Sunday
Apr162017

Intrapreneurship retains talent

TWO of the biggest challenges companies face in these turbulent and competitive economic times are staying innovative and retaining top talent. Rapid advances in technology allow start-ups to regularly disrupt existing business models and the lure of entrepreneurship leads to an exodus of dynamic employees who want to carve out a business of their own.

Both these issues can be tackled effectively with intrapreneurship.

Coined in 1978 by businessman and inventor Gifford Pinchot III, the term gained widespread exposure in 1985 when Pinchot published his book, Intrapreneuring: Why You Don’t Have To Leave The Corporation To Become An Entrepreneur.

Intrapreneurship can mean two things. One refers to the concept of encouraging employees to start up new companies under the umbrella of the parent company. Another refers to giving employees the autonomy to tackle problems in their own way.

Let’s look at the first interpretation which is about fostering entrepreneurship within a company. The term “intra” means starting up a new venture within an existing company.

I first came across this concept many years ago when I met up with an old schoolmate who had successfully climbed up the corporate ladder. He was a senior manager at a big company in Singapore. When I met him, he’d just started working on a new venture which was fully funded by his employer.

The company had given him an offer he couldn’t refuse. If the new start-up was successful, he would get a small stake in the business. And if it failed, he could go back to his old job in the parent company.

“I get to try to build something new and potentially reap the rewards of that but without having to take a big risk,” he said.

By offering top employees the opportunity to build new subsidiaries, companies which practise intrapreneurship can stem the outflow of talented workers who might otherwise pursue entrepreneurship.

While it’s true that workers who take up intrapreneurship opportunities still remain employees of the company, that’s not necessarily a bad thing, especially if they’re given autonomy in how they run their start-ups. And it comes with the benefit of adequate funding, a regular salary and — crucially — a potential stake in the business. If you consider the high failure rate of start-ups, this option doesn’t sound too bad.

Intrapreneurship doesn’t have to be just about starting new businesses for the parent company. It can also be about sparking innovation and creatively resolving problems that impede productivity.

FREEDOM TO EXPERIMENT

Big corporations tend to be lumbering giants. Usually the bigger the company, the less nimble and agile it is. This is a problem if disruptive forces are creating havoc with the existing business model.

Such companies need a unit or units to come up with bold, creative and unconventional solutions. It must identify the most entrepreneurially-minded employees and give them the freedom to do this for the company. These employees must be allowed to experiment — to grow and to fail like entrepreneurs — with minimal intervention from the parent company. Unless these intrapreneurs are given sufficient autonomy and independence to try new things that the parent company would never do, the endeavour will fail.

Intrapreneurs in this context are similar to entrepreneurs except that instead of being given the opportunity to build new businesses or subsidiaries, they’re expected to find new ways of doing things so that the company can be more innovative, productive and efficient. They are problem solvers who have to come up with solutions for market-driven challenges.

While a start-up-oriented intrapreneur is expected to oversee the creation of a completely new business, as entrepreneurs are expected to do, the problem-solving intrapreneur focuses on improving and enhancing existing processes within the company. The former creates new products and services the company can sell while the latter increases the productivity and capacity of the company’s existing business.

This doesn’t have to be an either/or situation. A company can have both types of intrapreneurship. Employees who yearn to build something new can be given start-up intrapreneurship opportunities while those who like to think out of the box and try new ways of doing things can be given problem-solving intrapreneurship duties.

WIN-WIN FOR ALL

The benefit for companies is obvious — they can remain innovative and retain talented staff. But an intrapreneurship programme also benefits employees.

Even the most entrepreneurially-minded individual must be aware of the risks of leaving a job with a steady income. As for employees who like to think out of the box, being given a chance to experiment with existing work processes will prevent them from getting bored. More fulfilment and satisfaction means a higher retention rate of quality employees.

The big question for companies is how to foster a culture of intrapreneurship among employees. If the company is teeming with employees who can’t wait to try new things, getting intrapreneurship going is not a problem. But we all know of companies where the employees are content with a 9-to-5 routine and don’t necessarily want to do something new. They’re happy to stay within their comfort zone.

Fostering an entrepreneurial culture has to start from the top. A company where the top management has a reputation for being progressive and open-minded will attract employees who are similarly inclined. And they in turn, will recommend the company to friends who’ll appreciate working in such an environment.

It also helps if the company has training programmes for employees to upgrade their skill sets to prepare them for intrapreneurship opportunities. It sends a strong signal that this is a company you can grow with. There should also be a formal process for employees to apply for intrapreneurship opportunities — whether it’s for starting something new or tackling an existing problem. They need to know there’s a mechanism where their ideas can be seriously considered by their bosses.

Lastly, there must be a proper reward system in place. Intrapreneurs who successfully build new subsidiaries must be given stock options or a revenue-share deal. As for those who help solve problems and improve productivity, there must be a bonus and/or promotion programme in place.

Intrapreneurship isn’t a common practice in Malaysia but local business owners should seriously consider it. We all know of good people who’ve left their companies because they wanted to start something new or because they were frustrated with the old ways of doing things. Such proactive, dynamic and talented individuals might have stayed on if an intrapreneurship programme had been put in place.

Oon Yeoh is a consultant with experiences in print, online and mobile media.

Sunday
Apr092017

Lessons from the “Gig Economy”mindset

The “Gig Economy” is a catchphrase that refers to a market situation whereby the workforce largely consists of people who work on a project basis. These people are usually contract workers or freelancers as opposed to full-time employees.

For sure many parts of our economy are still dominated by a 9-to-5 office work environment but increasingly, as we evolve into a knowledge economy, more and more work can be done offsite by workers who are not necessarily employees of the company.

In a “Gig Economy” workers (freelancers) don’t get a fixed income and don’t enjoy many of the fringe benefits of a full-time employee such as EPF, medical insurance, annual leave and year-end bonuses.

So, why would any worker prefer to be a freelancer? The answer is multi-fold actually. Flexibility in scheduling their own working hours is a very common reason cited but it’s by far not the only reason. Freelancers get to work on a broader range of projects as they can work for multiple clients. And because they have the freedom to choose the kind of projects they want to take up, the work they do is usually more interesting and fulfilling to them.

There are also many reasons for employers to like hiring freelancers or contract workers beyond the simple fact that they don’t have to provide fringe benefits to them. Freelancers can be hired as and when they are needed and thus do not constitute overheads to the company. There is also no need to train them – they have to already be pretty established if they are successful freelancers. And there is also no need to provide office space or equipment to them – they have their own infrastructure.

All this is good and well for freelancers and companies that engage freelancers. But what about employees and employers in a more traditional set up? They can benefit from the “Gig Economy” mindset too. There are advantages to viewing work as a “gig” or project as opposed to an occupation for life.

Let’s look at it from the point of view of an employee first. When an employee views his job as one for life, there will naturally be a tendency to become complacent and coast. When an employee thinks his or her job is secure, there is little motivation to be productive and efficient. The job is there no matter what.

But in this day and age, we know that job security is a myth. Even if someone is a full-time employee, there is no guarantee they won’t be retrenched, especially when there’s an economic downturn. When times are tough, companies will do what they have to, to stay afloat.

An employee who is used to the idea of getting a steady pay cheque every month will not be ready to deal with suddenly being laid off and no longer receiving a salary. And if that employee has been coasting for the past few years, they would not be the most up-to-date or marketable person around.

In contrast, an employee who adopts a gig mindset, who treats their work tasks as “projects” will always be on their toes the way freelancers are.

The late Andy Grove famously said only the paranoid survive. Freelancers are paranoid that work might dry up. So they always have to do their best. They don’t assume that work will always be forthcoming. They know they have to do a good job in order to get more work and referrals to other companies. So there is incentive to be creative and innovative to produce the best results.

Imagine if an employee of a company had such a mindset. They would definitely produce better work than one who assumes that a pay cheque would be there every month whether they perform well or not.

Employers would do well to also adopt the “Gig Economy” mindset with regard to their full-time workers. We all know how it’s like in many Malaysian companies. The bosses and managers tend to enforce a strict 9-to-5 office hour rule. There are not many companies that allow flexi-hours or telecommuting for their full-time employees.

The reason is that they fear people would goof off if they are not at their seats in their cubicles or work desk. But this is an outdated and flawed way of thinking. If your employees are the kind that would goof off when you are not looking, the will find ways to goof off when you are looking.

For example, if a worker wants to while their time away browsing social media instead of doing actual work, they don’t have to do it on their computer screen which is easy to monitor. They can do it on their phone.

One thing old fashioned managers need to realize is that just because someone is sitting in front a computer doesn’t mean they are actually doing productive work. Measuring productivity by the amount of time someone sits at their desk is definitely the wrong metric in this day and age.

An employer who adopts a “Gig Economy” mindset should care less about how their employees do their work and focus instead of the results they produce. It doesn’t matter so much how they do it or where they do it or when they do it. What’s important is that they do it right and do it well.

Companies that adopt a more progressive approach to work are likely to be rewarded with higher productivity and efficiency from a workforce that’s happier because they have more flexibility in how they do their work despite being full-time employees and not freelancers.

Results must matter more than process but judging from the attitude of many office managers, that doesn’t seem to be the case. They want their workers at their desk during office hours. This attitude really has to change if they want to attract and retain the best workers. Adopting the “Gig Economy” mindset is a good way to achieve that.

Sunday
Apr022017

On Mentorship

By Oon Yeoh

If you’re someone who is already accomplished in what you do, you could be a good candidate to be a mentor. And if you are someone who is just starting out and seeking to improve yourself, you could be someone searching for a mentor.

I’ve experienced both sides of mentorship. When I was starting out in my career, I’ve had some mentors who helped me out a lot and later when I became more experienced, I myself did some mentoring.

It’s a topic that I’m quite passionate about because I believe this tradition of mentorship is absolutely vital for promoting excellence in the workforce. In this article I’ll discuss mentorship from three perspectives: What mentorship is, the motivation for it and the concept of self-mentorship.

Consultant Caela Farren, President of MasteryWorks, describes mentors as people who know more about a certain area of expertise than you do. She further describes mentoring as a learning and development partnership between a professional with in-depth experience and knowledge in a specific area and a protégé seeking learning and coaching in the same area.

It’s worth noting that she describes the relationship as a “partnership” and it really is because there needs to be an understanding between the mentor and the mentee on the parameters of the mentorship.

A teacher-student relationship is a lot more basic. The teacher offers instruction and the student receives the instruction. Of course there can be some guidance and support but often, it’s little more than instruction giving and taking.

In a mentorship situation, the mentor is taking the mentee under his or her wing and personally grooming them to become successful in the particular field they are in. The commitment level involved is a lot higher when it comes to mentorship. And that works both ways.

The mentor has to commit a certain amount of resources and energy towards the personal training. Usually there is no monetary transaction involved. I’ll talk more about this later in the article but it’s clear the motivation is not financial compensation but a strong desire to see someone else succeed.
The mentee also has to commit to take the training seriously. If the mentor is spending so much energy in this endeavour but the mentee has a lackadaisical attitude about it, this “partnership” will soon break down.
The mentee has to show at least as much commitment and dedication to perfecting his or her craft as the mentor (if not more) otherwise the latter will feel it’s not worth it. Why should the mentor sacrifice time and effort to train someone who is not that committed?
As in all partnerships there needs to be a win-win situation where both parties get something out of it. For the mentee, the value proposition is obvious: to learn from someone with experience and expertise. For the mentor, the motivation is usually to prolong their legacy and to pass on the knowledge and skillsets acquired over a lifetime.
“When I give the best of me, that becomes my legacy,” says author Karen Lopez McWilliams.

Her comments sum it up nicely. When you train a protégé and that person is able to achieve excellence, your legacy lives on through them. And of course there is the glorious sense of duty or even obligation to pass it on. All mentors were once mentored by others who helped them acquire expertise. So, it’s only right that they do the same when they are in a position to do so.
For any partnership to thrive there also needs to be some synchronicity in terms of ethos. If there is no chemistry or worse still, if there is a clash of personality types, the mentorship just won’t work. The mentee has to feel that the mentor is someone worth emulating not just for their capabilities but also because of their values. Similarly, the mentor has to feel that the mentee is someone not only with potential to excel but is someone worth training.

Good mentorship situations are rare. A mentee might desperately want to find a good mentor but finding the right one who is willing wing is not easy. What can a young person do if they can’t find a specific mentor to guide them? One solution is self-mentorship.

Self-mentorship doesn’t mean you don’t look up to anyone for advice and rely only on yourself. Yes, it’s good to be an autodidact who can teach himself but everyone still needs to learn from others. My understanding of self-mentorship is that rather than rely on one person to take you under their wing, you make it a point to learn from various people.

“It’s not a mentor’s responsibility to mentor, it’s the responsibility of the mentee to seek mentorship and appropriate it,” says author Josh Hatcher.
This is sound advice. With the right mind set, everyone can be your mentor whether they realize it or not because you are constantly learning through observation and osmosis. You act like a sponge, absorbing knowledge from all around.

This approach might actually be the best because in this day and age, it might not be enough just having one mentor. Or as author Caela Farren puts it: “Today having multiple mentors is a necessity because so much is changing around us. No one person can coach others in all the domains of a complex workplace.”

By adopting the attitude of learning from everyone, the issue of having to find a suitable mentor to take you on as their protégé is resolved. You don’t need a specific mentor. You self-mentor by learning from everyone around you.

Sunday
Mar262017

Virtual shopping

MALAYSIANS love shopping. A visit to some of the popular shopping malls, even on a weekday, will confirm that shopping is a popular leisure activity. But its very popularity means that these malls are packed with people and finding a parking space will be a logistical nightmare.

The good news for those who don’t want to deal with the hassle of driving to a mall and spending a lot of time looking for an empty space to park is the emergence of local online shopping malls.

When e-commerce was still at a nascent stage, many Malaysians experienced buying online through blogshops, which are essentially blogs with postings of things for sale.

Purchase was done through depositing money into bank accounts rather than paying through online shopping carts, etc. It was all very primitive but it served its purpose.

Later on, individual online shops emerged but for a long time we didn’t have a Malaysian answer to Amazon.com ­— that is, an online shopping mall which sold all kinds of products.

Of course it’s possible for Malaysians to order some things through Amazon.com but the range of products that could be shipped to Malaysia was limited. The shipping options were also very expensive.

Today, the online scene is very different. There are now many virtual shopping malls.

In some ways, these online malls are more comprehensive than their physical counterparts because they carry a much wider range of items.

Other than not having to search for parking, the other advantage is the potential cost savings. Online prices are almost always cheaper. The return policies are also typically much more generous than those of real life stores (which often have a no-return policy).

I’m going to highlight a few notable home-grown online shopping malls. Because they’re local, the shipping costs will be affordable or sometimes even free. Delivery time is also much shorter than if you were to order from overseas online stores or malls.

Lazada

This is the granddaddy of online shopping malls in Malaysia. It’s the most well-known e-commerce site for a reason. Like Amazon, it sells seemingly everything under the sun. There are electronics, home appliances, travel products, clothing, beauty products — you name it, it has it.

Its strongest categories are in consumer electronics and electrical goods. You can practically get any gadget you want there. All the brands, big and small, are represented. If you have read about a device online and can’t find it in any physical store, try Lazada. It’s probably there.

Its strength in consumer electronics have some people referring to it as an online “digital mall”, but that doesn’t do the site justice.

Its other departments are by no means weak. There’s really a lot of stuff you can find on Lazada in almost any category.

Like Amazon, almost everything on sale in Lazada is priced at a discount to the suggested retail price. Sometimes, they even offer special discounts for customers with specific brands of credit card.

One feature that I really like is its delivery time estimator which tells you how long each product will take to arrive.

Sometimes, certain products are sourced from overseas so they would take a longer time to arrive. I have found this to be useful for times when I wanted to order something as a gift for someone’s birthday. This allows me to know whether I can get it on time.

A site that’s as comprehensive as Lazada is best viewed on a computer laptop. But if you prefer to do your online shopping through a mobile phone, Lazada does have an app version for both Android and iOS. Download those for a better experience when viewing the site on a mobile device.

11street

11street is an online shopping mall operated by Celcom and is a collaboration with SK Planet, a well-known South Korean e-commerce site.

Like the other online malls, it has a wide range of product categories. One differentiating factor is its Korean Street, which it is eminently qualified to offer since its collaborator is Korean. The stuff that can be found there are obviously all from Korea so that should be interesting to fans of K-pop and Korean dramas.

It’s also interesting to note that 11street has a groceries department which is not a common offering among online malls.

There are many specialist grocery sites in Malaysia but grocery items are seldom sold via online malls. Alas, 11street’s grocery section comprises just dry goods. You won’t be able to find any fresh produce or meat there, so it’s not really what you’d expect when you click on the “Groceries” button.

If you want fresh groceries, go to Tesco online or some of the other specialist grocery sites.

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11street has a groceries department.

Superbuy.my

Like Lazada, Superbuy.my aims to offer a wide range of products but seems to be strongest in the area of consumer electronics and electricals. Visit the main page and you’ll see lot of gadgets and devices.

The site fosters a culture of reviews and there are many reviews available on a whole slew of products. In fact, it has a button called “Review” that lists every product that has a review or reviews attached to it.

It can actually make for interesting reading and fittingly, the reviews are presented blog-style with the latest review appearing at the top.The reviews are up-to-date which tells you the site has a legion of fans.

Superbuy offers corporate purchase services such as bulk orders, corporate gifts and employee incentives programmes for corporate clients (who are encouraged to write in and inquire about corporate discounts).

Nile.com.my

This Egyptian river-inspired store name is obviously a play on Amazon, which was named after the mighty Brazilian river.

The site offers many of the categories similar to its rivals Lazada, 11street and Superbuy. The range of products however doesn’t seem to be as wide as some of its competitors.

What differentiates it from the other online shopping malls is its lowest price guarantee which means if an item bought on Nile can be found elsewhere at a lower price, the company will either match that price or beat it — and it will refund the price difference. Now, that’s a pretty good deal!

The site says it is able to offer the lowest price possible because its purchasing team buys or imports items directly from manufacturers and passes on the savings to customers.

This is a strong selling point for Malaysian shoppers. We Malaysians love to bargain but if haggling is not possible, a lowest price guarantee is just as good.

Give online shopping a try

If you have not yet tried online shopping, now is a really good time to try it. The e-commerce eco system in Malaysia is now sufficiently mature that credit card payments are secure and delivery options are both affordable and fast. So, give yourself more choices and save some time and money while you are at it by shopping online.

Oon Yeoh is a consultant with experiences in print, online and mobile media. reach him at oonyeoh@gmail.com

Sunday
Mar192017

Taking the leap to freelancing

MANY Malaysians relish the notion of starting their own businesses. We’re a very entrepreneurial society. But starting a business with employees to take care of is very challenging. Perhaps aiming to be self-employed can be the first step towards starting a business.

Being self-employed is fundamentally the same as being a freelancer, basically someone who performs a service for pay. The difference between an employee and a freelancer is that the latter’s obligation is to produce a desired outcome or result, with the client not being in the position to control how the freelancer achieves this. In contrast an employer has the right to control how an employee does his or her job.

The appeal of being a freelancer is the sense of freedom or autonomy that one gets. There’s also the prospect of making more money when you take on multiple clients as opposed to drawing a pay cheque from just one employee.

However, as with all things, there are drawbacks to striking it out on your own, namely the amount of self-discipline that’s needed and the fact that there’ll be dry periods when there’s very little work flowing in.

All in though, successful freelancers will generally tell you they have no regrets leaving full-time employment and would not consider going back to a conventional 9-to-5 working style.

So if you want to try your hand at freelancing either as an end-goal or as a stepping stone towards building a business with employees, here are some things to consider.

STICK TO YOUR STRENGTHS

The first thing to decide upon if you want to become a freelancer is what service(s) you are offering. Do you go into the same line or do you do something different? The temptation to offer something different will be there. But it makes sense to stick to what you’re good at.

Jenny Blake, a former career development programme manager at Google and author of Pivot: The Only Move That Matters Is Your Next One, advises people to “double-down on existing strengths, interests and experience”.

If something is outside of your core expertise, it could be quite a struggle to make a living out of it. In contrast, if it’s something you knew very well, not only do you have the skill sets and the experience to do it well, you’ll also have the reputation and industry contacts to make it work.

GET SOME FREELANCING EXPERIENCE

There is a right time for everything. So when is the right time to quit your job to start a new freelancing career? Unless you’re laid off, in which case the decision is not up to you, the right time to make the move is when you have acquired some experience freelancing.

If you don’t have freelancing experience, it is a good idea to try your hand at it while you’re still gainfully employed. But you should do so ethically. This means avoiding doing any freelance work during office hours and to avoid any conflict of interest situations.

As long as you do your freelance work at your own time (after office hours or during the weekends) and you are not doing work for a competitor, there is no ethical issue. Continue to put in an honest day’s work during office hours and outside those hours, you can do your own thing.

Some companies tolerate their employees doing freelance work on their own time. I know of at least one that actually encouraged it on the notion that doing freelance work (for a non-competitor) gives their employees a chance to gain more experience.

Of course some frown upon it and some explicitly ban it. So understand your company’s policies with regard to freelancing and don’t do anything that violates the rules.

If your company forbids employees from doing any kind of paid outside work, you can gain some freelancing experience doing pro-bono work for charities or work on personal projects for yourself. This is not exactly the same as doing freelancing work for pay but it will give you some useful experience doing work outside of a fixed office environment.

GET BUSY NETWORKING

You should also ratchet up your industry networking to increase your prospective client base. But remember that effective networking can’t be done overnight.

Make a point to attend industry events and mingle with other people in your industry. In this day and age, online networking sites is a resource you should tap on.

LinkedIn, in particular, is a very useful business networking tool to get to know other people in your industry or in similar industries.

If you’re hesitant to ask for a connection with someone whom you don’t know and have never met before, remember that if they are on LinkedIn, it means they want to network with others (otherwise they wouldn’t be on that network in the first place).

So don’t hesitate to reach out to those whom you’d like to network with. It only works to your advantage to know more people.

Once you’ve made up your mind to become a freelancer, start enquiring with existing freelance clients whether they would have additional work for you should you become a full-time freelancer. Many freelancers I’ve spoken to managed to line up many clients before they quit their jobs.

If you have a very good relationship with your existing employer, you could even be frank and upfront with your boss.

Inform him that you have plans to move on and ask whether they would be willing to outsource some of the work to you once you leave. Your current employer could be your first client, assuming the parting of ways is amicable.

BUILD UP YOUR PERSONAL BRAND

When you’re an employee, personal branding is nice to have but not crucial. When you’re a freelancer, it is absolutely necessary.

In the past, personal branding meant good word of mouth or having a solid reputation in the industry.

Today, it also involves what the Internet says about you. Like it or not, prospective clients will Google you if they’re not familiar with your work.

They’ll see your LinkedIn Page, Facebook profile and other things that you post online. And they’ll also get to know what others say about you. Most importantly, they’ll get a sense of past work or projects you’ve been involved in.

If you’ve been busy, samples of your work and comments about them as well as your abilities will inevitably appear in Google searches. If you do good work, you’ve got nothing to worry about. The only people who have to worry about what people may find online are those who have done bad work that others criticise or complain about.

An important thing you must do is to create an official homepage for yourself. In the age of social media, a website may seem like a throwback from the early days of the Internet. Some may even consider it passe but an official homepage still works well as a central hub where people can learn more about you and what you do.

People shouldn’t judge a book by its cover but they do. Similarly, people will form instant impressions based on your online presence and if your website looks shoddy, it will reflect poorly on your reputation.

These days, creating a professional-looking website is easy and affordable through the use of online services like Wix (www.wix.com) which are template-based and do not require any technical or programming capabilities.

If you do all these things, then you’ll be in a better position to build a successful freelancing career. It’s not easy being a freelancer as there’s no steady income to rely on every month. But it can be very fulfilling and potentially more financially rewarding too.

Oon Yeoh is a consultant with experiences in print, online and mobile media. reach him at oonyeoh@gmail.com