The Snitch

Just a little of everything HR

Archive for the ‘Leadership’ Category

Time to get your hands dirty

leave a comment »

When I received an email about this week’s latest Bizarre HR, I was in the middle of a conference and had to muster up a bit of self-will to not giggle out loud.

While my initial reaction was to laugh, I suppose a translation problem such as this could do some serious damage to a company’s reputation and brand (which ironically was the discussion topic of the conference I was at).

I know I’m going to sound like a broken record, but as businesses get increasingly global, cultural sensitivity becomes all the more crucial – and IKEA’s story reminds us of this, albeit in a bit of a tongue-in-cheek manner.

Cultural sensitivity doesn’t have to be as intimidating as it sounds. Let’s bring it in to a local context: a predominantly Chinese company employs a foreign talent from Malaysia. There will be issues of different working cultures, language and even religion to consider and manage. And that’s really just the start of it.

I met a new friend recently, Marc. Now Marc, whose degree is in engineering, decided in his final year to intern on a factory line instead of taking an office job. Marc, who is French and grew up in Paris, and had, at that point, only been in Singapore for about three years, then flew all the way to Guangdong, China to work on the production floor of a small factory. His colleagues were mostly Chinese ladies who had little grasp of the English language, but he wouldn’t trade the experience for the world.

“Yes, I could have gotten a white-collar job but when else will I be able to experience something like that?” he reasoned.

Marc’s foray into the blue-collar working was an uncomplicated step that allowed him valuable insights into the grassroots working experience. It gave him a new level of cultural understanding he may have otherwise missed had he been sitting in a fancy swirly chair behind a desk in an office barely overlooking the factory line.

Besides, isn’t that also the concept behind that TV show my parents are addicted to, Undercover Boss? (Fine, fine, I’ll admit I love it too.)

I know not every leader has the luxury of working shoulder-to-shoulder with those under them, but any effort invested into understanding the everyday concerns and experiences of their staff could alleviate cultural misunderstandings and ensure amazing employee satisfaction and productivity.

So start with something simple. Let senior managers and junior staff alike job rotation opportunities. Spend a lunch or after work drinks with the new recruit from Thailand or Germany. Read up on a foreign sport the new guy in accounting was talking about the other day (Have you guys heard of Gaelic football? Genius idea!)

Like I said, managing and understanding cultural sensitivity isn’t as intimidating as it sounds. Besides today’s a Friday. When better to plan a long, casual lunch, or a beer after work? Bottoms up!

Written by Sabrina Zolkifi

June 8, 2012 at 9:34 am

Posted in Leadership

Leaders should be laughing stocks. Or at least just laughing.

with one comment

You know the childhood song that goes “If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands”? Well, when was the last time you clapped at work?

I’m a firm believer that you have got to work where you’re happy. I’m not saying quit your job and join the circus (but if you know of any openings, give me a buzz), but as a leader, I do think it’s on you to make sure your staff aren’t dragging their feet into the office everyday, dreading the next eight or nine hours of their lives.

I recently read an article, which not only supported my view (one down, thousands more to go) but also suggested leaders with a funny bone are more likely to be better managers. I had a sneaky suspicion this was true, but decided to ring up Umar Rana, founder of Comedy Masala in Singapore, and hear what he reckoned.

“People who are fun definitely have an advantage,” he said. “If you’re liked, people are willing to go the extra mile for you. Good leaders are always people who are able to make a good impression.”

Umar shared that in comedy, it takes an audience just 30 to 45 seconds to decide whether they like the comic standing in front of them. That’s not a hell of a lot of time.

Now, bring that stat back to the office. Imagine the difference it would make if a leader has mastered the ability to engage and inspire someone on his staff within the first minute of a meeting or presentation.

So if you’re interested in being a more likable boss, Umar shares some secrets right out of the comic’s handbook to help you make a difference.

“When it comes to speaking or presenting, I think a lot of people rush because of nerves. It happens all the time in comedy. Be it when telling a joke or presenting in front of a town hall, it’s important to look at everyone without actually focusing on anyone in particular.”

Umar lets me in on another secret. Although comics are excellent at making you feel as though they’re looking right into your soul, the truth is the bright stage lights make it hard to see anyone in the audience.

“But as I’m talking, I still need to make them feel as though I can see them and am talking to them. That’s the key.”

The third thing, Umar said, is confidence. “Russell Peters could be telling his best joke, but if he’s looking around, fidgeting, it’s going to be distracting. The same goes for a leader making a presentation. There has to be a visual and emotional connection, and you need to command respect.”

I’ve always considered comics to be the fastest thinkers on their feet. To create material – and funny material at that – almost instantly based off social cues is a skill I envy.

“As a comedian, I go live in front of 200 people every week. I am prepared for anything. So when I speak to anyone, no matter now senior or junior they are, they’re just another person to me. It’s my job to connect with you as another person.”

However, should you still struggle with confidence, there are ways to direct attention off yourself while still engaging your audience. “Just shift the energy to something else. Look at something else, change your body language. That’s all there is to it.”

But is comedy something you and I can pick up? I ask because I’ll tell you, I’ve had my share of cricket harmonies after what I thought was a kickass joke.

“Everyone, on some level, has a sense of humour – it’s just a matter of timing. There aren’t any prerequisites. You just need to want to do it, and that’s the beauty of comedy.”

Aside from trying to be the Drew Carey of your office, Umar also shared other things leaders can do to better engage their employees.

“The first thing you need to do is to get everyone out of the office. You can’t build those bridges in the office. A night of bowling can change a perception of someone. All of a sudden, it’s okay to laugh when the boss throws a gutter ball. Right there, in seconds, you’ve broken all those barriers,” Umar said.

“And for goodness’ sake, don’t do a team lunch,” Umar said. “First, you’ve most likely disrupted someone’s lunch plan. Secondly, I don’t want to be with the same people I’ve been with all morning. And when I get back, I’m going to be sleepy and I still have to deal with these people. Drinks over lunch makes for an easier atmosphere.”

So, if anyone’s wondering, I’ll be at Comedy Masala next week, reporter’s notepad in hand, honing my skills at being a better leader. Yes, yes, I know I haven’t got anyone reporting to me (yet), but I figured, no harm starting early.

Besides, I could definitely use a laugh or two. I’m still not over the fact that journalism is in the bottom five jobs to have.

Written by Sabrina Zolkifi

May 11, 2012 at 9:51 am

The Office Snitch: Network it, baby!

leave a comment »

I’ll be honest with you. Sometimes, just the thought of networking makes me so nervous I’d rather sit in the dentist’s chair on a ship during the perfect storm.

As I’m always dealing with HR practitioners, one question I’m often asked is: “How do HR people fare when it comes to networking?”

I think HR professionals have, over the course of time, been classified as introverted paper-pushers who only step out of their offices to fire someone or rob them of their laptop privileges.

Although I’ll admit HR folks I’ve met are slightly more reserved than the PR, marketing and creative teams I work with on an equally regular basis, calling them introverts is as far from the truth as possible.

HR leaders are networking daily with one of the most important groups of people they work with: the organisation’s employees themselves.

As the HR function continues to take on more strategic and critical roles within businesses, HR leaders find themselves making presentations, presenting cases and implementing policies. On top of that, they’re also dealing with a steady stream of employee queries, and transactional and admin duties. While your corporate comms and PR peers are busy managing relations with the outside world, HR is doing exactly the same with the internal audience.

Now, of course I have had my share of working with the slightly more reserved HR leaders. If you consider yourself one of them, fear not, I can help.

I’ve been a journalist for a while now (well, a year and a half, but if you think about it, that’s about a quarter of my working life), and dare I say I’ve picked up a couple of skills when it comes to the fine art of networking.

I remember the first event I had to cover. There I was, a nervous shell, thrown into the middle of one of the biggest HR summits of the year. All I had was a feeble list of questions, a voice recorder and my name cards.

I approached the first guy I saw standing alone with the cocktail nuts, flashed my biggest smile and said, “Hi, I’m Sabrina from Human Resources magazine. How are you? Is this your first time here? This is my first event and I’m so excited to be here!” all in one breath.

He smiled weakly, muttered something in response about where he worked, and then let the silence hang between us like an elephant suspended Mission Impossible-style from the ceiling.

On hindsight, approaching another introvert was probably not the wisest move. But over the next few months, as my then editor viciously scheduled me for event after event and interview after interview, I started to get the hang of things, and more importantly, I started getting comfortable.

There isn’t really a science to it, but there are a couple of things you can do to make networking less a pain, and more a gain.

Just do it

I’ve learnt the easiest way to get the ball rolling is just to jump right into it. Not quite in the same way I launched into my verbal diarrhoea that first time, but rather, take it a couple of sentences at a time (and remember to breathe).

Start off with a simple introduction, hear what your conversation partner(s) have to say, and then see how it goes from there. It never hurts to read up a little about the event you’re at to throw in a couple of facts to keep the conversation running. But chances are if you’re an introvert, you’re a good listener. Use that to your advantage and ask the other person about his job and what he does. Trust me, three times out of five, people love talking about themselves. Besides, you’ll never know who you’ve got standing in front of you and the opportunities that may arise.

Don’t force it

Unfortunately, there will be occasions where the conversation hits a block. Before you start rambling on about the weather or what you had for lunch (which will only add to the awkwardness, trust me), politely nip the conversation in the bud. “Well, it was nice meeting you. I’ll see you around” usually does the trick for me. Chances are, you partner has picked up on the lull and is thinking of ways to excuse himself anyway. You tried, but we can’t win them all. Move on to the next one.

Have fun with it

If anything, networking sessions are a great way to get away from the office, have a free cup of coffee and some croissants, while still getting work done. Consider it a casual opportunity to meet people, and don’t take it too seriously. One other thing I’ve learnt is you don’t always have to talk about work. As long as the conversation remains appropriate and professional, no harm’s been done. I’ve found I’m always more comfortable starting a conversation with something unrelated to work. In fact, I’m just as aware of my clients, interviewees and PR contacts’ holidays, children’s schooling, and favourite weekend restaurants as I am of their business initiatives, product launches and policy changes. Making sure your industry peers know you’re not just in it to get something out of them can sometimes get you more out of a meeting than just a dry, run of the mill business check in.

Today, I’m glad to say I’m able to hold my own at meetings big and small. Sure, there are days where I’d rather be in the office or nursing my coffee in a corner with my phone, but I’ve been around long enough (or at least I’d like to think so) to know that getting my hands dirty networking can be one of the most rewarding and informative aspects of the job.

Once you’re comfortable talking to people outside the organisation, getting those important conversations going with your employees and managers should be a breeze. Good luck at your next networking event, and let me know how it goes!

Written by Sabrina Zolkifi

April 27, 2012 at 11:16 am

The Office Snitch: How recruiters dress matters too

with one comment

A quick look on the internet will show numerous articles on how job candidates can prepare for an interview. But people hardly dish out advice for the interviewer himself.

So I have decided to take it upon myself to help recruiters, employers and HR professionals everywhere to look their best when sussing out the next big thing for their company. Don’t mention it – you’re welcome.

Chances are interviewers are the first people a candidate meets when visiting the organisation for the first time, so who better to present the company image and brand to the potential employee.

Building a strong employer brand is just as important as everything else on your organisation’s agenda. Not only does it help set the right image, but also ensures that every employee (both potential and current) is on board with the right message and values system.

Earlier this year in an interview with Martin Cerullo, managing director for development in Asia Pacific for Alexander Mann Solutions, he shared employer branding is a psychological contract between the company and staff. He added a strong brand brings to life the company culture, differentiates it from its competitors and builds employee loyalty.

I recently visited DBS Bank’s headquarters during a recruitment drive. What struck me was how every single DBS employee that day was dressed in its corporate colours of black and red. Yet it wasn’t garish or loud. One lady had an all-black ensemble cinched with a thin red belt. Another wore red heels, while a male representative paired a dark red shirt with black trousers. It all seemed so effortless that it occurred to me how easy it is to set a brand and tone without going overboard (i.e. polo tees with the company logo printed tastelessly behind).

When recruiters dress well, it helps boost their confidence and project the right image. Now, I decided to call Audrey Fegen, an image consultant who has styled local celebrities like Nadya Hutagalung, Adrian Pang, and Pam Oei.

“Before we open our mouths to speak, we are already being judged by how we dress, our hairstyle, how much make-up we have on, so first impressions do count,” Audrey said. When I asked her what advice she had for interviewers, she kept it to the point: “Try not to be intimidating”.

Sounds easier said than done. Some quick tips from Audrey include keeping your jewellery simple and wearing an outfit that is as classic and basic as possible so it will not distract the interviewee.

“Gold, silver or pearl earrings are acceptable; bling or dangling earrings are not, “Audrey added. “Keep that for socialising.” But there is more to being a good interviewer than nice clothes and pearls. (If only it were that easy, right?)

Jensen Siaw, principal trainer at Speak for Life Speaking Academy, said it is important the interviewer can project confidence as he is a representative of the company. He said, “Imagine if you were being interviewed for an executive or managerial position and your prospective superior doesn’t sound confident about him or the organisation.”

“Would you still be interested in the position?” Jensen asked. Well, I personally don’t think so.

Turning up for the interview prepared, even if you are the hiring manager, can go a long way in making the process more fruitful and painless. “Ensure that you have read the candidate’s resume, instead of flipping through it as you are meeting him,” Jensen said.

It also helps to prepare some questions that are derived from reading the resume, and not use a list of standard interview questions to help understand the candidate better, Jensen added. For example, adopting a confident posture, such as facing the door while the candidate has his back to it, will help interviewers take on a stance of superiority.

So, as you begin preparing a series some recruitment drives for the New Year to help push your company forward in 2012, keep these simple tips in mind. Dress to impress to remind job candidates who is boss around here.

Written by Sabrina Zolkifi

October 21, 2011 at 11:50 am

Posted in Leadership, Recruitment

HRTV: Kellogg humanises HR shared services

leave a comment »

Singapore – ­When Kellogg Company rolled out a shared services model for its human resources (HR) function, its main concern was ensuing employees could still feel a human connection with the organisation.

“The big challenge was getting people to accept the idea that they may not have that tap on the shoulder anymore,” John Gigerich, senior director of application solutions at Kellogg, said.

The new HR shared services model meant that employees no longer have to approach a business leader or the HR department to obtain or clarify information about their work.

“Before, if the [HR] generalist was out for two weeks, employees will have to wait two weeks for a response,” Gigerich said.

Gigerich explained an effective shared services model is about “getting questions answered quickly or escalating that to someone who can answer it faster”.

Since implementing this centralised structure in 2008, the cereal company has witnessed an 18% return on investment in the first year. Currently, 65% of staff queries are answered within the first call, and 75% of requests are replied within the day.

Another advantage of using a shared services model is that as companies continue to expand, it becomes challenging to have functional experts “spread around the locations while maintaining consistency”.

Gigerich said having information that is easily shared and accessed at one location narrows the gap between employees based in different countries and offices. Business leaders are also better equipped at making faster and more informed decisions because they have “data at their fingertips”.

As the shared service model only completed its final implementation for the US, Canadian and Latin American operations this year, Gigerich said Kellogg has no plans to roll the programme out to Asia just yet.

Gigerich sits down with HRTV to talk about other pros and cons of an HR shared services model, and how it can further support HR. To watch the full interview below.




Written by Sabrina Zolkifi

September 14, 2011 at 2:36 pm

Small Talk on marrying marketing with HR

leave a comment »

Singapore – As the HR function within organisations continues evolving into a more strategic role, HR practitioners are beginning to see the benefits of incorporating marketing techniques.

Matt Eaton, group editor of Marketing Magazine, co-hosts this episode of Small Talk and discusses with Sabrina Zolkifi how HR can use marketing techniques to improve their processes. Some areas HR can add a marketing focus on include recruitment, policies and development programmes.

Small Talk also highlights a study from Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business and research firm Penn Schoen Berland that revealed bosses in the US admit to playing favourites in the office. Business leaders were found to base their decision on who to promote on “factors unrelated to a person’s abilities, such as background, ideology or gut instincts”.

Lamar Reinsch, a management professor at McDonough, said favouritism can cause stress and affect productivity and relationships within the company. “They’re now playing office politics instead of focusing on organisational objectives.”

On the topic of leadership and meritocracy, another top story discussed in this episode is on how most managers in Asia are “tall and skinny”. According to business school INSEAD, talent in Asia rise through the ranks quickly, but lack proper managerial skills.

Guy Saunders, director of open enrolment programmes for executive education at INSEAD, said employees identified as top potential leaders must be given adequate leadership development programmes. Without sufficient support from the organisation, new managers will face challenges in aligning their functional expertise with leading a team.

“From being an expert [with technical skills], you now have to manage or help other people to become experts,” Saunders says.

Small Talk also talks about the mass fainting incidents at retail chain Hennes & Mauritz’s (H&M) Cambodia factory and why employees in Italy refused to work after claiming their workplace is haunted.

Written by Sabrina Zolkifi

September 9, 2011 at 2:45 pm

Small Talk on work happiness and longevity

leave a comment »

Singapore – New research has proven that those with a happy and supportive working environment tend to live longer.

Tel Aviv University released a study that showed employees with an encouraging office culture were 2.4 times more likely to live longer in a 20-year study period. Additionally, informal peer relationships were a better indicator of health.

“As we spend most of our daily time with our colleagues, it is thus important for the [work] environment to be collegial and harmonious,” Christina Siaw, chief executive officer of the Singapore Cruise Centre (SCC), said.

The Israel study added most modern day companies do not have supportive environments because of factors such as telecommuting and the lack of face-to-face conversations. It suggested providing areas in the office where people can talk freely and organising informal outings to strengthen relationships.

This week, Small Talk also discusses the changes in the employment pass criteria in Singapore, and how it will affect smaller businesses. Employers in sectors such as retail, and food and beverage are hoping the government will be more lenient with industries that are facing a genuine talent shortage.

Ho Nyok Yong, president of the Singapore Contractors Association, said he hopes a policy that helps retain skilled foreign talent is implemented. He added repatriating workers who have already acquired certain skills or experience in their tenure here will be a “loss to our nation”.

Additionally, Small Talk talks about a lifeguard who was dismissed for refusing to wear a Speedo, and why having a neatly decorated desk can improve your productivity and work relationships. Also, Small Talk discusses retail chain Abercrombie & Fitch’s recruitment campaign in Singapore as it looks for attractive sales staff.

Don’t forget to take part in our weekly poll on our website, and tell us your pet peeves when it comes to personal office decorations.

Written by Sabrina Zolkifi

August 26, 2011 at 12:14 pm

Small Talk on smartphone addiction and respecting employees

leave a comment »

Singapore – While smartphones are helping people stay connected 24/7, the mobile devices may actually be doing more harm than good when it comes to productivity.

A survey from the UK revealed that two-fifths of respondents admitted to using their mobile phones to text, email and take calls when in a face-to-face meeting. Employees who are constantly glued to their mobile devices are also more likely to be distracted by work, even during weekends or when on vacation.

While some may argue the dependency on smartphones helps them stay connected, the survey reported that 36% of employees found the distractions made it harder for them to complete work. Another 22% said they suffered from information overload and more than a fifth are unable to think creatively.

Small Talk this week also discusses why respecting your employees and peers can lead to higher retention rates. A new report by Regus showed 72% of Singaporeans believed a good working environment stemmed from managers showing respect to their employees.

But managers have to be aware of why certain staff will still choose to leave a job. The latest Kelly Global Workplace Index 2011 showed that Singaporeans listed career changes, evolving personal interests and better work-life balance as the top reasons to jump ship.

While on the topic of career progression, Small Talk reports how having good presentation skills can improve your chances of getting a promotion. Employees who show confidence when presenting are more likely to be “visible” to the top level management, said Hazriq Idrus, a corporate trainer with Firefly Horizon.

Additionally, Small Talk explores how an open office concept is actually distracting employees from their work and how more local companies are moving into the suburbs to cut cost.

With office rents skyrocketing in prime areas such as Tanjong Pagar and Raffles Place, more companies are heading towards locations such as One@Changi City, Changi Business Park and Mapletree Business City.

Written by Sabrina Zolkifi

August 12, 2011 at 12:40 pm

Small Talk on racist staff and Gen Y’s expectations

leave a comment »

Singapore – Employees in Indian call centres have been told it was okay to hang up on “dumb” Australian clients while senior leaders in Singapore worry over their Gen Ys’ high expectations.

One trainer at the call centre even went so far to tell staff that Australians are racist towards Indians and did not begin attending college until recently. These demeaning stereotypes were brought to light after a journalist from news magazine Mother Jones underwent a three-week training course at the Delhi Call Centre last year.

This week, Small Talk discusses the irony of that story, as well as how employers can manage the expectations of their Generation Y (Gen Y) employees. According to Richard Lai, chief executive officer and managing director of logistics company Mapletree, younger staff want more money and opportunities but also a good work-life balance.

Lai said employees have to be more realistic in order to be happier at work. “At the end of the day, it is up to the individual to find their own level of contentment in their jobs.”

Also, find out more about how getting a team to cook together can help with bonding as HRTV heads down to The Sentosa Resort and Spa for a first-hand look at a new “Iron Chef” team building programme.

“It takes a break from the normal corporate retreats which usually involves teams being in seminars all day and talking business,” Ryan Sonson, the hotel’s executive chef, said.

Additionally, learn how companies are supporting older workers, along with their concern over rising wages as Singaporeans become increasingly pessimistic about their job opportunities.

Small Talk on lying employees and coffee addicts

leave a comment »

Singapore – Some employees are so determined to not go into the office that they would spend days faking symptoms to appear more credible when taking sick leave.

A new report by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) has found that two in five employees would fake symptoms before calling in sick. Worryingly, 5% even said they would resort to using things like crutches and make-up to be more believable.

The report suggested employers have to hone in on the underlying reasons behind why their staff are willing to go to such measures to miss work.

“Rather than a sign of laziness, unwarranted absence can mean people are under-used,” Neil Roden, human resources (HR) consulting partner at PwC, said. “Employers need to think creatively on how they can get people back in gear.”

Another top story that Small Talk is discussing this week is the top companies business graduates yearn to work for. According to a survey by Universum, Google earned the top spot for the fifth year running, with technology companies and consulting firms deemed most desirable employers as they can provide challenging work.

Russ Hagey, worldwide chief talent officer for Bain & Co, said young talent are concerned about “where they’re going to be challenged and excited”.

Additionally, Small Talk explores why Unilever’s HR boss says Asia’s supply of talent has to keep up with economic and business growth. John Nolan, its senior vice president of HR, suggests that companies have better chances of retaining their workforce if they hold a longer term view on investing in talent and coaching them.

Small Talk also reveals why coffee addicts are more harmful to a company’s productivity than smokers.