How Marketing Department Lost It’s Gusto?

There’s little we hear today about Marketing Department (or Division) these days? Don’t we? What we hear about Marketing today is about launching events after events. The department role has become launching organizers. They are very good at dealing with event coordinators, medias and gifts companies. Is that what Marketing department supposed to do?

Well, at least that’s one of it, we called it marketing communication. Ideally, what is marketing? What is the main function of marketing department? How should we measure marketing success? Why marketing matters? Let me.

“What Is Marketing? “Marketing is the activity, set of institutions, and processes for creating, communicating, delivering, and exchanging offerings that have value for customers, clients, partners, and society at large. (Approved July 2013 by American Marketing Association – AMA)”


According to Peter Drucker, “The two basic functions of a business enterprise are Marketing & Innovation. All the rest are costs. Marketing & Innovation produce results. Marketing is the distinguishing, unique function of the business.”

Source: Peter Drucker, What Is A Business?

If the purpose of business is to create customer through innovation (Drucker), the purpose of marketing is to help the organization sees the satisfaction desired by the customers in terms of values and needs. This is where, in my opinion, the beginning of marketing department downfall, lately.

The marketing department as we know it, no longer help the organization sees the customers values and needs, neither, make effort to understand the customers values and needs. Yes, the customers are changing, fickleminded and indecisive. We know these customers behaviours for very long already, nothing new.

Marketing Activities

There are at least four main marketing activities. The 4Ps (Product, Price, Place and Promotion) . The marketing department through its marketing activities, need to drive the decisions in these areas.

In Product – marketing department through its customers research, it will generate new products (or services) ideas and solutions. They will also look at the existing products, are they making profit? Or they are just product line up that is making losses year after year? The marketing team should have enough data on this. Do they have this data? The marketing department can only see what is in the pipeline but can they create new? Does the marketing team knows USP – unique selling proposition of the products (and services)?

In Price – marketing department will help set the pricing policies looking at the varying customer segments in their midst. They will know how much margin or mark up or profit or volume they need to generate for the business to grow. Are they making the decisions today? Or is it done by the finance group? How does marketing team influence this decision?

In Place – marketing department look at the distribution channel of the products. In today’s business, there are online and offline distribution channels. Does the marketing department has the people to do online marketing? Do they know the customers experiences in these two areas are different? How does the marketing team use the data collected? How does the marketing team work with the offline retailers, distributors and wholesellers? Do they have these strategies? Or is currently these being done by customer experience department? Or big data unit that is reporting to IT department?

In Promotion – marketing department set the promotional strategies including sales team deployment. Setting sales strategies, incentives and ammunitions. Is the marketing department still doing this? Or has this been delegated to sales department? Ohh yeah, this is also where marketing runs events to promote and advertise the “solutions” valued and needed by the customers. They do it through communication with the medias and PR companies. In promotion, marketing department also continually asssessing the brand value as seen by the customers.

After looking at all above, it turns out the marketing function as it was, has been broken down to myriad other units that are more specifics, more objective and relatable to the customers worldview as needed by the organization. Because of that, the marketing department is it was, without breaking it into many other units, will become too big, too slow and bureaucratic. That’s how marketing lost it’s gusto.

Wither Marketing Budget?

As a result, marketing department budget now filled with events budget and it become less strategic. In my humble opinon, marketing department too, has to be blamed. The people inside marketing team already out of touch with the customers realities. They department relies too too too heavily from the agencies, vendors and suppliers to give them reams of reports about the customers.

Marketing department rarely goes down to the “market” to talk to the customers. They refused to listen to the customers feedbacks and listen to their stories. Marketing department people prefer to man events at big and posh hotels while drinking coffee and smoke cigars – to them, the hotel is the prestige defined as “great branding” and “credibility” by the customers.

Marketing department create products in their office. They look at the quantitative data without an iota believe that they need qualitative data too – customers insights and pain points stories. Marketing department people do not go down to meet the engineers at the manufacturing plant to see the product development themselves. All they ask for are photos to make brochures and marketing kits. That too, the marketing department ask the agencies to go and get them.

Direction-less Heads

The marketing department also busy attending high flying and international conferences in the name of “benchmarking”, “new strategies” and “power networking”. Funnily, the one that usually get to go to these kind of pampered and full board events are the bosses of marketing department and above.

They go and come back – then nothing happened. The bosses snap loads of pictures of the slides and whatsapp them to the team. Instructing the team to do this and that – ASAP. The next year, the same bosses go again and again and again. It became the viscisous cycle that everybody knew – except the bosses. That’s how marketing department lost it’s gusto. With all the happenings in the marketing deparment, the top management should follow the advise of David Packard (Hewlett Packard), “Marketing is too important to be left to the Marketing Department.”

The marketing department also detest any other department that take away their budget in the next financial year. Now the next upcoming department that, if not careful, will fall just like the marketing department, it is the IT department.

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“It is common for all of us to seek our own path to success as we defined it. Time waits for no one.”

“While allowing room for failures is encouraged, employees should also be trained to be courageous to admit mistakes and pick up slacks.”

“Eventually, the core business will mature and stops growing. The owner should invest in parallel several years earlier in the next growth business so they are ready when the core stalled and profit would already be taking over as the next engine of growth.”

When Costs Kiss Goodbye!

Image credit: Kraft Heinz loses a lot of cheese as earnings send stock plunging to …

Interesting article about an investment company (private equity firm) that acquire food businesses (Heinz & Kraft Foods) back in 2013 and 2015 respectively. The firm believed these two companies could unlock more values by using ruthless focus on efficiency. They quickly employed radical cost cutting programs.

They fired thousands of workers, shutdown factories, used zero-based budgeting model (justify cost without regard of previous year spending), remove refrigerators (pantry) in the HQ known for stocking cheese sticks, set default settings of office printers (double sided with black toner) and limit meals spending during travel to $50 a day. Guess what happened next?

These initiatives and cost program led to industry-leading profit margins in less than 2 years! The stock price went up to more than $90 in 2017! See below.

Screenshot 2019-05-18 at 12.55.51 AM

Screenshot 2019-05-18 at 12.55.21 AM

But, unfortunately, it went to nose dive after all the radical cost programs deployed. From my research, Kraft Heinz overlooked the marketing bit, product innovations for their changing customers segments and valuable employees feedback that know how to run your operations especially in different market segments and countries.

Sometimes, big brands and companies make tactical mistakes like this. No doubt long history companies tend to have opportunities to go leaner that it was; things usually get complacent after awhile.

One of the videos, check it out.


Lessons that we could take from here are:

  1. Look at at products and services innovations as growth strategy: There are probably a host of products that could be making money or probably there’d discover that most of the products are obsolete to modern customers. For the record, Kraft Heinz launched new products such as organic version of Capri Sun and expanded its condiment businesses. They tried, probably not enough time to see it through, perhaps these new lineups will grow later.
  1. People are not measured by their salary or price tag, rather by their value brings to the business: I tried looking for some human capital development strategies when the equity firm bought Kraft & Heinz, but I couldn’t find any. Although I may not a fan of “total spoon-feed your talent because you care”, I do believe the management should consider taking longer time to lay offs to ensure the tacit knowledge is transferred to the business. You should pay high for someone that could do more and pay less for someone who can only do routine work.
  1. There’s only so much you can do with cost efficiencies: Key for growth is innovation. I’d expect big brands and companies, should invest in ruthless innovation focus in three areas. First, new products and services that reflect current and future customers needs and wants. Second, leaner processes and automation to bringdown redundancies in capital & assets deployed and reduce wastages. Third, to find market creations opportunities that will need to be invested and R&D. You can read more about this from Clayton Christensen book titled, “The Prosperity Paradox”.

Innovations are for growth. Companies need to spend and invest together with their workforce to improve capability and capacity to innovate. I do hope to see Kraft Heinz able to come out from this plunge and see this only temporarily.

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Why Corporates Need Corporate Innovation?

I will go straight to the point this time, no BS here. 😉

Here are the FIVE Observations that make corporates need Corporate Innovation, within this year:

  1. The corporation no longer effective in capital allocation. It only spend on what it has been doing over the years since its founding days. The growth is stagnant? Right? There have been talks about why the auto market is stagnant, utilities market is stagnant, banking market is stagnant and education market is stagnant? Is it really? Think again. The corporate hiring is all time low, even if they do it is only incremental. How big can you hire anyway? How much capex do you want every year?

  2. The employees in that corporations have been out of touch from the customers worldview and realities – things they go through in every day life. The employees think that if you are an executive or business people, you will need a bank account so you will go to the bank freely without the bank having to promote to you any service. So they hesitantly “provide service” with the hope you will get out the branch quickly. The employees only know their job (think they know?) and only worry (pay attention) to their yearly increment. The employee has never thought how important you are because he is not in the marketing department!
  3. The people in the corporations no longer recognize each others strengths and passion anymore. They know each other by searching the names in the company database by their work title and department. They only care about numbers, bottomlines, KPIs, processes, SOPs and their own bosses. They forget the empathy in their colleagues and the motivation they come to work for.
  4. The corporations are a lot less helping the nation progress and becoming productive. Profiting RM100 million a year isn’t the same as elevating 1,000 people out of electrical poverty or lack internet access. The corporations care-less about the environment they operate and the shared prosperity – they only care about batches of production they need to make, the stuffs they have to deliver. They polluted the areas and take away the prosperous-ness in the areas.
  5. The suppliers and vendors of the corporations are non other than the same big boys instead of local business and startups with creative and innovative products and services with energetic and entreprneurial founders. The corporations with all their busy-ness tending to the bottom line didn’t get out of the building to look for what’s new, what’s better and what’s ahead. They are confined confidently in the comfort of large, air conditioned and well equipped office.

In the Corporate Innovation program, corporations will unbox, rediscover the untapped opportunities within the layers they have and assets they kept are abound; right on their backyard, under their nose and in their neighbourhood.

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#corporateinnovation #innovation

Corporate Innovation Champion Is….

In the most innovative and valuable companies in the world, the CIO is the CEO. For innovation to happen, top down & mandated approach has better chance of success. In the meantime, the executive management also marshall the bottom up innovation approach by getting people excited about giving ideas, tweak some process and embrace feedback culture.

When these two strategies in alignment (top down mandate + bottom up excitement), it will eventually creates its own equilibirium and a meeting point. Once a meeting point reached, good to have another round of “workout – GE way” and ask “Where should we go now?”. I can almost guarantee this question when asked sincerely and with gratitude will bring you and your team to next level performance.

Amidst all the BAUs priorities, if at all you want to do it, let’s do it well. innovation #business relationships improvement corporateinnovation success corporatemodel

Top 10 Great Ideas in 2018 from the Field-Walk

Hey, I am back after long hiatus (exactly 1 year!). Been super busy, I will make more commitment this year. One article at least per month. Let’s work it out. 🙂

This post is about Ideas that I have personally observed that were generated by participant of our Design Thinking Innovation workshops in 2018. I started compiling these ideas and take note how popular these ideas among the participants. I also have super great news that some ideas in 2017 became reality and being implemented (some at national level!), it was thrilling feeling to see this happening.

Now let me share 10 Great Ideas in 2018:

  1. Thrash for Wifi access. This idea came from Sabahan because internet cost for mobile is quite expensive to Sabahan graduates and average household. Therefore they rely (especially youth) on public wifi. The youth willing to collect thrash around the cities and in return they get wifi access (via coupons or digital link)
  2. Smoking ban in public place. This idea came from several groups during early 2018. It was laughed at and ridiculed by mostly smokers because of the wide scope of the implementation. Interestingly, now at the time of writing, smoking is now completely banned in public eateries nationwide and progressing to wider coverage by 2019 end.
  3. Open banking, share all banking data in one app or one source. This interesing fintech ideas came from several banks and customers. It used to be each bank collect their own customer data and they shouldn’t (and couldn’t) share it with other bank. For example if you are a user of credit card from Bank A, if you are applying another credit card for Bank B, they wouldn’t know. This became a problem especially if the customer is a bad paymaster of credit card Bank A. The problem later might spill to Bank B. On the other hand, if you are a great paymaster, your credit ratings improved, your data is shared with other banks, you become a highly sought customers from various banks. That’s the advantage.
  4. Trap rubbish at the river or drainage using mesh. This idea came from people in flood-prone areas. The flash flood usually happened in rainy season and caused major traffic problem. One of the problems are clogged drainages and rising water from the rivers because of thrash! While it is understandable we shouldn’t throw rubbish, I personally found the thrash sometimes from factories because of the quantities are massive. So to effectively and efficiently clean up the river, using wire or nylon mesh to trap the river would be quick.
  5. Auditors and HR staffs are from business departments and branch operations. This fabulous ideas came from multiple banks. The audit and HR departments found out 2 major problems. First, these two departments are not well liked by the staffs because of poor misperception. Second, most staffs joined these two departments are juniors hence little operations and business experiences. Consequently, most of their work deemed lack substance and lack empathy. An insight surfaced, those with experiences that joined audit and HR department tend to be more matured and heightened empathy. They also managed to convince their former colleagues to be more receptive and cooperative in bringing the business to the next level!
  6. Video conference for long distance meeting. This idea came from government officials that live far from the headquarters. Some had to travel 8-10 hours for an hour meeting. To cut time, cost of travel and health bills, the use of video conferencing could effectively and efficiently for both parties. Let’s use meeting for key decision making. Hopefully the next phase of national broadband plan in 2019 will be spearheaded faster than expected. Faster connection will definitely help!
  7. Tax break for donations by the public to schools and universities. It is true and evident the government funds to schools are getting lesser by the year due to various reasons. It is also true and evident, most parents would want to donate (and willing) to donate for schools where their kids studies. Tax is a very good tool for the government to use to invite this “money on the table” by giving tax breaks (double if possible).
  8. HR to drive innovation capabilities development. This idea came repetitively from banks and MNCs pointing that many HR “waits” for business departments request for innovation program. HR in their views still see “innovation” as technical know-how, technology-based and only for selected people. HR as the people builder needs to step up quickly grasp the big gap of innovation capabilities by launching innovation training programs and workshops because innovation today and beyond is everybody’s business.
  9. Artificial Intelligence (AI) powered & gravity dumb-bell. It turns out a lot of people want to get fit by using dumb bell (including me). The insight we found that a lot of people don’t know what kind and how much weight they should do that will effectively help them meet their goals. Using AI & gravity, user only need to buy one dumb bell of this kind and start getting fit progressively, without having to own a whole rack of those bells!
  10. Launch fintech fast to collect data. Fintech is pervasive these days, many local banks turn confused what they should do actually. They found many banks took very long time to think “analytically and holistically” so much so go to market become painstakingly long. The idea is about fast launch of basic fintech products & services for example CASA account, children account or loan application with primary purpose to collect data and learn from it before even considering the full blown product. This could make sense because by the day there are many more technology players in this area, therefore investing in sophisticated technology may not pay off in the long run. Think about it.


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Happy New Year 2019!


Beyond Quanti, Factor In Quali

In light of global economic uncertainties in recent years (and still ongoing), I observed many organizations set up Transformation Office, Special Task Force and Delivery Office. These “new offices” are created to ensure the companies are able to be resilient enough to weather the uncertainties. Usually these “new offices” report directly to the Chief of the company.

When I sat down with the leaders in charge of these “new offices” they shared with me their plans. Information shared are from revenues, costs of operating, cycle time, capital expenditure, new business areas, business strategy moving forward, human capital planning, product planning, media, customer services and many others. One thing in common from this discussion, there are all hard data. Almost all (if not all) of them are derived from facts, figures, dollars and cents.

The leaders in charge showed me graphs, charts, prognosis, research papers, BI reports and news and statistics in multiple streams and various thickness level (they are very thick!). In some companies they also show me the Employee Opinion Survey (EOS) which was done by the HR department. Almost all this data above is quantitative data.

I also seek customer datapoint beyond the usual survey, checklist and market reports, and surprisingly not many companies have them. The “new offices” pointed me to the customer service department, but when I asked them for qualitative customer data they don’t have it too. What is qualitative data?

Qualitative data includes customers interviews, pictures of actual customer interactions with services and products, customers complaints list, videos of customer journeys, customers profiles & personas, social media insights, demographics & psychographics information and customers testimonials.

The reason I brought up this topic because both data ie. hard data (quantitative) and heart data (qualitative) are equally important. I also observed that most quantitative data isn’t accessible by most staffs, whilst most qualitative data isn’t reachable by the top management.

Do you now see the datapoints gap? (Image below) That’s probably the reason why, the top leaders have little understanding of customer orientation (for large companies this is common), and the frontline staffs wondering why no new ideas implemented to win (or win back) the customers.

Screen Shot 2017-05-03 at 11.21.34 AM

I also observed a lot of data has been filtered when going up and going down by middle managers, supervisors and team leaders who are in between top leaders and frontline staffs. We need to start accepting that heart data (qualitative) is equally important to our businesses.

In our design thinking workshop, we focus on drilling into the qualitative (heart) data points. What customers feel, what are the insights, how the staffs feel, where does usually the tension happen, why people buy, with whom the customers like to buy from, why customers prefer that branch compared to this branch and so many others!

Heart data can help you find new business opportunities, obvious profitable ideas and improve customers satisfaction.

Beyond quanti, factor in quali!

Khairul observes when leaders are open to multiple data points, they become likeable!

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Turn On Your Headlights

In a coaching session recently I blurted out something that I thought meaningful for top talents and would-be leaders. “Turn on your headlight”. I was coaching a very smart talent and he is in the top talent pool – grooming up to lead a division of few hundreds people. Let’s just call him Saiful.


A prolific sales person cum product manager, he tops the sales chart for months this year. Last year he won the top sales awards. The clients love him. Without him, his company will lose easily 50% of sales target. He manages the sales department right now and he is very likely to be the best candidate for the divisional head. There is only one challenge, he prefers to be by himself.

His communication has always been one-to-one. Seldom one-to-group (department level) and rarely group-to-group (department to department). As a result people have heard of him but don’t really know him. The top management felt for the divisional head they need someone that are able to do more of one-to-group and more importantly group-to-group. Groups alignment is very important to ensure sustainable revenues.

His feedback to me was “it is me to be by myself”, “I am not the drama type that love the limelight” and “I prefer to be the background person”. My feedforward to him (suggestion) was, turn on your headlight. It is an analogy.

Autobahn at night
Autobahn at night

When we drive on a runway at night usually there will be street lights. We speed up at 110 – 140 km/h with a good vision of what’s in front of us and we could pretty well read up the signages and signboards. But we usually turn on the head light right? Why did we do that since the street lights are already there? The headlights are not for us, the headlights are turned on because we would like others to see us.

Can you imagine someone driving behind you with his / her car headlights off? What comes to mind? Will you pay any attention to it? Turn on your headlights by reaching out to others.

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Three Factors Contributing to Professional Growth and Development

Some months ago I ran a short survey on Professional Growth and Development. It was a “lazy” survey where I just published it without much promotion. I wish to only have respondents that are interested to answer the survey. I gave small token in discount vouchers but the desire and “giving back mindset” by the respondents were amazing. They answered because they wanted to share their thoughts. Big hand to them. Running for 1 month, the survey gathered 130 respondents.

The main objective of the survey is to find out factors that contributing to successful Professional Growth and Development for executives and managers. I have yet to published this survey with more details. I only decided to give you some highlights that captured my lazy mind.

Here are some insights on the factors contributing to Professional Growth and Development:

1. Tertiary Education Works

Almost 70% of the respondents confessed that their tertiary education – basic degree help them to gain entry level position. You see, all we need is to enter somewhere first. That’s the goal for a start. This applies to top bracket university graduates as well, if you fail to secure entry level position in the next 6-18 months after graduation, you are going to meet some difficulties (not the end of the world though, just some difficulties).

I recently met several graduates in a workshop that have graduated from 8-26 months from local university. They took science courses such as biomedical, engineering and chemistry. They said they found the job offering mismatched their tertiary education experience hence they ignored those offers. I gave them some advise and asked each of them to write me an essay of any topic they like and together with their CV. I gave them a week and only one reminder, that was before we part ways. One week later, only 1 graduate came back and her essay was solid. She was a graduate with chemistry background.

I told her that while her degree is in science, she could easily adapt to other roles – to gain entry level position. She said, she wasn’t aware that we can “switch”, but that I don’t really want to discuss here. So now she is ready to take up entry level position – to gain experience.

2. Mentors and Coaches? Go Find Them Now!

Next, around 80% of the respondents said that they owed their professional growth and development to mentors and coaches. These people include their managers, bosses, supervisors, leaders, colleagues, nemesis, trainers and friends. These “helpers” come internally and externally on need basis. In other words, these professionals get helped. Somebody took interest of them and shape them to become successful. I believe this is true. I am personally a product of mentors and coaches. I wish to share someone’s else story here.

Have you heard of Asafa Powell? He is a Jamaican sprinter – colleague to Usain Bolt. Asafa broke the Olympic record of 100 metre in Athens Olympic in 2005. He clocked in 9.77 at Olympic stadium. The more interesting story, 3 years before that Asafa was just another Jamaican teenager trying to find a place to train himself. He has been training by himself, unlike Usain Bolt that already in sports school since young. Asafa was lucky, a guy named Stephen Francis found him and gave him the opportunity to train and be coached in his camp. Three years later, Asafa was an Olympic champ.


The above stories resonated well to many successful people. This is also true with Sir Jony Ive, the Chief Designer of Apple Corp. While Ive was already an accomplished designer from young, it was Jobs that gave Ive the opportunity to flourish further and harness his creative giants inside him. Ive thrived and build many great products including iPod, iPhone, iPad and so on. You may refer to Ive’s biography – Jony Ive, The Genius Behind Apple’s Greatest Product by Leander Kahney.


Some respondents also highlighted that parents too helped them in manoeuvring successfully in their professional journey. However, the percentage is rather small, 10-15%.

3. Hard Work and Persistence, This Goes Without Saying

As many as 95% of my proud achievers respondents said they work really hard to get to where they are now. They gave examples such as having to take up professional certification, stretched assignments, late night meetings and hectic schedule. However, their persistence paid off handsomely because they are now have become professional and live a great life.

While going through this, they also admitted experiencing some breakdowns and frustrations. Taking it positive, go slower at times and having strong support from loved ones boosted their morale to go further.

The drive home the point, from this insights it is clear to all of us that while most of us may have the innate ability and super resources to work hard, we shouldn’t discount the other 2 factors i.e. tertiary education and mentors and coaches.

Firstly, get good grades if you can. If you can’t or you are not qualified into tertiary education it is ok. Now you need to find mentors and coaches to learn about the workings of life. You need to learn about the trade. Yes you may be strong, why not waste your energy for something else? Go find mentors and coaches.


It is ok to ask for help because no one knows everything. Right? For young executives and graduates, my advise is to always be mindful of people that could become your guidance. Be willing to have interest in people and talk to them. For the seniors, reach out to the young because they actually are curious whether your seriousness is towards them or to someone else! 🙂

Someday I wish to read your story and when I looked back I thanked you for allowing me to be part of it. “The thing is, it’s very easy to be different, but very difficult to be better.” – Jony Ive

Top Leaders Essentials to Build Connected Team

It is tough being a leader, it gets even tougher when you stumble in the first few months your new leadership role. I know I did. Typically new leaders take about 3-6 months to warm up and get on the zone as top leaders. Top leaders mean C-suite, Executive Vice President, Managing Director, Vice Chancellor or anyone that lead at least 500 and more people in their organization. Leaders can’t choose how others perceived them but they can choose how they want to perceive and treat others.

For those who aren’t leaders, probably you need to understand that it is not easy being a leader.

Take for example for someone who just assumed a CEO role. The person could be the 1st person as a CEO because it is a new company that was set up to undertake larger operation eg. spin-off from a business unit. Another example would be an Executive Vice President (EVP) who took over because the previous person was imprisoned for bribery. Therefore, his new role as EVP was unplanned but he doesn’t have much choice when he was appointed or elected. Or maybe a person who took over a vice chancellor role in a thriving public university and has a vision to take it even to higher level.

You will find that all these leaders have to live up to higher expectation and make those fixes while the “engine is still running”.

It is tough and can be really unreasonable. For those incoming leaders, if you can’t take the heat get out of the kitchen! Fast! If you want to stay on, read up.

Top leaders can’t do much without teams. Leaders that go around the company or organization without enough preparation to become top team player sooner or later will be exposed of his incompetence. Leaders that travel the divisions and blow his own trumpet can only talk but fail to deliver after his warming up period will be brought to chopping block in a matter of time. Leaders that is unable to take feedback and refuse to seek help outside the homogeneity of his surrounding will beat path to hellish resistance for the very same people. Leaders that negate the force of multigenerational workforce and social media will soon realize that his fear is no longer fearful and resentment sometimes can be very objective. Therefore, what can be done? I will highlight some guides that top leaders can follow to build connected team. The original article was published in Harvard Business Review, July 2011, “Are You A Collaborative Leader”. The perspectives are mine.


Top leaders must realize that the age of everything under one-roof to command and control has gone.

It’s over. It is impossible for top leaders to take stock of everything, evaluate then move on. Simply because they are so many things running at the same time and you need a great reset button if only you want to stop everything to really understand the business of your business. This is impossible to do because while you are transitioning because you are being measured and accounted for the results and performance of that year.

You need to learn to come in just at any point or stage of the business then lean in and show up to lead further. It is no longer hide and seek from your top office where you scavenge information secretly and make closed door decisions.

Worse if your top lieutenants get stuck because you refuse to make decisions for unclear reasons. You are already a top leader and the authorized person to do the job.

Identifying the right people to connect be a daunting task. Just show up to everyone first.

What you need to do next is to connect yourself to as many people in the organization as possible. First you size up your direct reports and then your direct report’s direct reports. This is where social media can help you connect with more people on the go. Where sometimes top leaders use social media to update past events and photos, you can use social media to engage live interaction. For example CEO of used Chatter as a mean to have all the 5,000 staffs engaged in the 200 top talents company retreat. While it could be easily a closed door “strategy” meeting, with 5,000 all staffs interaction virtually online, it bolster the communication and a lot of things sorted out. It becomes integrated in the overall strategy of the company. Plus, the conversation and activities last for the next few months compare to just few weeks had it was done in a four walled room.


In today’s world, talents are not being developed just in the company. Most talents have some exposure from somewhere else before being brought in to be developed further for the organization. This an important observation because these talents previous experience can be utilized as ingredients for future innovation. Research consistently shown that diverse teams produce better results. It is by taking into account all those learning curves. Top leaders must learn to recognize this because each talent goes through a cycle where sometimes when you meet them they may be at the lowest point of their life, hence they may not look attractive to you. But by connecting and have deep believe in talent top leaders could stimulate the environment where talents can flourish in difficult times.

In multinational, some talents are sidelined because they talk less English, for example. Communication can become a big hindrance where these talents passed from promotions even when they are operating in their home country that don’t require them to master English. France’s Danone for example spend fortunes to hire interpreters where they go to other business units that is less articulate in English.

This is a magnetic strategy when top talents from other companies could be attracted to Danone because of this efforts from top leaders. Afterall, English can be taught quite easily. The same hindrance applies when talents that may have different learning abilities such as dyslexic, autistic or gifted. I will discuss more on these special talents in other article.

There is not talents shortage, talents don’t show up. Top leaders have to reach and find them.

Reckitt Beckinser for example quoted that this diversity in talents and ability to cope with these differences partly help the company to register 17% net income growth on yearly basis from 1999-2000. They are operating in many countries where talents are from Pakistan, China, Britain and Turkey could be very well performed in their home country and line up for next promotions. While there is always possibility of conflict and communication breakdown, they are always open to it and provide constructive feedback to move things forward.

Top leaders need to recognize this and do not always expect the very best from what they see as “very best”. They are differences which may be unpleasant to them but incumbent to talents surroundings that need encouragement. Top leaders broadmindedness is sought when it comes to assessing development potentials.


Top leaders must show good examples. It is expected. To encourage collaboration, they must be good collaborators as well.

They need to show their authenticity of being an effective and efficient productive collaborator. It is common where top leaders came from a particular unit before they were promoted to their current job. Usually when this happen, the previous unit they came from are very likely to get most of his attention and support. Part of the problem is because he ha

Showing good examples are motivating. Guess what, people are watching you!

It is always been with the current members. In this case, top leaders seen as having a personal journey rather than integrated and collective journey of everyone.

It is the job of top leaders to foster everyone into large single team.

Sometimes the direct reports composed his own team and has different personal journey. Very territorial, turf defending and roof top fiefdoms. They know that they have problems in terms of their function, region, product or service but no one asks the hard question to align all these. Therefore it is top leaders job to bring all these into a coherent organization through engagement process. Top leaders need to arrest politics especially from the senior management group. There should be more rewards when they collaborate rather than promoting their own agendas. CEO of Reckitt Beckinser, Bart Becht said that

“We go out of our way to make sure that politics get eradicated. I think they are bad for organization and they’re poisonous.”

Another observation in terms of goals setting for organizational performance is to set learning goals compared to typical performance goals. According to psychologist Carol Dweck, people are driven to do tasks by either performance or learning goals. When performance goals dominate, people are motivated to show others that they have valued attributes such as intelligence and leadership. When learning goals dominate, they are motivated to develop the attribute. Performance goals induce people to favor tasks that will make them look good over tasks that will help them learn. A shift toward learning goals will make managers more open to exploring opportunities to acquire knowledge from others.


New top leaders will always find it difficult when to make the call. They will usually take their time to the point when they couldn’t find any other excuses or any more time to make that decision call. While it is understandable adjusting can take time, but fear for not being liked after a decision made is partly a life of top leaders. It could be just a self-thinking from those tiny voices in your brain. Some top leaders wait trying to get the “big picture” and understand them clearly before making any forward decision. Top leaders can do it better. They can learn and break away from this by making small decisions with big impact to build confidence and personal power for bigger decision. It’s a great feeling once your feel powerful and confidence.

Leaders have to exercise the power assigned to them to move things, not to stop them.

When leaders foster good collaboration, they have tendencies to get everyone on board and getting consensus before going ahead. Not every decision requires this. Some decision is unpopular and off limit by normal standard. If everything is debatable and need a committee to decide, top leaders will struggle to make decision. Collaboration now become not oil greasing the wheel but the sand grinding to a halt. Top leaders must be effective in enforcing strong leadership and decisions down to direct reports because it is expected. Maybe to 3 levels below them as well. Top leaders should be comfortable playing key role in forming and disbanding teams and collaborators when they see opportunities. It should be very fluid but must be clearly explained to all collaborators. Although constructive feedbacks are encouraged, battles aren’t left raging on. It is ok to have a culture where a person can propose or oppose an idea in open meetings. If there is no decision made after a meeting, then the person chairing the meeting is expected to make one. As Cyrus the Great once said, “Diversity in counsel, unity in command.”


Top leaders used to know every nook and cranny of things in the organization. Sometimes they demand to know and put their foot down.

But with technology top leaders are caught up with so many other things especially if they are running global business and interactions. The world has become extremely interconnected, integrated and if top leaders don’t know how to tap into the power of those connections, they are risking of being left behind. People might have heard of them but unable to follow.

Harnessing WE is crucial. Let’s get going!

Leaders today must learn how to harness ideas, talents, and resources from all areas of the organizations and all kinds. To do this top leaders may require retooling talent strategies, revamp communication channels to build strong connections with both inside and outside the organizations. They can do this by collaborating authentically to wield influencers rather than authoritatively stomp down to move forward. Top leaders also must learn quickly how to promote productive discussions, squash politicking and make final calls for things that matter. Recent appointment of Nadella to Microsoft as a CEO a good case in point. He quickly seized the opportunity to declare the next path for Microsoft and to do that they need to behave like a hungry start up. Only time will tell whether he did the right thing but he took charge and lead. In this way they probably can spur innovations faster than competition and it is more valuable given the complexity of collaboration. Getting that value is the heart of collaborative leadership.

In summary, top leaders of today’s organization should consider applying and adjusting themselves to use this guide in their daily practices. These essentials are the non-negotiables in running today’s organizations and enterprise. However as top leaders, your intuition will make a difference to what degree your application of these essentials work in your organization. Wish you all the best!

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The Case for Corporate College

In my previous article, “Reviving Youth Unemployment”, I brought up a new development in global education called corporate college. Here I would like to provide a snapshot of corporate college and how it can be game changing solution for government, corporate and university.

If you Google keyword “corporate college”, you will see a long list of corporate colleges around the world. Predominantly in the United States where each state has at least one bearing the state’s name, while other name such as Corporate College LLC, Global Corporate College which may have different customers appeal. In summation, this is indeed a remarkable improvement and advancement since I first researched about it 2 years ago and brought this idea to my board meeting early this year. This is awesome – at least the quantity of corporate colleges blossoming and lets hope competition will weed the weakest and nourish the quality ones.

Life long learning is a skill and modern workforce has to learn to master it.
Life long learning is a skill and modern workforce has to learn to master it.

In Malaysia, the corporate college term is new and foreign. Even as I speak about it to people around the university, they don’t quite like the idea because it will definitely mixing the academic and industry resources in this melting pot called corporate college. Well, I couldn’t argue further because I could see the reasons for such apprehensive gesture. Nonetheless, by not doing anything it is equally if not more harmful to the nation. I just hope in that kindred spirit to build Malaysia’s talent pool and remedy future’s talent pipeline and marketability, something has to be done NOW NOW NOW.

Corporate college can be easily a misleading concept of training centre or academy. I have seen it many places and work with corporate training centres. In training centres normally they are human resource executives, training executives and administrators. These people coordinate training programs for the organization by engaging external training providers, once a while they call in industry experts to give pep talks and seminars. In training centres they also conduct psychometric assessment to gauge their employees emotional state and when the new top management come, the people in the training centre will also tasked to look for vendors to formulate new workforce development program. They sometimes do this by working collaboratively with the HQ human resource team. On top of that, they are also required to become a business centre where they need to “sell” their internal expertise from the organization (usually technical expertise) to other small medium enterprises or provide some consultancy to other sister companies and so on. This could be a simplistic example but my point is this is not a corporate college and I am sorry to say this is not even a properly run training or knowledge development centre. Sometimes, in the desperate need for us to become “entrepreneurial” and “business savvy”, we forget that we should only sell good stuffs to our customers, not half-baked or questionable solutions that we ourselves are not convinced. If you only let the industry run a training centre, knowledge is for trading. 🙂

On the other hand, in the university not less glaring where its always about research; endless research. Recent article in The Economist, “How Science Goes Wrong”, September 2013; was an eye opener that as much as 50% of publications are almost impossible to be replicated or scale up for mass production. We are talking about billion of dollars down the drain and it is an on-going squandering frenzy unaddressed. On the positive side, university research could provide groundbreaking evidence, clearer direction and profound examples that many industry organizations yet to capitalize. Presently, there is very poor collaboration between the university and industry players because one party requires a lot of money and the other wishes to spend the least possible. Interestingly, both are aiming at the same objectives; building this nation.

Corporate college could be the solution. We can start by revamping community colleges and smaller private entities. Don't let pilot programs fool you.
Corporate college could be the solution. We can start by revamping community colleges and smaller private entities. Don’t let pilot programs fool you.

Corporate college can help to become the middle path solution, at least it helps by converging resources and most importantly the thinking behind how to grow this nation through properly run talent development. In corporate college, there will be academician that could help in the research and act as the knowledge bank of the program. If you have hang around with academicians, you would understand what I mean. They are very knowledgeable, dedicated, smart and they are givers. They like to contribute and they want to make a difference. Most academicians I have met always willing to support nation building cause with small fees to them. The academicians from education could help in developing the program structure, designing the assessment and examination, deciding the path for professional development and act as student guide.

In corporate college, the industry player could help in providing critical information about the direction of the business and what kind of people and skills required to achieve its goals. Since industry players meet a lot of clients, they could also share what the customers want and how is it possible to do it by asking the academicians. I am certain there will be some arguments and debates, and it only takes an objective mind and sincere heart to make the arguments work both ways and benefit both parties. The industry top management and middle managers could also share and teach the young workers. They could learn “how to teach” from the academicians and they will become better teacher very quickly. In the process, the researchers would observe and take note of the opportunities to uncover certain issues or make improvement on current manufacturing practice that could help the company more productive and efficient in the next few years. On teaching, I have this Chinese proverb to quote, “If you plan for a year sow rice, if you plan for a decade plan trees, if you plan for a lifetime educate people.”

In Malaysia, there is a need to have some regulation on the programs offered otherwise the students only get junks and binge-studying. The involvement of government should be considered in the area of evaluating and accrediting the right program that meet the objectives. The Malaysian Quality Assurance (MQA) should be roped in and engaged actively to ensure it is not just paper exercise. In several research university (RU), there’s self accreditation authority that would speed up the process. I strongly believe the university in Malaysia should learn how to use this self accreditation more to enable and boost the development of professional program. Currently, most professional development programs are from other international universities. From what I know, Malaysian researchers are very good and dedicated. I believe we already have many powerful researches that could be scale up or perhaps be given the space to become national exports especially in service related research.

"Your actions express your priorities."
“Your actions express your priorities.”

In conclusion, I believe with an open mindset to work things out, all parties including government, industry and university could work things out; perhaps to do something game changing like corporate college. There’s always opportunity to discuss the business model around it and making it a success. From my observation, the private universities are also making moves into the development of solid professional development and certifications. I have yet to see more involvement of public universities and other smaller private colleges in this space. I always give this silly but true example of a multi-level marketing company (MLM) set up their own academy and dish out a diploma in multi-level marketing, apparently it was widely accepted as the de-facto standard of MLM industry. Jaw-drop if you like but sometimes reality hurts. I would like to end this article with a quote, “The problem with this world is the wise is full of doubts and the fool is full of confident.”

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Reviving Youth Unemployment

“The number of young people out of work globally is nearly as big as the population of the United States”. This headline certainly will make you wonder whether the youth unemployment is really that bad, the answer is YES. This report was published in The Economist back in April 2013, “Generation Jobless”.

It takes at least 20 years for any country to produce a generation that can take up jobs and employment. Some employees had an early start because they dropped from the main stream education and started working or build their own business. In a developed world, employees with lack of education like this are twice likely to be in unemployment compare to employee with university qualification. Interestingly, in a less developed world for example in Africa, it is the opposite. Whereby those with university graduates are twice likely to be in unemployment than the other.

This proves the point that employment is very closely related to local practice and acceptance of the local employers. A graduate can have all the qualifications in the world but if there’s little value emphasized by the local employers, he stands to be unemployed. This is also true for a more globally accepted education because if locally the graduate wont stand a chance to fully utilize his qualification, he should be allowed to improve his employment mobility to other more developed countries. That explains the brain drain phenomenon in the long run.

Employment requires strong economy and better educated population.
Employment requires strong economy and better educated population.

Two factors for this huge unemployment problem or famously termed as “arc of unemployment”; firstly slowdown in the economy hence reducing demand for labour where it is easier to fire young people than the old one. Secondly the emerging economies population growth is fastest in countries with dysfunctional labour markets such as India and Egypt. Apparently in India there are 200 laws on work and pay which make it difficult to hire and fire the right workforce. In South Africa, they posses one of the most powerful trade unions which make firing unproductive workers or right-sizing difficult. I was in Germany last year, they have tough laws as well but because their education system and employers acceptance are high, they face little labour problems. I will touch more on Germany workforce shortly.

The answer lies in economic growth, but not just an ordinary but only  double digit growth could stimulate huge demand for labours. However, only China manage to achieve double digit growth consistently the last few years (China has to deal with big piles of employees suicide cases!) With most economies plagued by debt, it is a far reaching goals to ignite growth of such size. Interestingly, on the employer side they complain of labour shortage! The employers felt the young workforce lack the right skills to perform modern jobs and highly specialized technology-related job. Of course this award-winning blamed goes to the universities and education system that failed to provide sufficient reform in making the young relevant to the job market.

My visit to Germany last year attempted to learn how they improved their labour unemployment by working very closely with the employer markets. Recently South Korea adopted similar strategy through their chaebols by introducing “meister” program. This is widely practiced in Germany where the three stakeholders work together in making the “economy work for them”. This is an important thinking and a breakthrough solution in Germany because the government (policy maker), industry (market maker) and university (talent developer). The participation of these three parties including the syllabus, labs set up, access to equipment, labour policy, re-skilling, up-skilling, wages and many more. This helps every party on the same page and “slowly” ignite the labour market and making them relevant. You also probably know that a German labour is highly mobile across Europe with high pay because of their skills. They are even more marketable when they can speak English very well. 🙂

As Germany is technologically advanced country, the university syllabus is somewhat close to what the industry practices. The labour market also allow the industry managers or practitioners teach at least 2 hours a day on weekdays (which is not allowed in Malaysia and subject to further inquiry). Another problem, the university may not fully recognized your industry experience if you decided to lecture or teach, because they only recognize your academic work. The latest requirement is to require all lecturers in the university to possess PhD for teaching position. Nonetheless, in Malaysia there is already some change with Industrial PhD introduced especially for the industry practitioners, but there’s no clear path where this PhD is taking them to.

"Young people ought not to be idle. It is very bad for them." - Margaret Thatcher
“Young people ought not to be idle. It is very bad for them.” – Margaret Thatcher

Another interesting development in global education, which is fairly interesting and should be taken into serious consideration is the development of corporate college. Corporate college is an initiative whereby the company set up its own training college/academy partnering with the university around them to help build and retain talents for their own business. This is not an ordinary training centres, where in Malaysia the training centres act as another outsource company and somewhat unstructured; corporate college is designed to use internal resources such as the top management and middle managers to teach the young employees. Corporate college also invest in learning how to properly run a holistic education initiative from the university with access to advanced researches and professors that will benefit the company’s own productivity and performance. The university also help the managers to learn how to teach effectively (most practitioners and managers only share their own experience when they teach. It has to be substantiated and verified for teaching purpose, in my opinion). Corporate college now is adopted in South Korea, China, Taiwan, USA, France and many more countries. While some initiatives can be seen in Malaysia (Mydin, Nestle, CIMB, Maybank to name a few), closer relationship between the corporates and university still needed to make this works.

Closing the unemployment gap requires change of attitude from government, business and university alike. Yes, there may be question and fear over that employees will be poached hence discourage the employers to invest in youth employment training, but the consequences for not doing anything about it is equally if not more fatal in the long run. Incremental change on the training program may work temporarily, because organization cannot rely on the current and old workforce for long time. Approximately the young generation (X and Y) already dominating as much as 50% of the workforce and they are here to stay and play.

Finally, technology adoption is also needed to democratize and free up the knowledge within the organization and university. With all variables are converging right now, the world stands a real chance of introducing an “education-and-training revolution worthy of the scale of the problem”.

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Project Management – Modern Workforce Imperative

While many business philosophers claimed that we are living in the best times of the world, unfortunately modern workforce has been seeing the worse in the last few years. Data from various sources also predicting a bleak outlook and across the ocean ahead. That’s just a general feel, but if you are familiar with things on the ground there’s lots of hope to make it work especially for those in the modern workforce. You may have started to do something about it, but if you haven’t I would suggest you to seriously consider my suggestion – find a way to learn project management because it is the modern workforce imperative.

Most of today’s organization do not rely so much on new information or new knowledge to thrive or grow their business. Most of us rely on doing more of the same as long as the customers don’t complain. Once a while, we add new things but that will only means new price increased and most customers don’t like it. Sometimes, in business we add new services by combining other services for example in an executive program I bundled together the premium access to library and journals as well as library membership. By bundling I give my client more services but if you look closely, I don’t change anything on the service. I just make it available right on time and deliver it just the way my customers want it. Well, this is only a simple example how one ways product features can be enhanced (not necessarily innovated).

The buzz word of today’s organization including government, is innovation. What innovation means? Briefly, it means making new improvements from something current to satisfy new needs and new customers. If you are in a technology company, you may need to explore new ideas and technology frontiers, where real innovation is your everyday thing. Nonetheless, most innovations are either in incubation period, infancy stage or progressing stage that requires years of testing and trial before actually making it to the market and make a difference financially and impacting the bottom line. Hence, to keep the business afloat we need to learn to use and utilize our current resources and maximize the productivity and yield as much as possible. This require an impeccable project management skills and this can be learned; almost overnight.


Project Management skill is one of modern workforce must-have skills.
Project Management skill is one of modern workforce must-have skills.

There are several paths to project management. The usual path is to take up proper certification programs from Project Management Institute (PMI) where you are likely to see PMP or APMG International where you are likely to see PRINCE2 certification. Lately there has been an influx of project management certification from Australia, IPMA and several more which I lost count. Secondly, you may choose to attend and participate in your own local provider to learn the fundamentals of project management. I think this is a good idea because in a 3-4 days you will get good overview and get to try out the hands on of building your project paper.

Thirdly, you may opt to buy or print some books online and read them. Jot some notes and do some graphics for you to remember. Finally, which also a cheap way to get access to project management knowledge is by searching for online videos on project management. By all means, you must find a way to get yourself enrolled in either way.

Project management mindset will take you very far in your career. I haven’t mentioned project leadership where you are taking charge of the project and lead your team including your project sponsor, user, director, and also opposition to achieve project goals. It is amazing that project management has developed to become an imperative skills in modern workforce but as someone who is growing up in organization and observing this phenomenon in fresh eyes, I have this to tell you, once again; do sign up for project management (choose one or two of the methods above). While it may take you a while, to get the hang of using the project management tools, you will get used to it after managing 2-3 real projects.

The very reason I say this because a lot of times in organization including in government find difficulties in implementation and executing the projects they have discussed. Often it gets stuck in the middle and then lost in vacuum because they are no takers who can pick this up and manage it in a manner that is both satisfying for the stakeholders. As a project manager, our role is to ensure we achieve the projects’ objectives and we do this by working through and with other people. It is an interesting role and it is still in high growth stage. I don’t want to bore you with the statistics, but if you are looking for one just Google them because there are plenty of them the last 2-3 years.

You also can learn some hands on experience by organizing events for your company or friend’s, involve yourself in social programs where you volunteer to become the committee member, actively seek for internship, enroll in dinner & dance party or simply create a project of your own and get others to join you. There are many ways, but the point is to get yourself learn the project management skills.

I recently had a project management session with my client, and I have been seeing this development where organizations are in dire state looking for more project managers. Not necessarily with certification, by all means if you have the funds go get the certification but if you don’t, never stop your learning there. Find other ways.

I hope you really going to consider this and please share this information for those who will benefit in your circle. Hope this note help improve the awareness of project management skills and inspire those middle managers to learn project management and become life long learners. 🙂

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