“Benefits” – attracting and retaining your best talents

In a recent newspaper article, I was impressed to see a local supermarket chain being commended for its efforts towards its employee’s well being.

Despite being a small and local setup, this supermarket chain was able to provide a host of benefits (such as bursary for employee’s children, education and renovation loans, etc.) targeting at the very needs of its employees.

One could argue the effectiveness of such personalized benefits and even the amount of work that goes into administrating them. However, to the employees benefiting from such schemes, it’s a different story all together. The schemes had helped them directly in improving their daily lives.

Looking back on my own career, and the different phases of my life, I realized that I myself have very different needs over time. Those needs had determined the career choices I’ve taken, and even right down to the way I’ve negotiated my contract with my employer.

As such, it became more and more of an urgent need for organizations today to rethink their benefits framework. I’ve always felt that an organization’s benefits framework contributes to the very soul of that organization. How well you take care or “not take care” of your employees may not be that clear for all to see, as many a times, the benefits components are buried in a ton of policies and webpages, making it hard for employees to make sense of it all. However, this doesn’t mean that employees are unaware of what’s there.

It is a very interesting observation that employees care more about the very components that directly affect them at that very moment. Thus, if it’s there, it’s good. If it’s not there, it’s bad. Just like in the story about the “blind men and the elephant”, employees would describe their experience based on what’s immediate to them.

Therefore, designing a framework that caters to everyone in the organization becomes more complex than rocket science. It is hard to imagine how there can be a one-size fit all solution. Thus, a flexible framework becomes so much more relevant in today’s context.

Since different benefits components means different things to different employees and candidates at different point of time, it makes it hard to put a dollar value on what that is worth.

A lot of times, we tend to take a simplistic approach to how much is spent provisioning for those components, however this is a case where a dollar spent does not equal to a dollar value.

Having worked with my fair share of candidates, designing an offer that makes sense to the candidate you want to attract to your organization is an art.

Personally, I find that candidates coming from organizations with creative benefits structure hardest to attract. These candidates tend to negotiate on 2 fronts, making sure that not only the cash components are attractive, and also the benefits components are not lacking.

On some occasions, where it’s not an apple-to-apple comparison, it is amazing to see that the candidates do tend to get creative in putting a dollar value on the benefits that they will be forgoing in the move. Making the final cash expectations to go through the roof.

This frustrate the hell out of staffing folks, especially those whose hands are tied in being flexible with what they can give and what’s not within their control.

Turning the table around, if the benefits structure in your organization is out of this world and creatively crazy. Coupled with a relative attractive compensation philosophy and nice corporate culture. Oh boy, I would love to see how anyone would be able to pry that employee away from you without paying through their nose.

Would love to hear your thoughts on what are some of these creative benefits that you feel is relevant and how they can help improve the way you attract and retain your best talents.



Engaging my work, a different perspective on employee engagement

In a recent report by Gallup “The State of the Global Workplace: Employee Engagement Insights for Business Leaders Worldwide” (ref: http://www.gallup.com/strategicconsulting/164735/state-global-workplace.aspx), it was reported that “worldwide, only 13% of employees are engaged at work”.

It is a scary number and worrying stat. If productivity is a direct correlation to level of engagement, think of the amount of inefficiency there is in each organisation.

However, the first thing we think of when we see a report like this is – “the company is not doing enough”, or “the morale is bad, and management is doing little about it”.

Immediately, the finger is pointed at management or even HR. Is that the case? Or is there a chronic issue with the modern employee’s mindset?

Often we view the owner’s of the problem being the party that has the most to lose. In this case, one would naturally feel that this is an organisational issue for management or HR to fix. However, I beg to differ.

By the same token, if productivity is a direct correlation to the employee’s engagement, and if a highly productive employee is a high performer, doesn’t it make sense for each individual to take extra efforts to be personally engaged with his/ her organization and work?

After all, a high performer moves up faster and gets more opportunities both internally and externally. Therefore, as much as it is an organisation’s issue, it is a personal issue.

Seriously, how hard is it to be engaged at work? And why are we scoring so low on the engagement surveys?

Let us take a look at the questions the gallup survey asks, and see how I fare answering them.

Q1) I know what is expected of me at work
Yes. I know my deliverables, and take an active role in defining how that can be achieved. Also, I help my boss understand how I would like to be measured and we setup these parameters early on in the year and review them once every few months.

Q2) I have the materials and equipment I need to do my work right
Most of the time – Yes. Come on, the world is not perfect. There will always be data you need for a report that is not complete, and processes/ policies that you don’t agree with. Tools that would solve world crisis if management would have the wisdom to put them in place. The truth is, nothing is going to be ever good enough. Part of doing the work is to make do with what you have. Just think the reality TV show “Man vs. Wild”, only here it’s “Man vs. Work”!

Q3) At work, I have the opportunity to do what I do best everyday
Seriously! My best talent is taking photos of my 3-year-old son. Unless I’m a kid photographer, I wouldn’t be able to do what I do best everyday at work! We have to understand that there is a big fat line between passion and work. Only a handful of people I know turned their passion into profession. I wouldn’t want to do it even if I had the chance to. I tried becoming a product photographer when I was much younger. The money was ok, but when you need to think about how you can get enough business to make it sustainable, that killed the interest for me. I realised that I wouldn’t want to touch a camera for leisure, that’s when I realized that this was not working for me. The key is work-life integration and seeing the larger picture. The fact that you know what you’re doing eventually contributes to the organisation’s growth is a very powerful motivator.

Q4) In the last seven days, I have received recognition or praise for doing good work
Yes. And, I realised that I am someone that relies on recognition to push me on. Thus, I made this clear to my manager that this is important. Another tip, I actively seek feedbacks after every project. Sometimes, I would ask for recognition from the key stakeholders for me and my team once the job is done. This is important to me, and I would ask for it. There is no need to feel shy about it. The last thing I want is not knowing if I did good or not, and having that contribute negatively to my “happy index”.

Q5) My supervisor, or someone at work seems to care about me as a person
Why wouldn’t they? They are humans too. However, we need to realise that this is still a work environment, and as much as you like to feel lovey-dovey, being overly involved in someone else’s personal life can make it uncomfortable for individuals, and that could be the reason why you’re not “getting all that love”. Apart from being able to read the mood, you need to open up to your managers and colleagues (in an appropriate manner, of course) too. It takes 2 hands to clap, so if they don’t know what’s going on in your life, how would they know when to show concerns.

Q6) There is someone at work who encourages my development
Yes. I have a very good manager who makes this a regular topic in our regular catch up. However, I hate to think that you would “stop developing” when there’s no one encouraging you. I like to think of this as going to the gym. Yes, there could be personal trainers you can hire, but ultimately, you need to put in the effort. Having said that, what’s stopping you from identifying someone in your organization, and asking this person to be your mentor? I’m sure he or she would be honored and happy to have that discussion.

Q7) At work, my opinions seem to count
Yes. The 2 things I make sure I observe when giving opinions are “timing” and “context”. I’ve seen “careless” opinions being given countless times, and no matter the intent of the opinions, those are generally not welcomed.

Q8) The mission or purpose of my company makes me feel my job is important
Yes. Always take time to understand what your organisation stand for, and how you contribute to that cause. There is no better satisfaction than being able to see your efforts contribute to the organisation’s cause.

Q9) My associates or fellow employees are committed to doing quality work
Definitely “Yes”. Don’t judge. Sometimes we tend to impose our own standards or assumptions on others. This is where conflicts begin. Let’s just say, your colleagues are not at the level of performance, but that doesn’t mean that they are not performing to the best of their abilities. Naturally, in any organisations, there will be the top performers, the bottom performers and everyone else. An organisation cannot be made up of just superstars. Always maintain a “help them help you” mentality, this can go a long way in eliminating the miscommunication.

Q10) I have a best friend at work
Yes! If you don’t have one, go make one. Who do you lunch with anyway? Never underestimate the power of the social interaction at work.

Q11) In the last six months, someone at work has talked to me about my progress
Yes. My manager and my peers. I do take an proactive approach in asking for feedbacks. Yes, some of which are a little harsh on the ears, but we’re adults, we can deal with it. This helps in ironing out all the potential issues and misunderstandings which occurred in the course of work too.

Q12) This last year, I have had opportunities at work to learn and grow
Definitely. Early the year, when we setup our goals with my manager, I made sure that we talk about stretching the portfolio a little. Both from a job function and projects perspective. Of course, there are some hits and misses, but being proactive about your own learning have its merits

All in all, I think I’m pretty engaged at work. After I worked through the questions, I do admit that there is a certain element of management’s doing. However, that doesn’t mean that there’s nothing us as employees can do. All it takes is a little proactive attitude and not to be shy about what you want in your career.

Thoughts anyone? Or, am I just being too optimistic?



Building a career in HR

This entry is for all those who are starting their career in HR, whether it’s by choice or by chance. And also for a certain young, talented and somewhat impatient HR practitioner (A.C), who’s recently asked me a ton a questions pertaining to this very topic.

This is a very interesting topic for me to blog about. For one, I embarked on my career in HR purely by chance. I got my education in computing, and after finishing a PeopleSoft upgrade project with the HRIS department, I was offered the option to stay on with the company and move on to the other less “techie” roles within HR. I took the plunge and the rest is history.

Being a HR practitioner for more than 10 years now, I came to appreciate the complexity of the trade. I agree that the administrative and “boring” aspect of the job still exists, and rightfully, they should. However, the role a HR practitioner had since evolved, allowing various specializations to develop over time.

This gave rise to the question of “specialization” for many of us. Should I start my career as a “generalist”? Which “specialization” is more suitable for my personality? Or even, which “specialization” pays more?

No, I’m not going to be answering all those questions here. We all have our opinions, and to be honest, there is no right answer to these questions.

The truth is, each specialization within HR is closely knitted and related to each other. There is no way you are going to be able to function with a silo mentality, without interacting and working closely with others.

The worst thing that can happen is when the walls come up and each of the functions starts acting independently. When this happens, “HR” as a department loses its ability to function collectively, causing inefficiency which many of us attributes to a “lack of communication”. (I happen to find that “excuse” most cliché)

So, if we are looking at becoming (or grooming) good HR practitioners, shouldn’t we be trying to break down that silo mentality that’s plagued many modern HR organisations?

There is no silver bullet, but I’ve always been a big fan of job rotation. Personally, I’ve rotated within and out of the HR organization, building strong knowledge and awareness of the functions I’ve served in. The cumulative experience resulted in a strong sense of appreciation of the blind spots and pain points in each of these functions.

I came to realize that within each of functions, there are blind spots with how we go about performing our jobs. Sometimes, these blind spots result in less than ideal downstream effects, which add on to the tension and conflict within the organization.

The solutions to these problems often involve policies, procedures and processes being setup, resulting in a systemic breakdown of communications, where everything is being “spelt out” clearly, thus it is assumed to be understood by all. I call this the “Clear as mud” syndrome!

Thus, like it or not, every HR practitioner should plan in their career rotations into the different HR functions. Don’t tie yourself down with choosing something that you’re passionate with too early on in your career.

I would try to tackle the function which I find most challenging (or hardest to understand/ appreciate).

Be patient. If you think you can learn everything in a month or two, you are better off reading a book. Sometimes, it takes a few repetitions (or cycles) for the problems to surface, thus by slapping on a new job title on your name card is not going work. Especially when things are not going your way. That’s part of the training as well. If things are going too smoothly, you’re not digging hard enough.

Lastly, seek our mentors to help guide you along. This will save you a lot of pain with banging your head against the wall and potentially save your life when you decide to drown yourself with the water cooler.

Enjoy the journey. The thing about career building is, every part of the journey is different. The different jobs, departments, companies and people come together to give you a different set of experience. Some good, some bad. Learn from it; copy the good and remember the bad. Keep a list.

One day, you will be running a HR department of your own. Bring out that list and you will know what you need to do and what you need to avoid.

Have a good career!


In the trench with your men. Leadership – military style!

In a recent discussion on the making of a leader, I realized that as HR practitioners, we seemed to have taken on a rather textbook approach on defining leadership.

Let’s go back to basics.

I practice a rather straight-forward and simple form of leadership. It’s called “Will you shoot me from behind?”

Here’s how it came about.

Many years ago, I had to fulfill my national service by serving in the military service. During my basic training, we had a very nasty Sergeant (He’s our Section Leader). Let’s call him Sergeant John.

Being in the Infantry unit, we had to fulfill all sort of “in-humane” training programs. Or rather, it kind of seemed “in-humane” back than.

However, being Sergeant John, being our section leader, had never seemed to be a part of “team” and is often seen baking down at us and pushing us to the limits.

(Yes, I know that this is part of the training, and looking back, I can see the rationale of doing do. However, please read on)

During one of the exercises, one of my section-mate made a comment. “If this is a real war, I’ll shoot Sergeant John first before the enemy”

It was a rather extreme statement, but in all its simplicity, it simply means that, our section leader didn’t command our respect.

Over the course of the next few months, I graduated from training school, earned my strips and had men reporting in to me.

Being a part of the section of infantrymen, we had to spend time training together. Over time, the bond grew stronger.

In a very simple way, I realized that true leadership is not rocket science. It’s about having an aligned objective with your subordinates. It’s about being there and working as a single unit. It’s about the bond and togetherness.

As individuals in an infantry section, we realized that there are times where  individuals puts in a little extra for their own team mate. It’s all a part of being a single unit.

I lead my men with a very simple motto. “With one heart”. I guess for me, leadership is simple. It’s about unity and alignment, keeping your subordinates together and aligned.

On one occasion, after a military exercise, I asked my men the question. “In war, will you shoot me from behind”

The men laughed. I guess I had my answer.

Eric Wong