One of the biggest dilemmas I was faced with as I built Guardian was the need for good management people. Very early after starting up, I realised that talented personnel was not willing to join a startup company. I found it to be a huge challenge to get strong professionals managers to leave large companies and join a startup.
Good managers, I realised, are generally poor risk takers and only when they see the stability of a company and they see other professional managers making this leap of faith do they agree to make a change.
The human resource function of any retail company can make or break a company since retail companies are people-intensive and our people are our ambassadors and our “face” in front of our customers.
This function must have a strong leader and must have the complete support of the entrepreneur. The entrepreneur must outline his philosophy for this function but in words and in deeds because this is what will set the management culture of the company.
Since I was the oldest member of the management, I used to often have to stop younger managers coming in to touch my feet and “seek my blessings”. I would tell them that there was no need to touch my feet at all, no matter what the culture of our country in India of respecting older people may be.
If I had allowed this to continue, other senior managers would have expected something similar from their juniors. It has taken me time and this practice of touching one’s feet in the workplace has now been stopped.
Similarly, I was often requested that the company must celebrate Founder’s Day on my birthday. My response was that while I was the founder, we should celebrate the foundation day of the company and there was no reason to celebrate my birthday.
Guardian now celebrates August 25 as the company anniversary where we honour our top performers.
Each time I walked into a manager’s room or I walked down an office aisle, people would stop their work and stand up. I have never understood how standing up and stopping work is a way to show respect to a senior.
To me, continuing with your work when a manager walks down the aisle is a much stronger way to show respect to the senior individual as well as the organisation. It has taken me time but the message in the company is very clear – continue with your work when a senior manager happens to walk past you and keep sitting at your chair if a senior manager walks into your office to discuss some work.
Some of our guiding human resources principles that I established very early in our development were:
- Guardian would rapidly move towards professional management and that we would not build a family-run organisation.
- We would have professional growth based on meritocracy, and not based on relationships or patronage.
- Any relationships between managers would need to be disclosed at the time of hiring and approved by the management committee of the company. We also specified that two managers who were related would not be allowed to work in the same department.
- Performance management would be done based on agreed and quantifiable key result areas for each manager.
- Salary increases would be based on achievement of results and not based on seniority.
Ultimately, it is only the people who will make or break a company and it is the promoter’s responsibility to ensure that the right teams, properly motivated, are in place.
[Ashutosh Garg is the founder Chairman of Guardian Pharmacies and the author of the best-selling books, Reboot. Reinvent. Rewire: Managing Retirement in the 21st Century; The Corner Office; An Eye for an Eye and The Buck Stops Here – Learnings of a #Startup Entrepreneur.]