Monthly Archives: January 2016

Pros of having a job description

Most companies beyond a certain size of 150 have job titles and job descriptions. For recruitment/ selection professionals, job description is essential, because it helps refine the thinking process of the type of attributes/skills and knowledge an organisation wants to bring in for the job.  It also helps in performance appraisal, as otherwise the individual may be unfairly appraised for doing a job s/he lacks the skill set. Not to mention extremely demotivating as well.

In a rigid structure, such as manufacturing with clear tasks and responsibilities and repetitive tasks, i.e. in finding replaceable clogs to make the assembly line efficient and breaking down tasks into simple functions, an organisation where everyone does only his or her job is necessary.

Tomorrow I’m conducting a workshop on cover letter and resume writing, and the first question every student ask, is what skills should I put in the resume. My first response is, have you read the job description/ advertisement for the position.

Once you enter an organisation though, the use of a job description is both necessary but limiting.

Even in traditional manufacturing jobs like the automotive, Chairman Bill Ford recognised that Ford had become a place where they wait for the leader to tell them what to do.
Limitations of job description

In a knowledge economy, where the environment is dynamic and unpredictable because a disrupting technology is just around the corner, using position descriptions to define jobs is limiting, and is as a disincentive for performance. Job roles should be more fluid.

While it is important to have clear job responsibilities, defined job responsibilities and tasks can have a negative effect on performance and flexibility.  With positions undertaken by highly skilled employees who have the ability to be flexible it can restrict performance and collaboration.    Add to that, power base, territory and turf defending and we are on to a calcified culture and fractious divisions. Overtime, it breeds a culture hostile to new ideas.
Today’s organisations need entrepreneurs like Marissa Mayer during her time at Google. (She’s currently CEO of Yahoo.) Marissa applies artistic judgment, making the interfaces work between the engineers and what the public wants. A story was told of how she would fight to keep the Google start page as spare as it is, to the extent that she counts the number of words on the page. She didn’t get assigned to that role, she just did that. Seth Godin described her as “solving problems that people haven’t predicted, see things people havent seen”.  Not in her job description, most probably because she didn’t have one. Not everyone enjoys working in an unstructured environment like Google either.
Peter Drucker instead adivised on Management by Objectives as a performance metric. That too, has its downside.  In the case of Ford, Alan Mulally, an ousider from the aerospace industry.  What he did to transform the culture at Ford is very interesting, what I would call a Hero’s adventure in the likes of Joseph Campbell. But that’s for another post. 
2. “Linchpin” by Seth Godin
Taking pride in excellence at Kannesaka, 2 star Michelin restaurant. Where the simple becomes divine.

Pride in excellence at Kanesaka, 2 star Michelin restaurant. Where the simple becomes divine.


I start my class on HR and OB asking my students what success looks like to them. Invariably many will say “happiness”. Now then, what makes you happy in your career.

Many of us think that happiness is when we get a good boss, nice colleagues and a good salary, and get to do what we like at work.

Since Vicktor Frankl’s epic book, “Man’s Search for Meaning”, we recognise that besides money, we all seek for something more.

I decided to turn to the literature on motivational theory to shed some light on this as well as  prepare for my class on designing strategic reward system. Favourite book is “Management and Organisational Behavior” by Laurie Mullins which I used for a course I teach at the University of London distance program. The 3 gurus: Herzberg’s two factor theory, Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and Job Characteristics Model:

Maslow's Hierarchy of needs

Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs

Source: Graphics produced on ppt. by Joanne Koo.

According to the framework by Maslow, we have a bucket of needs: (i) extrinsic needs such as food, water, shelter, security, safety. (ii) Need to belong to a social group: family or larger social identity. (iii) Need for self esteem and (iv) self actualisation.

Is our work in the office the only source to fulfill those needs?

Generally yes, but not necessarily so. 

Most of us draw a salary from a career in an organisation. Money helps us fulfill many of the extrinsic needs. Others have multiple streams of income from investments. How much is enough? Research shows that about $65-70,000 annual to provide our needs. Beyond that, more money doesn’t make you happier.

Today as most of our waking time is spent in the organisation, our workplace is also the place we find security and safety. A workplace fraught with politics and insecure future can leave one very dissatisfied. Everyone’s appetite for risk and safety is different. If you’re a risk averse person, don’t choose an organisation that’s known for high staff turnover.

Social needs
We are social creatures, we need to be in a tribe. No man is an island. Isolation leads to depression. Incidentally though some of us think that money can bring us friends. Gallup organisation has found through its research that the biggest determiner of whether a person will stay in an organisation is a close friend at work.

Some organisations such as Google provide a cafeteria with spread of food meeting physical needs as well as social needs, giving people the space and context to meet others in the organisation. [If synergies over work and silos can be broken across departments, all the more better.]  In my previous workplace, colleagues would bring a cake to share to build comaraderie. Food is the best team-bonding device. If you don’t have a friend in your immediate workgroup, look for one in other departments. The office pantry or gym is the best place to start. Some companies have recreational clubs to help you get started.

Not all of us love our boss. If your boss is your mentor, thats fantastic. Otherwise, its not something to sweat about. People leave lousy bosses. But lousy bosses are what Herzberg calls “hygiene factors”. They make you dissatisfied. Conversely, great boss and great colleagues will not motivate you at work. 

Job content
What motivates you is the actual work. Herzberg calls them “motivators” – work that gives task signifance, identity, meaning, learning and recognition.

Herzberg's Hygiene and Motivator Factors

Herzberg’s Hygiene and Motivator Factors

Herzberg 2

Many other factors affect the work you do, besides your interest and passion. Your skill level, availability of resources, timing, opportunity.

The literature is of little help. Because the only way to find work that you like, is to try it on first for size.

Self actualisation and esteem can be achieved through getting advancement at the workplace, having challenging work or being creative. Not all of us are so lucky.

Returning to Maslow’s hierarchy, if you don’t get recognition from work, it can come from social groups at work, or your social community or hobbyists club outside workplace. 

Today’s world of work, many of us realise that even our financial needs can come from our interests in the life/ leisure arena and not just the formal organisation. Technology has opened up the world so that entrepreneurs who recognise needs can tap into that to carve out some form of balance and finding meaningful lives.



Like most people, I struggle to wake up early.  Reading LifeHack about how CEOs wake up at 4.30am and hit the gym did nothing for me. With every article about successful larks, there’re also articles of more successful owls – Winston Churchill as pin-up poster boy. He led Britain to victory in two world wars, and was an accomplished writer and painter.

This year while teaching a class on Motivation theories, I am reminded of my Malaysian students who turn up for my 0830am class – on time, sometimes even earlier than me.  They cross the immigration border every morning, instead of living in expensive Singapore, while others saunter into class at 930am, if they even show up.

Intuitive-Feeling NF

As a Feeling person, I am inspired by these Johor Bahru students. For these students, I come to class early and want to be a happy teacher, not one with morning “peevishness”.

Coming from a “Shame” culture, knowing that many successful CEOs wake up early, does nothing for me. I feel ashamed of my inadequacy. And then guilty, because I’m a mixed up bag of a globalised Asian steeped in western education.


As an introvert who lectures 30hrs-33hrs a week to class sizes of 45-100 university students, the last thing I want to do, after work-hours is to be with other people.  I’m exhausted from standing and speaking and responding to questions. I stay back after class to speak privately with other introverts who do not ask questions in front of other students. This overstimulation creates stress hormones which must be rid of.

 #1 Get rid of the negative toxins

Getting up early starts the night before. I hit the gym and exercise away the negative toxins. If I go to bed immediately, my brain will process all the over-stimulation of my senses from the day’s class. Studies have shown that introverts have a shorter neural pathway to the brain, they are stimulated faster than extroverts. Watching movies over-stimulates my senses. I read light relaxing materials.

Don’t ruminate. “F” are concerned about relationships. Stop going over the day’s events. If a thought comes up, Oh did I say something stupid in class. I stash such thoughts away, or I send positive thoughts towards that student.  Bashing myself up is not going to make me a better person.

#2 Ring-fence your time

As a Feeling person, its natural to want to attend to others first and my responsibilities. Its anti-social to want to go to bed early or not go to that dinner party with friends. I feel guilty for  not turning up for dinner with friends the night before an 0830am lecture.

Now I give myself permission to be selfish to spend “Me” time. Time for yourself is motivating for introverts. Waking up early gives me an hour, my best time to do something creative before showing up for work.  I have responsibility to the 100 students I’m meeting at 0830am and 12pm. They deserve a teacher who’s energetic, not one grouchy from lack of sleep.

#3 Set your alarm 

I’m a weak J. I’m not spontaneous. I work better with structure and knowing where I’m heading.  With a good nights rest, I wake up at 6am. The alarm goes off. If I’ve given my body at least 7.5hrs sleep, and set an alarm, my body wakes up slightly before the alarm goes off. If I tell my body the night before, that I’m waking up at 6am and mentally rehearse what I’ll do when I’m awake. First I drink coffee, then 2 cups of warm water, my breakfast at a coffee joint and I write one page…

Now I stop procrastinating. Most mornings, I don’t allow for snooze.  If I’m very worried over something and wake up at 3am, I get up and stop lying in bed. Either I meditate or write down what I can do about the situation. Lying in bed replaying the event is worse for me.

I discovered from a Traditional Chinese medicine book long ago that the ideal time to sleep around 10pm when the body is healing the large intestines and wake up between 5-7am.

This has worked for me especially where bowel movements is concerned. Drinking two glasses of warm water helps me kick start my day.

As an Intuitive, I draw meaning about my life’s situation and how time management can help me towards life purpose and leading a more meaningful existence.

What’s your MBTI?


Art connector, National Gallery, Singapore

We are people of tribes albeit moving in different costumes.  The size of our tribes differ. It can be huge, such as national level, right down to the family level. In the space of work, we behave as tribes in an organisational culture.

Every organisation has an internal environment, known as the personality of the organisation. A system of beliefs, norms, values and attitudes shared by members of an organisation – communicating to new members the correct ways to think and act;  “the way we do things around here”. Usually the unspoken is more powerful than the spoken. Much has been written about Enron’s cowboy and toxic culture, yet on its website its Vision and Values brazenly state that the company is about Respect, Integrity, Communication and Excellence.

For young careerist, its important to understand the organisation culture of the firm you’re entering. Factors such as management style, size, type of business, ownership, strategy, structure and technology influence a team’s culture.

Johnson uses a cultural web framework to observe a company’s culture. The cultural web is made up of:

Routine – the ways that members of the organisation behave towards each other and towards those outside the organisation and which make up how things are done or how things should happen.

Rituals – the special events through which the organisation emphasises what is particularly important and can include formal organisational processes and informal processes.

Stories/Heroes and Superstars – told by members of the organisation which embed the present and flag up important events and personalities, and typically have to do with successes, failures, heroes, villains and mavericks. Now older and wiser, I see that heroes in a particular culture somehow seem to possess certain characteristics and what is celebrated as success.

Symbols and language – such as logos, offices, cars, titles, type of language commonly used which become a shorthand representation of the nature of the organisation.

Power structures – the most powerful individuals or groups in the organisation which may be based on management position and seniority but in some organisations power can be lodged with other levels or functions. Microsoft employees for instance are known to be  competitive, self-assured. Yet possess an ability to switch sides. This is very unlike IBM’s cohesive, mutually supportive team structure.

Control systems – performance measurement and reward systems on what is important  – for example, stewardship of funds or quality of service.

Organisation structure –  power structures and decision-making

Paradigm – of the organisation which encapsulates and reinforces the behaviours observed in other elements of the cultural web.

Organisation cultures affect how decisions are made, rewards are dished out, resources shared and relationships are forged.

There are several useful frameworks to examine the cultures of organisation such as Handy’s 4 types of Culture, Deal and Handy, as well as Peters and Waterman Framework among others.

1. Monkey Business by John Rolfe and Peter Troob
2. The Vogue Factor: Inside Story by Kirstie Clements

Enron: Smartest guys in the room
Barbarians at the Gate (Fall of RJR Nabisco)


I’ve heard them say that Chang’an seems like in a game of chess,
A hundred years of world events have caused unbearable pain.
The palaces of the noblemen all have their new masters,
Civil and military dress and caps are not like those before.

Du Fu, Tang Dynasty poet




Spaghetti with seaweed, ume plum sauce and sesame seasoning Japanese style

My 10 year old nephew was recently in Japan, and to distract him from fighting with his sister, I asked him what the difference was, between Seoul and Tokyo.  His first response was that they don’t use spoons in Japan. How true. Even when drinking soup. They suck with loud air. The louder the sound, the more delicious. Don’t try this at home.

Even among Asian countries, we have cultural differences.

What is culture?  Culture comprises both national culture and organsational culture.

We can say that culture is the shared knowledge, beliefs and values, as well as common styles of behaviour and ways of thinking. Factors affecting national culture can include: language, traditions, religion, the legal and political systems, education, values, social organisation, tastes in food and entertainment, etc. It has becoming increasingly important to understand different cultures. Developments in international communication have given us all more exposure to the differences in attitudes and behaviours of other cultures. Due to the development of the global market there is an increase in international trade and workers are much more likely to work in different countries.


No eating while walking

National culture can affect: the organisation of the business, types of products, ways of promoting products, ways of doing business, the business mission, motivations to work and management style.  It can also affect what is known as etiquette, ethics and even organisational culture and values.

(i) Organisation of business – different countries traditionally organise their businesses in different ways, for example in some countries, small family operations may be more common e.g. Germany, in others, business growth to corporate level may be the accepted goal e.g. US

(ii) Types of products – traditions, religion and legal systems may restrict or encourage production of certain types of products, e.g. production of alcohol is rare where a dominant religion (Muslim) prohibits drinking it. In India, cow is considered holy and eating beef is taboo. McDonalds succeeded in adapting their menu to local tastes, introducing even vegetarian burgers and non-beef items into their menu.

(iii) Ways of promoting products – marketing managers need to consider what is appealing and what is not, to avoid causing offence.   A story goes about Chinese selling poker cards, which in Chinese pinyin is spelt “pu-ke”.  But when written in English and sold in Mexico, it read as puke.

(iv) Ways of doing business – different traditions for making deals or for communicating with each other, which could involve following certain protocols or rituals like using lawyers to come up with contracts vs spending time to build trust, making small talk or giving gifts which may be considered unethical in other cultures.

(v) Business Mission – culture may influence what a business is expected to do, particularly in relations to its social responsibilities. Some cultures e.g. individualist may expect businesses to focus on making profits, whereas others may expect businesses to provide employment for family members (e.g.India) or to improve the community (Germany and France) for the good of all.

(vi) Motivation to work – some cultures value loyalty and commitment to the employers (e.g. collectivist such as Japan) whereas others could approach work as just a means to enjoy other areas of life but not to gain status.

(vii) Management Style – style of management can be influenced by the motivation of employees and expectations placed on the business and cultural traditions regarding systems of authority. E.g. cultures with high uncertainty avoidance would result in a bureaucratic style of leadership. A dictatorial style of leadership would work in cultures with high power distance whereas one with low power distance would prefer participatory or democratic style of leadership.

So what are some ways which culture influence the way you think about success, life and work?