T.N. Hari Curated

Head of HR at BigBasket


  • Why do you think that the education system needs to be remoulded?

  • What according to you is the key to success?

  • What according to you is technological innovation?

  • What do you mean by a cultural organization?

  • Other than better pay or job roles, what are the main reasons why people change jobs?

    The main reasons why people change jobs are mostly for bigger challenges, more interesting roles, company culture, and bad leadership.

  • How important is Performance Management (P.M.) in today’s high-flux organization?

    Performance Management has always been important. It has always been the central pillar of building a great company. Organizations in high-flux (typically Startups) need to manage performance in a slightly different way. They need to be practical, agile and frequent. In addition, feedback needs to be continuous, candid, and intense. The pace and rhythm of performance management needs to be in line with the pace and rhythm of the business.

  • Whose responsibility is Performance Management?

    It is the responsibility of the concerned manager and function head.

  • What are the key gaps in current industry practices in managing employees’ performance?

    Inability to give timely, accurate and specific feedback as a result of which many decisions turn out to be surprises and leave a bad taste in the mouth.

  • What makes a really effective P.M. programme? Any best practices to share.

    Like most other things in organizations, it is the quality of leadership that makes a really effective P.M programme. A great practice is to include the way a leader manages performance of her team as one of the objectives/goals on which she is evaluated as rigorously as she is on her business metrics.

  • What led to the conceptualization of your book "Cutting the Gordian Knot- India's Quest for Prosperity"?

    At Bigbasket, we were exposed to an India we were not deeply familiar with, namely the blue-collar workforce and small farmers. We were able to get a much better and holistic understanding of their problems and refine our views on India's quest for job creation and prosperity. In the process, we also met with an amazing bunch of inspirational folks who were systematically addressing the different pieces of this complex problem. We thought it would be a great idea, as well as time, to bring our nation's quest for job creation and prosperity, along with the underlying pieces of the puzzle, to the mainstream agenda by writing this book.

  • What, according to your book, is the difference between India and Bharat?

    At a very high level, we would classify anyone with a privileged upbringing who has benefited from access to good education, nutritious food, modern values, work ethic, and technology as being a part of India. Bharat comprises those who are underprivileged and do not have sufficient opportunities for advancement. They are mostly individuals from economically backward families with no means to provide their children access to any of the things we listed earlier. This could include both the rural, as well as the urban, poor.

  • Why is it vital for corporates to have policies favoring women employees?

    Companies that do not have policies that are supportive of women and address their specific needs cannot attract women. A big chunk of the available talent pool is, therefore, out of bounds for such companies and places them at a massive disadvantage. Besides enlarging the available talent pool, a diverse workforce adds to the quality and variety of ideas and perspectives. There is enough evidence to suggest that, in the long term, an inclusive workplace bolsters employee engagement and profitability.

  • In your book, you have mentioned that India lacks education or training or semi-skilled jobs. Can you elaborate on what is missing and why that is important?

    Historically, India and Indians have placed a lot of emphasis on getting a degree irrespective of whether it enhanced their employability or not. The craze for a degree has been quite unbelievable. But, most jobs that are available do not need any of the knowledge that these unemployable degrees impart.

  • What is your expectation from the government ahead of the upcoming elections?

    Create short programs (and certifications) that are directly linked to jobs that are available. Some of the steps that the government has taken recently are in the right direction. The health ministry's decision to allow dentists to practice general medicine will help mitigate the massive shortfall of doctors in government hospitals. We need to introduce many more short and relevant programs that address our needs and remove barriers that have created this artificial scarcity of talent. India's approach to education needs to address India's specific needs. This does not mean we do not need institutes of higher learning. The government should also create universities that focus on skilling where students can spend 75 percent of the time interning at companies and learning on the job and spend 25 percent of their time in the university. The government can roll out the red carpet for SMEs and create a level-playing field for them. Today, those are given step-motherly treatment and the red carpet is reserved for the capital intensive industries that create very few jobs.

  • How do you perceive the evolving 3E (Education, Employment and Entrepreneurship) ecosystem in India?

    I think this is the biggest thing to happen since independence; and the most sincere and comprehensive attempt at addressing India’s jobs problem. If China became old before they became rich, then India got educated before we got skilled. This lopsided development of Indian society needs to be corrected. This is not easy. There are several dimensions to the jobs problem.I am very glad that this government has taken skilling seriously and is trying its best to address the issues. Complex problems often defy simple solutions. They need collaboration between all stakeholders which include the Government, NGOs, Industry, Opposition and thought leaders. Everyone needs to jump into the pond and participate. No one can afford to just be a critic. Every government has its political compulsions and this government too has some of these, but the point is that the focus on the bigger picture and efforts to drive transformation at double speed are evident and outweighing the negatives. It is not that the government did not falter along the way. There were some missteps, but the willingness to accept mistakes and make course corrections indicate an honesty of purpose. Without everyone’s support and active participation, the job problem cannot be solved.

  • Focus on skilling will create a surplus supply of talent, how do we align it with the industry demand and make industry pay for the skilled workforce (particularly SMEs and MSMEs)?

    Yes, excessive focus on creating skills will result in a surplus of talent. Centralized planning has this deficiency, which is a pile-up of inventories with no takers. A strong ‘demand’ component needs to somehow be built into this process. Building demand into skilling is not an easy process and hence there is always a temptation to go the easy route of creating supply. Here are some thoughts on how to build demand into the process: Demand-supply match through education and skills Let’s look at education to see if there are some helpful parallels for skilling. The success of education was that over a period of time, industry-accepted ‘education’ standards. For example, industry-accepted that some jobs need a degree in engineering, some jobs require a diploma in engineering while some other jobs just needed someone with just a science background in high school. Because these education requirements became standards for different types of jobs, the demand got beautifully channeled into supply in the form of institutions that churned out this talent. T N Hari Big Basket We need something very similar to skilling. We need to set certain standards and get near-universal acceptance for these standards. One of the challenges in replicating this approach in skilling has been that industry does not seem to believe that skills are important or rather they believe that skills are easily taught at work. Be that as it may, we should have independent bodies do a Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL) and hand out authentic certificates. In my opinion, this will result in linking skilling and demand over a period of time even for relatively low skilled jobs. I’ve always maintained that India got Educated before it got Skilled. As a result, we are able to send a mission to Mars but struggle to build elementary urban infrastructure like drainage systems. We need to make some basic changes to education systems and create alternate practical programs. We need to change the paradigm of education and focus on education that enhances employability. The fallout of just-in-case education Most of what is taught in medicine in the 10 years are never used in practice. The entire curriculum is designed to cover every possible scenario and ailment. Some experts call this a ‘just in case’ approach to professional education. This has resulted in every hospital, government-run or private, in every town and village of India has a severe shortage of doctors. This is clearly a self-inflicted problem. On the one hand, we have millions of youth who are unemployed and on the other hand, we have every hospital and primary health care center suffering from a shortage of doctors. Why are we so cut up on the ten-odd year doctor education program? It is not that we do not need doctors who have gone through a 10-year program. However, if we insist that any kind of healthcare, however elementary it may be, would be provided only by such doctors or not at all, then we have a big problem at hand. We need to create alternate and meaningful short programs that are relevant to our situation. Good doctor-assistants in villages and towns can address a lot of our healthcare issues. What is needed on the part of the regulatory body like the medical council is agility in addressing this by creating meaningful courses and giving them legitimacy. One can see the same situation manifest itself in all the other professions as well. You do not need a full-fledged ophthalmologist to do basic tests to figure out what should be the power of the glasses for a visually impaired patient. You could have individuals who are trained through some kind of a short-term program accredited by a government body to use the equipment and prescribe glasses.

  • Tell us about Big Basket’s HR strategy to recruit and retain migrants/youth from rural places, do you engage apprentices as well?

    We do not have the competence to recruit youth from rural places. Therefore, we tie-up with partners who have this competence. The core components of this competence are a) reach and connect with rural youth, and b) ability to mobilize. We are building long-term partnerships with partners who possess this capability. Some of them are private bodies and some are semi-government. The apprenticeship model works well in an environment when the demand for skills is less than the supply of raw talent that could be molded for these skills. In such a system, the industry can be encouraged to give back to society (and in the process also create a pool that can come handy when they grow) through an apprenticeship program. Typically in such an environment skilling can be built over a longer time frame by being apprenticed with someone who has a mastery in the skill. However, the apprenticeship program does not work well when it comes to the e-commerce industry where the demand is for delivery and warehousing staff. Even by paying them high salaries, we are unable to find people in the required numbers because supply is lagging behind the demand. When people are not available even with the offer of a high salary and full-time employment, then an apprenticeship program is not the solution.

  • How is Big Basket facilitating the movement of workforce /enterprises from informal to the formal sector with reference to the key elements in the value chain of e-commerce?

    To my mind the difference between the informal and the formal sector is about social security, wage levels, coverage under the applicable labor laws, and commitment to a more long-term relationship. We are committed to all these four aspects of formalization for our workforce, whether they are on our rolls or outsourced to a third party.

  • Tell us about your upcoming book, “Cutting the Gordian Knot –India’s Journey towards Acche Din”.

    We have covered many aspects of skilling and employability very comprehensively in our book. I truly believe we are at a unique juncture in our history in terms of our demographic profile. If we handle it well our youth bulge would truly result in a massive dividend and result in a happy nation. If not, it could result in massive law and order problems and widespread crime. India has made strides in solving many of these problems. These are inherently complex and difficult topics that straddle sociology, politics, economics, government, non-governments, and industry. Some worthy initiatives and bold change-makers, both from within the government and from the outside, are leading from the front when it comes to our human capital challenges. The government is clearly demonstrating that it means business and is becoming extremely accessible and willing to listen to those seriously committed to solving these problems. The resolve for driving change with speed has never been as earnest as it is today! Yet, it is not sufficient given the enormity of the problems. Those working on these problems need to be recognized and encouraged even more. Some of their work goes somewhat unnoticed because it is not glamorous. We thought it was time to bring our quest for prosperity and job creation, along with all the underlying pieces, to the mainstream agenda! We tried to do that with this book.

  • What is your opinion about short-term skilling programs, please give examples of industry sectors where it can help

    In my opinion, short term skilling programs tend to be industry-specific and for jobs that do not really require a lot of skill. However, for people to move up the career/job ladder, it is essential to upskill. Lack of authentic certification methods is resulting in the workforce in these jobs becoming an undifferentiated commodity. For differentiation to happen, certification followed by wage differentials and differentials in earning opportunities is critical. Technology platforms that have created a smooth marketplace for skills (like UrbanClap, Uber, Ola) or even just technology platforms that capture and share user experiences (TripAdvisor), have created an impetus for upskilling since upskilling results in better ratings and better earnings potential.

  • Should the strike price be lowered (in other words should the options be re-priced) when the share price or fair market value declines, or if the options go underwater?

    When options go underwater, it essentially means that the fair market value has dipped below the strike price. In other words, the startup has seen a decline in valuation. In our opinion, options should not be re-priced excepting under the rarest of rare circumstances. Options and stock come with downside risk. If the startup mitigates this downside risk for employees but continues to allow windfalls when the stock price sees a surge, then it is really taking the risk component out and offering free insurance against a downside. This hurts the other shareholders. Removing the downside for 15 percent of the shareholders (the option holders really) means the remaining 85 percent of the shareholders have to absorb the extra risk burden. This is not fair and creates a misalignment between the interests of the different key stakeholders.

  • What are the other forms of stock-based compensation?

    Restricted stock or RSU is another instrument. Unlike an option, an RSU is a share with some restrictions (usually on when you can sell). Hence there is no strike price. If you are granted an RSU with 12-month vesting, it just means that you will own a share at the end of 12 months. Unlike an option, an RSU can never go underwater because there is no exercise (or strike) price. Therefore, an RSU will always have some value. Most startups prefer stock options in their compensation plans and avoid RSUs. On the other hand, listed companies prefer RSUs. The logic is almost entirely tax-related. In the case of an RSU, the tax needs to be paid upon vesting (because you actually own a share), and paying a huge amount of tax for acquiring an illiquid asset does not appeal to anyone. However, if the company is listed, the tax can be paid by selling a portion of the vested lot of RSUs. The tax treatment varies from country to country, but in every country, the tax treatment for RSUs is different from the tax treatment for options.

  • As an employee how should you look at stock-based compensation?

    As an employee, the decision to work for a startup should be based only on whether you love working for the particular startup that you are interviewing with – and nothing else. Do you like people? Do you trust them? Are they fun to be around with and will you learn? Having decided to work for a startup, you need to take a strategic view of compensation. A strategic view involves computing earnings over a longer-term and taking some calculated risks. No one can help you assess your risk appetite better than yourself.

  • While hiring a candidate what matters more for a startup HR manager- experience or passion?

    Passion scores over experience. Start-ups look for people with initiative, energy, self-leadership, and entrepreneurial zeal...

  • We have often seen startups gives fancy designations and higher salary better than the established companies to their young employees? Do you think that works adversely for them when they change the job and go to a bigger brand? What are things one should keep in mind while taking a fancy role in a startup?

    One should work for a start-up, not for the fancy titles or high salaries...one should want to work for a start-up because one gets a kick out of it...start-ups are inherently chaotic places, but they are terrific places for learning...therefore, unless you thrive in chaos and unless you want to learn rapidly in an unstructured environment one shouldn't look at start-ups...in a start-up, one can learn in a year what one could potentially learn in 3-5 years in a larger company...and, by the way, most start-ups don't pay great salaries...

  • How Startups can be defined? What are the differences in work-culture in an MNC and a Startup? What are the pre-requisites to join a Startup? What are the technologies & domains on which your Startup is working?

    It is not easy to define a start-up. Typically start-ups are those that are VC/PE funded and are in a high growth mode. All start-ups look for people who are self-starters (naturally!) and entrepreneurial. People who crave structure and method may be better off working for a large mature organization. BigBasket is an online grocery/general merchandising company. We use several technologies - on the server side it is typically python and on the app/mobile side it is largely Android and IoS...

  • How do you address the questions of stability in a startup job?

    Start-ups do have some inherent risk in terms of stability. The reason is simple - most start-ups actually do not go on to become large Firms and many actually fail at some point. So, stability is certainly a question. However, those that work for start-ups and learn new things are easily and quickly lapped up by others for the invaluable lessons they have learned on the job. I would not hesitate to employ someone who has worked in a start-up that failed! Failed entrepreneurs are also in great demand! In fact, I would not hesitate to hire a failed entrepreneur. So, the lack of stability is not a problem. This is the best time in India to start a company or work in a start-up. There IS no downside!

  • We want to know how to evaluate a job offer in a startup? We have seen people get better designations at less experience level. Please help

    I am sure you are a young person and here is my advice to you - and all youngsters: DON'T go after designations. Look for three things in a job a) do you like what you would be doing every day as part of the job, b) do you like the people you will be working with and do they share your values and interests? c) will you learn new skills. Evaluate every job only on these 3 parameters! Designations are really irrelevant at all stages in life and most certainly at the early stages of your career.

  • What kind of roles in startups can provide one with international exposure? Please guide.

    Most start-ups in India have unfortunately not really gone international. Start-ups in the outsourcing space (BPO/ITO/KPO) provided ample international exposure, but most start-ups today in the tech/eCommerce space in India are being built for a domestic market (and India is the next big market after the US and China that every start-up is trying to capitalize on)...

  • What are the sectors for which the start-up works for and what are the advantages to be with startups?

    Start-ups are there in several spaces - pure-play technology/eCommerce/aggregation and market place/hyperlocal delivery etc. Advantages of being with start-ups are many: a)accelerated learning - one successful stint in a key role and every other start-up would want to hire you, b) at senior levels Stock Options can help you create a nest egg, c) you can feel the pride of building a brand as opposed to working for a brand...

  • Which profiles will be most in-demand in startups from a future perspective?

    Tech, Product, Marketing is the most common and will be demand for the next decade. Other profiles/skills are niche and may not be in universal demand - would depend on the domain.

  • By the starting of next year, most Indian startups will have mature processes and policies in place? What do you think will be the biggest differentiator startups will be offering to their employees over established companies?

    Those start-ups that have mature processes will no longer be start-ups. They will be established companies! That's how Infosys or Wipro went on from being start-ups to established companies. There will be new start-ups that take their place and they will lure employees with the same advantages that these established companies talked about when they were start-ups! It is a continuous cycle. No company will be a start-up for ever!

  • How to build a stable career in startups? What is the most crucial factor to look for?

    Stability, whether in start-ups or mature firms, has a few common themes - a) take a long term view of your career - it is like investing where a long term view always wins, b) any switch in job must have a strategic reason (to learn a new skill set, etc), c) at every place that you work to accomplish something significant and leave a mark. When people assemble for your farewell, they should be able to cite your contributions. Therefore stability is often a mindset. Develop the mindset of solving problems rather than being a critic. Critics have no place in start-ups - don't be a critic if you are looking for stability in start-ups. Get things done. Focus on execution and implementation. Take ownership even if things are not entirely in your control. Demonstrate a sense of speed and urgency in everything. Above all demonstrate customer centricity - internal or external.

  • Are the recruitment HR and assessment, processes are any different in startups to that of established companies?

    To some extent, they are different, but not in a uniform way. At a broad level, HR/Recruitment at start-ups tend to be a little more practical/pragmatic, depending upon the situation and the culture of the start-up. Established companies have a lot more process (and often bureaucracy).

  • What are future technology careers in startups in 2016?

    This is clearly the best time to be a tech person in India. For the first time tech people are doing some great work - for more than fifteen years software engineers have done little more than clerical work at services companies. Today they are doing cutting edge work and great products are being built. The next Google could very well be from India. So, there is never a better time for a technology career - and start-ups are the place where one should begin.

  • We want to know how a startup's career will change in 2016 in terms of roles, career growth?

    Difficult to answer that Nitish. I will be lying if I say I know. However, I will hazard a GUESS. 2016 could be a year where we will see some of the hype reducing, which is a good thing. Start-ups that have grown big will need to deliver results - most importantly profits for investors. Therefore, I think 2016 will see more balanced growth - focus on both revenue and profit (the focus till now for most start-ups has been about "let's get growth - we'll figure out how to be profitable later"). The funding of start-ups will also be more selective. Having said this, I continue to be very optimistic for the simple reason that India is the next biggest market waiting to be conquered by new ideas and companies that give shape to these new ideas (especially around the internet)...

  • What do you think should motivate people in joining a startup compared to an MNC?

    You will work for a brand if you join an MNC...you will build a brand if you join a start-up (or you certainly will get a good shot at doing this)!!

  • What do you think should motivate people in joining a startup compared to an MNC?

    You will work for a brand if you join an MNC...you will build a brand if you join a start-up (or you certainly will get a good shot at doing this).

  • What should candidates pick: ESOPs or a good salary hike when they are offered a job in a startup?

    ESOPs! However, you should understand/know how to value ESOPs before doing so.

  • According to your experience, what should be the top 5 priorities of a startup HR manager?

    1. Understand your business well, 2. Hire key people/leaders, 3. Build the foundation - otherwise, you will die by excel, 4. Be customer-centric - employees and other stakeholders should say that you are solving their problems, 5. Communication

  • When did you write your books?

  • Why was your book 'Back to Basics in Management' born out of a sense of anger?

  • How did the big bosses of the Tata steel reciprocate to your book?

  • How did you collaborate with your co-authors?

  • What will the talent strategies depend upon for growth?

  • How did the IT industries in the 1990s develop?

  • Which are the key topics that you have highlighted in your books for startups?

  • Why do you think Game Theory is a powerful tool?

  • What do you mean by new-age skills?

  • Was there any difference in the policies and services of China and India in 1978? Was there any difference in the policies and services of China and India in 1978?

  • How many well-paying jobs can India create for the people entering the employable age?

  • What are the pros and cons of skilling in India?

  • How has technology helped in reducing friction in the last 10 years?