Fluff vs. Reality – Challenges to Establishing Healthy Workplace Culture in APAC: Exclusive learnings from Steve Melhuish

February 29, 20168:15 am899 views

Healthy workplace culture is one of the quintessential elements to keep employees engaged, boost efficiencies, increase productivity levels and thus retain key talent within the organisation.

However, establishing a healthy environment at work where employees could thrive, learn and grow with the company isn’t always easy.

Steve Melhuish, Group CEO and Co-founder of PropertyGuru shares secrets to creating a healthy workplace culture in Singapore and how can businesses stay off the fluff – to get in sync with reality and witness the real transformation.

  • How important is it to maintain a healthy workplace culture that promotes efficiency and thus contributes to increased productivity levels from employees?

It is definitely important to maintain a healthy workplace culture, and achieve proper work-life balance. At PropertyGuru, we find that this helps to bring out the best in all of our employees. For each new employee, as part of the induction process, we instil our core beliefs, to what we call ‘Guru’ values: Ground-breaking, Urgency, Results-focused, United and Service-obsessed. We emphasize on openness, inclusiveness and team work to create a positive and productive workplace.

To create a healthy workplace culture and to help our staff maintain work life balance, we create flexibility options for our Gurus.

We try our best to accommodate to personal challenges whenever possible, such as considerations to work from home, or four-day work week schedules. This definitely helps us to retain key talent pool, since our employees, our Gurus, are made to feel valued and cared at their workplace.

Through emphasis on our core value of being United, we focus on making workplace fun and open. To this end, we allocate budgets for recreational events in each country, such that we can engage with each other socially and enjoy time together.

We also use our values and culture to differentiate ourselves from other employees, to retain key talent and make our workplace a great place to work.

Steve Melhuish, Group CEO and Co-founder of PropertyGuru

Steve Melhuish, Group CEO and Co-founder of PropertyGuru

Our values and culture aren’t just about having fun, they also stress and emphasise on outcomes. Everybody in the company, right from the CEO down the management pipeline, has a fixed set of KPIs meant to be achieved within a specific time period.

The CEO distributes his share of KPIs among the leadership team, who then distribute them amongst the managers and talent pipeline, streaming down to individual Gurus. Through this approach, everyone is held accountable, and the performance of each individual directly contributes to the company’s overall KPIs.

Also this makes every individual feels a sense of ownership of having a stake in the progress of the company.

  • How can a strong workplace culture prove beneficial for employer branding efforts?

Strong workplace culture has been one of the most valuable assets in our employer branding efforts. Our Gurus are happy and engaged, and it shows in the employee surveys we do. Very often, new Gurus are attracted to join us because of what they hear from current employees, about fun and open culture. This we see, as an attractive alternative to regular corporate jobs.

See: How to Manage Poor Attitudes and Negativity in the Workplace?

  • Tell us about the challenges faced by organisations in Singapore today, towards embracing and maintaining a healthy workplace culture that supports development of all in a corporate setting?

One of the challenges we face in implementing an open, flexible workplace for a healthy culture is the issue of accountability and professional maturity. This is something that we need to catch up on in Singapore, and in the APAC region. We find that hiring people who hold themselves accountable for their outcomes, they certainly thrive very well in an open, flexible environment.

  • How do you define your company’s culture and use that as a part of the hiring framework?

The ability of an individual to live our Guru values, his or her culture fit, is the first thing we look for in a prospective hire. We believe this is the most important thing for us, when we hire. Hence many at times, even exceptionally qualified candidates are rejected, since they do not fit well in our professional culture.

  • Tell us about the differences in workplace culture – as working for a start-up vis-a-vis larger MNCs and global organisations.

Most of us in senior leadership positions have been acquired and onboarded from larger MNCs and global organizations. Since we got onboard, the workplace environment allows each individual to create their own imprint and make their own mark.

Unfortunately, in many MNCs today, the process is bureaucratic, and very hierarchical. For many of us, we often had to report to a corporate HQ outside of Singapore, that often shoe-boxed Asia as a single entity with one strategy.

In a start-up environment, things are a lot more flexible, and grounded. We have a very flat hierarchy, and we treat each market, each office differently. There is a lot more respect for the local culture and people and transparency around performance especially with effective communication. This further helps to drive engagement at all levels within the organisation.

  • What are the key elements that every workplace culture should possess to foster better employee engagement and talent retention?

At PropertyGuru, we value open communication amongst employees and also between teams and their managers. Regular meetings are scheduled for the purpose of providing feedback, which also foster quality employee engagement.

We hold quarterly team meetings to update employees on the company’s latest developments. Our Gurus are able to provide regular feedback on management and company direction in bi-annual upward reviews. Also quarterly fire-side sessions are organised, wherein Gurus are allowed to ask questions in a comfortable and open setting. We find that this openness leads to better employee engagement,

  • Highlight steps to develop a comprehensive people strategy to hire, recruit and train talent and promote women leadership in an organisation?

PropertyGuru, is a diverse company with 19 nationalities and an equal opportunity employer. The company is headquartered in Singapore, which is multiracial and diverse as a country.

When we hire an individual, culture fit comes first, and part of that is to be a person who respects others, and is accepting of differences. While we do not have quota based hiring for any position, including those in leadership positions, we have had several women hold leadership tenures at our company, including heads of product, user experience, sales and marketing.

Currently, in our senior leadership team, we have a country manager and our Chief People and Culture Officer, who are women. These individuals were not hired because of their gender, but because they were simply the best candidate for the position.

What we seek to do at PropertyGuru, is to create an open, accepting and diverse environment that attracts people at the top of their professions, including women.

  • Suggest some tips to strike work-life balance for Singaporeans in particular.

At PropertyGuru, we respect our Gurus’ need for a life outside of work by having flexible working hours.

We have 3 suggestions that we recommend to achieve work-life balance:

  1. Unplug and Unwind

It might be strange for a technology company to say this, but to achieve work life balance, it’s a good idea to turn off all communication devices during downtime and simply enjoy the moment.

  1. Being Accountable

We need to be accountable for achieving the KPIs that have been set. This means that should focus on the important things at hand, instead of trying to do everything. This allows us to have more time to spend with our families and friends.

  1. Prioritization

As a start-up, resources are always tight, and there are always going to be multiple demands on your time, attention and resources. Every two weeks, we prioritize what our products enhancements will be. Every day, we go through an individual process of prioritization on what to do.

  • How do you envision workplaces of the future in Singapore in 2020 and beyond?

As workplaces evolve, technology is going to play a greater role. We already see many examples of individuals working from home, or working out of another country remotely.

We expect to see this increase further, as technology infrastructures improve. As this happens, both employees and employers must learn how to be even more flexible, adaptable, and accountable to one another.

  • Tell us about the key first changes introduced at Property Guru to influence vibrant workplace culture and spread happiness among employees.

A key measure we implemented was to create a CSR program, GuruCares to instil a sense of responsibility, and have our Gurus contribute to the community around us.

We also decided to work on causes around the next generation. This is an organization wide initiative that we constantly emphasize, with every country assigned a budget for these activities.

Every year, we have contributed to causes like Habitat for Humanity, the Children’s Cancer Foundation. Most recently, we raised some RM44,000 for the Agiathan Shelter and Rainbow Home in Malaysia. By participating in these causes, our Gurus can feel that this is more than just a job, but in a way they are also giving back to the community.

Also read: Fixing the Workplace Culture for Our Own Good

Image credit: freedigitalphotos.net

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