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Agile Leaders Conversations

Agile Leaders Conversations Ep 18 – Mr Earn Meng Chan, HR Leader

Leading a team through a time of crisis is never easy. It’s even more difficult when one has to deal with the emotional responses of those impacted by the event and in themselves. However, the right approach by a leader, with a touch of empathy, can ease teams through the darkest of days.

Listen to this episode of Agile Leaders Conversations where I speak with Mr Earn Meng Chan, a veteran HR leader with over 20 years of experience across industries. Hear his sharing on how an empathetic touch as reminded by the paradox Tasks vs People unite teams in times of crisis.

Connect with Earn Meng Chan at https://www.linkedin.com/in/earn-meng-chan-3465bb145/

YOUTUBE VIDEO

TRANSCRIPT 

Earn Meng Chan 

So as you stress my team a lot during this period of time, sometimes I will get angry, and I get them to, to work overtime. It’s only on hindsight that I come to realise that, at times it sometimes we forgot about the balance between tasks and people. Yeah. But I mean, for me, the lucky thing is that because I’ve been with the team for a while, so they can understand the need for this, they just accept it and just move on. But we will not be as lucky as this  all the time.

 

Chuen Chuen Yeo 

Welcome to agile leaders conversations where executives, business leaders and experts from all sectors come together and share leadership insights around meeting today’s workplaces. They will be sharing some tips on how they use the agile mindset to make sense of the complexity and authenticity. Hi everyone, my name is Chuen Chuen, and I’m an author, executive coach for the fortune 500, a speaker and facilitator. I specialise in Agile leadership, helping organisations and leaders achieve success by first growing the agile mindset so that they can be more responsive to consumer and employee needs. I’m so happy to have you listening in to this episode of Agile leaders conversations. And today, my guest is Mr. Chan Earn Meng, an HR veteran leader. Earn Meng has been in the HR scene for over 20 years and has a wide range of experience leading HR functions in the semiconductor industry, financial services and also construction. And prior to that, Earn Meng served in the Singapore Armed Forces for six years. I’ll invite Earn Meng to share a little about himself.

 

Earn Meng Chan 

So happy to be here. In fact, it is rest this rare opportunity that I got interviewed. I think what happened was I bought the book from Chuen Chuen and I read it. Yeah. And it was an amazing book. So I think today, we’re going to talk a little bit about my experience, about reading and using the book.

 

Chuen Chuen Yeo 

That’s great. So good to have you. I know it’s a busy day for you. And thanks so much for taking time, squueeze out a little bit of time to have this conversation.

 

Earn Meng Chan 

My pleasure. My pleasure.

 

Chuen Chuen Yeo 

So let’s jump right into it. So well. I mean, you have read my book, the eight paradoxes of leadership agility, could you share your general thoughts about it please.

 

Earn Meng Chan 

First, I think the look and feel of the book is fantastic. When I first got hold the book mean that the design is so clean, and the paper quality is just fantastic. So thick, that it was my very first impression. And this is also a question that I want to ask you. It is regarding the cover. On the cover, there is this little image about I think is a ladder, seems to me that a ladder there is walking up there it goes down again, and it’s going in a circle. So it’s something that I find very curious. Maybe later you want to share with me why you picked the image.

 

Chuen Chuen Yeo 

Yeah, I could share right now, you know, that is the Penrose step. So you know, I used to be a mathematics teacher. And sometimes we teach interesting things like optical illusion. So M. C. Escher is the creator of the Penrose steps, where people seem to be walking up the stairs, but actually they are going down. And I think in the real world, it is very relevant. A lot of leaders, I think all leaders have great intentions. Everybody wants to improve the situation. But the actions don’t necessarily bring them upwards or forward. So I think the gist of these eight paradoxes is to help them realise that some actions are no longer effective, and the sooner they can pull themselves out, realising that they are actually moving down the staircase and change a perspective take different direction, act differently than the faster they can get back on the horse and start moving up again.

 

Earn Meng Chan 

Okay, now I got a better perspective of the book. And indeed, I think the book just expressed this idea very well. We’re always moving up and down, by I think the concept and a framework in this book actually help us to, you know, to help us realise that we’re going down at certain times, and then how then we can move up again. So I think my general view about the book is, first is is very readable. It’s very structured, highly readable book. I think there are three parts. One is regarding the foundation of what is agility Then we go into the eight paradoxes. And I absolutely love the way that it’s been structured starting with stories, stories that we can really resonate. And then introduce, an  easy way of how we can use your Re4 coaching model. Right and off by that portion where there are templates for us to apply, and reflect. So I don’t know whether it’s because of your engineering background. That you know, it becomes so structured, but it is fun to read.

 

Chuen Chuen Yeo 

I’ve definitely met some partners along the way that gave feedback. So I think even in the designing of the boat is an agile process as well, you try something, I thought it’s a fabulous idea. I try it, I get some feedback. And people tell you Oh, actually, I don’t have such a pleasant experience, because it’s structured this way. Why don’t you try the other way? So I think being able to take in suggestions, ask the right questions. Also identifying the partners, key partners to make this happen. So hearing from you, I think, everything that you’ve described down from the cover page, the way the cover is so clean. And you know, to the point, I think the image is part of the whole branding process. So good to hear from somebody else and all that there’s this design intention that goes behind it, and that you, you as a reader can really see it. And you talked about paradoxes that you liked, right? So was there a particular one that resonated strongly with you?

 

Earn Meng Chan 

Oh, yes. There’s one, I think, which is, Tasks versus People. Yeah. So we’re all very task oriented. But we also got people that we need to take care of. So a lot of time I think we straddle always in between this. And sometimes we just, I mean, still scale ourselves towards one. It happens to me a lot of times, where we are very task focused, genuinely. So I mean, lately, there is this thing that really happened to me, where there is the pandemic, and in the construction industry, where I’m in now, it is a very tough time at this moment. So our workers, we have a lot of blue collar workers, and they are from India and Bangladesh. And they just wanted to go back, because life here is just living in the domintories, you can go anywhere, you just want to go back. So I’ve been trying to persuade them, they have to stay. So it’s actually a pretty, pretty stressful time. And then I also stressed my team, my HR team, we got to talk to them and got to make sure that they stay. Because we have to carry out our work. Especially now we cannot get foreign workers into Singapore in this period in this moment. So whoever stays it’s actually a very precious resource for us. So I actually stressed my team a lot during this period of time, sometimes we’ll get angry and get them to to work overtime. It’s only on high site that I come to realise that times it sometimes we forgot the balance between tasks and people. Yeah. But I mean, for me, the lucky thing is that because I’ve been with the team for a while. So they can understand the need and just accept it, and just move on. But we will not be as lucky as this all the time. So I thought this is something that really resonated with me.

 

Chuen Chuen Yeo 

So there were times where you realised that maybe I’m going over to the task side, because I’m so concerned that there’s all this work that has to go on. And then sometimes maybe in the interaction you push a little bit harder than you would like on hindsight

 

Earn Meng Chan 

That’s right. Yeah, in fact, all the eight paradoxes, they are also will another one that maybe I want to share and talk about which he also resonates with me very well. It is about executing and inspiring. Yeah, yeah. There’s a lot of time again, though, we all go into execution (implementation) mode. We will always talk about what to do, and how to do things. And we forget about the why. Why are we doing things? The meaning of what are we doing? So I thought, I thought this was also very apt. I just, I mean, it just resonated with me very well. Especially the character that you used in the story. soft spoken, Prakash. Yeah. I thought it was a very nice little story. Where this engineer, he just pushed and get his work done, and cannot understand why his people just couldn’t see what he saw. So he was getting frustrated. I mean, myself, sometimes fall into situations like this as well. When we tell people to do work, and I think a lot of time it happens like, it becomes a run of the mill kind of job, where people will just take a punch card, where they will not put their heart and soul into it. So whatever you get out of it, is probably a ordinary standard kind of job. But if we can let people know it tell people know, why are we doing this? What’s the meaning behind we’re doing it probably will be able to notch up the performance much better.

 

Chuen Chuen Yeo 

Yeah, I think all very good points. I want to highlight them for the listeners. I think the first issue that Earn Meng mentioned, that’s a very tough issue, because one has to go on and with the ongoing pandemic, there are certain job functions where resource is an issue. And there’s no perfect answer. There’s no quick solution to all that. And what you’re saying, when you talk about tasks versus people is really about the approach. How can you use your approach and influence such that it’s easier for people because these are really tough times? I think that’s the first learning I take away from from you. I mean, for me, it’s the first time up close and personal that I hear opinions from the ground. You know, I mean, whatever I know about this industry is more from the papers. So I really value your very authentic sharing. And the second one we are talking about executing versus inspiring – if leaders out there, I think one question is, if you feel that, how come I’m the only one who can see the future, the light at the end of the tunnel, how come, everybody’s not catching what I’m seeing, we’re seeing not seeing what I’m seeing, then I think it’s about bringing people on the same page. And if you want employees and teams to perform above average, then inspiring is probably the way to go. Because that’s the only time you get real good quality work and output from from people because they are inspired. So I want to ask you there’s this definition of leadership agility, you know, in the book, so from your lens. Now, what does leadership agility mean to you?

 

Earn Meng Chan 

leadership agility, it is about being fast. It’s about being adaptable. being responsive, and I believe that in this environment this is something that we really need. Everything is now in an instant, we can actually get information from just by pressing the phone, we always say that Google is now our best friend. Yeah. So information comes in an instant. And we have got Millennias that are coming into the workforce, and they are exposed, already you know, to fast response and engagement. So I believe this is something that all managers, I think we need to constantly be aware of, that we have to be agile. But I must say that this mindset will take time. And it’s not easy, in fact, to cultivate this mindset. Because I think a lot of us are still in a more bureaucratic world. Where policy rules the day. So if there’s anything that is against that, maybe what we do, what we don’t really want to do, we’re always say that policies say so. Because that’s a very safe way of approaching work. Ultimately if it’s not correct. It’s not me – It’s the policy. Yeah. So but I believe that things have to change. For us, you know, the environment is changing. The competitive competition landscape is changing the expectations of our employees and customers are also changing. So I believe that, we have to move away from this more fixed way of doing things, a traditional way of doing things to adapt to a newer way of approaching operations and business.

 

Chuen Chuen Yeo 

So it’s not only just being fast, I think fast and also being aware of evolving needs of consumers changing needs of employees. The point you mentioned about millennials is extremely true. I think. I think Gallup released the research statistics. In four years, 75% of the workforce will be millennials. In fact, some of my students, my first career was teaching, so my students already in the workforce, and some of them already taking up leadership positions. So I can really see them rising. So I think what you are saying, being fast, being adaptable, we are working with people who are used to getting information at our fingertips, anything just checking internet, right at the same time, I think policies, they still serve a good purpose. But how do we then get the balance between those two where things are well thought out, things are structured, there’s a process, there’s a way things are being done in organisations. At the same time, how do you remain relevant. Sometime back I used this metaphor of the dinosaur, don’t become extinct, because it will take too long to respond, you are not evolving according to the environments that you can become extinct. So I think something too, for all organisations to really self check and, you know, keep a vigilant eye on what is really happening. And the sooner they embrace what’s really happening. first page of the report, coaching model, reconstruct the map and see that your consumers are different, your employees are different, they want different things. Now you have to move in order to be relevant. I really like this. So what do you think then, you know, leaders should consider especially you say, the HR scene, Don’t know whether this phrase building back better, you know, way more equal, well, purposeful, meaningful work. You know, what, what should HR leaders consider as they build back a better HR while the pandemic is still going on?

 

Earn Meng Chan 

Yes, I think HR, at this moment got to play a very pivotal and critical role in engaging our workforce, and also getting our leaders to realise that I think, times are changing. I think one of the problems for leaders, including myself sometimes is, we are far away from the front and that is natural, because because of the hierarchy that’s going up. So when you’re far away from the front, I think the ability to feel what is really going on, on the ground and the reality, it is always a challenge. So I think for us as a leader, and also as HR, not only ourselves, personally, to encourage our people, our leaders to be able to go to the ground, to talk and to engage our people and also our customers. So I believe that this is something that we can do as a HR or as leader. And the other thing is, post pandemic wise, I think it helped us realise that that crisis can come at any time. So this is a very, very important and immediate takeaway for me. It just can come anytime, April last year, remember, suddenly, we got locked down? Yeah, we scrambled. And then it exposed a lot of our shortcomings. Yeah. We’re not ready for for them. So I believe that one takeaway for HR or for leaders is, we always got to be prepared, which call this business continuity plan. So previously, we always take it for granted. No, this is just a paper exercise but it’s getting real. Yeah, then succession is as well. Because I mean, the virus or some illness can just hit anyone, maybe our senior leaders, or our key position holders. So having a good succession in the pipeline, is also something that is critical.

 

Chuen Chuen Yeo 

We are recording in April 2021. So this is the time where, when I look at my Facebook feed in the morning, I can see what happened one year ago, and you’re absolutely right. I think the whole world scrambled, no one was ready. And I think this process, this experience also made me realise how resilient the human spirit is that we can all emerge from this crisis stronger and that as businesses learn as well, how do I ensure a healthy pipeline of leaders How do I make sure business can continue be in you know, face to face working hybrid working for some industries or even fully remote working for all? Yeah, good. Something that you said just now that reminded me of one of my interviews with one of my other guests, he said he used this term ‘watermelon’ reports, which I thought was quite apt. What a melon report means is green on the outside. But when you go and check inside is all red, meaning all the alarm bells. And he also urged don’t sit in the office to read reports – go down to the ground, talk to the customers, talk to the employees, talk to industry partners, because there is where you get a good sense of the reality. And I again, that’s the first step of Re4 coaching model, to reconstruct the map. It’s so, so important. Only when we know what reality is then we can respond accordingly. Yeah, that’s very good. Great. So I’m sure now listeners viewers right now you would be interested to learn more about Earn Meng. So I’ll include his social links in the show notes. Feel free to reach out to him. And I encourage all of you to grab a copy of eight paradoxes of leadership agility, or even the leadership agility blueprint from my website. So really a good conversation with you and I learned something today. So thank you Earn Meng, for being here today.

 

Earn Meng Chan 

My pleasure. I really love the book. And I am so thankful that you have written something like this, which is very helpful. And you actually made the concepts so easy to understand. So great. I hope that more people will read the book and be able to get value out of it.

 

Chuen Chuen Yeo 

Thank you so much.

 

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