Archive for the ‘HR Insights’ Category

An Unaccountable Responsibility

Feb 05, 2015 // No Comments » // HR Insights | Stories Retold

accountability (1)

“But they will have to give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead.” – 1 Peter 4:5 (NIV)

Where’s your sense of Responsibility?

For sure you can’t leave this to fluffy sensing and feeling…especially so if livelihood of people, organisation survival and perhaps nation building are at stake.

Not long ago I wrote a piece on Responsibility – “With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility…Really?” and that sets me thinking deeper into the difference between responsibility and accountability.

You see, responsibility without accountability is like knowing What but not knowing How; knowing What is your role (title/position) and perhaps What to do but not knowing How your role and action really matters.


I would like to share a story that may help us further understand why without accountability, responsibility just isn’t enough…

I spent 6 years as a technician in the Singapore Armed Forces. In one of my overseas posting, I was leading a team of mechanics that support the maintenance, repair and inspection of a fleet of military vehicles to ensure combat readiness. One summer, before a major infantry exercise my team worked their socks off through two weekends (without day-offs) ensuring that the vehicles will be ready for the exercise. A day prior to the action when the infantry unit assigned drivers were moving out the vehicles from the garage park, one of the utility transportation truck has it’s front-left wheel almost completely disengaged from the wheel-hub causing major damaged to its rim. The maintenance logged indicated that two of my men were “responsible” for the wheel changed. Upon investigation, they were charged for negligence of duty and required to sign “extras” (a form of punishment that remove the entitlement of weekends off to perform guard duty).


Many years later, upon reflection I felt a sense of being responsible because as their team leader I am supposed to ensure their work are duly completed to the standard required. Hence without clearly indicated the standard of outcome and performance (accountable result) expected of them could have caused them to misplaced their sense of responsibilities.

Simply put it, accountability should be tangible and quantifiable. With accountability, responsibility make sense and help one another towards achieving results.

The term “holding one another accountable” indicated that without a set of tangible and quantifiable outcome-oriented deliverables, responsibility by title and position often leads to more misunderstanding  and confusion; worst if being abused or even a misplaced sense of responsibility which may lead to blame.

What and who are you responsible for today and how are you going to be accountable?

Are you a Talent?

Feb 11, 2011 // 1 Comment » // HR Insights

Are you a talent that others think you are?

For many years in my adult life, I vaguely remembered that I ever scored a spectacular goal from the half-way line in a game of football (soccer in some parts of the world) at a primary school competition. I remembered the euphoria of my team-mates running towards me to celebrate on a rain soaked pitch at the now defunct Mountbatten Primary School; the team went on to win the competition that year.

As I grew older, that memory faded and reach a point that I begin to suspect it was all but a dream…until more than 30 years later I met an old primary school classmate in an army-reserve unit gathering.

“Hey, are you from Mountbatten Primary?”

“Yes, and you are…? Sorry, I cannot recall who you are…”

“I am Peter. I don’t think you can recognize me but you seems to retain your features quite a bit…!”

“Oh…I do?! I will take that as a compliment…”

“And of course I will always remember the goal that you scored from the half-way line…it was one of the highlights of that competition…”

“OMG, thank you for confirming that dream of mine that was with me for the longest time…I keep having this image in my head but wasn’t sure I actually did that…!! If not for this chance meeting and you telling me that…!”

“Of course you did…it was one of the highlight of our cohort and you were quite famous after that…! How are you? Did you went on to have a career in football?”

“Ummm… me, football…I wish…!”

For the record, football takes precedents in the second-half of my teenage years that not only ruined my education somehow but also both my knees that requires major surgery. At best I went on to represent school at various level but has never go beyond that. It’s only in my young adult years when I discover why my so call “talent” was not fully developed. It was from a quote that I learnt from probably the greatest football player – Pele and he says:

“To be a great soccer player; you must first be a great athlete.”

How I wish I have heeded his advice in my formative years…

But when I take a step back and think deeper, I would say that the environment of the 70s and 80s that I was brought up with wasn’t the best for sporting athletes. At that time, Singapore was in a state of industrialization and most national initiatives such as educational and manpower policy are towards creating jobs and preparing the people to be as employable as possible in the marketplace. Therefore many others including me would not have a conducive environment to develop sportingly.

What is my point?

I sometime find it quite amusing when academics and management gurus keep telling the world that there’s a drought of talent out there in the marketplace, that organizations in this competitive world face a war for talent so on and so forth…Have we ever ask ourselves what do we do when we “recruited” the talents into our organization? Have we put in place an environment that the so-call talent will thrives and excel? What is our definition of talent? Are there really such thing as “ready-made” talent out there that when engaged will perform to what’s expected of them?

My recent role in Learning and Development enable me to confront this questions directly and work closely with a team of talent management professionals. I am glad that my business partner have similar view on talent management and we intended to drive the initiatives of human resources towards a holistic approach starting from the “WHY” we recruit to the “WHY” they leave the organization. We may not be sure that all that arrived at our door would consider as “ready-made” talents but we aspire to ensure that most leave our door would consider to be some talent in their own rights.

What do you think?

I would like to hear your view or your definition of talent.

INFLUENCE – beyond just Doing but Being

Aug 11, 2010 // 3 Comments » // HR Insights | Leadership Infusion

Picture Source: Alex_Bates via Flickr

Picture Source: Alex_Bates via Flickr

Two Sundays ago, after our Sunday worship at a local church; and after fetching my second boy Eiffel from Sunday school, I was waiting for my eldest boy Timothy from the children worship hall two levels down from the adult worship hall. He is always full of enthusiasm after his bible study; armed with many questions prepared to ask me…

“Dad, you throw a pebble into a still pond and caused a ripple…the ripples spread out beautifully through the surface of the pond. What causes the ripples?” He speaks with his usual clear and  a wee bit mature voice for a 11 year old.

“Hmm…the first ripple.” I was trying to be scientific about it and was prepared to explain the law of physics…

“Nope!” came a immediate negative ascertain from Tim.

“Uhhh…the pond! Without the pond there won’t be any ripples…” sensing there might be some riddle-like trickery…

“Noooo…that’s an obvious Dad…Think!” Tim was half laughing and staring at me.

“Oh…I know, I know…THE PEBBLE! Without the pebble there won’t be any reaction in the first place.” I thought I got it at last and saying in much confidence and matter-of-factly.

“No Dad, its YOU! You caused the ripples by throwing the pebble into the pond…” He replied with a tad of ridicule and as he finished, he ran away looking for his brother Eiffel down the hallway.

I stood there thinking and still smarting away from the implications of what my son has ‘taught’ me…and the whole of Sunday I was still thinking about the meaning of INFLUENCE.

A recent conversation with a client lead us to explore the notion of Influence; they recognized the importance of people managers being in the position of accountability and positive impacts on their people…

“So would you like to share with me about your leaders in this organization; especially the managers.” I asked.

“Oh, we have about 15 senior to junior managers across the functions, they are in their early 30s to mid-50s…” She lamented matter-of-factly.

When she has finished, I asked: “Who do you think they are to others?”.

“What do you mean?” she responded impatiently.

Sensing a window of opportunity to dwell deep…I asked: “As a manager, what would you say about your influence to others that matters in this organization?”

“Umm…I guess I am very much a positive influence especially to the younger colleagues and new staff.” She continued: “I for one is pretty new to this organization; therefore I have no historic baggage with me here…for example…”.

“That’s great! I am glad you did. So how do you think I may help this organization?” I asked in earnest.

“My colleague will agree with me that one of the biggest challenges for our managers in general are the willingness to take accountability so that they will influence others to do so…We hope they can be more responsible beyond their scope of work.” she responded spontaneously.

“Tell me more.” I sensed the flow…

“Don’t get me wrong. Our people are very good in what they are supposed to do and they are experts in their respective field…But we also happened to believe that we have great products that will change the well-being of people around the world, but we also understand that we need people that are willing to bring this organization to where we should belong…”

Cave Ripples_Donald Noble via FlickrWe have a wonderful conversation sharing and understanding observations, examples, behaviors and assumptions that gives me great insight to the probable challenges the people in this organization may face. One of the key message when we meet with the team next month, is to help them be aware of their behaviors and action that may influence others and how they may want to commit to change that may impact others around them and the organization.

Have you ever ask:

‘What is my influence to the people around me?’

‘What is the implication of my thoughts, feeling and my action to my colleagues?’

‘How can people that I care or people that I have yet know could be in the realm of my influence?’

Why are you hired for?

Jul 28, 2010 // 2 Comments » // HR Insights

You should know what are you hired for…but have you ever ask WHY?

Here’s a recent conversation with a mutual friend who’s thinking about leaving a position that he took up less than 6 months ago.

“How’s things lately?”

“Work-wise not looking up, pal…getting tired of the politics at workplace.”

“Tell me more, what happen?”

“Actually, I am beginning to enjoy my role and handling the responsibilities with confidence; recruitment, headcount acquisitions and so on…but I dread the politics and micro-managing style my new manager brings with her from the public sector…”

He went on for the next 10 minutes without a script like a seasoned screenplay-writer. He vividly described the drama being unfold in the office like an episode out of a BBC award winning mockumentary “The Office” -  which has spin-off to many version in Europe and US.

“I am sure you know what you were hired for…but do you know why?”

“Umm….never thought about that. Why huh?”

Some years ago, I asked the same question about why am I hired into a position or role. What are the basis for the hiring person/people to fill the role that he/she is tasked to do. It’s easy at the first level of recruitment screening process; eligibility, suitability, experiences, qualifications and so on…But when it comes to the big decision-making for the reporting manager (the person that this role report to), I discovered there is more than just the factors mentioned above.

For the role that you are hired into, generally there are three broad categories:

Helper – I want you to be a pair of ‘hands and legs’

You are being engaged (hired with agreed compensation) as a pair of hands and legs. You are valued for your past experiences, your ability to ‘run-the-miles’ with task that are being assigns and largely able to take instruction to go about doing the work that’s expected of you. You may not be valued for your ideas, resourcefulness and initiatives depending on overriding situation such as personal ego and hierarchical structure etc.

Expert – I want you to be able to solve problems (for me first, then yours)

You are being engaged as a problem solver (or sometime famously dubbed as firefighter). You are expected to solve problem that are expected of us and provide some level of initiatives within the role and accountability. You may not be valued for your resourcefulness and initiatives beyond your level and role. Structurally, organization leaders tend to build experts around them to help them to be effective in their work.

Partner – I want you to be successful in your role (so that I can be successful in mine)

You are being engaged as a trusted partner. You are value for your expertise, insights, ideas and the ability to challenge assumptions and status quo. You are given space and time to explore options and empowerment to exercise initiatives within your level of influences. You and I must find alignment in our commitment to our collective goals…in another words; Your success and failure are mine.

I understand that at different juncture of our career life-span we may experience the different roles above that we are hired for…Nevertheless, I think it is critical to begin to ask ourselves some questions about the WHY of hiring.

I find it interesting to get to the crux of WHY we hire…and many time we avoid asking these questions:

  1. Why is there a position to fill? Who’s role was it originally? Is it a new role? Why is there a need for this role?
  2. Why the predecessor left? What happened? Is there a need to review the roles and responsibilities?
  3. Is there someone within the organization can fill this position? Why and why not? Who?
  4. Can the role and responsibilities be taken by existing team members? Why not?
  5. What are the competencies needed to be successful in the role? Is there a need to change? Why and why not?

And when the above (and possibly more questions) have been exhausted, before you rush out there to fill the position because you have the budget or because your manager or business push you to do so, ask again:

  1. Who should be involved in this hiring process? Why should they involved? Are they committed to the process?
  2. When can we start and end? How critical is this to the business? What are our alternatives? What’s our budget?
  3. How should we go about getting the right people? How should we interview for this position?
  4. How would this hiring complement our business strategy? What is our value proposition?
  5. Why we think that anyone would be keen to assume this role? What is our plan for this role?

The questions above just keep popping out of my head as I write…hence, it may not be very well researched and studied. But I do think that it is quite common-sense to a large extend as inviting people into the organization is not (and NEVER) like deciding to buy a piece of furniture or office equipment.

The other question I would invite you to think about…What you think you are currently hired for? WHY?

The Myth about Team-building – Build What?

Jul 23, 2010 // 2 Comments » // Change Initiation | HR Insights | Team Intervention

Picture source: Spain Team by prismatico via Flickr

Picture source: Spain Team by prismatico via Flickr

Team-building has been within the theory and practice of Organization Development (OD), but from schools to non-profit organizations, sports arena to political scenes, it can be applied to almost any context. Almost everyone will be involved in some form of team-building in their lifetime wherever they play their roles…But have you ever ask the question:

“What really is team-building?”

“What are we actually ‘building’ when we team-build?”

“For what? Why?”

If you ask someone who has initiated team-building the reason why they do it you will be surprised with the many responses…

  1. To motivate them…so that they can perform to what’s expected of them.
  2. To build trust…so that they are able to resolve conflict and perform.
  3. To bond them…so that they can work well across their roles and function.
  4. To better communication…so that they can work well with one another and perform.
  5. To skill them in working in teams…so that they understand how to be a team member and perform.
  6. To “incentivise” them…after all they deserve a break! (after that, they better perform).
  7. To have fun…because we believe in having fun in the work we do. (so that we can perform better).
  8. To energize them…there has been a dipped in performances lately.
  9. To do what other teams have been doing…after all it is an “in” thing nowadays and we happen to have the budget!
  10. (Fill in your say…)

It is not difficult to realize that one of the key expectation for most team-building initiatives are about performance; there are many team or group performance/effectiveness/development model researched, selectively:

  • Tuckman’s Group Development Model
  • Tubbs’ System Model
  • Fisher’s Theory
  • Richard Beckhard’s Team Effectiveness Model
  • McGrath’s TIP Theory
  • Belbin’s Team Inventory
  • Drexler Sibbet Model and many more…

But have we really take a step back and ask…what have we done (team-building) in the past that we have yet to do? Have we seriously ask WHY we team-build before the how and what? Or maybe we seriously need to consider what’s there to be done before and after team-building? What can we learn from team-building? About our people, our people’s manager, our leaders, our system and processes, roles and accountability, our relationship with one another?

Yes, there is always a place for team-building to induce the fun and playful elements. What about using fun and playfulness to gain entry to the hearts and minds of the people? Would there be a time when people get tired of fun and playful team-building? Can team-building take a dimensional change of its purpose and intention? If we have a valuable window of opportunity to help teams develop using the context of team-building, would it be a pity to let that slips?

I was giving this a serious thought some years ago and compared a group/team to a pool of water forming and moving in a concerted direction to serve its purpose/goal. It may grows in size (new members), reduce (members leave), quench thirst (meet objectives) and so on…moving in the direction decided by the organization body. I realized that for the water to stay relevant and useful it should be examined and evaluate from time to time…The three stages that I discovered were:


At some point, the ‘group’ (water) need to stop doing (moving) what has been deemed useful or detrimental to their performances. By freezing, the ‘group’ may begin to examine the group elements by its actual size, volume, weight and shape.


Once the elements have been evaluated, the group will begin to unfreeze (a calculated process) by asking important questions such as why, who, what, when and how the team can perform well again.


A collaborative and effective teams with intentional leadership are able to refreeze at specific point of time to regroup and collect and change to a new form of water with renew goals, roles, processes and relationship.

Many of my peers and senior practitioners that I shared with have agreed that team-building has taken an ambiguous positioning in the context of OD. From event company to hospitality industry, many would claim that they are able to help you to “build-team”. Therefore I urge you to re-examine the purpose and reason for you to send your team for team-building program.

Ask the question: “Why? For what?”. If you are unsure of the purpose for your intended team-building, let’s have a conversation.

From Compliance to Commitment – What’s underneath it?

May 24, 2010 // 5 Comments » // HR Insights | Leadership Infusion | Stories Retold | Team Intervention

Hierarchy of Commitment

Hierarchy of Commitment - ConversationCircles

Two recent news and current affairs got my attention.

For one, I read with interest this morning news about a man who has been arrested in connection with a power blackout at the Marina Bay Sands (MBS) casino last Wednesday. He is believed to be a disgruntled engineer employed by a subcontractor of MBS.

The other, the passing of Dr. Goh Keng Swee. His story, past speeches, his contribution as 1st generation founding fathers, political achievements and driving many government’s nation building initiatives into the modern Singapore today, were widely reported over the past weeks. One such report quoted his last speech before he retires from politics; Dr. Goh said (quote): “You are coming into this. You are joining a holy order and your job is to build on what we have done, not treat it as a pinnacle, but as a foundation to make it better”

I thought the two reports have put both Commitment and Condemnation into perspective…

If Commitment is the pinnacle pursuit of our Human Capital work, have you ever ask what it takes to reach there? What comes before that? How do we know?

In 2005, I facilitated a teambuilding program for a group of 30 staff from a not-for-profit organization that has several establishment such as healthcare, pre-school and family-care centers. The leadership team faced tremendous challenges to embed the values of commitment and sense of ownership with the team. At the end of the two-day session, when we all sits in a circle and I drew the Hierarchy of Commitment on the floor with white-chalk and asked:

“For a question that I do not need an immediate answers but your deep reflection on where you think you are on the level of commitment to this very organization that you call home. Where are you?”

I invited the team to stand, shoulder-to-shoulder, spent about 3 minutes of silence in the circle.

We spent the next 45 minutes debrief with tears, laughter, confessions and affirmation. When I left the group, many still continue their conversation in small groups, in pairs and in self deep thoughts.

Are you ready to talk about Commitment?

How do you know that you don’t know?

May 14, 2010 // No Comments » // Change Initiation | HR Insights | Stories Retold

Picture source: Terra Kate via Flickr

Picture source: Terra Kate via Flickr

Our boy Timothy is 10 years old. We have been trying to impress upon him the benefits of oral hygiene since he has his first tooth…and these are what we have done in the past:

• Bought him the most attractive toothbrush and most enticing toothpaste when he started brushing. (HR C&B?)
• Bought him books and DVD animated series about dental hygiene. (Training & Education?)
• Showed him many times how to brush by holding his hands, forcing our way into his mouth etc. (Coaching & Mentoring?)
• Model to him every morning and night…(Leadership?)

But he still succumbed to tooth decayed, gum diseases etc…until Jan this year…

We booked an appointment with Health Promotion Board (HPB). A division that provides dental-care for the Ministry of Education school-going children. When it was Tim’s turn for the check, he walked in bravely but commented it was creepy and cold…a Dr. Ng Jing Jing attended to him and after checking realized that he has a decayed milk tooth that will need to be extracted. But due to his previous VSD condition, they will need a confirmation from the cardiologist from KK before the procedure. Dr.Ng explained patiently to us and proceed to do the routine “re-educational” with Tim, that was when it impressed upon me most…

What Dr. Ng did was a great learning for me not just about teaching Tim oral hygiene, but her approaches; she started with having Tim holding a small mirror to his mouth so that Tim are able to “SEE” what’s he’s doing when she explains…the whole process! I was dumb-founded for a moment and realised the importance “Learning and Knowing”. I realised that Tim would probably never know what’s going on ‘in his mouth’ when we taught him how to brush his teeth in the past…at least not visually knowing…but when he saw what happened, he look more convinced and confident about oral hygiene. I was totally impressed. Tim even commented after that: “I have never felt my teeth so clean in my life”.

That episode brings my reflection to a client of mine that grappled with ‘Change’ in their organization. As I shared with them about the reality of what’s happening with their processes after a ‘Change Urgency’ audit, they weren’t sure the data would be too “hard a reality” for some of the people. I explained that for change to happen, people need to “See”,“Know” and “Understand” the reality of what’s going on before they will have the motivation to change. My job then is to be as real as a mirror to reflect that back to them…

A mirror to tell the truth…but the challenge remains whether people are prepare to see what’s the reality…they still have a choice to NOT see what they are capable of seeing….hence knowing and learning…thus changing.

Are your people ready to face up to the reality? Are you ready to be the mirror to help them “SEE” the reality?

What’s in it for me?

Apr 06, 2010 // No Comments » // Change Initiation | HR Insights

Picture source: Pulitzer prize winner_Kevin Carter

Picture source: Pulitzer prize winner_Kevin Carter

Many have heard the story of this Pulitzer prize winning picture “The Vulture Photo” and of the late Kevin Carter; a South African photojournalist whom by framing this fateful picture in the South of Sudan in March 1993 won the most coveted prize for photojournalism. Two months later, he committed suicide apparently was overwhelmed by the paradox of joy and guilt – many have asked him the question about the fate of the starving girl in the picture…and he has no answer to it.
His suicide note reads: “The pain of life overrides the joy to the point that joy does not exist.”

I wonder when he was there with the girl (and the vulture) did this question come to his mind (WHAT’S IN IT FOR ME [to help]?).

“It found that only 19 per cent of Singapore workers are willing to go above and beyond what is expected of them while the remaining 81 per cent show only a little or no ‘discretionary effort’.” – The Straits Times, 26 March 2010.

It didn’t come as a surprise for me when I read the above on ST online breaking news headlines. “What’s in it for me?” – A question that seems to bog the minds of employees across many industries and apparently at many levels across the organisation.

Of course, the question can be disguised from the fundamental concerned, such as:

What’s in it for my job/role/performance?

What’s in it for my promotion/career/livelihood?

What’s in it for my company so that my job/role/performance will..?

What’s in it for us so that my promotion/career/livelihood will be..?

Are your people ready for commitment? Are your people stopping at PRODUCTivity or stretching towards VALUEtivity?

Clarity invites Commitment

Feb 19, 2010 // No Comments » // HR Insights

Photo source : Isaac B2 via

Photo source : Isaac B2 via

Have you ever drive aimlessly? Have you ever attempt an endless project? Frustrated? Not easy?

A rookie football coach was leading the players through their pace in a routine physical conditioning exercises. In one segment, the players have to jump high up into the air about 15 times while jogging round the track. The rookie coach observed that the players lack commitment when they jump, no matter how he commanded them with a stern “JUMP!” or encouragement. Annoyed, the rookie coach confided with a senior and the experience coach said: “When you shout jump, their head responded with ‘how high?’”. He continued, “Give them a target and your heart, and they will reach for you!”

How true! Lack of goal clarity can be an Achilles-heel to commitment. We often start the year with resolution, a run with specific end time or finishing point or even groceries shopping with a list seems to be more enjoyable and productive.

We all work and learn better with clear goals, targeted objective and specific purpose.

Have you communicated clarity so as to invite commitment?

Note: In my previous blog titled ‘When Training Might Not Work’ I promised to share with you a down-loadable Learning/Development Passport. The template may be used as a guide to draft a development plan for all your new employees. Do contact me if you have doubt on how to use the passport template.

When training might not work

Feb 05, 2010 // No Comments » // HR Insights


Much of the attention in human resources seems to be about how to retain good people. Likewise, when we offer training programs, we make them as palatable and attractive as possible. You can learn long distance, online, anytime and anywhere convenient in the comfort of your own home. If you are busy, we can even break the program into bite-sized modules to accommodate your working demands.

How are we suppose to create an environment of collective responsibility and accountability if we go down the road of placating to their ever increasing demand on account of being recognized as a “talent”?

Nowadays, most organizations will have some form of training and developmental plan and with substantial budget and resources dedicated. Not many though would communicate the long-term vision and commitment of the training and development plan and purpose for their people. Mostly are done haphazardly and are dependant on many variables that will influence the more important business agenda.

People stay in an organization that respects their freedom and cares about their learning. Your training efforts would change radically for the better if we solicited participation. We have three pointers to share that you may want to consider as a primer to your training initiatives:

  • COMMUNICATES COMMITMENT – Inspire the people right from the start of their career that they take ownership for their long-term learning commitment.  That all training and development be it on-the-job or designed program require time, depth and personal engagement. True value cannot be achieved in a few hours, on the run or at a distance.
  • COMMUNICATES PURPOSE – Impress upon the people the importance of learning agility. Studies have shown that one of the critical skills in the new economy is the ability to unlearn what we thought we already know and relearn what we could possibly know. The purpose then is for people to change their thinking and consider the possibility of creating meaning and a future that is different from the past.
  • COMMUNICATES CHOICE – Instill a ‘Come By Choice’ mindset. No one should be force into anything that is against their will and values they hold. Everyone should have the consciousness of what he or she wants and need to learn, how to learn and when he or she wants to learn it.

In my next blog-post under HR Insights thread, I would like to share with you a template that you may find useful in inducting your new employee into your organization that communicate commitment to learning, purpose in career development and ultimately their choice to make things happen.

Till next time.