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EP18: Engaging an Evolving Workforce

With the evolving workforce, employers now need to be more creative in reinventing their engagement strategies to stay current and relevant in order to better meet the changing expectations and needs of the workforce. Bill Leung, Chief Technology Officer of OrangeTee & Tie shares how engagement strategies have now become more than just an event-based effort. Instead, employers have to consider engagement being a continuous process.

Su Min 00:00:02 

Hello and welcome to Capelle Livechat, where you get business insight to stay relevant. I’m Su Min, your host today and we are so glad to have Bill with us back again, and Bill is the Chief Technology Officer of OrangeTee & Tie. Hello Bill.

Bill Leung 00:00:15 

Hi Su Min, thank you for inviting again.

Su Min 00:00:18 

Yes, and in case you’re wondering why again, because in the last Livechat, Bill was chatting with us about retention. Today we’re going to switch gears and focus on engagement.  

Maybe start off this by sharing with us, how has the engagement strategy or how have engagement strategies evolved over time?

Bill Leung 00:00:37 

I think traditionally, a lot of times when we talk about engaging staff, we say, okay, the company is profitable now, let’s go on a retreat.

Su Min 00:00:48 

That sounds very familiar.

Bill Leung 00:00:49 

Right, I mean there’s a whole wow, the staff will get very excited and say oh where are we going? And also for us, for me, I will bring my team out for dinner, maybe once a quarter.  

But today, it’s a little bit different, especially for the so-called the younger ones, in their 20s, in their 30s. Yes, I still want fun. Good, to go on a trip, but is that all? They want to know whether they are contributing to the company, really, in terms of the performance. I see well, profitability, right? Okay good, the company is making money. So what is my part in this? I think that is key, and so then we have to strategize, we have to think from that angle, what kind of things we can do? So then the staff actually will feel that they are actually contributing. They are the contributing factor to the success of the company, not just money, but really, we are going up, so-called, the curve, right? Yeah, so I think we have to see from that angle.

Su Min 00:02:09 

That’s very interesting, because what I’m hearing you say is that we are moving off from like very event-based kind of celebration, engagement to something that is more like a continuous process of engaging the staff, talking to them, make them feel a sense of engagement, a sense of belonging, a sense of contribution. Maybe share with us some examples of how you have done it in your organization?

Bill Leung 00:02:35 

The previous session I mentioned about Digital Transformation Team, the DT team, we call it in short. That is a very good platform. We really found, that is a platform where everyone can contribute ideas and tangibly, they can see how the very raw idea becomes a product. Say for example, that we create mobile apps for our agents to use and different modules inside, overtime it evolves, it changes and how we make the whole app more engaging. We’re talking about user journey. 

So when the staff feel, hey, my day-to-day experience of using mobile app, now I can really use it, I can really contribute that to the company. I think that is significant. They feel they have a voice in that. That’s one.  

Another example that I could give is, we have a research department. Traditionally, researchers and analysts, they just look at the figures and then they come out with reports, right? So many words, and some charts and all this. That is good, we are still doing that, but we found today the market is a little bit different. Think about this. We as consumers, we as buyers in the market. Property is something pretty dynamic here in Singapore, right? The prices of the properties though it just keeps going up. In the past, we can see publications, every month, there’s new reports. In the past, that may be good enough, but today, that is not good enough. 

Today, we’re talking about say, the prices last week, and the prices of the property this week, they are very different, could be. So it’s very dynamic, and so for the research team they also will have to take on this new understanding of work, understanding of the user requirements. So then they can continue to engage the consumers. 

Now what I’m trying to say here is, while they are still doing up their monthly reports, and all these, but they learn new skills. They learn how to use, say for example, data visualization tools. Once they learn how to use that, then our IT team will come in and create the kind of data warehouses, datasets for them to start using such business tools to create charts, to create tables, whatever you call it, which is dynamic, meaning that we open up for consumers and say, okay, last week you look at the charts, the curve is this way, and this week, you press the same button, you look at the same charts again, same parameters again, but the curve is changing, it’s different again. So it gives the consumer very up-to-date information, and so then they can make wise decisions in their property investment.  

Now that’s changed. Our research colleagues, they’re no longer just writing papers but they learn new skills, they learn how to actually use business tools, those what we call data visualization tools, to create very dynamic, meaningful charts for end users. So now they changed, they learn new skills. And interestingly, they are moving on to become data, in the future, we envision them, data scientists. 

Su Min 00:07:12 

Wow, that’s a big jump from what they used to do. 

Bill Leung 00:07:15 

And they love it, and they love it. Because they’re at that generation, the young, right? They love it. It’s very interesting because that this particular colleague in the research department, his background is accountancy. 

Su Min 00:07:33 

Okay.

Bill Leung 00:07:35 

And today, he is looking at data. He’s looking at how to really make the charts meaningful, easy to understand, but at the same time, very, very dynamic. Yeah, so I think when we talk about engagement, then we have to look at it this way, say while they have certain training but they also have certain aspirations, and if we could provide that path for this group of people. It’s a win-win for both sides, for the staff, as well as for the company. We see the talent of the staff and we continue to develop that. They see the career path, a new career path.

Su Min 00:08:30 

Yeah, it’s interesting. It also suggests that organizations have to be open-minded to offering their staff alternative career pathways or road maps to do that.

Bill Leung 00:08:40 

Absolutely yeah.

Su Min 00:08:42 

Because if you don’t do that then the staff will not have an opportunity to explore something different. Is that something that we should look at in any organization or it depends on the needs of the industry?

Bill Leung 00:08:55 

Today, I think we will have to accept this where, it’s a lot talking about, we’re talking about technology, we’re talking about data-driven, we’re talking about technology-driven. and the younger generation, they’re born with fingers pressing keyboards. So then we will have to look at it say, they are really able to engage technology very naturally. In the sense we have to ask ourselves, are we going to reinvent ourselves? So then that these people will see we are actually keeping ourselves updated. We are not so outdated in the sense, well, property real estate industry is an old industry, it’s a traditional industry but it doesn’t mean though that we stay on to the old way of work, but there’s always new way to work. And I will say that it’s a demand. The consumer expectation changes, so we will have to change so they expect us today to give them; actually, real estate investors today, they’re very, very wise people because data everywhere, information everywhere, they’re able to gather all these things. They make wise decisions. So how then can a company like us go above that?

Su Min 00:10:36 

Okay, so very interesting because you talk about reinvention, so we reinvent not only for our customers because they have been changing. We also need to reinvent for our staff so that they could be engaged in the whole process and stay with us for a longer period of time.

Bill Leung 00:10:52 

Yes.

Su Min 00:10:53 

Okay, interesting. So now what I’m going to do is, I’m going to turn our attention to measurements. Retention is very easy to measure, we look at turnover on a monthly basis, on a yearly basis. How about engagement? Do we just rely on like employee climate survey to see that oh, we have done a good job?

Bill Leung 00:11:12 

Well, I think it’s not easy to measure our engagement. The previous session I talked about, as a supervisor, I would like to look into the well-being of my staff. I think that is to me, that’s a measurement – Where is my relationship with my staff?

Su Min 00:11:38 

So it’s not a concrete number?

Bill Leung 00:11:41 

I don’t think so. I don’t think so. Of course, we can do a survey and say, oh okay, but I think a lot of times it is – human, we are all human. We are relational beings so we are able actually to sense where we are. What’s our relationship now? Is it just master and slave? Or actually, no, we are more than just the boss and the subordinate. We are actually friends and friendship doesn’t mean, it doesn’t equate to oh, because of that, the staff will stay on throughout their lifetime and all this. I don’t think so. Some may decide to go later on, I think it’s okay. We just give our blessings to the person to go, but as long as I know that we are still together in this team, we are of really not just a work relationship, we are of a friendship that we are able to, because of friendship, there’s a lot of things that we can iron out, the conflicts and all these things, so I think that the measurement comes more from there.

Su Min 00:13:01 

So is being involved in their lives as well, professionally, as well as if we could go even deeper to build their friendship, that would be nice.

Bill Leung 00:13:09 

Yeah, because I do not believe that our relationship ends when the employment ends. We’re still related because we crossed paths before, and I think that relationship should continue to go on. I mean, that’s even though with staff who left. I still have friends with them, friendship with them. To talk about, say, hey, how’s things going on, and people are still, that care for, how’s OrangeTee doing now? They still engage that, they still want to know. I think that to me is a success, that’s important.

Su Min 00:13:59 

Certainly, so not only engaging them while they’re with you, engage them even after they are with you and they still care for their organization.

Bill Leung 00:14:07 

You will never know that one day they learn something really valuable outside, right? And that is suitable for our future here and I saw staff actually come back again and they contribute a lot more. So for example, we had interns. They work with us for a good season of time and all these things, they really built very good friendship together with the team, and they know that this company is moving on well. They understand our purpose, they understand that’s where we are heading towards. They buy-in and after their internship, they may not join us straight away, they want to have some other experience elsewhere. That’s fully all right, right? I really think that’s good. They learn something good, practices, whatever, they can come back. They can contribute to us and make us a stronger team.

Su Min 00:15:10 

Wow, that’s a very, very far-sighted view of looking at engagement. Thank you very much Bill for your time.

Bill Leung 00:15:15 

Thank you.

Su Min 00:15:16 

Viewers, I hope you also had a very engaging session with us and learn something about engagement strategies and be used, to be used in your organizations as well. So on this note, we are signing off and we wish you all the best. Thank you very much. 

With the evolving workforce, employers now need to be more creative in reinventing their engagement strategies to stay current and relevant in order to better meet the changing expectations and needs of the workforce. Bill Leung, Chief Technology Officer of OrangeTee & Tie shares how engagement strategies have now become more than just an event-based effort. Instead, employers have to consider engagement being a continuous process.

Transcript

Mark 00:00
Hello and welcome to Capelle Podcast – Insights on the Business etc..Today we have with us our very own Head of Learning Design, Kim Tan to talk to us on Adapt & Grow Beyond Skills Competencies. So Kim, why is this so important?

Kim 00:55
In the last year, we’ve seen how the business environment has changed drastically, propelled by the pandemic that required everyone to shift to remote work of one form or another; and business models to adapt and change. The pace of change is not going to slow down even though we are getting used to a “new normal”.

Mark 01:20
That sounds pretty daunting. I think some would think that a “new normal” implies that we might be able to have a normal pace of change, no?

Kim 01:35
Well, the only “normal” for the pace of change is that change is happening constantly now and on a very dynamic scale. There is no more “normal” in the sense of things slowing down! So, organizations that do well in these dynamic times are those who can adapt and change quickly. In the past year, everyone was forced to learn new skills, new technologies. Learning is even more essential during these times.

Kim 02:23
With the fast pace of change, the role of the Learning & Development unit needs to change. No longer should L&D be just concerned with building “competence”, meaning skills and knowledge to get jobs done, but the focus should shift to the development of mindset. The mindset to be adaptable, to be nimble.

Instead of just focusing on “micro-skills”, job-related training, the focus should also be on cultivating abilities to explore, grow and adapt. When employees have such a mindset, they will find ways to learn the skills that they need when they encounter new situations. There is a myriad of skills courses available online and in person. When employees meet with situations where they lack the skills to get the job done, those with the motivation to learn will take ownership of the learning. They can then apply to the workplace situation immediately.

When employees are curious and have that growth mindset, they will find ways to overcome challenges that come with change.

Mark 03:54
Curiosity and growth mindset are words that are pretty big, I wonder if you could share an example or two of what this practically looks like?

Kim 04:18
I watched a movie called “Hidden Figures” recently. It’s a true story based on the book of the same title.

The story is about black women who worked as human “computers” in NACA in the 1960s (NACA was later renamed NASA). America was behind the Russians in the space race and there was tremendous pressure for them to launch the astronaut, John Glenn, into orbit and back safely so as to get ahead in the race.

The role of these African-American women was to calculate complex mathematical equations required for the launch of the space shuttles. Those were the days of segregation. One of the lead characters was Dorothy Vaughan. She was a de facto supervisor of a group of black women mathematicians. She did the supervisory work but was not accorded the pay nor recognition of that role. When she confronted her white supervisor about the promotion, she found out that the whole department of “human computers” will be replaced by the IBM 7090 electronic computer that NASA was installing.

Mark 07:09
Wow, I’m sure that concerned Dorothy and her fellow employees! That feeling of concern is something that we very much see even in the workforce today, about being potentially made obsolete with technological advancement, changes, etc..

Kim 07:45
Yes! This is a remarkably similar situation to what we were facing with digital disruption. Dorothy’s response exemplified a growth mindset. She did not become dismayed when she realized that she and her teammates would be out of a job but she went to learn. On her own. The organization had no plans to train them. Their jobs were simply going to be replaced. She went to the public library, to the “whites only” section to look for a book on Fortran. Unfortunately, the librarian saw her and gave her a scolding, and chased her out of the library. However, she stole the Fortran book and taught herself and her co-workers the programming language. Though the IBM computer was installed, the technicians could not get it to start working. Dorothy went into the computer room at “off hours” to try to understand it and eventually, she started the computer and got it to work.

Her white supervisors realized that even though they were black, they had the skills to do the work. The female “human computer” department became programmers. Dorothy was subsequently asked to teach the white human computers.

Mark
That’s really quite inspiring!

Kim 08:55
Dorothy learned and adapted to the new business environment of “electronic” computers despite the lack of training opportunities and obstacles within the organization.

The point of this story is that when employees have curiosity and a growth mindset, they will adapt to new technology, to changes in the work environment. They will thrive. The L&D must thus create an environment where such a mindset is cultivated.

An example of this is DBS. They have a scheme called “Gandalf scholars”. They allow people in the organization to learn anything they want if they teach what they’ve learned to others. In the process of teaching others, learning deepens and the “scholars” feel empowered.

Cultivating curiosity and a growth mindset across the organization is not an easy feat. It cannot be limited to segments of the organization. L&D which are forward-looking must put substantial emphasis on helping employees internalize the belief that their abilities can and must be developed in our fast-changing environment.

This means encouraging employees to take risks appropriately and recognizing them for the lessons learned, regardless of the outcome, because these lessons learnt are shared with others.

Mark 11:00
Well Kim, thank you so much for your insights here – we are coming to a close of our time, and I’d just like to ask if you have food for thought to share with our listeners before we go on our way?

Kim 11:18
One question we can ask ourselves is how am I encouraging curiosity and excitement to learn when I interact with the people around us? How can I help people see that they are able to grow and adapt every day, everywhere.

 

 

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