In this edition of the ‘CEO Insights,’ we have Mr. Ankit Nagori, who is the Chief Executive Officer of Eatfit. In his conversation with Mr. Rahul Mahajan, Country – Lead of Great Manager Awards, he shares with us his key insights about his journey and leadership.
Rahul: What is your leadership style?
Ankit: Like anyone else’s style, my style has also evolved over the past decade. If I talk about some of the things which I really believe in and which worked well for me is one of my first strategies, i.e., growing talent internally.
“My strategy always has been and will continue to be is to hire at one level lower than what no one should actually hire at and then give that headroom for the person to grow.”
Because hiring a person at a higher level is always possible if you have good talent and pitch. If you’re able to get someone at n minus one level and give a three-year roadmap to grow into level n, the motivation and the passion which the person dedicates or shows is unbelievable, because they always continue to see that empty slot right above them, and they don’t feel that there is any need to be stifled. It also gives them an opportunity to not be under daily supervision or daily micromanagement because if you are working at an n minus one level, then n minus one to n plus one gap is significant for the manager not to have daily supervision.
The reason that I believe in this model is that my journey at Flipkart is exactly the same, I was hired at an (n-3) level and was always playing ‘n’ level roles. And the bar kept going higher. I got the opportunity to grow on many levels. So probably, I grew five levels in a period of three or four years because there was no one above me. I got a lot of opportunities for independent risk-taking and got chances to correct my mistakes. So that’s how I have personally grown, and I continue to believe in that model very aggressively.
Rahul: If I ask some of your minus ones to point out what are some of the do’s and don’ts when it comes to working with you, what would they say?
Ankit: I think, post the pandemic, a lot of changes happened, which I’m still trying to understand. I think, a lot of frameworks, structured things have gone away, and there’s a lot of chaos. One thing that you have to follow if you have to work with me is you have to have a very structured approach. Like before the meetings, you have to have a very clear agenda, minutes of the meeting, tracking of minutes of the meeting on a fortnightly level.
Also, I am a big believer of lists. I make a list for every single thing and make sure that it is struck off and that too on a hard copy, unlike a digital list.
Now, with the pandemic, because the number of meetings has shot up, this whole thing went away. And I can’t expect everyone to follow this. So now, a lot of conversations have moved to WhatsApp chats, and I personally am a very slow WhatsApp user. So now chat as a channel has come up, which has made it less structured. But if I have to say, what works for me is structured thinking like doing lesser meetings, but sending a pre-meeting note, minutes of meeting and if we finalize on certain action items, sending reminders on updates, etc.
The other thing which I really used to value, and I think it’s gotten better with the pandemic, is punctuality because now people don’t have to physically move around for meetings. Previously, people would have to travel between buildings or floors. So, there was inherently a 5-7 minutes delay in the start of meetings. That is something the pandemic has solved for us, and now we literally have to just switch between windows.
Talking about the don’ts, there are two things which do not go down well with me, and it’s very clear to all the people who work with me. One is bringing bad news first. It is a very important mantra for me because it’s very easy to sugar-coat all the good things and keep delaying the bad news; it happens a lot, where managers or senior managers actually delay the bad news with hope that they would rectify it before it goes up. But in 90% of cases, this doesn’t happen, and the bad news actually reaches much later. What I tell my team is to bring the bad news first. There is a quote in medical terms, “if you have any ailment if you reach the hospital within the first 60 minutes, then the chances of survival are very high”.
The last thing, which I think the team would definitely know, is that I don’t like problem-solving in a third-person mode. So very often, it happens that person A will come and say that person B is not doing the job. As soon as I hear this, I would say, wait, let me call Person B. And let’s resolve it. I do this because I know I am not needed in such situations; person A is only doing this because they don’t have the courage or energy to have the tough conversations with person B.
Rahul: What is your vision for your organisation? What is your approach towards achieving it?
Ankit: So, for any company, and for all set of people to come together, there has to be a common goal, a common vision. We call it purpose. And the purpose of Eatfit is to make honest food that customers love. So, every single day people show up to make honest food. The idea is to have an umbrella statement, something which has a long shelf life. We then have core values; core value is how you achieve your purpose. Our core value is to ‘act like an owner, do more with less, and love for food.’
If you really love food, then you will make the food honest. It’s a shortcut to put chemicals, colours, artificial ingredients to make food look good.
Do more with less; food is a very low margin business. If you want customers to pay less, you have to have a very frugal structure. You can’t have frills.
And act like an owner: When you operate 10s of kitchens across cities, and every kitchen is a secluded area, are you able to build a culture of ownership in that distributed model? Tomorrow when you have hundreds of kitchens, the kitchen manager should still operate in the same fashion.
Rahul: If you were to hire someone for a senior leadership level, what will be that one question you will ask that candidate?
Ankit: I would ask them which is the most impactful project they have been a part of to date. It’s because people have very long careers and you don’t need in a 10-year period to be successful; you don’t need 40 quarters of success, you need 25 good quarters, 15 bad quarters. A person shouldn’t be asked about his last two years of experience. People should be measured by their spikes, not by averages or troughs. What was it that he could deliver during a purple patch? You know that is the most important aspect because for people to be successful timing of the product is really important.
One more thing I would ask them is, why do you want to work with our mission? We are here to make honest food that customers love; suppose you are a social media marketer, how will you contribute to our purpose?
Rahul: If you’re to find a successor for yourself, what are the two or three qualities that you look at?
Ankit: I think I’m also learning in that area. The quality I would look for is the ability to take a 5 to 10 years view of life and have that patient way of building business. I believe even successors or CEOs should be hired with a minimum five years term. It’s very difficult in the start-up world because it’s very dynamic. But in larger companies, I really believe that anyone who takes up a CXO role should be given a minimum five-year commitment, regardless of the results.
Rahul: What is the most common piece of advice that you find yourself sharing with the young generation?
Ankit: I think I often use the word sponge; I tell them that they should be like a sponge; they should just keep learning. Learning can happen in various ways. My biggest way of learning is by observation. Another piece of advice would be to read a lot. I believe that if I read versus I watch, I retain a lot more while I’m reading.
One new piece of advice that I give to young people on the basis of my experience in the corporate sector is 45 minutes of workout and meditation. There is no doubt that there’s 10x better productivity if you’re able to dedicate the first 45 minutes of the day to yourself.
Rahul: What is the most crucial competency of a manager, according to you?
Ankit: Work allocation. How you are able to break down the goal into a 7–10-member team is key. In most cases, managers end up having favourites or permanent enemies because of perception. I think the equitable distribution of work is the most important aspect of a successful manager.
Rahul: What are the most common challenges you face in people management?
Ankit: People’s motivation is a unique problem. We work with a unique set of people, all of them in different, are in different phases of life. And to be able to get a sense of their motivation is super tough. And you don’t want to be pressing on the wrong side. Like you don’t want to tell someone that you could not finish a task and later find out that her mom was in the hospital. So, it is super tough to get everyone on the same motivation level throughout the week. It’s not a new-age problem. It must have existed forever. I feel human emotion itself is not designed for such a competitive world where your competition is the same every day, but your variables change on a daily basis.
Rahul: If I take you ten years back, what advice would you give to the younger you in terms of your learnings till today?
Ankit: I would tell myself that it’s a very long journey. There are so many cliche quotes about life being a journey where the destination is not important; the journey is, and it’s actually true. Like when my son was born, I was working 12-15 hours a day. And now I realized that probably I could have worked three hours lesser. So, somehow in life, we all end up prioritizing work because it is something that others have given us. And whatever you have, you will always trade that for a responsibility given by someone else. I think there is a balance to be made. So, I think being able to take regular breaks is super important.
About Rahul Mahajan:
Rahul is the Country Lead of Great Manager Awards and has played a pivotal role in strengthening the Great Manager Awards program in partnership with The Economic Times over the last 6 years in India. Rahul closely works with Business & HR leaders to help them identify and develop successors for their organization.
About Great Manager Awards:
Great Manager Awards Program is an initiative by ‘People Business’ to identify, recognize and reward “Companies with Great Managers” in India. This program enables the participant organizations to compare and benchmark themselves and their managers across the industry. It helps organizations create real competitive advantage through its managers.