Embracing Opportunities Amidst Crisis

By James GOH

The pandemic as a result of COVID-19 is taking the world by storm, and businesses around the world are affected drastically. This in turn creates great unprecedented impact on jobs within our economies. However, this time of crisis also brings about unique opportunities for career development, allowing us to turn adversity into advantage should we choose to embrace it. I personally see this period as a window to build new skills, find new ways of working, and to reflect.


1. Opportunity for building new skills

Over a cup of coffee recently, a business partner of mine was lamenting about the impact of COVID-19 on his work and business. Among his torrent of worries and frustrations, I realised his experiences could in fact be enriching for him and his career. He mentioned he had to design a business continuity plan for his company for the first time, and had to do so within a few short days. Furthermore, he also shared how the virus situation forced him to learn how to manage teams in dynamic and time-pressured scenarios. These are experiences that only come about during times of crisis, and if my friend chooses to embrace and work on the skills required to overcome these challenges, there’s valuable skills to be gained for after the crisis is over.

Zooming out from my friend, I realised there are certain whole sectors that are disproportionately affected by the measures taken to control the virus spread. This includes sectors such as aviation, tourism and retail, where many workers now find themselves either unoccupied or unfortunately unemployed. Individuals who find themselves in these sectors are certainly experiencing stress and pressure, and without detracting from the seriousness of their circumstance, it occurs to me that there might now be some additional capacity and time for up-skilling and personal development. They are either preparing for a strong rebound when the economy recovers, or to transition into a new industry or role. They’re certainly demonstrating resilience and agility in action. While we’re in the center of this crisis, I hope workers start to shift their attention onto these development opportunities, leveraging the support many of our governments are offering to support their income while they make pivots in their skillsets for future employability.


2. Opportunity to consider new ways of doing things

As an immediate result of the virus control measures taken by various authorities, many of my contacts suddenly find themselves in new remote working arrangements. I had a zoom call with a client yesterday who explained that their travel has been cancelled for the foreseeable future, although they still need to perform regional work, and manage stakeholders from around the world. Somehow their workday has extended way beyond what it had been before, because of the crisis management and escalation of other projects which are now business-critical. Although they were still working from the office, workplace segregation is being practiced, so the colleagues who used to be sitting to their left and right are now working from home on alternating days. This isn’t uncommon for my clients here in Singapore. Authorities have cautioned that due to the nature of the virus, these arrangements could possibly evolve to become the new norm even as the situation gets better. This potential ‘new normal’ makes our ability to thrive and adapt to these practices even more important.

These new working arrangements might seem tedious as first, but when viewed from another perspective, they provide an opportunity for individuals to consider how they can do their work better, and differently. Sometimes habits change with a sudden jolt, and we realise with clear insight how ineffective our old behaviour was. I encourage my network to view this COVID-19 period as a chance to explore novel and innovative ways of tackling work and getting outcomes. For example, a set of new rules and work norms can be developed to ensure open and clear communication channels among colleagues, despite not being able to meet face to face. In another instance, individuals can consider to make use of online productivity tools to maximize their outputs, while keeping their co-workers located in different places updated on what is happening.  In my team for example, we use google chat, trello and google sheets to collaborate and project plan online.

Finally, working from home blends the boundaries between work and personal life. This can be challenging for some families, however, if managed well, this could translate to individuals having more time for loved ones, while maintaining the same levels of productivity at work. All that time we previously spent commuting, and eating lunch at our desks, can now be seen as prime family time.


3. Opportunity for reflection

I encourage all of my contacts to take the chance to reflect through this period of physical distancing, or perhaps to even just have a short rest. This may sound counterintuitive against the stressful backdrop of the COVID-19 outbreak, and when businesses today are struggling. However, with the demands on productivity constantly pressuring individuals in today’s usual work situation, this time of crisis (with less social interactions, outings, company events etc.), provides a perfect opportunity for respite, and a valuable chance for introspection and reflection.

Reflection and rest are important for anyone’s career development, as allow for us as individuals to take a step back and understand ourselves from a broader point of view. Studies have shown that reflection plays an important role as a predictor for career success, as it helps us identify strengths, weaknesses, values, interests, skills as well as blind spots that we might need to work on for our future growth. By making use of any additional time we have to reflect, we allow ourselves to prepare for an even stronger career ahead.

In conclusion, as more and more cases of COVID-19 appear across the globe, we are in a climate where we see plenty of negativity spreading across every aspect of our lives. However, it is important that we see the light at the end of the tunnel, and understand that with every adversity, comes opportunity. It is up to us to embrace these opportunities to secure our ability to both recover faster, and better out of the difficult situation we are facing at this time.

Parents: The Future of Work is here

By Alexandra Lamb

Futurist  Dr. Parminder K. Jassal from the Work + Learn Futures Lab tells us that the future isn’t something we need to predict or dream up – its constantly being signaled to us if we just observe how people are behaving. And it’s not just early adopters – it’s the ordinary person: the Man on the Bondi tram, or in modern terms, the Woman on the Zoom call. What do they crave? What do they use? What do they reject? Who do they love? And lately, in a time of social isolation – how is their attention spent?

As so many offices move to remote work in the time of COVID-19, our future of work is becoming common reality. Home office set-up businesses have skyrocketed in valuation, and everyone’s talking about how to make online meetings effective (sticky-notes with green smiley faces or red frown faces, anyone?). However a significant consequence of this shift to home-working that we haven’t seen discussed, is the fact that school is out too… many workers aren’t just perched at their kitchen tables now, happily getting their risk contingency plans into play and wondering how to run remote lunch’n’learns (which just became even more cost effective as a learning hack – b.y.o. sandwich from your own kitchen!) – they’re often doing it with a kid, or perhaps three, also around said table.

Some fortunate families have Grandparents, Neighbours, a Spouse, Co-Parent, or in-home childcare to call on – but many modern families are made up of either a single working parent, or two working parents, with kids in full-time childcare or school, and perhaps elder or other family members to take care of. Even where strong social & community bonds exist, many families find themselves operating independently in the home now, home schooling and caring, running daytime and nighttime shifts, getting creative with meals and activities, while working full time for companies who expect heightened productivity to overcome the crisis. Kids are not uncommon on conference calls now – today I was on a call, and after a characteristic pause in discussion (“…Jim? Are you there Jim? You’re on mute…”) Jim piped in with: “sorry, I was changing a diaper, and thanks to my Wife for confirming the question…” There was no animosity, or even a hint that this was unprofessional – this is todays working world.

Firstly, Dads are on the scene. Integrating children into the work-world was always going to be normalized by men, and COVID-19 is just the catalyst to make it happen. I’m not going to launch into a full discussion about why Mum’s haven’t made this work-life integration happen up to this point – we have our own dynamics to address in the workplace, invisible forces that make it hard for the ‘Parent’ identity to fully come to the forefront in many cases, resulting in higher instances of part time work to keep the family and work lives neatly segregated. But now with kids (and pets, and lawnmowers, and oven buzzers!) casually coming in and out of our conference calls (and in some cases giving feedback – “Dad, you speak too fast on your calls!”) we’ve arrived at a new normal. Sometimes kids cry and squeal, sometimes they ask urgent-not-so-urgent questions, they bang keyboards and delete calendar events, or show grubby faces atop dinosaur PJ’s on-screen, sometimes they demand our attention when we’d ideally be listening or speaking or otherwise being ‘professional’. We can’t necessarily keep this scene going forever – but crisis creates a new concept of how we operate as whole people. We appreciate our Colleagues in a whole new light – in some cases they’re more relatable through their kids and the lens of the decoration choices they have made in their spare room.

Secondly, this demands a new concept of professional development. Are we taking on skills from this family-world that we can apply back into the workplace? Of course! Are they validated now, having been brought into focus by this new work reality? Yes! Do we have a better view now of what really matters? Yes – a market shock and intensive time with family will do that. Prioritisation takes on a profoundly new meaning as a skill. Our productivity shifts – we find new ways of being effective, getting our outcomes as directly as we can. We might sacrifice some elegance or complexity in our work, but we drive for results in this new context. We polish our communication out of necessity – reaching out, finding new ways to inform and be informed by Colleagues, and dropping those nice-to-have calls that we’d been questioning for some time. When we turn the lights back on in our offices – which is going to happen – we bring all these skills from our homes back into our operations. Keep this grit and self-awareness alive – we’re leaner and more proficient than we were in our fair-weather days – COVID-19 has forced us into a new era of learning and up-skilling.

The future of work isn’t about WHERE we work, it’s about how we shift our minds to pay attention to the most important things, integrate our skill-sets across the various parts of our lives, and create the true inclusion we want to see in our offices. COVID-19 isn’t a distraction – it’s a tragedy that has shifted our focus onto family, and allows us to emerge with new and better work practices, where Parents become an included party.


Pitching BOLDLY at Across Boundaries

By Alexandra Lamb

It’s been 2 weeks since the Learn Launch Across Boundaries conference, held in Boston – it’s taken me this long to get my thoughts on paper, because there’s been so many valuable conversations spurred off the back of the event. Investors, industry collaborators, clients, academic partners and government enablers – the conference had it all, and BOLDLY has been squarely at the center of several follow up discussions.

My takeaway insights:

  • The Future of Work isn’t a mystery

Amongst several great keynote speakers was Dr. Parminder K. Jassal from the Work + Learn Futures Lab who gave pragmatic tips on how to think like a futurist and see the signals the market is giving us for the future of work. While it’s easy to let anxiety get the better of us when thinking about automation and work transformation, Dr. Jassal counselled that the best futurists don’t try to predict the future, but instead observe the realities already present in the market. Some of the signals she’s seeing are algorithmic matching, digital+physical blending, and continuous learning flows. I was privately hand-pumping in the audience – BOLDLY hits a lot of the trends she was referencing, including unbound learning resources, personalised learning, actionable feedback and dynamic reputation building of professional profiles. Can’t wait to continue contributing to this transition to the work+learn product stack to make 21st Century careers really hum! What a dynamic space to be in.

  • Universities and the workforce need a greater partnership

At the future of work showcase, several progressive universities were demonstrating new, practical thinking about how they bridge the education to workplace gap, and deliver a learning experience that actually serves the learner and aligns to market realities. Practicums, apprenticeships, new financial models, and an emphasis on distance learning were among some of the initiatives – they’re not innovations, just realistic steps forward in the market. In particular, a great keynote from the Western Governors University raised these points, putting data behind the argument that the university model hasn’t evolved with the needs of either students or employers. Having collaborated with several of the worlds most sophisticated Early Careers teams in the corporate space this year, we know the ‘readiness’ of graduates is generally considered to be low, and yet universities are slow to pivot their offering. Traditional university institutions are still being ‘bought’ by the fortunate few of the world, so we need to expect this shift in innovation to come from new institutions with less infrastructure and lower brand ego. As we have seen in some of the other blog posts we’ve explored here, this will become imperative as individuals choose to circumvent university, and employers and high-profile leaders, including the likes of Elon Musk, break down the heuristics of hiring based on uni credentials alone.

  • EduTech investors are excited about workplace development

It was invaluable to have the top EduTech investors in the world all in the one place, mingling with entrepreneurs and top academic thinkers. Our investors are playing their role in a true market collaboration, and their message was clear – they have their eyes firmly fixed on workplace EduTech, and it’s a global play. Our partners ETS see this opportunity in the form of assessment, and our friends at MIT and J-WEL are working the angle to represent a global competency model to a market that deserves consolidation. BOLDLY was shoulder to shoulder, mingling with some of the worlds most innovative start-ups like Practera for experiential learning, and XR Terra for VR bootcamps, all getting great encouragement from investors. We’re thinking the same thoughts – building capabilities for the future of work is a wide blue ocean, and we’re getting organised to deliver big.

Thanks to the Across Boundaries team for our opportunity to pitch BOLDLY on the big stage. We’re thrilled to really impact the world of work, and the platform you have given us.

Thinking beyond the job – The importance of developing skills in your career

By James Goh

Last week, I had the opportunity to moderate a discussion between the government and youth leaders in Singapore on the topic of jobs and the economy. In the discussion, it became quickly evident to me that an expected slowdown in the global economy, and subsequent unemployment, is bringing to light the importance of skills in today’s age of disruption.

For most Singaporean workers over the past decade, a successful career had been about the long-view of a job – the ability to specialize and become better at what they do over time. However, this definition of success has gradually been shifting, and with the looming possibility of an economic transition in the months ahead, people are beginning to redefine their professional assets based on the skills they can offer the workplace. Success is coming to be defined much more acutely, according to the immediate value of these professional assets on the marketplace.

One might ask, why is it important that we think about skills in today’s world? Below are 3 reasons:

1) We can see the signals of what comes next

In today’s modern world, technological change is impacting the workplace at a rapid rate. As such, jobs are becoming more fluid than before, requiring that incumbents to perform in those roles adapt and change based on what is required within the market.

As such, workers today need to realize the importance of understanding and developing the right skills that would help them transit into different stages of their career, and how to do it quickly. Individuals, while working in their current roles, need to constantly reflect if they are building skills that are transferrable to other positions and functions. At the same time, they will also have to ask themselves where their current skills can be applied next in order to move forward in their career.

2) Companies are increasingly beginning to adopt a more skill-based recruitment approach

One other trend that I have been noticing while speaking with talent professionals around the world is that more companies are looking at hiring from a different perspective. In particular, a significant number of large multi-national companies today are hiring using a skill-based recruitment approach, rather than relying on the old heuristics of degrees, employer brands, tenure and etc. Companies are beginning to realize that by focusing on skills, they are potentially opening up their talent outreach to a bigger talent pool, and collecting more dynamic applicants. This also gives them access to individuals with the right capabilities to perform and excel at the role.

From an employee perspective, what this means is that an individuals ability as a candidate to develop specific transferrable skills, and showcase them in the hiring process, creates a greater opportunity for employment. Furthermore, possessing a relevant set of soft and hard skills will also give candidates an opportunity to differentiate themselves and stand out among the competition.

3) It creates the opportunity for a more extended, flexible career

Based on global data from the United Nations, people in the 1960s, could expect to live up to 52.5 years of age on average. Today, the average life expectancy of individuals around the world is 71 years (United Nations World Population Prospects). As such, with a longer life, one would naturally expect to have a more extended career pathway.

Through the understanding of skills one has, and how that can be applied to different scenarios, individuals can move across a greater variety of positions and still make an impact. Individuals will no longer be locked within a single role or industry, and have the opportunity to be more flexible, and expose themselves to more job experiences. The importance of being able to be flexible becomes even more relevant as an individual advances in their career, and is transiting out of senior positions. In many cases, it has been shown that the presence of transferrable skills aids in a mature workers transition from a full time senior role, to perhaps a semi-retirement role, while continuing to add value and expertise.

Overall, learning and developing skills is not something entirely new in jobs today. However, with the work landscape becoming highly dynamic, it becomes more important that we put greater thought into the skills we are developing, and how that translate to our dreams and aspirations for our career.

We Have Great Coaches!

The size of the coaching market globally is still relatively unknown. So many people call themselves ‘Coaches’, and buyers don’t always require accreditations, so there’s no one source of ‘truth’ when it comes to this industry.

We’re working to change that – collaborating with experienced and qualified Professional Coaches to establish industry benchmarks, and cement the coaching offering as a cornerstone of any development initiative.

Get in touch if you have a specific coaching requirement – we specialise in niche locations, skills, and excellence in engagement management: connect@kabloomgroup.com

Hot in HR – Design Thinking

By Alexandra Lamb

Design Thinking as a concept is enjoying notoriety across most business functions, following other powerful trends in process improvement and project management such as LEAN and AGILE etc. In each instance, businesses look to finesse performance by adapting frameworks from their native uses (e.g. software development, manufacturing efficiency, or product design) to be applied in new scenarios.

In the case of Design Thinking for HR specifically, we aim to drive strategic effectiveness by bringing an innovation mindset from the design world into our programs, unlocking new opportunities for performance through an employee-centered platform and change-agile culture. And, as BersinSolow and Wakefield (2016) put it:

“Design thinking casts HR in a new role. It transforms HR from a “process developer” to an “experience architect.” It empowers HR to reimagine every aspect of work: the physical environment; how people meet and interact; how managers spend their time; and how companies select, train, engage, and evaluate people.”

​So, before we get too heavy on the strategy and consultant jargon, what is Design Thinking anyway?

Design Thinking is a framework for collaboration and innovation, and as the name suggests, it is a way of thinking first and foremost. There are several schools of thought around its accompanying processes and methodologies (most notably from the Stanford d.School), each with its own appealing visuals. Mootee (2013) from Idea Couture points out that the business world may have romanticised and over simplified these concepts (apologies to all the core Designers and Strategists out there!), however even these basic visual models offer a significant contribution to good HR work. So, whether you think in loops, circles, stars or squiggles, the fundamental concepts of Design Thinking propose that our HR initiatives should be human centered, iterative and powered by insights.

Human Centered: The team at IDEO describe the essence of Design Thinking as: “…a process that starts with the people you’re designing for and ends with new solutions that are tailor made to suit their needs.” This is an important concept for HR, compounded by the fact that we have two (or often more) distinct yet overlapping groups of end-users to design for: our business leaders, our employee populations, and our business customers for whom all our programs are designed to ultimately benefit. Each group has needs, and sometimes those needs are competing. It’s no surprise then that HR has predominantly invested in designing processes, tools, and cultures to meet the needs of business leaders, trusting that they will act in the service of customers, while retroactively fitting our solutions onto staff populations through ‘engagement’ initiatives. The subtle shift that Design Thinking brings to our programs of work therefore lies in the opportunity to design for multiple end users, bringing the profile of the employee into sharper focus as a key stakeholder.

Bringing employees into the design equation as stakeholders and users, not simply recipients of programs that are aimed ‘at’ them, is an important nuance. It has significant repercussions for ROI.

Perhaps you’re thinking: ‘but we run a regular engagement survey – we’re asking what employees want, and we’re transparent in acting on what we hear’. If there’s something that stands out in the Human Centered Design method, and psychology more broadly, it’s that you can’t just ‘listen’ to what’s said explicitly, because people don’t always consciously know what they want or need and are often curating socially-acceptable messages rather than revealing their own truths. That’s not to discredit our staff – it’s just the way the human mind works. We’re not always hyper conscious of our true drivers. The proof is in behaviour and action.

Design Thinking Take-Away: invest time in directly observing and defining your user profiles, and design your initiative with each major stakeholder group in mind.

Iterative: The value of iteration to the HR function is key. To get results, we must ensure we don’t slip into a ‘fixed’ mindset, but rather expect to continuously prototype, test and challenge our assumptions, analyze and refine our programs of work, and go beyond our pre-conceived ‘rules’. The concept of pilots are well accepted in HR, however we don’t often bring the element of radical thinking to our design, and in the pursuit of business case results it can sometimes seem like iteration is a luxury.

To think like a designer, HR must be willing to take a ‘growth’ mindset across the team – one set by curiosity, and continuous improvement through effort and collaboration. HR teams across the region are well-versed in Carol Dweck’s work on this topic – we can use this concept to consider how we incentivize and cultivate the right attitudes in our talent teams to foster innovation from HR. Through the iterative process, HR can observe where it’s appropriate to bring divergent thinking where wild, ‘nothing is too out there’ ideas can be discussed and celebrated, versus convergent thinking where the HR team eventually gets down to the nuts-and-bolts of bringing a realistic initiative to life.

Design Thinking Take-Away – through the piloting phase, don’t be too eager to commit to a concept or design principle.

“One of the biggest hurdles to overcome is the attachment to a ‘pet’ idea. You have to be willing to test your assumptions with employees and accept you may have it wrong. That’s why prototyping is such a powerful thing.” says Make Studios Director, Patti Hunt.

Embrace the ambiguity of a low-fidelity experience, because even through piloting you want to create an environment where feedback and group instincts have space to emerge and shape truly impactful initiatives. Trust that the Design Thinking framework will do its job in your HR team culture, if you take the time and effort to invest in….

Insights: Having a point of view and making sense of what you’re discovering through the Design Thinking process is key. This is a harder concept than it sounds, and should be constantly fine-tuned throughout the iterations of your pilot and beyond. The team at Thrive define an insight as not just a simple observation or a summary of your data, but rather as:

  • An unrecognized fundamental human truth.
  • A penetrating observation about human behavior that results in seeing users from a fresh perspective.
  • A discovery about the underlying motivations that drive people’s actions.

Sounds intimidating. You might be thinking: “Do I really need to put my finger on an unrecognized human truth?!”, and it’s true to say that articulating insights takes practice. But genuine insights come from the most unexpected places if you’re fostering a ‘no idea is a bad idea’ culture in your HR team.

Gaining insights is a matter of exercising empathy for your user groups, and can be validated by data collected through surveys, interviews, and importantly: observation etc. Through these sources, we’re aiming to not only listen to what the end-users (e.g. business leaders, employees and customers) are saying and observing what they’re doing, but also to read what they’re thinking and feeling to infer those deeper insights.

The insight will be something that probably surprises you, like:

  1. Observation: Participation rates in our mandatory skills-training is low, and those who do attend were skeptical about the value of the program. Insight: Our staff require core skills, but want to have a choice in the programs they attend. This choice makes them feel like they’re being treated as adults. Pilot test: Engage staff by giving choices, big and small, wherever possible. Measure participation rates, but also translation of skills aquired to customer feedback.
  2. Observation: Our Managers often complain that they don’t have enough time to coach their direct reports 1:1. Insight: They do have time, but they’re feeling insecure in their ability to have real coaching conversations, and are unsure how they’ll manage the intensity of this staff relationship when times are tough for the team. Pilot test: Offer training on the role of the Coach and role of the Manager, and how/when to navigate each. Showcase examples where strong professional staff relationships allow Managers to give tough feedback more effectively.
  3. Observation: Our business Leaders want to see more accountability from their Managers, but when we join their team meetings we see they’re not sharing critical business goals with them. Insight: They’re feeling some apprehension because of a belief that they need to shield their direct reports from business pressure. In their mind, the role of the Leader is protective and paternal. Pilot test: Equip Leaders with the tone and narrative to share appropriate information with their teams, enlisting their resources to collaborate on critical business actions.
  4. Observation: Millennial candidates appear to be non-committal to their roles. They have a higher turn-over rate, and vocalize restlessness in their jobs more. Insight: They want to get a view of their possible future career, and see if we have a vision for them from the outside before they join. They’re wondering what the world of work will look like during their careers, just like the rest of us are. Pilot test: Infrastructure for reverse mentoring to open dialogue about careers between Millennials and their senior peers, building more insight and resources for each group.

​Insights are subjective, bringing together both your observations as well as the intuitions of the HR team. Don’t worry about being ‘right’, but do test your assumptions in a variety of ways. The better you know each of your end-user profiles, the more confident you can be in honing and eventually acting on the insights gained through the process.

And why NOW, HR?
The market demands it, and our businesses are inviting us to ratchet-up our strategic impact.

HR has been ‘transforming’ and advancing its perceived importance to business strategy globally for some time, and this is now particularly the case in Asia (where I’m based!). Forces in this region are varied, however in each country in Asia we see the impact of digitization on productivity; big-data offering nuanced consumer insights; the gig and sharing economies rapidly becoming the new-normal; Xillennials (yes… that’s the upper end of the Millennials’ cohort) reaching leadership roles, and Gen Z now on the precipice of entering the workforce; low unemployment and high demand for specialized professionals; and yet automation, AI and machine learning posing sudden shifts to our workplaces and lifestyles. Phew… it’s complex.

Consumers in this new marketplace have come to expect high standards of service delivery, personalized messaging, on-demand entertainment and abundance of choice. It’s natural for these expectations to carry over into how individuals expect to engage in the workforce as employees. The same Design Thinking principles that have escalated consumer anticipation now pose a solution for HR who seek to create the same engagement in their workplaces, personalizing journeys to enable productivity.

At a recent event co-hosted by OCBC and Chapman Group at OCBC’s Singapore learning campus the application of Design Thinking in HR was on display. Lucienne Blessing from Singapore University of Technology and Design, Bojan Blecic, SVP and Head of Experience Design at OCBC, and Aye Wee Yap, Head of Learning & Development OCBC, offered insights from customer experience that are being directly translated into the employee experience lifecycle. Each speaker demonstrated how using Design Thinking to reduce complexity in HR processes had demonstrably broken down barriers for employees to ‘opt-in’ to the business and spend their discretionary effort to perform, by shifting focus from ‘isolated touch points’ (such as the hiring event or performance management meeting) to the continuum of the whole employee journey. In the OCBC case study, the bank has clearly learned from its external customers to re-frame and visualize the value it wants to drive for its employees. The concept of ‘withnessing’ demonstrated the collaboration and empathy required to design with employees in mind.

This conversation carried over into the participant groups. Paula Day, Principal Organisational Development Consultant, APAC from Oracle commented that Design Thinking has become crucial for HR because businesses essentially require more agility (both in individual mindsets and in organisational culture itself) to compete and survive in the new marketplace, and see the HR function is positioned to enable this agility. The old ‘resources first’ approach to designing for employees is being replaced by a user experience and capability-first mindset, and the ‘F word’ (Failure… or rapid prototyping) is becoming more acceptable… so long as it’s accompanied by learning and iteration. Design thinking ideally drives dialogue, which gives employees a sense of being close to the source of power to fix the problems they experience. “If the organization has a feedback mechanism to get insights directly back to designers and decision makers, staff are more likely to give input because they have the sense they can have an impact” says Paula.

And yet we need to be thoughtful about the Frankensteins we create. The paradox of over-delivering ‘wow’ factors in employee-centered design, and focusing on quick-wins rather than deep insights (like offering free lunch, yoga rooms, laugh therapists, and massage angels in the office to drive engagement by integrating lifestyle into the workplace etc.) can inadvertently desensitise staff to ongoing efforts towards genuine and sustainable engagement. What Design Thinking isn’t: bells and whistles!

HR can apply Design Thinking across any manner of workstreams to ensure we’re crafting strong user experiences to drive sustainable business impact. As we mark the 20th anniversary since Ulrich’s HRBP model took precedent as best practice, Njemanze (2016) and other industry voices rightly call out HR’s opportunity to continue leaning into the role Ulrich describes as ‘the credible activist’ as we continue on our evolution as a function. Design Thinking is one way for us to continuously strengthen and integrate the strategic presence we have in our businesses, and plus… it can be really fun along the way.


By Sophia Man

Many organizations in Hong Kong struggle through a love-hate relationship with employee engagement.

They see the business value of a highly engaged workforce, aspiring to receive the “love” from their employees in order to directly compute it into a productivity measure. Yet, they are often discouraged by the lack of positive results they find when analysing the sometimes elaborate and always well-intentioned initiatives to engage their staff. Despite the costly investment to improve engagement, many employees in Hong Kong remain disengaged. According to the 2016 Global Talent Management and Rewards (TM&R) and Global Workforce Studies (GWS) conducted by Willis Towers Watson, less than one-fifth (19%) of Hong Kong employees are highly engaged, while as many as 38% are disengaged.

Why aren’t we harvesting the desired engagement levels?

The question, while fundamentally important, often seems under-discussed or mis-diagnosed.

While there is no one-size-fits-all answer, there is an underlying message of paradox that we see generally across our clients.

In Hong Kong, strategies in many organizations merely aim to measure engagement, or offer generic solutions at the system level. They fail to have a lasting impact on nourishing the “engaged feelings” inside employees at an individual level. Many employees remain uninspired, as their personal values and the meaning they make of their work hasn’t been addressed.

Here we dig deeper into what we see as the three main challenges underlying this trend.

1. Organizations Equate Engagement Surveys as the Be-All and End-All Strategy
Conducting an engagement survey has become a norm these days. While it should be used to measure engagement level, the survey itself has somehow become synonymous as “the main tool” to engage employees in many organizations. Here we can see we are mixing up the measuring stick with the strategy itself.

Surveys are typically conducted once a year (or every other year) as a means of ensuring that senior management and front-line managers can demonstrate their overt intention to listen to their employees. While the intention is good, the action often stops there. After the survey, the timeline to implement action plans is often loose, accountability is vague, and follow-up plans are unfocused. This leaves employees feeling more disappointed than engaged.

Placing an engagement survey as the figure of the picture, rather than the frame of the picture, risk organizations having the wrong focus point. Although many HR leaders might say “Leaders and Managers should be engaging staff year-round, and we have other initiatives in place across the board – the engagement survey simply serves to test how we’re doing”, and this is indeed correct in theory. However, the experience and reality for many employees is that the survey experience is the loudest, clearest message they get about engagement. The very process of running a formal survey shifts conscious attention to the measurement of rather than the true sensation of engagement, which can only truly be measured through observation.

2. Organizations Do Engagement at Their Employees 
Many organizations shower their employees with affection in the form of extra fringe benefits, treats, freebies and the odd ping-pong table. They give their staff Appreciation Day, Birthday Leave, Casual Fridays, free gym, drinks and snacks, standing desks, community days, team retreats etc., in the hope of being reciprocated with their engagement.

In Hong Kong, however, we tend to be a bit hard to please and have high expectations for our employers (the spoil factor!).  While most employees are happy to receive these engagement benefits, they only serve to continuously escalate the baseline expectations. These solutions are often an adrenaline shot to boost engagement – short-term and temporary- and are not enough to keep employees engaged. They are a “top down” and “one size fits all” approach to engagement. While not bad initiatives, these perks haven’t had the impact on engagement rates and productivity that was anticipated, and often leave leaders and HR at a loss as to how they can maintain and continuously top.

Again, a savvy HR leader might say “We have asked our employees what they want, and we have aimed to deliver what we can”. However, this relies on the assumption that employees themselves know what truly engages them. In fact, as humans, most of us are not aware or cognizant of how we find meaning and connection at work, and a large-scale survey will not allow us to tap into this.

3. Employees Often Do Not Feel Accountable to Engage Themselves at Work 
A dynamic and healthy relationship has the right balance of give and take between the two parties. With engagement initiatives in the workplace, however, employers often seem to take accountability to initiate engagement, pushing and sustaining the agenda, while employees expect to sit back and be engaged. Many leaders and managers point this out with distain, aiming to solve by hiring staff who are naturally motivated due to their personality type, yet few business heads truly know how to create the conditions whereby “average” employees lean in to engage themselves.

Meanwhile, there are many individual employees who constantly feel “stuck” at work, regardless of their job role, pay and seniority. They feel uninspired by their company, their managers and their work. In the worst case scenario, they stay suspended in motion, unable or unwilling to take accountability for their own career satisfaction and success. This group comes to be known as “parked cars” or “dead wood”. They often do not feel motivated enough to engage themselves at work, not to mention to be engaged by their employers. While on the other hand, those employees who do take accountability for their satisfaction in their roles may take control by changing jobs, continuously searching for a boss and company where they find a natural fit. These staff come to be known as “job hoppers” and experience the wrath of recruiters and the media everywhere. But can we blame them when indeed they may simply be the proactive ones, willing to uproot themselves in the search of career satisfaction and engagement? Employees vote with their feet, and this is why the behaviour indicating attrition is a noisy measure, but highly correlated to engagement.

The Opportunity
If we want to ramp up the engagement level in the workforce, both organizations and employees obviously need to approach engagement differently.

But how?
True career engagement, by and large, is an inside game. It is an emotional bond and commitment that employees have for their organizations, their professions, their teams, and their bosses. Therefore, to have any chance of boosting engagement, we must ignite the flames of engagement from the inside – the heart of the employees.

Engagement Starts with Finding Meaning in What We Do
According to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, engagement at work is a form of self-fulfillment for employees (the highest level of need to achieve). Without meaning in the “doing”, there is the slow death of self-fulfillment. Instead of doing engagement from the top down “at” employees, organizations must first instill in the organisation structure some opportunity for employees to connect with their own values, define what success means to them, and explicitly connect those personal realizations with the tasks of the role and mission of the business.

Therefore, we need to create an ongoing narrative dialogue with our staff, actively giving them opportunities to articulate why their work matters, why the value working in their role and team, and what they are proud of in the organization. Only when employees know their own “why” can they clearly connect it to the “why” of their business, and express engagement in their own terms.

And it is when employees are constantly inspired to recognize and identify with the meaning of their work, the mission and values of the organization, they will be motivated enough to engage themselves at work to achieve their full potential, working beyond just the pay check and benefits.

This sounds logical when you think about it – right? But HOW do you do it, and at scale?!

A Culture of Trust Promotes Engagement
Employees’ emotional commitment is also conducive to their trust in organizations, particularly in their leaders and managers. Compassionate leadership, therefore, builds trust and promotes engagement.

Compassionate leaders lead with both mind and heart. They see what employees see and feel what they feel. They know their employees simply cannot feel engaged if they are only asked about how they feel once a year (in the form of a survey), and understand engagement is more than a score.

Hence, they have an ongoing communications strategy to bond and build trust with their employees.

The leaders encourage their team members to share their own thoughts on a regular basis, articulating in a personal forum how they connect their own values with the objectives of the team or business, and in return these leaders show a genuine interest to listen actively, and to communicate openly. Leaders and managers who have a mindset of engagement for themselves are able to create the forum for dialogue where staff can find their own meaning too.

When employees feel that their leaders truly “get them”, through active and empathetic communications, they naturally develop an emotional commitment with the company that is hard to replace. Not all leaders and managers are this way inclined, but by approaching engagement with a targeted coaching, mentoring, and workshop approach to values-based exploration, the organisation can help its leaders to make the connections that they in-turn can pass on to their teams. This trickle-down effect in engagement takes time, and requires a disciplined approach, but means that organisations can hyper-personalize engagement at scale through the management network.

Solving Engagement Issues at the Core Helps Sustain the Business as a Whole
Instead of applying different band-aid interventions to “fix” the surfacing engagement issues, we should aim to identify and address the underlying causes.

When employees feel that their work is not recognized, for example, they often need more than free lunches and “job well-done’s” from their managers.

Instead, managers should dig out the causes of “work un-recognition”, by understanding how employees feel performance management and career development are being handled and communicated, then implementing actions that address the causes. Only by addressing engagement issues at the core we will speak to the heart of the employees.

Here, we recommend the use of Design Thinking principles to root-out insights, and re-shape the employee experience to be based on engagement as a guiding principle. By workshopping trends seen through the engagement survey, and via close collaboration with managers on the ground, talent teams and leadership can completely re-shape initiatives to get to the subconscious level of employee engagement. In making these bold efforts, businesses truly have a chance at enabling human capital to impact productivity and sustainability.

Using Influencers and Coaching to Franchise Engagement
And you might say “Well, it can’t all rest with Managers and HR – you said this was an inside job!”. And that’s true. We have seen that by identifying influencers within your organisation – those who have the widest networks of connections and who use their platforms to share information and sentiment to impact their colleagues – HR and leadership are able to infiltrate the employee base and encourage engagement from the grass roots. If influencers receive coaching, have opportunities to workshop their values and are given multi-media internal channels to voice the meaning they find in their work, then engagement has a chance. When employees see others finding their individual meaning, and using their voice to articulate their career satisfaction and success, it drives others to go on their own quest and make their own meaning too (or simply borrow someone else’s – so in this case, give them enough positive role models!). The coaching method, by nature of its hyper-personalized approach, is money well spent in connecting individuals to their higher purpose and then setting them free to rub off on their colleagues.

Hence, for the above reasons, it is time we stopped making engagement efforts that just touch the surface of the issue and yield little results. Beyond all the good intentions, process, formality and “the doing” of engagement, is an opportunity for both organizations and employees to look within themselves, facing heart-to-heart, which is where the real engagement lies.

Let’s re-set and make the difference, should we?

Building A Case for TA Investment

By Rebecca Grover

The focus on talent acquisition (TA) ‘maturity’ is prevalent, directly connecting the level of TA sophistication to organizational growth, revenue and productivity. Broader disruption in the talent & HR space makes time and spend investment a prioritisation challenge for organizations, and us as practitioners.

Every organization’s journey towards “TA utopia” is situationally unique – I have found agreeing on strategic design principles before formalising your plan of attack really helps pinpoint critical programs of work.

Over the next few weeks, I will release a series of recommended programs of work to help provoke thinking & create that required step change towards a higher level of TA sophistication – whatever the starting point!

​Trailer for what’s to come …

To Improve Functional Impact;
Recommendations will resonate if your current TA maturity model is deemed transactional. Suggested programs of work will create a step change towards a more focused and impactful level of functional maturity.

To Accelerate for Strategic Impact;
Recommendations will resonate if you require a noticeable shift in mindset and TA approach to meet accelerated business growth needs. Also relevant if your organization is entering new markets and needs to make a rapid competitive impact.

To Modernize for Commercial Impact;
Recommendations will resonate if you already have a performing TA function and now need to demonstrate bottom and top line commercial impact. Further integration into your organization and thinking laterally will ensure your TA function delivers competitive advantage at every touch point of the talent supply chain.

The question then turns to RoI – how do you get that much-needed investment to drive required programs of work?

Firstly, I focus on the cost of not doing anything! My 7 ‘go to’ commercial pitfalls for consideration …

  1. Current ‘recruitment’ spend – typically increases as a result of ‘just in time’ / reactive hiring and is fuelled by high attrition.
  2. The cost of a bad hire – employees never reaching their potential + rehire costs typically stems from; limited clarity on what success looks like and/or substandard evaluation of success potential during the hiring process.
  3. Productivity cost – weak or non-existent on-boarding and development practices impact workforce productivity and/or extends time to productivity for new employees.
  4. Business revenue cost – staffing gaps due to extended time to hire and slow time to develop (over and underinvestment).
  5. Opportunity cost – minimal workforce mobility and development so preference is to ‘buy’ versus ‘build’.
  6. Resource cost – ineffective and inconsistent processes & service delivery, some activity not even adding value to hire experiences & outcomes.
  7. Brand cost – poor candidate and employee experiences negatively impacting employer and corporate brand.

Talent acquisition food for thought!

Contact me through our contact page if you would like to request program recommendations now or if you would like to discuss further.

What’s Your TA Nirvana?

While the concept of ‘Talent Acquisition Nirvana’ may sound audacious, it’s fair to say that I’ve met many exceptional Recruiters and Leaders who’ve honestly said: “based on where we are now, any improvement would be heaven!”

Whether you’re setting the pace for the market, or just establishing baseline practices with your Talent Acquisition function, our Improve > Accelerate > Modernize series promises to meet you at your current state, and showcase a few simple ideas to stimulate the step-change you’re looking for.
Yes, a certain level of time, resource, and capital investment is required to realise true benefit from your talent initiatives, and as with any critical business function, the first step before making that investment starts when you pinpoint your highest pay-off activities.

Last week’s article, ‘Building a case for talent acquisition investment’, focused on why talent acquisition maturity is important and outlined a few commercial pitfalls for non-adopters. There, I gave some suggestions on where to start building your business case and identifying those high pay-offs for your business. This week’s baseline of practical recommendations will help you to create an initial ‘how’ framework – especially if your organisation has a newly created or developing talent function.

I know What I need to do. The question is: How?
I often get asked for advice around how an organisation can make that leap in its talent acquisition maturity. The answer is different from organisation to organisation, however there’s some ‘universal truths’ as well.

As a keen follower of the thought leadership brought to our industry by Josh Bersin, I’ve been among those practitioners who have benefitted from the beauty of a good Bersin model. Bersin’s ‘High Impact Talent Acquisition’ (HITA) research quantifiably connects functional performance to better business outcomes (and is a good reference point when you’re making your aforementioned business case!). Often these models are accompanied by high-level ‘how’ recommendations that Consultants like myself salivate over, however I do hear from my clients that they still need more guidance to operationalise and contextualise these great insights. Of course! Although there’s no ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to getting your how right, I’ve included below my first 8 steps to improvement … with my top 3 recommendations to help get you on your way …

With your ‘how’ map in place, there’s still a considerable amount of magic that needs to happen in iterating, executing, reviewing, communicating, integrating and extending. I welcome the opportunity to discuss this with you in person.

Final considerations;

  • To help prioritise the ‘how’, keep focused on those initial design principles – consider broader collaboration; TA, HR & Business stakeholders.
  • Design thinking also helps to map experiences – bring in recent hires and or representatives from your target market to really personalise.

Next week’s post; ideas that will help ‘Accelerate’ talent acquisition for strategic impact. Email me if you would like to explore the ‘art of the possible’ for your organisation: Rebecca.Grover@kabloomgroup.com

Accelerated TA in 5 Steps

By Rebecca Grover

​Hot topic alert …

To deliver accelerated business growth, talent acquisition (TA) needs to make rapid impact. Hiring velocity, sustainable talent pools & hire quality are all critical to achieving strategic business goals.

Hiring the right people at the right time is imperative for any business, however many of the HR & Talent Leaders I’ve spoken with recently feel they’re facing tradeoffs in TA; too much focus on hiring velocity can impact hire quality, and when quality becomes a foremost goal, there’s a risk to time-to-fill.  They find themselves asking: what’s worse for our company – the cost of a swift but bad hiring decision, or the impact of an empty seat on revenue/growth!?

Through my experience in designing acceleration programs for clients, I know first-hand that businesses and TA teams don’t need to compromise.  Material impact comes down to alignment, forward planning and a multifaceted mobilization strategy.


Any accelerated TA program needs upfront preparation to help define exactly what’s required.  Reflecting on previous success stories, I’ve identified that accelerated impact was realized quicker as a result of structured due diligence; ‘Assess’ > ‘Plan’ > ‘Listen’ > ‘Evaluate’.

So, you’re on the back foot, how can you easily pivot to adopt a more strategic approach to talent acquisition? 

The answer is, dedicate resource to this agenda!  Investing in the right resource and developing a focused acceleration strategy that you can later evaluate/dovetail BAU activities into, ensures you strike that balance between current/future hiring velocity and hire quality, without causing operational disruption.

If hiring budgets hinder your ability to leverage any of these 5 steps, you can still keep pace with an accelerated business growth plan by just shifting your talent acquisition approach (and mindset);

  • Identify and clarify mission critical roles for achieving business strategy and articulate essential requirements for future success – forecast & talent pool against this,
  • Further strengthen by aligning capability needs across all talent segments to help shape a proactive and holistic talent pipelining strategy,
  • Offer differentiating value-add services geared towards competitive impact and local market responsiveness,
  • Look holistically and adopt intentional approaches that target required capability – international, cross sector, feeder positions, early career programs,
  • Look internally and identify upward/lateral potential,
  • Protect talent you bring into your organization and close the back door!

Next post; ways to ‘Modernize’ talent acquisition for commercial impact.

In-mail or email me if you would like to explore the ‘art of the possible’ for your organization.  Click to In-Mail or email; Rebecca.Grover@kabloomgroup.com