New paradigm of business in a VUCA world

The current situation has clearly changed the way on how organisations structure and deliver work. There is disruption in every facet of the business – logistics, demand and supply, consumer preferences, sales models and the availability of human capital. The pace at which the world adapted to this model, i.e. less than two months, goes to show that agility is non-negotiable in a Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous (VUCA) world. Now, a home or a bedroom is a workplace.

Leaders need to consider socio-economic factors, statutory requirements and state/federal laws to navigate and combat the disruption. Leadership is heavily scrutinised now and making those timely personal and genuine messages will go a long way in establishing credibility. As the human and economic toll grows, it is the principles and ethos of an organisation that will lead them out of the trenches and help them plot a faster recovery curve.

The question on many minds, which industry will recover, after the outbreak, and how quickly? The quick transformation and automation of an organisation will minimise disruption. The answer lies in their ability to blend pre-COVID-19, during COVID-19 and post-COVID-19 business models seamlessly. Organisations that are operationally flexible will be able to limit the extent of disruptions caused by extraneous variables.

It is the people who makes the organisation come to life. Given disruption of workforce movements and physical presence in the workplace, there will be critical impact on all processes, upstream and downstream, that have a reliance on human capital. Organisations that have strong people practices and innovative staffing solutions will enable their workforce to deliver critical or essential services remotely. Employees will most definitely feel anxious about the permanency of their jobs, given the disruptions. Leaders must address these issues upfront candidly to enable employees safeguard their financial wellbeing. Some organisations such as Singapore Airlines have proactively taken measures e.g. the crew at Singapore airlines have been redeployed as ‘care ambassadors’ to serve at low-risk hospital wards. Organisations have also created several wellbeing programmes for employees to cope with the stress of social distancing and associated social disengagement.

Technology at the core
Technology is no longer the enabler but the life blood of organisations to cope with the current business disruption. Many organisations now rely heavily on technology to conduct their meetings via online platforms and video calls, in the comfort and safety of their homes. Times like this is when the Chief Information Officers (CIOs) put their teams and investment to the test. Never has the dependency on technology infrastructure been so critical to run seamlessly, with almost 90% concurrent remote logins, IT teams have to work overtime to ensure continuity of service. To replace face-to-face meetings, there is a need for collaboration and knowledge sharing platforms, easily accessible to all, across geographies. This makes it even easier if there is a single integrated enterprise platform, to ensure consolidation, access and accuracy of information.

With most of the work today being performed online and via multitude of third party tools, the risk associated with data breaches and leakages has become even more clear and present. Cyber protection has gone into hyper drive in the last couple of months to protect both company, employee and client information.

The optimistic view of this pandemic is the reduction in carbon footprint as most people stay at home. The lower emission of fuel as both land, air and sea vehicles are grounded has given us clearer skies and cleaner oceans as the planet resets. A real food for thought at this moment as humans is to really ask ourselves if half the activities we do which has been killing our planet is really essential.  In addition, as organisations re-organise for only essential staff to be in the office and for those who can work from home to give up their work desks, whilst real estate will see a sharp decrease in rental yield, companies can use this reduction to increase their profit margins. The COVID-19 pandemic is a first of its kind, and the only thing we can hope for is for mankind, economies and organisations to learn from the grave mistakes, habits, and oversights which took a pandemic of this magnitude to give it a wake-up call and remind us that we are global citizens, regardless of nationality, race, ethnicity or socio-economic status.

Angelyn Varkey is Marketing Director, Asia at AON (www.aon.com) and based in Singapore

Discovering New Ways of Working amidst the Pandemic

Technological advancements, disruptive innovations and the need for work-life-balance are changing the fundamental nature of work. This has naturally led to much speculation, excitement and fear about the future of work around the world. The COVID-19 pandemic has undoubtedly renewed the emphasis on the new ways of working. The big question is: Are organisations and employees prepared for the new  ways of working?

A global remote work, tools and software, business workflow and e-learning experiment has begun. Some are struggling to adapt to the new ways of working together; others envision it as an idealist scenario in achieving the ultimate work-life balance. Realistically, the new ways of working is a conversation that needs to be explored in-depth, practiced over time and embraced by each individual of an organisation. To succeed, we will need to discover new ways of organising, performing and leading; along with new approaches to attracting, developing and engaging employees.

These are trying times that have created a myriad of challenges for many at work. Work and life are being impacted in a variety of ways. During times like this, it is important that we develop and align around explicit expectations, get familiar with technology, individualise coaching of employees, get creative, rethink meetings, give and ask for some grace while adapting. Taking account of employee empowerment might allow each employee to see their work in a new light; in turn transforming into an innovative, collaborative, empathetic and inclusive organisation. The times are changing but the values remain the same. We can construct the future of work together; one which help achieve our collective and individual goals despite the dynamic environmental conditions that we find ourselves in.

Looking ahead, COVID-19 will not be an issue forever, the new ways of working will be. A wave of change is coming that will soon make the way we work almost unrecognisable to business leaders today. Do not be surprised if employees prefer the option of working remotely even after this pandemic. Many studies show remote employees are more productive and profitable than in-house employees. What we learn about leading a new workforce now will likely become best practice later on. Unfortunately, neither I nor anyone else can offer definitive solutions to this paradigm shift other than to remind everyone that the only constant in the universe is change. Take care of yourselves and each other and see this challenge as an opportunity to build new ways of working.

“Honsonn Wong is the Assistant Talent Development Manager at LVMH Perfumes & Cosmetics. The above-mentioned are his personal views and are not a representation of LVMH Perfumes & Cosmetics”.

Success sans compromises – Educating all the way

Teaching was the last job she ever wanted when she was young, but life had different plans. Today Anne Tham has been a teacher for the past 34 years. When she first startedEducation  teaching in KDU College, Malaysia, she loved it so much that there was no looking back.

After about 10 years in tertiary education, it was horrifying for her to realise that 80% of students do not have the English proficiency level of native speakers. How can Malaysian students learn a language for 11 years and be bad at it? It didn’t make any sense as she spent those 10 years sorting out what wasn’t working and creating solutions for them. Six months wasn’t enough to undo an 11-year problem.

Anne felt that it was easier to fix it from young rather to have to undo what is already engrained. So, she started teaching from her dining table at her house in Subang Jaya 25 years ago. And has never looked back since. Today, she runs eight language centres, one private tutoring centre, two international schools (Dwi Emas International School is the first entrepreneur school in Malaysia), two kindergartens, an EdTech game creation studio, a Co-Creative Entrepreneur Hub, and an online market store.

Anne Tham believes that she is an accidental entrepreneur, education reformist, big believer of lifelong learning. A big fan of Lord of the Rings and a collector of their merchandising, she loves visiting the countryside / seaside of different countries.

Here she shares some of her thoughts with AsiaBizToday.

What are the activities that you undertake?
What drives me is that education should not be exclusive and elitist. Top schools and best schools select these students. The focus has been on students who are academically strong which accounts for about 20% of students.

As a teacher, our job is to ensure that all students are successful in whatever career they choose to undertake. E.g. If they choose to be in the automotive industry, then be the best that they can be.  Most Asian parents would be horrified if their son or daughter chooses to be a mechanic, not on the list of choice professions. But they should be given the skills and tools to succeed in any industry they want. We have students who chose this industry – one is doing very well in BMW and the other sold 500 cars while he was still in college and now runs his own company, fixing up old cars and sells them to collectors. Another is now a pro racer.

The largest group of students at 75% to 80% should have equal focus as to how they want to learn. Just imagine what this majority can do if we can move these students to being extraordinary by equipping them with the 21st century skills from young. These human skills were completely systemised out of the education system in many countries.

Humanising Education is what we have been doing for the past 25 years with the track record to show for it.

What was your trigger and motivation to get into this?
My children and my college students. I wanted to make sure my daughters had the skills that were missing in so many college students. They are my business partners in owning and setting up the first school and all of the businesses now.

The lack of skills in my college students besides language skills like ability to think critically and have an opinion, the ability to write both creatively and academically, the ability and confidence to present, to handle content for their course with any depth, the ease of having a lively, engaged discussion in class with any teacher etc. put me on this path. And the feedback from my students that they loved what they learnt and how much their perspectives changed drove it home.

That was then. Today, what gets me going is that we have created a system that transforms students for a world of uncertainty and constant change. Most education systems are getting students ready for certainty.

What have been your experiences in this leadership position?
I have led based on what I felt was right, which was by serving my team. Encouraging and providing them the skills and tools for them to be great at what they do. So, we are big on training. We created a lot of our own in-house training that is very practical unlike a lot of teacher training that tends to focus on theory.

Many years later, I realised that the leadership style I have evolved into and trained our leaders is very much in line with leadership the way John C Maxwell leads and talks about in his books and training. It was from him that I learnt about servant leadership.

Which are the important factors that keep you going?

  • The horror of how far behind education is in the fast-changing world we are in now. Yet most educators and policy makers are doing so little to move it forward. What they are doing is taking baby steps when the world is on a rocket ship.
  • Keeping abreast of where the world is heading by attending international business and tech conferences, not in education conferences.
  • The fact that I work with my family and friends. We share so much together and we got to where we are today, together.

Have you faced any obstacles in your initiatives? Do you think you have faced specific challenges because of being a woman?

  • Working on changing an education system that is resistant to change on so many fronts – policy makers, teachers training policies and systems, the university systems, traditional mindsets of parents and teachers.
  • Requirements at governmental level to set up an international school was prohibitive until 2019 when the Ministry of Education finally relaxed the requirements.
  • The CAPEX to set up a school was prohibitive. Had to figure a way to do it that was manageable for a bunch of teachers.
  • A father predicted that we would close within six months of setting up our school in 2012. Two years later he sent his two children to our school system.
  • Mindset of the Ministry and many parents that the education from the West is better.

Where do you usually find inspiration from?

I was inspired by my girls when I started, created the businesses with my girls and moving forward for my girls. They’re 33 and 31 now.

What’s your proudest moment so far? 

They are too many on the ground level.

  • Set up the school business and the rest of the businesses together with my daughters, my family members, a friend and teacher, and my two ex-students. I guess the best would be the validation on a global and business level that we are on the right track. We came together because of a shared vision – to change education.
  • Featured in Cambridge University Union Yearbook six years in a row. In 2018, we were one of eight schools featured under Chapter 1 World Class. Only two schools were from Asia, one from China, the other us.
  • Selected by Endeavor Global New York as one of three school groups selected out of 32 countries over 22 years after screening 50,000+ companies.
  • My daughters, my niece and an ex-student are the game designers for ChemCaper, the first Chemistry Role Playing Game in the world which won the APICTA awards in Taiwan beating 17 countries and IMGA awards for South East Asia.
  • SOBA 2017 (Star Outstanding Business Award) for Female Entrepreneur of the Year and Best Employer.

How would you define success ?

  • Solving problems for many people at the same time and creating value for making that happen. Working and growing with my family.
  • Having great friendships along the way.
  • Making an impact on so many people’s lives.
  • Creating business partnerships with my teachers and staff. Co-investing together

What Advice do you have for other aspiring Entrepreneurs, especially women?
We can have it all. Success and family, good friends, a supportive ecosystem, a great network of likeminded people to create change for a better world. Many women think they have to choose one or the other. I decided that I wanted a business where I can have all that. So, I set about making it happen. So, Ladies, don’t wait for someone to hand this to us. A lot of people’s success comes at a price but it can be done without compromising what is important in our lives.

Enabling a final journey of immortal legacy

She has tread on a path that few dare to even imagine. Being thrust into the thick of things at a young age, she found herself in an outrightly male-dominated industry and one that called for tremendous empathy and fortitude.

Helping bereaved families, arranging for funeral set up and also providing holistic CARE planning under the CARE Planner Program, she is one of Singapore’s locally certified Will Writer and Grief Counsellor. Recognised with awards for her contribution she has been sharing her experiences with families as well.

Alverna Cher is the founder of City Funeral Singapore Pte Ltd, a modern age Funeral Service Provider founded in 2015. She is also the first Funeral Director in Singapore to provide holistic CARE planning under the CARE Planner Program launched in 2016, that write Will, LPA, and also engage in pre-planning funeral. She believes that it is about Leaving a legacy and not a burden.

Alverna was kind to share her journey in this exclusive interview with AsiaBizToday.

Activities that you undertake
My day-to-day activities include answering to bereavement families’ enquiries, arranging funeral set up, oversee the operation of the business, give training to the associate CARE planners and even spend my Sunday morning doing volunteering work with my daughters at Keeping Hope Alive.

I failed in two businesses since I started my entrepreneur journey in 2007, at the age of 25. With a motto of ‘Never Stop Learning,’ I joined the education industry, as a part-time consultant and a full-time mum. I increased my knowledge in MOE education and parenting skills, both helps me to be a better mother. I also honed my knowledge, skills and was accredited with the ‘Focus on Family’ as a facilitator in 2012.

In year 2015, City Funeral Singapore Pte Ltd was founded, however my ex-partner left over night, leaving behind a barely one-month old, indebted company. That time I was left with $400 in my bank account and five figure debts to repay. In order to not exchange time for money, I took up the challenge to embark into an unfamiliar, male dominated industry so that I can have the flexibility to spend time with my daughters, who were 8 and and 5 months old respectively at that time.

Trigger and motivation to get into this profession
My greatest motivation is MOTHER. A mother to my two daughters and a daughter to my Mother.

My motto, Turning Failure Into Fuel That Keep Dreams Burning, had inspired my surrounding mothers to stay strong and ride through hardship to see the rainbow at the end.

My parenting teaching motto to my two daughters age 13 and 6 is to live life-like a mirror, treating our family and friends how we wanted to be treated. This motto helped Vanessa, my elder daughter, to gain true friendship in school and learn to be satisfied with what she has. Vanessa is currently a passionate AVA leader in her school and a monitress in her class. At the end of Vanessa’s PSLE year, 2019, I was nominated to give a speech on stage representing the parent support group. The most memorable of the speech is to gather all P6 students, about 240 students to shoutout and remember encouraging tips to bring into secondary school life, which is: What You Think is What You Get, How You Speak is Who You Are.

Your experiences in this leadership position
The most satisfying moment in a leadership position is to empower and inspire. Firstly, being able to educate them at a young age to understand the importance of legacy planning and instilling the ‘Turning Failure Into Fuel That Keep Dreams Burning’s spirit’. Especially sharing that being in a single-parent environment does not give us an excuse to lay back.

Secondly, women around me are highly driven, inspire to do more than they can think of. Breaking the fear barrier that women can only stay at home, empowering them to step out of their comfort zone and start earning an income with CARE planner, and still able to fulfill their daily roles as mother, daughter, wife.

Important factors that keep you going
I strongly believe in leaving a legacy and not a burden for our next of kin. Leaving behind holistic last journey planning for my daughter is my mission and I want to inspire all parents to do the same.

Fulfill both my duty as a mother and duty as a daughter to my old age parents, I need not exchange time for money, hence the creation of CARE planner associate system, that runs on its own and becoming a pass-down business for my daughters. Spending quality time with my daughters and parents are my priority.

Any obstacles or challenges because of being a woman
In a male-dominated industry, I had a hard time to make a stand. I have been discriminated as a young, petite, know nothing woman, during the first six months in the business. Most of my staff left me at that time. However, I chose to prove them wrong. I did all the work that a man can do, passed my driving license in two months, drove a big van, transported deceased body and even created CARE planner associate system for the first time in Singapore. This empowers a woman to step out of their comfort zone, to earn a second income, based on my proven and supportive method in the area of Will Planning, LPA, Funeral As need planning and Funeral preplanning.

I gained respect through all these years of hard work, non-gossip policy and a never say die spirit. Now, we work together as a team and I treat my staff as family members.

I’m now seen as a funeral influence in the trade, my products, ideals, setup are trending and at the same time preserve tradition. Not forgetting my social media encouragement for the sole breadwinner in FaceBook and helping out single parents to find jobs.

Source of inspiration
I get inspiration from reading books, one of the highly recommended books will be ‘The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People’. I often do self-reflection on how to improve further in the different roles I took on. Motivation Is What Gets You Started, Habit Is What Keeps You Going.

Your proudest moment
I’m really proud to be the first funeral director in Singapore to provide a CARE planner associate certification program. We also expanded to Malaysia in January 2020.

More good news coming our way this 2020, a locally big media company is collaborating with us. Sharing the same mission to leave a legacy and not a burden.

Definition of success
Success is not defined by wealth, nor defined by the number of houses. Personally, I feel that success is being able to lift up the people around us, to empower them to see their purpose in life, empowering, inspiring, teaching them to make a passive income that does not exchange time for money. Bringing out the compassionate heart of one person to make the world a better place. City Funeral Singapore Pte Ltd gives back providing pro bono funeral assistance to needy with no next of kin and baby funeral. At a personal level, I joined Keeping Hope Alive on Sunday morning to knock on rental flats, provide them breakfast, cleaning of the house infested with bed bugs and giving new furniture.

Advice for other aspiring Entrepreneurs, especially women
Do not belittle yourself, believe in your dream. No dream is too small, it’s how you want to achieve it. Woman you are stronger than what you think.

When I started CARE planner affiliate program, no one trusted me. They doubted me, telling me, I’m wasting time out of the norm. But I believed and pressed on, I was doing it for my legacy to leave behind for my daughters. Many sleepless nights, worrisome, self-doubt nights, however I kept telling myself that I can do it. Kept telling myself to be positive and using the law of attraction to picture my achievements. Today, I’m a happy woman with a business system that allows me to have time with my family, a business system that allows me to have passive income and achieve my legacy. Empowering the women around me to leave a life of financial freedom, freedom of time and legacy planning.