Thursday, 26 January 2017

Is the Age of “Politically Correct” over?

The Cambridge Dictionary defines “Politically Correct” as “Someone who is politically correct believes that language and actions that could be offensive to others, especially those relating to sex and race, should be avoided.” Lessons are given to diplomats, sports person and corporate managers on how to speak, behave and act when they go to another country so as not to offend their hosts. By way of example, criminals are called “unsavoury characters” while “Clumsy” is referred to as “uniquely coordinated”!

The question that is now being asked in various quarters is whether what is politically correct for one group of people is necessarily correct for another?

Paul Krugman wrote that "the big threat to our discourse is right-wing political correctness, which – unlike the liberal version – has lots of power and money behind it. And the goal is very much the kind of thing Orwell tried to convey with his notion of Newspeak: to make it impossible to talk, and possibly even think, about ideas that challenge the established order."

President Trump is redefining the ways he will engage with world leaders and influential people much to the chagrin of so many politicians, journalists, commentators and those who did not vote for him. His tweet on his forthcoming meeting with the President of Mexico “If Mexico is unwilling to pay for the badly needed wall, then it would be better to cancel the upcoming meeting” must have sent shock waves in the diplomatic establishment of USA who are probably used to working through the labyrinthian corridors of diplomacy to set up meetings and where a cancellation of a meeting is deemed to be a diplomatic slap in the face. Why Trump chose to speak to Prime Minister Modi before he spoke to the “more important” leaders of Russia, China, Japan and other European Nations is another example of how he is his own man who will govern the way he chooses to. On the other hand, crude cartoons and statues, insulting posters at rallies and abusive comments against the democratically elected President are telecast over major media channels without for once thinking whether these are politically correct!

President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines unabashedly used very flowery undiplomatic words on President Obama and has not shied away from stating his scorn on drug abusers and proudly claiming how he killed people or how he stated “he should have been first” when asked a question on rape. The Philippine law makers shrug off his comments and simply say “Get used to this language”.

Arvind Kejriwal, the Chief Minister of the Union Territory of Delhi in India, does not bat an eyelid before he hurls abuses at the democratically elected prime minister of the country or the election commission. He is cheered on by the liberal and intellectual media who would accept such statements from him but not from other political parties. Comments are made by political leaders across parties about religion, economically weaker sections of society and women which are normally frowned upon by most people. Yet no action is taken or is it that no action can be taken given that there will always be a constituency to whom such comments will appeal.

Are these leaders and so many like them around the World saying things that the people want to say themselves but are afraid to for fear of castigation?

For too long the political and media elite have defined the way we should speak and be spoken to. How long will this small group of powerful individuals influence the way we speak and behave. There are no longer any holy cows in dialogue and communication. The mobile phone has changed the way we spell and the social media is changing the way we express ourselves.

With social media empowering the masses, trolling, which hitherto was seen as politically incorrect (exceptions were always made for a few super start journalists), the new age political leaders have understood the importance of “talking” directly to their voters through Twitter and Facebook and there is nothing anyone can do about this.

President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1964 said “I’m here to tell you that we are going to do those things which need to be done, not because they are politically correct, but because they are right.”

So is the age of being “Politically Correct” over?

Does our right of “Freedom of Speech” conflict with the very definition of political correctness? Should we now be looking at whether the content of the speech is truthful and correct rather than analyse each word spoken for whether it offends some people? Should we fall prey to moral policing of our acts and communication simply because it happens to offend a few people?

If there is an elephant in the room, should we not feel comfortable in talking about it? Should we really suppress our concerns, dreams, worries, feelings, fears, aspirations, hopes and anxieties? Should we stop asking questions about another culture simply because we “may” offend someone?

We are witnessing a paradigm change in the manner in which we will hear our leaders speak in the future. We are seeing a new normal being defined in speech and communication. Let us judge these comments based on the content and not based on who has spoken these and how these comments were delivered.


The author is the founder Chairman of Guardian Pharmacies and the author of 5 best-selling books, Reboot. Reinvent. Rewire: Managing Retirement in the 21st Century; The Corner Office; An Eye for an Eye; The Buck Stops Here - Learnings of a #Startup Entrepreneur and The Buck Stops Here – My Journey from a Manager to an Entrepreneur.

Twitter: @gargashutosh

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Monday, 23 January 2017

Learnings for Startup Entrepreneurs

Building a new company is itself a big challenge.

As the founder, you have to adapt, accept, adjust, create, innovate, motivate and deliver. You need to function as the Chief Executive Officer on the one hand and the Chief Janitor on the other. No task can be too large or too small for you. Yet it is important to be a learning entrepreneur so that your 24 hours in the day are optimally utilised for the benefit of your people and your business.

Share Information

Sharing information about what is going on in your startup will help in bringing a level of awareness and hence the commitment to the business plan. However, sharing information should be done on a “need to know” principle. Therefore sharing the detailed financials of the company with the junior most employee may not necessarily be a very wise decision.

Adjust your management style

As you build your startup, your small team of colleagues will expand and the people closest to you will start to feel insecure of the new entrants because you will not be able to spend as much time your old colleagues as you used to. At the same time, your new colleagues will want more and more of your time so that they can deliver what they have committed to achieve. You will need to adjust the way you manage all your colleagues without letting anyone feel insecure or unwanted.

Lead by example

Most startups need long hours and while you, as the founder, are willing to work 24 X 7, your colleagues may not necessarily feel the same level of commitment. Lead by example. When your colleagues see you doing things that they would normally not do, the barriers will start to break down and everyone would be willing to put their weight behind the success of the business.

Empower through delegation

You would like to believe that no one can do the task better than yourself but remember that there is a challenge in trying to be a “jack of all and master of none”. If you have had the foresight to hire a good management team, empower them properly and delegate tasks so that you have the time and the energy to focus on other matters that your startup needs you to focus on. Besides, your functional heads will have a much better understanding of the issues in their departments than you would.

Set small “bite-sized” milestones

While developing ambitious business plans, please remember to break the big set of numbers into “bite-sized” achievable numbers that people can deliver. For young companies, you will need quick wins to keep a very diverse team of people motivated and committed to working towards the bigger goal.

Remove road blocks and obstacles

See your own role as that of the person who leads the team that will shoot the goal as well as the person who defends the goal. Cut down bureaucracy within your young company. You need to set a scorching pace and as the people start to gather momentm, you need to keep running ahead of then so that you can keep removing and clearing all the road blocks and obstacles.

Give and take feedback

Giving regular feedback is a much better process than to wait till the end of the year and then give your feedback during the annual appraisal cycle. Regular feedback will help your colleagues to course correct as the event happens than wait till the year end. While giving your feedback, remember to ask for feedback as well from your colleagues about what they think about the organisation, your plans and possibly on your own management style. An open culture will foster strong bonds between colleagues and an excellent work culture.

Be judicious with your time

Most founders get involved with every little detail of the business resulting in key tasks that the founder should handle personally getting a lower priority. The same applies when a founder tries to micro manage every employee of the company. You need to be able to focus your time on key tasks and manage the key people. How you define “key” is something you will understand very quickly in your startup when you realise that you seem to be fire-fighting all the time!

Keep your eye on the road

As the founder who has probably invested your life savings in your business venture, make sure that you keep your eye on the road. Keep a close track of your expenses and your revenues. After all this investment is your hard earned money and you need to ensure that it is spent effectively.

Work hard but remember to have fun

Every management team wants to make their work environment interesting and a place they look forward to going to every day. Informal get togethers as a team inside and outside the work place supports bonding among team members. Show a little bit of your own vulnerabilities at fun events and you will be surprised at how much team members will start to share with you.

Say a sincere thanks whenever you can

Startups can be very high pressure environments and not everyone is able to handle the pressure. At the same time, everyone likes a word of appreciation from the boss. Coming from the founder, a simple “thank you” carries a lot of weight. Be generous with your appreciation. Your colleagues will love you for this.

Undoubtedly, these are a tough set of learnings that need to be implemented by most founders but then starting up a new enterprise was never going to be easy!


The author is the founder Chairman of Guardian Pharmacies and the author of 5 best-selling books, Reboot. Reinvent. Rewire: Managing Retirement in the 21st Century; The Corner Office; An Eye for an Eye; The Buck Stops Here - Learnings of a #Startup Entrepreneur and The Buck Stops Here – My Journey from a Manager to an Entrepreneur.

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Saturday, 14 January 2017

Budget 2017 - A Retirees Perspective

While the Gen X, the Millennials and the Digital Natives are hogging up all the limelight and creating the much needed demographic dividend for our country, there are a large number of Indians, the Post-Independence kids, who have paid their dues to the nation and worked 60 hour weeks to bring the country to where it is today. These are the men and women, born after 1947, now in their sixties and beginning to enter their seventies.

While the younger generation of Indians less than 35 years constitute more than 65% of our nation, the category of individuals over 60 is also growing and will cross 100 million by 2020. These senior citizens span the large social strata of our nation across societies and income levels and, given today’s healthcare facilities, most of them should live for the next two to three decades.

The Prime Minister in his nationally televised speech on 31st December 2016 has recognised these senior citizens and announced an interest rate of 8% for a fixed deposit for a 10 year period. This is a great beginning but does the Government really recognize the needs of retirees?

What are retirees in India looking for from the much anticipated National Budget post demonetisation? This question is best answered if we consider the financial needs of retirees.

Income Tax

The Income Tax Act has two categories for senior citizens. Those between 60 years and 80 years who are referred to as Senior Citizens and those above 80 years who are referred to as Super Senior Citizens.

The tax free income is Rs 3.00 lakhs and Rs 3.50 lakhs respectively for the two categories. Senior and Super Senior citizens would benefit immensely if this limit were to be increased to Rs 5.00 lakhs and Rs 10.00 lakhs respectively.

Given the rapidity with which aging takes place, Government should consider three slabs for people between 60 years and 70 years; 70 years and 80 years and above 80 years. A 20 year slab for senior citizens is too vast.

Pension and Monthly Annuity

Barring the retirees from the Government and public sector, most other retirees do not have access to pension and have to rely on their savings. Most retirees have their savings in their provident fund, public provident fund, gratuity and some additional savings. This money is pulled out by them when they retire. Very few individuals know what to do with this large amount of life’s savings. There are very few pension schemes for retirees today. What every retiree is looking for is an investment whereby they can invest a lump sum and get a monthly annuity.

Government could think of introducing special incentives for mutual funds, banks and financial institutions to launch such financial products exclusively for people over 60 years of age.

The guiding principle for such financial products will have to be that they will develop Investment Plans with monthly returns while ensuring capital protection. Returns guidelines could be set at a minimum of 2% above the prevailing fixed deposit interest rate.


Senior citizens look for loans to build new homes and to expand existing homes since a lot of adult children are coming back to live in the homes of their parents. The Prime Minister has announced attractive reduction in interest rates for senior citizens who want to avail housing loans of upto Rs 9 lakhs and upto Rs 12 lakhs. In addition, the PM has announced an attractive scheme for people wanting to expand their homes in rural India.

Further subsidy on such loans at higher slabs and a similar subsidy for vehicle loans would be a welcome step for the senior citizens.

Reverse Mortgage

Most senior citizens in India are asset rich but cash poor.

Their homes, built on land purchased several decades back, are worth a lot of money and yet they struggle to meet their daily needs. Most of us in India believe that we need to leave our homes to our children who, I believe, have interest only in the value of their parent’s home and after their passing, most such houses are sold. While the Reverse Mortgage scheme is in place and Government has already provided that any money received through a Reverse Mortgage will be tax free, very few people are aware of this and even fewer take advantage of the scheme.

Government needs to popularize this Reverse Mortgage scheme and announce additional incentives so that senior citizens can unlock the huge value of their homes and live the last three decades of their lives in financial safety and security.

Subsidised Land to build Affordable Old Age Homes

Given the large number of senior citizens who are now living alone after having raised their children, the need for social security and friends in community living is becoming very critical. Support groups are forming rapidly as senior citizens start to depend on one another for support, instead of only their family members, in their sunset years. While assisted living homes are coming up in several parts of the country, these are expensive and highly priced. Builders are constrained to charge high prices because of the high cost of land.

The Government could consider giving subsidised land in the budget specifically for building such old age homes or assisted living homes. Price bands would need to be established so that genuinely affordable old age homes can be built and made available. Obviously very strict norms need to be in place to ensure such facilities are not misused by unscrupulous builders.

Health Insurance

Almost 70% of Indians do not have access to any form of Medical Insurance. The largest group comprising over 300 million Indians are covered by Government Medical Insurance. Only about 75 million Indians are covered by private Medical Insurance companies.

Insurance premium up to Rs 15,000 is permitted as a tax deduction while this is Rs 20,000 for senior citizens. This limit needs to be increased substantially since premium is much higher even for a small medical cover of Rs 5 lakhs.

The Government also needs to encourage all employers to provide life time cover to their long serving employees. This insurance cover could become a part of the monthly human resource costs of every employer and the policy would continue on superannuation. While working with employers to ensure medical cover, the Government should also incentivise health insurance companies to cover a much larger group of citizens at reduced annual premiums.

Cost of Medicines

Government needs to provide funds in the budget to roll out the Jan Aushadhi stores across the length and breadth of India so that senior citizens can get access to reasonably priced medicines. At the same time more medicines should be brought under the Drug Price Control Order so that medicine prices are made more affordable.

Medical Care

While Governments in USA, Canada and several other developed countries provide retirees over 60 years the right to sign up for Medical Care at Government costs, no such scheme exists in India. There is a provision for the Economically Weaker Sections to get free medical care at Government owned hospitals but everyone knows that such facilities exist only on paper. This needs to change fast.

The Income Tax provisions allow a deduction of Rs 40,000 for medical treatment of specified diseases. For senior citizens this limit is Rs 60,000. Given the high medical costs, this limit needs to be increased significantly for senior citizens.

With no more recurring income from any form of employment, most retirees are relying on their retirement savings to support their needs for sustenance like utilities, food and most of all, medicines. Most retirees know that they progressing towards the end of their days and slowly, their bodies are beginning to give in to various forms of illness.

The Government, therefore, needs to play a significant role to support our senior citizens by providing tax incentives and financial support in the coming Budget so as to ease the financial strains most retirees face. Good long term schemes and well planned and executed tax reforms and incentives will go a long way in easing the anxiety and stress of retirement that all retirees face.

The author is the founder Chairman of Guardian Pharmacies and the author of 5 best-selling books, Reboot. Reinvent. Rewire: Managing Retirement in the 21st Century; The Corner Office; An Eye for an Eye; The Buck Stops Here - Learnings of a #Startup Entrepreneur and The Buck Stops Here – My Journey from a Manager to an Entrepreneur.

Twitter: @gargashutosh
Instagram: ashutoshgarg56
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Startups - What irks your customer?

While most customers are willing to tolerate reasonable levels of inefficiencies and errors, the old adage comes into play, “To err is human but if the eraser wears out ahead of the pencil, you are overdoing it”!

Mahatma Gandhi, in a speech in South Africa in 1890 is believed to have said:

"A customer is the most important visitor on our premises. He is not dependent on us. We are dependent on him. He is not an interruption of our work. He is the purpose of it. He is not an outsider of our business. He is part of it. We are not doing him a favour by serving him. He is doing us a favour by giving us the opportunity to do so."

Your customer is your lifeline. Your reason to exist. Who will buy your product and thus provide sustenance to you and your employees. Yet, so many startups take their customer for granted as they build their young company. Their focus is on technology, on human resources, on making the workplace exciting so that people stay and sometimes on managing cash!

Upset customers have little patience. Annoyances that a person usually tolerates become intolerable when that individual is upset. You cannot control another person's behaviour. But you can change your behaviour to avoid causing annoyance.

Some of the common reasons that I have seen and experienced which make customers angry and therefore complain or reject your brand are as follows:

Commitments not met

The very common refrain of most customers is that commitments are made by staff members at the time of placing the order and then forgotten. Whether these are in the form of a commitment to deliver a product at a certain time or it is to provide a service at a certain level or it is for the visit of a plumber to your home, a commitment once made must be kept. Most customers are also willing to accept a change in commitment if a communication has been made to them and, more importantly, the customer has agreed to this change.

If a commitment is kept you have a happy customer. If the commitment is not kept you have a very unhappy and dissatisfied customer. If at this time your staff attempts to give a “smart” answer or offer an insincere apology then the customer is in his right to get really angry and upset.

Any store member, in an attempt to save his own skin, must never pass the buck to his head office or factory since this weakens the perceptions of the brand in front of the customer. Internal issues of a company must be addressed internally and not in front of any customer.

As our retail chain grew, there were several staff members who did not recognize me when I walked into one of our stores. The best way to understand your own staff is to call your company help line and understand what a customer has to go through each time he has a complaint.

Poor Service

Most of us have experienced poor service levels often in various stores. An indifferent store staff can irritate any customer.

Shoe sales men would have definitely tried to entice you to buy a “slightly tight” shoe with a response “When you start using the shoe it will open up” and fit your foot much better”. How often have we purchased a tight shirt or coat because the sales staff member did not have a larger size and encouraged us to buy it because “you are sure to lose some weight”!

Arrogance and Sarcasm

If a staff member is arrogant the customer picks up such body language very quickly. Staff members who face your customers are your ambassadors and must have humility. Customers need to be heard and do not like to repeat themselves. If a staff member does not know the customer then being overfriendly or passing a funny comment can also be misunderstood.

Sarcastic remarks only heighten anger, they seldom ease tension. There is no place for one’s ego in front of your customer.

Questioning a Customer’s Intelligence

I am sure a lot of us would have experienced a situation where we go to a restaurant and ask for a glass of cold water. When the water arrives and we don’t find this cold, we tell the waiter to change the water. How often have we seen the waiter touch the glass from the outside to show the customer that in his view the water is cold enough? The same applies when you ask for a cup of hot tea and on complaining the staff member touches the cup to check if you are right!

These are classic examples of a staff member questioning a customer’s intelligence and conveying distrust. Anyone in the retail business has to accept a customer’s viewpoint as long as the customer is fair and reasonable.

Arguing with a Customer

Arguing with your customer is a cardinal sin for every business. Arguing with a customer may enable a store staff member to win a small battle but in the long run, he would not only have lost the sale but the customer forever.

My advice to most customer facing staff members is that every morning when they leave for work, they should “remove their watch” and leave it on their bedside table and they should “take off their cloak of ego” and hang it behind their bathroom door. There is no place for time or ego when it comes to handling your customer.

People get upset for a variety of reasons, many of which are under your or your organization's control to prevent. The easiest way to calm upset customers is to not make them angry in the first place. At the same time, it is very important to understand that a customer is not always right. If the customer is unreasonable, then a firm but very polite tone is needed to handle such irate customers.

The author is the founder Chairman of Guardian Pharmacies and the author of 5 best-selling books, Reboot. Reinvent. Rewire: Managing Retirement in the 21st Century; The Corner Office; An Eye for an Eye; The Buck Stops Here - Learnings of a #Startup Entrepreneur and The Buck Stops Here – My Journey from a Manager to an Entrepreneur.

Twitter: @gargashutosh
Instagram: ashutoshgarg56
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