Time Working In A Company: How Short Is Too Short?

“You’ve been working there for 10 years? Wowwww!”

I recently had a chat with a group of friends and we landed on the topic of duration of service in a company. I notice that among my Gen-Y peers, there is a split in how people view long service. Some view long service as a sign of achievement in a time where Gen-Ys are seen to be less loyal than the older generation. Some view that 2-3 years is a good time to leave a company, that no company deserves your loyalty that long by which time, several aspects of your job would plateau and the organisation would gain more from you than you from the organisation. Some view 1 year is too short a stay before you leave a company while some view 1 year, at the appropriate level and access to management is sufficient to determine fit, alignment of values and growth prospects and enable you to decide to leave or stay.

In my 10 years of working, I have worked in 4 different companies. One of which, I worked only for 1 year 1 month.

My view of the matter is that it doesn’t matter how long you spend in a company. What matters is that there needs to be a strong justification as to why it is so.

When I look at my CV, there is story I am able to tell that explains every move.

Big picture, I see my career in its entirety. I see my career in blocks of one decade each, from graduating to post-retirement. Each decade has an objective and a plan. Regardless if my move from one employer to another is planned or unplanned, I’m always certain it is to fit a bigger plan.

Every move has an explanation that ties to either a learning objective in an area I’m keen to learn, an opportunity to challenge myself or simply an unexpected change in life expectation (e.g. I had to leave an amazing job in another state as I was getting married and realise I do not want to have a long distance marriage). For every move in employment I am able to explain three (3) things: what I wanted to learn; why I wanted to learn it and how I will learn it. I’m often conscious of the question, “what would a recruiter/HR person see when they see my CV?” and I realise, the Whats, Whys and Hows of my career move is sufficiently strong to play down the possible negative connotation of spending 1 plus year in a company.

But that’s if you are given an opportunity to explain yourself – what if you don’t? One of the flaws of corporate culture is we allow ourselves to assess people based on a 1-2 pager CV and we make far reaching assumptions without even meeting the person. We read a line from a CV and see a person has moved every 1-2 years and we assume, “this person is not resilient”. We see a person who graduated from a local university and we say, “this guy would not be as good as a foreign graduate”. Good recruiters, hiring managers and HR practioners should have a multi-dimensional view and should be able to assess quality of candidate not based on number of years spent in previous companies and that the decision to call a candidate for interview should not be based on assumptions derived from a CV.

So if you look at your CV and worry that your stints in companies are too short, that recruiters may think you move jobs too often, my advice would be for you to think through and rationalise an answer. Make sure you are able to explain each transition and if possible, tie it to a personal learning objective. Its fine to rationalise why you decided to leave a company too – its logical that any move would have both push and pull factors. “I decided to leave as I feel the challenge has plateaued”, “It was a bad time for the industry and in my assessment if I were to stay, I would not be able to learn much and decided to pivot and challenge myself with a new industry”. In my experience hiring people, a negative experience in a company does not make a person negative, its an opportunity for me to assess a candidate how he or she views his or her predicament, i.e. how positive that person truly is.

 

It’s Never Too Late

As you get older, life would have served you various challenges and made you taste failure, sometimes repeatedly. The mind is such that once you fail too often, you grow to tell yourself that “maybe this is not for me, maybe I can’t do this, maybe I need to aim a little lower, why are all my friends more successful than me”. You will apportion blame, saying things like “it’s because of my full time job I can’t do this, it’s because of my spouse and kids, I can’t do that”. In growing older, you can in fact, become your worst enemy.

It’s a vicious trap that many of us will fall into sometime in your life and it’s important to have the courage to prove yourself wrong. There is no achievement too late or too difficult. People have such great capacity if only they learn not to succumb to their excuses – a small change to your daily routine can achieve great results.

To say, “be positive! think positive thoughts” is easier said than done. I believe this trap can be overcome by having regular and new achievements that you can reflect upon positively.

Getting past 30, I found myself thinking I may fall into a routine of mediocrity, same thing different day.

Realising this, in September I challenged myself with three things: to pick up a traditional martial arts which I can commit long term (wanted to overcome this Gen-Y problem of unable to commit), to pick up an instrument and to get myself professionally certified. I ended up deciding on Kendo (I’ve long wanted to learn a sword based martial art), piano (I’m my teacher’s oldest student) and studying Project Management Professional (PMP – something useful for my career). All these deserves it’s on post!

To me, it’s important to pause, reflect and set new goals from time to time. And your goals, like your dreams, should scare you. Only then do you know you are doing something worth doing.

3 months in, I find myself feeling more fulfilled and more motivated as a whole. I’m looking forward to many more months of me pursuing my new interests and see how far it will bring me! If you are feeling unmotivated, my advice is, go find yourself a new challenge, perhaps something you have put off for some time.

Leadership Reminders from Tun M

Tun M MSLS

A refreshing keynote speech by Tun Mahathir at MSLS XII on Aug 11 2018. I can’t recall the last time a Malaysian politician spoke about the importance of having good values and be so genuine.

Tun M spoke of how given his age, he has seen the rapid rise of nations and nations that fail to mobilize. Nations that thrive are of a people with a good value system.

He spoke of Japan. He clarified he’s no blind fan of Japan, he remembers what the Japanese did during WW2 but it’s important to acknowledge their value system enabled them to rapidly rise after WW2.

The value system of the Japanese is that of a strong sense of shame. If they are entrusted with a task, failure to deliver will have them committing suicide.

Tun Mahathir spoke about the importance of having a good value system and how we must demand it of our leaders.

1) The first value is that of hard work. We need to learn to admire and aspire to be people that work hard. (He joked that its self praise but he works hard)

2) The second value is that of honesty and trustworthiness. He linked it to PTPTN – it is given to you as a trust and you should pay it back. Else your leakage is no different than that of 1MDB.

3) Tun then spoke of the importance of a leader having ideas, of having more ideas than one’s followers. To have ideas, you must have experience and knowledge, which you can attain by reading. With ideas, you will be equipped to tackle problems.

4) A leader needs to be brave and ready to take risks – more risks than his/her followers. Be like the generals of the olden days who are in battle with the soldiers, not one today and far removed from the risk.
#malaysia #malaysiabaharu

Need for National Housing Commission

  1. Affordable housing is an issue whose severity is jointly agreed by the previous and current government. Pakatan Harapan in its manifesto, commented on the ineffectiveness of PR1MA in delivering its mandate and committed that it will develop 1 million affordable homes. 
  1. Affordable housing delivery under the Barisan Nasional government was fragmented – surprising given the fact that it is such an important issue, unsurprising if you consider that perhaps everyone wants to take credit. There were four (4) ministries involved in affordable housing with every state having policies obligating developers to develop housing below a certain price as part of their larger development.

    ASJ_Commission_Pic1

    MOF has Syarikat Perumahan Negara Berhad (SPNB), KPKT has MyHome, PMO has PPA1M and PR1MA and Federal Territories Ministry has RUMAWIP.

  1. A review of PR1MA reveals that though it was mandated in 2011 to deliver 500,000 homes, it was not well equipped. Land availability was a major stumbling block – it obtained only 108 acres for development and after 7 years of being established, PR1MA only completed 11,000 homes. 
  1. KPKT has called out to the states to request that land be made available for affordable housing development. Selangor was the first (hopefully first of many) to reply that they will allocate land. While this is a good development, there is still room to optimise economies of scale.
  1. KPKT has spoken to say that a National Housing Council will be established and that a single entity will be created, bringing together PR1MA, UDA Holdings, SPNB, RUMAWIP, PPRT, PPA1M under one roof. These statements begs further clarification – will National Housing ‘Council’ be like ‘Council’ of Eminent Persons meaning it is a platform for deliberation? What is required is an entity for delivery. On the single entity to be created, the unavailability of land is still left unaddressed.
  1. Commissions are useful to centralised delivery and give regulatory powers. Using the example of Suruhanjaya Pengangkutan Awam Darat (SPAD), it was created to address fragmented delivery of public transportation and under one roof, it achieved streamlined planning and delivery.

ASJ_Commission_Pic2

The Idea

  1. Putting #5 and #6 together, I believe KPKT should consider creating a National Housing Commission.

    At inception, the Commission must receive allocation of land from each state and its role would be to design, develop and manage affordable housing. The commission would also be tasked to do planning and policy research, which among other things, coordinate collection of data so demand and supply on a district level could be analysed.

    Given the size of acreage and standardised designs, the commission should work with supplier to order in bulk so material costs can be driven down. As designs are standardised, the commission may engage contractors to construct. States must give discounts to land premiums and statutory costs and if MOF can consider, facilitation fund should be provided for external infrastructure costs should certain lands require additional infra to improve accessibility.

    As a matter of governance, the commissioners can consist of representatives of each State as well as private sector players.

 

The government of the day should learn from past shortcomings and its idea of a single entity must be properly enabled at inception – it would be unfortunate to see a half-baked entity complaining of tied hands down the road.

 

 

Ideas For Housing

Housing in an area of national development I feel strongly for and with the advent of Malaysia Baru, I hope government may have stronger political willpower to address housing issues which have been addressed somewhat unsuccessfully by the previous administration.

Khazanah Research Institute and Bank Negara individually have conducted a thorough as-is analysis of the housing/affordable housing situation, both providing well thought solutions to address the situation. I would like to provide additional ideas to the ones provided by KRI and BNM:

1. Revitalizing community centers

Community centers in Malaysia is an underutilised asset. Every constituency has it but it is used mostly for badminton or weddings.

A good neighborhood design is one that facilitates interaction – a community center needs to do exactly that, to enable frequent interaction.

In Singapore, community centers are being transformed. The concept is as follows: lots for F&B are added to community centers. There will be an anchor tenant (usually McD or Starbucks as it brings the crowd) but other tenants are given a ceiling price per item for them to sell. The idea is simple – if you live in an affordable house but don’t have affordable food to go to, it’s not really an affordable lifestyle or community. Community centers is also a place for people to teach and learn skills, from casual to proficient. Have a piano for people to teach and learn, hall for tae kwon do and halls for free movie. As how the economist Raj Chetty mentions, good neighborhoods enable upward mobility, making our community centers more useful is a good first step.

Pictures from Tampines West Community Club, as an example:

img_2784
Starbucks on Ground Floor with more F&B outlets on 1st Floor
img_2782
Sports court which doubles up as a Screening Hall

2. Policies to reduce construction cost

Buying a home is much like buying anything, it is a function of two things: the price of the item and how you pay for it. From the media engagements with the new minister, a lot of focus is given to fixing the latter – working with MOF and BNM on fixing loan eligibility, encouraging Rent-To-Own. More needs to be done to address how you drive sale price down – and as developers simply push cost to customers, asking how stakeholders can drive construction cost down.

Affordable housing in Malaysia is a cross-subsidy model. What this means is developers make a loss building and selling affordable homes but make their profits from building commercial/service apartments on adjacent plots. For the government to deliver 1 million homes, this model cannot work. Developers need to innovate to be able to build and sell homes at ~RM250,000 and still make a profit. To complement innovation, the government needs to assist to drive construction costs down via addressing policies that push costs up.

Compliance cost needs to be addressed and reduced for affordable housing projects: statutory costs to CIDB, IWK, TNB, Syabas should be reduced. Different states also charge various costs differently – this should be reduced and standardized. State governments need to reduce land premiums, standardize cemetery cost and contribution to Improvement Service Fund should be waived.

The other area which requires standardisation is planning requirements. The final say on most matters lie with local authorities which makes standardisation difficult. One planning guideline that needs to be addressed is number of car parks. Certain local authorities require 1.5 bays per unit with 10% of total bays for visitor carpark. Car park bays are expensive – on a podium, it could cost ~RM35,000 per bay. If the government provide public transport infrastructure (which is in line with PT modal split targets), reducing car park bays to 1 bay for 1 unit would enable cost reduction.

 

7 advice from my 10 years of working

2018 marks ten years since I joined the workforce. As I reflect on my career of ten years, it was interesting to see the effect of my decisions and the career risks I took. It was also interesting to see how my friends and peers, knowing how they were in school/university, have done things differently – and how some have achieved career success faster. These are seven things I noted, some are my own advice and some are what I observed people who had rapid success in their first decade of work do:-

1. Keep In Touch With Everyone
The working world, regardless of where you are in the world, is a mix of who you know and what you know – what differs is that in different countries, these two elements appear in different ratios. Although my career has always been based in Malaysia, I’ve had plenty of opportunities to interact with global investors to know this to be true. Information is power and you would never know who would be of help to you in the future. In this day and age of social media, keeping in touch can be easily done by dropping a birthday message on FB or wishing seasons greetings on Whatsapp. Of course, as the world is so small, keeping in touch only works if you yourself maintain a good reputation.

2. Join A Society/Club and Widen The Type of People You Socialise With
In my time doing YCM, I observed that work has this unconscious effect of narrowing the types of people you hang out with. An example of a lesser extreme would be wanting to only network with people in your industry (bankers with bankers, oil&gas with oil&gas people, etc) and a greater extreme, only wanting to network with people in your own company (where even attending external events, you herd together). To me, this limits your understanding of how other industries and how the world works in general.

My advice would be to join and be active in a society regardless of its type – may it be work related, community based society or even a political party. From my experience, joining societies provides an opportunity for you to meet people (and you learn the most surprising things from unsuspecting people) and participating in its organisation provides you an opportunity to learn useful skills in a safe environment: leading peers and depending on your society, understanding how to build brands, managing event and even fundraising. Some of the best people I’ve met were through my involvement in YCM.

FB_IMG_1517973752374
YCM hosting YBhg Dato’ Sri Nazir Razak, then CEO of CIMB as part of our Special Series
FB_IMG_1517973511028
Hosting YBhg Tan Sri Mokhzani at my cafe, Double A Cafe, as part our mentorship program

3. Keep Good Notes That You Can Refer Back
There have been a number of times where I find myself in a discussion referring to a point (either related to something I recently learnt or something I learnt from a previous employment) I knew I had noted down before but couldn’t find – either I didn’t know where it was in the same notebook or it was in a different notebook altogether (from a previous employment). My work notebooks were organised by dates and not topics so it was not easy to flip back to find the last time a particular topic was discussed. Not forgetting notes often get jumbled with To-Do lists.

While there are many ways to organise notes, I find using Microsoft OneNote effective. You can organise your content by tabs (which can be your different projects) and pages (which can be content from a particular meeting). Together with a Search function and separate To-Do checklist, its easy to keep your notes in check.

4. Have A Hard Skill. Make sure you are professionally known for something and if possible, certified.
It is not sufficient for you to just be strong in your know-who. It is important for you to be strong in your know-how. I believe one should always have a skill and be professionally known for something – corporate finance specialist, HR specialist, urban planning expert, etc. In the corporate world, you should pursue a certification – getting yourself certified is the easiest and perhaps best way to be known for a capability – CFA, PMP.

Do not mistake tenure of service in a function or an industry as indication of competence. I’ve met my share of individuals who have worked in an industry or function for a number of years but when probed, their understanding is surface level as their work is somewhat transactional. Be conscious of what you are learning daily and make sure you understand the core business of your company and read up on the latest in your industry – as an example, when asked about where oil prices will go, a HR staff should not answer “I work in HR, I don’t know what my company does or what oil & gas is about“.

5. Have an opinion
While this sounds obvious, you should, where possible, have an opinion about everything. This is easier said than done. Most outstanding individuals I’ve met are great conversationalist who are able to speak on just about anything – able to speak about national and current business issues to the serious crowd, able to speak about arts and culture when they are put with artsy folks and even able to speak about the current celebrity gossips when placed with the gossip gang.

Having an opinion requires you to be able to connect dots together and good first step is always to be diversely well read – my personal mix is The Edge Weekly, TIME and Pancaindera (those who know will know).

FB_IMG_1517973568700
Alia and I featured in Women’s Weekly as couples working together

6. Build Your Personal Branding Effectively Through Public Speaking
Most of my peers who are successful quickly in their 20s are those who excel at personal branding. In my opinion, the most effective form of building personal branding is public speaking. In a society where many are too shy to speak up, it is common, as a first impression, for one’s charisma to be quickly interpreted as a sign of competence. People who ask questions at forums, volunteer for speaking engagements (e.g. becoming MC or moderators) or speak for a cause are those who are best noticed by their peers and the public as outstanding individuals. This then leads to career opportunities.

Many Malaysians I meet don’t consider themselves as natural public speakers, regardless of language. If you’re one, my advice is to work on this skill – practice in front of a mirror, talk to yourself and be comfortable with your voice.

As a note, while public speaking is a powerful form of personal branding useful to the working world, there are other forms I have observed that could be effectively used – like passionately speaking about a cause on your social media accounts – blogs, FB, Twitter, Instagram.

FB_IMG_1517973450919
My day job: Presenting to Chief Secretary to the Government of Malaysia and other VIPs

7. Plan and Review Your Achievement
Time has an unforgiving aspect where if you don’t keep track of it, it will just pass you by and before long, 10 years would have passed. Although I don’t take new year’s resolution so strictly (like my resolution to lose weight is from 2015 and keeps getting carried forward), at the start of the year I would have a mental conversation with myself asking “what would I want to achieve this year?” and come December, “what’s my biggest achievement this year?”. I believe as you look back at your life, you should be able pick an age and recall your biggest achievement of that age – like, what’s your biggest achievement on the year you turned 25?

FB_IMG_1517973475956
Double A Cafe won Best F&B Set at the 2016 Boss Awards

What’s Your Skill?

“I’m not happy here. I’m keen to explore new job options. If you hear of any good opportunities, do let me know”

“Yeah sure. So what’s your skillsets and strengths and what are you looking for in general?”

“Right. So I’ve been in consulting for 5 years. My core strength would be strategic thinking and strategic communication. I guess in that sense, I’m a good fit at many places”

“So I take it you’re a…generalist?”

“Yeah.”

I’ve had a number of conversations such as the above. Executives having worked for a number of years and unable to pinpoint a skill. Being able to pinpoint a skill is important – in an increasingly competitive corporate setting, knowing your skill is a matter of personal branding and ensures continued relevance.

Inability to identify a skill is especially prevalent among management consultants who work across many industries who are thus unable to develop a strong competency in an industry or a function. I have also met people in industries who fall into the same trap, and oftentimes these are people who spend too long in roles dubbed “strategic planning” and “business development” (these roles are important functions of a company but if you are a new graduate in these departments, you often can’t absorb much due to lack of perspective).

I was a management consultant at a global consulting firm for 4 years before I transitioned into an industry. I observed that it is not uncommon for your peers and your management to quickly form a label of you, based on your competence. The guy who has worked in a bank for some time has a “Finance” label, the guy who has worked at site for some time has an “Operations” label, the marketing guy, “Marketing”. To senior management, your label becomes the basis to what you are being consulted. The unfortunate truth is, management consultants who transition into an industry often have “???” as a label. People may acknowledge that your paper qualification makes you one of the smartest people around but they don’t necessarily know what you are good for.

To clarify, in no way am I discounting skillsets such as strategic thinking and strategic communication. These are important aspects of problem solving and while it is true these may be your strength as a management consultant/strategic planner, oftentimes people in the industry would not want to accept that they have weak problem solving skills and it is more probable for your ideas to be discounted on the basis of industry inexperience.

I firmly believe that everyone should have a skill they can strongly associate themselves with professionally. Ask yourself this question, “professionally, what do my friends know me for?” and hopefully your answer includes a hard skill, may it be finance, urban planning or construction. Another way to do this is if you were to write your short profile on LinkedIn, what would you write about – what are your skills and what are you passionate about professionally?

If you find yourself unable to identify a skill, my advise is to identify an area of growth you would like to pursue and grow into it. Invest time and deep dive into the content. If there is a certification in the field, get certified (e.g. PMP, CFA). And in this age of social media, promote your professional personal branding – speak about the topic on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram and let people know what you are professionally passionate about.

Stretch yourself and whatever your passion may be, be known as an authority in it and hopefully, more professional opportunities will present itself to you.