The Snitch

Just a little of everything HR

HRTV: EB Live Asia 2012

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Singapore – HRTV is back for its first episode this year. Catch up with HR leaders from Marriott International, Facebook, Starbucks and the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) at Human Resources’ recent Employee Benefits Live Asia 2012 conference.

Sabrina Zolkifi speaks to Marriott International’s CHRO Jim Pilarski as he shared trends he is witnessing in the hospitality industry. Madan Nagaldinne, head of HR for Facebook in APAC and Paul Lam, head of partner resources for Starbucks in APAC, also discussed how technology, communication and Gen Y management all come together to create a more dynamic and productive workforce.

Low Peck Kem, divisional director of national human resources at MOM, talked about the labour challenges Singapore can expect in the coming months.

Written by Sabrina Zolkifi

August 15, 2012 at 11:50 am

The Office Snitch: A pirate ship office, a giraffe-themed workspace and, err, Naked Fridays.

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When I started work here, we were in the heart of downtown Singapore in a quaint little shop house that used to flood during downpours. After a while, The Boss got fed up with rainwater dripping directly on his desk and moved us west last Christmas into a spanking new office with lots of natural light, clean white walls and a roof where we drink beer and have water gun fights (often at the same time).

Moving from a cramped shop house where I was working in a loft with no windows and a temperamental air conditioning unit, the new office was a breath of fresh air.

Anyone will tell you offices are starting to become cool places you can hang out at – which makes sense considering you spend a bulk of your day there. I had the privilege of chilling out at Google’s Singapore office back in May when we spoke to Sarah Robb, the head of HR. Although not as mind-blowing as the Mountain View headquarters, the local office was a great place to be. It had a games room, a meeting table fashioned out a tuk-tuk and micro-kitchens and cafeterias providing staff with an array of food choices on Larry Page’s tab.

But it seems some companies are going the extra mile to make every day at the office an experience for staff.

The head office of Davison Design & Development, an invention promotion firm, is called Inventionland, and stays true to its name. The facility houses not one, not two but 16 themed sets including a pirate ship, a cave, a giant robot, a tree house and a motor speedway. I have the highest degree of respect for people working there because I know I’d spend my days distracted and living out childhood fantasies.

Credit: adme.ru & Tengri News

Other really interesting offices include one in Newcastle, which has – and I’m not kidding here – Naked Fridays, where employees comes to work, well, in the nude.

“It was brilliant. Now that we’ve seen each other naked, there are no barriers,” Sam Jackson, front-of-house manager of design and marketing company onebestway, told The Sun.

I’m not sure that’s something that will take off (pun intended) anytime soon, but I wouldn’t mind working in the offices of TWIGA in Moscow where it’s giraffe-themed. I can’t even begin imagining the immense joy of working in an office filled with 836 figures and images of my favourite animal.

Or the Paris offices of Pons and Huot, where each employee works in a Plexiglas sphere (If I did work there, I’ll probably invest in a snow machine and pretend I’m working in a snow globe).

We’ve been to some pretty cool offices in Singapore but if you know of one, or even better, if you work in one, let us know.

We will be starting a profile of innovative and creative workplaces pretty soon so here’s your chance to get involved. Drop us a comment here or email me, Sabrina Zolkifi, at sabrinaz@humanresourcesonline.net. We might just pop by the office for a visit and coffee soon.

To see photos of all the cool offices mentioned, click here: http://en.tengrinews.kz/opinion/240/

Written by Sabrina Zolkifi

July 27, 2012 at 11:11 am

The Office Snitch: I can’t wait to be boss

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A new report has emerged to add more proof that being the boss is one sweet gig.

Not only are they paid more and can, you know, boss people around, it turns out they get more vacation time as well.

The report released by CareerBuilder.com found 81% bosses have no problem at all pencilling in a vacation, compared to 65% of full time employees. Gee whiz.

Now, I’m not saying bosses are skiving off work to play golf by the beach but it does make me wonder how they can get so much time off when they’re supposedly running a company.

I did a bit of digging and I think I’ve figured out their million dollar (or however much it costs to play golf by the beach) secret.

Two words: time management.

Every single business leader or CEO I’ve spoken to has a pretty solid plan down when it comes to managing their time. After all, as they say, time is money.

Png Kim Meng, MD of Dimension Data Singapore, said in an interview in May that setting priorities is key to better time management. “When there is too much on your plate, people tend to lose focus on the tasks at hand, so it’s good to have your priorities right from the start,” he said.

On the other hand, Scott Price, CEO of Walmart Asia, said in an older interview that he makes a conscious effort to clear out his inbox every time he hits 100 unread emails. “I find staying on top of things is a very important part of time management,” Price added.

Personally, I am a mega fan of to-do lists. I try and get the next day’s to-do list sorted before I leave the office or first thing in the morning. One thing I’ve learnt the hard way is to not list EVERYTHING you need to do, but just what’s important that day. Everything else falls under my “kinda gotta do” list, which I attack after 5.30pm.

So excuse me while I tidy up today’s list before we shoot off for the weekend, and slowly but surely work my way towards better time management and a mojito by the beach in a few years.

Written by Sabrina Zolkifi

June 29, 2012 at 10:45 am

Posted in Uncategorized

The Office Snitch: Show me the money!

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So here’s the deal: If you’re going to promote me, I expect a little bump or two in my pay.

Unfortunately though, it seems not everyone agrees with my point of view. In fact, we ran an article last week about how HR managers in Singapore are the third most likely in the world to promote with pay increment.

My simple question to them is why?

I mean, come on, let’s face it. I, like many others, love my job and the non-monetary benefits I get. Flexible working hours? Check. Ability to work from home? Check. Cool invites to media parties? Check.

That being said, it’s nice to be recognised and rewarded for all the work invested into any job. Above that, being promoted means bigger responsibility. Where I come from, that just means a bit more remuneration for what you do.

However, 68% of HR managers responding to a survey by Robert Half said they don’t give pay rises with promotions, with more than half offering a performance bonus instead.

“Employees like a challenge, but there are risks for companies offering a promotion without a pay rise. While pay is not the only factor employees consider, if companies do not provide adequate compensation either through pay or other benefits, then they may lose their top performers to the competition,” Stella Tang, director of Robert Half Singapore, said.

Well, at least someone’s with me on this one.

“I think it’s only right for employees to be given a salary boost when they are promoted because it’s a show of recognition on the employer’s part that the work they’ve done so far is valued,” Sarah Lee, a first year lawyer who declined to reveal her firm’s name, said. “Plus, people will be more motivated to continue their good work if they know they will constantly and consistently be rewarded.”

Tang also said while certain benefits such as flexible working hours may have more value to some employees, it is important for both bosses and staff to find that balance.

I reckon it comes back down to understanding your employees, their needs and what drives them, and then tailoring a package that fits them. I know it may sound like a ton of work, but in today’s competitive job market, where a $500 pay increment offer from a competitor could mean you saying bye-bye to your superstar, it is definitely something worth keeping in mind.

As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts, so leave a message and I’ll get right back to you. Have a super weekend!

Written by Sabrina Zolkifi

June 22, 2012 at 9:45 am

Time to get your hands dirty

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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

Does your office harbour a ninja superstar?

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I would like to start off this post by announcing that I would like to coin the phrase “ninja superstar”. Yes, I came up with it myself and yes, there’s a story behind it.

While on one of my many refreshing breaks today, I came across an article on Inc.com about hidden talents within your organisation. I’ve always been a believer in the notion that great ideas can come from anywhere and anyone and I think it can be applied in the office, all day, everyday.

See, many times, we rely on our office superstars for the next big money maker. Need a fresh take on an idea? Why not ask Jake, the guy who’s been giving us great ideas since ’03. Need a second opinion on the people strategy? Why not call in Paul, who has been leading the global strategy team for years?

But do we really need to keep going back to the regular top performers? Yes, they’re called a top performer for a reason, but who’s to say the quiet guy next to Jake or that geeky kid opposite Paul hasn’t got the best idea ever to hit town?

Inc’s article uses the example of Jeremy Lin, overnight basketball sensation. When asked about “Lin-sanity”, LA Lakers hotshot Kobe Bryant only had this to say: “Players playing that well don’t usually come out of nowhere… his skill level was possibly there from the beginning. It probably just wasn’t noticed.”

That said, I am convinced there are several ninja superstars lurking in your office just waiting to be noticed. Seriously, I promise you, they’re there.

As a leader, it is your job to constantly allow staff opportunities for growth. If you keep going back to the Jakes and Pauls of your team, you’re going to lose the golden nuggets hiding inside your office’s very own Jeremy Lin.

Harvey Mackay, who wrote the article on inc, shares four simple tricks to make sure your ninja superstar becomes an overnight sensation:

Pay closer attention to performance reviews

Be on the lookout for special abilities or exceptional initiative. In addition, ask employees to rate their own performance and explain what areas they are especially interested in developing.

Reinstate the good ol’ suggestion box.

The employees who share innovative ideas may also be the folks who have some hidden talents that would help incorporate their suggestions. Reward the best ideas, and recognise them publicly so that others will be encouraged to share their skills.

Ask for volunteers.

When a new project comes along, instead of just making assignments, invite employees to step up and take on the tasks that suit their interests and skills. Perhaps you’ve seen the video of the Southwest Airlines flight attendant who found a way to ensure passengers would really pay attention to the typical pre-flight instructions. He decided to use his rap skills to make the announcement. The passengers will always remember where the exit rows are now, and the airline continues to bolster its reputation for making mundane travel fun.

Don’t overlook less obvious advantages.

A department assistant at an urban university liked to knit on her lunch hour. Soon other employees brought their yarn and needles, and they gathered one day each week over lunch to make caps for newborns at the children’s hospital. They hadn’t known each other well before that, but as they became better acquainted, the interdepartmental cooperation burgeoned. And the university enjoyed some very positive community reaction as well.

If I were you, I’d get right down to uncovering your ninja superstar. Remember, everyone’s got something to put on the table – isn’t that why you hired them in the first place?

Written by Sabrina Zolkifi

May 31, 2012 at 6:03 pm

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

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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