Personnel Challenges Faced In A Start-up And How To Overcome Them

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One of the biggest dilemmas I faced as I built the company was that I needed good management people, but good people were not willing to join a start-up. I found it to be a huge challenge to get strong, professional managers leave large companies and join a start-up. Good managers, I realised, are generally poor risk-takers. Only when they see the stability of a company and find other professional managers taking this leap of faith, do they agree to opt for a change.

The human resource function of any retail company can make or break a firm 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 complete support of the entrepreneur. The entrepreneur must outline his philosophy for this function, in words and in deeds, because that is what will set the management culture of the company.

As I am the eldest member of the management, I often had to stop younger managers trying 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 might be when it comes to showing respect to older people. If I had allowed that to continue, other senior managers would have expected something similar from their juniors. It had taken me time and this practice of touching one's feet at 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. We now celebrate August 25 as the company anniversary and honour our top performers on that day.

Each time I walked into a manager's room or 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 better way to show respect to the senior, as well as to the organisation. It has taken me time but the message across 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 included:

1. Guardian would rapidly move towards professional management and we would not build a family-run organisation.

2. We would have professional growth based on meritocracy and not based on relationships or patronage.

3. Any relationship between managers need to be disclosed at the time of hiring and must be 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.

4. Performance management would be done based on agreed and quantifiable key result areas for each manager.

5. Salary hike would be based on achievement of results and not on seniority.

The author is the Chairman of Guardian Pharmacies and the author of the bestselling books, The Corner Office and The Buck Stops Here. Twitter: @gargashutosh
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