Professionalism

I recently went on holiday which meant I actually had time to watch TV. I found myself watching “The Great Food Truck Race Season 2” – it’s a reality TV show about 3-man team food trucks and like many reality TV shows, it’s a competition with a mix of flamboyant and passionate contestants. At the end of the episode, one team was eliminated. 

When the eliminated team was decided upon, the host said “I’m sorry you guys had to be eliminated, we will definitely remember you for your professionalism”.

What the host said made me reflect back on how I remember my bosses, colleagues and ponder how people remember me. True enough, the point that is most memorable about anyone in the working world, regardless of industry, white collar or blue collar, is their professionalism. We all have colleagues who are always late, always slow at doing their work, always coming up with excuses and similarly, we have colleagues and bosses who are always early to work, super efficient and a problem solver with a can-do attitude. All these speaks of their professionalism. 

Of course, some people simply do not care how others remember them professionally and allow themselves to lead mediocre unfulfilling lives. But I’m sure you are not one of those. So how do you think your colleagues, past and present, remember you? 

   
   

Manage Your Boss

I’ve been in positions where I report to people and I’ve been in positions where people report to me. I’ve been an employee and now I’m an employer. I believe one of the most important skill that people need to learn is to manage your boss.

Surprisingly, I have observed that this skill does not come naturally to many people, resulting in mismatch in expectation and workplace tension with the boss thinking the staff is incompetent and the staff thinking the boss is unreasonable.

On an academic point of view, I recommend young executives to read Peter Drucker’s Managing Oneself. Even better, read the HBR 10 Must Read The Essentials. On a practical point of view, with specific examples, you basically need to know what your reporting superior values. A good manager should communicate his expectation to his subordinate. Regardless, a good subordinate should always clarify expectations with his manager (this is where you can exceed expectations). Does your manager value punctuality, timely updates immediately after meetings via Whatsapp, or does he value innovative ideas in making operations more efficient.

Some may think that a good manager would expect all this of a subordinate but in actual fact, some are valued more above others. For example, if you have a boss that doesn’t really care what time you come in to work but expects you to update him or the team via Whatsapp after every meeting on the outcome, should you come in at 8am every day but do not update him or your team chat group, there is a high probability that he thinks you are incompetent. Another example would be if your manager (and the management) are in process of limiting capital expenditure until profitability rises, should you continuously give ideas that additional purchases would make operations better, there is a high probability that your manager thinks you are yapping and detrimental to the team. Instead, you should focus on asset efficiency and communicate to your boss how assets can be made more efficient. 

It is your job to find out what your manager values and if it’s not made explicit, go ask him.

The A-Team in Malaysia flag colours

Run Before You Walk

Tony Stark said to Jarvis in the first Iron Man movie, “sometimes, you have to learn to run before you learn how to walk”.

That’s how I would describe my experience with my kitchen.

When I started my cafe, I know of coffee and a sense of what makes a good business. A risk it was but since I knew the A-Z of my product, the risk is something I could digest. My kitchen is different. You see, I don’t cook at home (in fact, I don’t cook anywhere) and I’ve never renovated for a kitchen. While I could possibly sit down, talk to people and learn about how commercial cooking is done, understand its processes, it would have delayed my launch. It wouldn’t have been “think big, start small, move fast”.

Adding to the list of things I’m constantly thankful for, I’m thankful to have met great people and friends in my consultants, Chef Anuar and Didie. Together they helped Alia and I understand the kitchen, it’s flow, what makes a good menu and launch it. Our kitchen was launched on 22 July and after one month of operations, things are Alhamdullilah great. The lesson here is that when you start a venture, there will be a million unknowns and you should not let you fear of the unknown prevent you from doing what you know.

And now that I have a kitchen, maybe my approach to my cooking skill too shall be “to run before I can walk”. With my limited knowledge on how to cook, perhaps the first thing I should learn to cook is steak.

Because why not.


  

Lessons from the Story of Prophet Daud

Ramadan this year is my first year fasting back in KL, after two years spent in Johor Bahru. One of the distinct change in lifestyle that I have to reacquaint myself to is the constant predicament of getting stuck in traffic jam – the traffic is either bad or very bad. 

To make full use of my time and my Ramadan since I have to be stuck driving, I decided to listen to the series of videos by Mufti Menk titled Stories of the Prophets. We Muslims believe the Quran was sent to mankind as guidance and Allah SWT, as the owner of communication and understanding, tell us stories of the prophets as there is a perennial lesson to be learnt. 

As Malay Muslims, many of us grow up acquainted with stories of the prophets, may it be through our sekolah agama classes or as told by our elders. As with many things in life, I’m a firm advocate that one should revisit the things one experience as a child. This way, not only are you able to reaffirm your understanding of the subject, you are also able to revisit your childhood. With that said, the stories of the prophets above are stories which I knew, albeit in abridged form and indeed it was refreshing relearning these stories. 

One story which struck a chord with me was the story of Prophet Daud. 

Most of us know the story of Daud (David) and Jalut (Goliath), how the young Daud overpowered the towering Jalut. In the Quran, Allah spoke of how he was blessed with power and abilities. 

Allah made him an able warrior, a King, able to speak to the birds and animals and able to shape metal with his bare hands. As a leader of men, Prophet Daud was also an excellent judge.

“Be patient over what they say and remember Our servant, David, the possessor of strength; Indeed he was one who repeatedly turned back to Allah” (Quran 38:17)

“And we strengthened his kingdom and gave him wisdom and discernment in speech” (Quran 38:20)

O David! Verily! We have placed you as a successor on earth, so judge you between men in truth and justice. And follow not your desire for it will mislead you from the Path of Allah. Verily! Those who wander astray from the Path of Allah shall have a severe torment, because they forgot the Day of Reckoning. (Quran 38:21-26).

Beyond it all, despite the power and wealth, Prophet Daud was an excellent worshipper. In the Quran, it is mentioned that when he engages in tasbeeh, the birds assembled with him to engage in tasbeeh. (Quran 38:19)

“The most beloved fasting to Allah was the fasting of the Prophet Daud, who used to fast alternate days. And the most beloved prayer to Allah was the prayer of Daud, who used to sleep the first half of the night, and pray for one third of it and again sleep for a sixth of it.'” (Sahih Al-Bukhari).

Personally to me, the story of Prophet Daud is a reminder that you should not allow wealth, power and success to blind you, to clothe you in arrogance and hubris. The wealth and power you accumulate in this world is incomparably small compared to the wealth, power and abilities of Prophet Daud and yet, Prophet Daud is a man that is ever conscious that all these worldly possessions belong to Allah and constantly engages in prayer for the remembrance of Allah. 

It is my personal belief that the two best qualities any man can have is patience (sabar) and gratefulness (shukur). Give thanks and be grateful. I end with a beautiful reminder from Allah on his promise to mankind:

“And remember when your Lord proclaimed, “If you are grateful, I will surely increase you; but if you deny, indeed, My punishment is severe”” – Surah Ibrahim, Ayat 7

Learn to Sell

I had a chat with my team about skills I wish they invest in and I feel it’s worth sharing.

I told them that it’s important to know how to handle the espresso machine and to create delicious beverages, it’s required for you to know your products, it’s desirable that you bring your game face to work but none is as important as knowing how to sell.

We had a chat about the difference between selling and being a salesman and how there is a stigma on “being a salesman”.

I believe everybody needs to learn how to sell, simply because we all sell something. Back when I was a management consultant, we sell ideas. Ideas of a more efficient and effective organisation. When I was an officer in a master developer, we sell dreams. Dreams of a better life, a better Johor Bahru, a better Malaysia. At Double A Cafe, we sell cakes and coffee. Cakes and coffee that put a smile on your face.

While management consultant and master developer would undoubtedly sound sexier than that of floorcrew or salesperson, it’s all the same skill, selling.

Just like any skill, you get better by practicing it, by doing. I recall a time in university that I would dread presentations. Ironic then that I took up a job as a consultant, where I would have to present on a daily basis. I recall the overthinking notion of “what would people think of me” and “shy laaaa”. (Confidence is something only you can teach yourself, and the faster you learn to not overthink, the better).

With hindsight, I’m thankful for the rigour I was subjected to for it had allowed me build my skill in selling. With foresight, I hope my staff would one day realise the rigour I subject them to in learning the skill to sell would be have enriched their life positively.

I’m a nice boss, really.

Timely Decision Making

In starting a new venture which my wife and I call our own, people refer to us for everything. As we grow our team (who are an amazing group of people btw), the frequency of people referring to us increases. From simple things such as “do I pull the shutter down now” to heavier things such as “the customer has comments about the cake”.

I am reminded of a talk on leadership which I attended which can be summarised in 6 words:

Leadership is about timely decision making.

Is a leader supposed to be looking at the big picture? or look into the details?

Is a leader supposed to be passive, or aggressive, pushy “my way or the highway” style?

Is a leader supposed to talk more or listen more?

The answer to that is a decision needs to be made. A leader needs to be all that, in a timely manner. And this is true is all aspects of leadership, regardless of the size of an organisation, from being a class rep in a university, to running your own small venture, to running multinationals.

People who have been a staff to a bad manager know the frustration of poor leadership – having a leader who doesn’t speak up during your promotion evaluation, who doesn’t listen when you want to speak, who micromanages your work, pushy and worse, asks someone else to decide for them.

Don’t be that guy. Learn to decide who you have to be and when someone asks you something important, decide.

I say “when someone ask you something important” because God knows, when my colleagues ask me “where to go for lunch”, I’m bad at that 🙂

Understanding Numbers

Prior to starting Double A, I’ve studied different business ventures and as a person on salary, it’s a common to relate the capital required to start a business to one’s salary. I did it and I’ve heard many people say it out loud too. “Wow, to start a xxx franchise I’ll need RM300k, that’s like xx years my salary”. It’s a mental trap that serves no purpose but to talk you out of taking action.

I believe you can start a business with any amount of capital.

A man with no money will say, “I wish I have RM1000, then I can start a stall in a pasar malam (night market)”.

A man with RM1000 will say, “Man I wish I have RM10,000, then I can start a nasi ayam shop in a food court”. And ends up doing nothing.

A man with RM10,000 will say, “Man I wish I have RM1million, then I can start a McDonald’s franchise”. And ends up doing nothing.

A good friend of mine told me, many times, “Think Big, Start Small, Move Fast”. It was with that mantra and spirit that we grew a non-profit from its humble beginnings to national prominence and sustainability. In many ways, that spirit is very relevant to new business ventures. Take action. Think Big, Start Small, Move Fast.

Random plug-in: Selfie with the team!