberoi Group

Chandan Chattaraj explains how he nurtures and retains talent to service the needs of demanding international clients and customers.

Mr Chandan Chattaraj is Executive Vice President of Human Resources at The Oberoi Group, an Indian luxury hotel chain with head offices in New Delhi. The Oberoi Group is an international business with over 30 hotels in countries including Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Indonesia, employing a workforce of approximately nine thousand people worldwide. The Oberoi Group also offers flight and catering services as part of their customer service package.

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Developing talent – Part of the Oberoi business model

Mr Chattaraj begins by explaining his role at Oberoi and describing some of the key challenges facing human resources executives in the dynamic luxury hospitality industry. As Executive Vice President, Chandan's responsibilities stretch to 'resourcing' (establishing new hotels) and the complex world of 'talent management and retention' or as Mr Chattaraj succinctly puts it, "I am in charge of ensuring that Oberoi doesn't loose staff to its competition." Interestingly, for Mr Chattaraj, the tasks of management and retention are very much intermixed. He illustrates this by elaborating on the professional opportunities offered to Oberoi staff: "Oberoi staff are some of the best trained in the industry but our top challenge is upgrading the skill sets of our staff and exposing them to best practice."

The Oberoi Group has institutionalised the process of developing talent through the establishment of the Oberoi Centre of Learning & Development. Founded in 1966, the centre began with a two year programme in general management and housekeeping, and today graduates 100 students as management trainees, fulfilling all the international HR needs of the group. The importance of the centre to the Oberoi Group goes beyond simply developing a top class workforce, as Mr Chattaraj explains, "The Oberoi brand is created through our centre". Indeed, the effectiveness of the centre is hugely important for the continued success of the organisation: "The Oberoi Group relies on repeat business. We don't put emphasis on advertising, but instead rely on employees, as the public face of the company, to attract repeat clients."

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The skills and attributes individuals need for success

We talk about the skills and behaviours that are required and instilled in Oberoi employees through the centre. Mr Chattaraj explains that, 10 Effective Education for Employment: New Delhi, unusually, the person who takes responsibility for defining these is right at the top of the organisation: "The Chairman of Oberoi has laid out a set of 'Oberoi attributes'." These attributes are wide-ranging and include good communication skills, proven excellence in attitude to previous learning, excellent grooming (how an employee presents themselves), and passion. Mr Chattaraj is fundamentally looking for driven employees who have the drive and ambition to develop a career - not just those looking for a job: "When we say passion, this means being passionate about your job, ensuring attention to detail, having the right attitude to hospitality... we ask, is this a job or a career for you?" Developing these talents is certainly not straightforward and, Mr Chatteraj argues, often correlates to inherent qualities of the individual, "technical skills can be taught but attitude cannot."

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Meeting rigorous standards

When it comes to meeting the standards required of Oberoi employees, the process of finding the right candidates leaves nothing to chance: "Our recruitment panel is made of people who have grown within the organisation and travel across the country...The assessment sheet used in the process is standard across the group, there are many stages for recruitment and we use clearly defined filters according to the position." The interview process is highly demanding, "The Oberoi Group interviews 10 people per position, recruitment is expensive and time consuming" and talent management is also managed rigorously.

The Oberoi Learning Centre nominates staff for external leadership skills training, with external experts also employed to visit the centre to lecture on these matters. Mr Chattaraj's approach is clear, "there is lots of talent nurturing". Attention to quality is vital for Mr Chattaraj, "It is quality not quantity which matters in education. In order to ensure quality in delivery our educational facilities are continually monitored. These processes are very important for the success of the organisation but are equally a very challenging process."

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The challenges facing education in India

When discussing the state of the Indian education system, Mr Chattaraj highlights a recent response from the Indian Government to calls for change. The Government has committed to a significant investment to increase the number of children attending school. However, Mr Chattaraj points to an additional need to reform college admission structures, which he argues place too much emphasis on test scores: "To get into colleges in India you need very high examination scores but most
businesses don't need rocket scientists, rather people with common sense. Academic qualification is no direct measure of a person's ability."

Mr Chattaraj is also concerned that in India there is too much emphasis on learning from textbooks, resulting in individuals who are not given opportunities to develop life or work skills and common sense, as he puts it because: "school is becoming too mechanised." Furthermore he reflects on a drop in global understanding: "The country is now more open to change but awareness levels of both domestic and international issues have decreased." He sees some institutions attempting to address this issue: "Some private educational institutions, including Edexcel, have been extremely proactive in this area", but believes that few really understand the importance of this type of teaching for modern learners.

 

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The role of women in the workplace in India

Mr Chattaraj goes on to address what he sees as an educational imbalance in Indian society: "More and more women are entering higher education and indeed the Oberoi Group prefers women to apply for posts, as evidenced by the employees in this room (all of Mr Chattaraj's management team are women)... but this is not replicated across the whole country." He also highlights the correlation between women's roles and their geographic situation: "The overall percentage of women in the workplace has increased in recent years. However, there is an urban and rural divide in this aspect."

 

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A vision for change

The discussion concludes with Mr Chattaraj articulating his vision for educational change in India. He is quick to highlight the need for increasing the recognition for best practice in professional fields, citing the Teach India programme in which educated professionals teach underprivileged children for two hours a week. The programme has apparently benefitted from very high levels of participation and Mr Chattaraj believes there to be "huge opportunities within industry based on this model... there should be more formal sharing of best practice across educational institutions."

Beyond this, Mr Chattaraj is concerned about the pressure on students generated within the current Indian education system. He would like education to be more engaging and fun for the learner, believing that this would encourage a culture of intellectual curiosity and life-long learning; something he believes is crucial for India's future success.

He believes that current assessment models are largely responsible for generating dangerously high stress levels, "The education system should remove percentages but keep grades. This would take the pressure out of the need for achieving a few percentage points" and that this in turn leads to narrow and limiting educational experiences: "With stress you forget the world around you."

However, Mr Chattaraj is not looking to give students an easy time, but rather free up time for them to take more responsibility for their education: "Students must invest time in themselves. Education is a two way process."

An important message for everyone, wherever they may be, contemplating the future of education in the 21st century.

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