Appreciating the staff you have

I attended a graduation ceremony about two years ago in Subang Jaya by the Trinity College London in which 150 musicians graduated with their Associate, Licentiate or Fellowship awards. Parents, spouses and even children of graduates came from all over Malaysia to celebrate their love ones’ achievements. It dawn on me that despite our relatively small population, Malaysia really has a lot of musical talents. In the same year’s Global Chinese Music Award, Malaysian artists took home 20% of the 35 opened awards. However, almost all of these artists had to leave Malaysia to seek and find their fame & fortune, in Taiwan and China. In the inaugural issue of the now defunct print weekly, The Heat, it was revealed that former Miss Malaysia, Soo Wincci had to spend RM1.0 million to launch her musical career. To nurture talents is indeed a very expensive undertaking and there seems to be no allocation by the state to nurture these talents. But judging from the musical talents I witnessed in the Trinity College London event, Malaysian parents are willing to spend heavily on their children’s music education even if the government is not prepared to do so. However, funding of music education is just one of the many aspects of developing musical talents in the country. When the “ecosystem” for an industry is not able to sustain its healthy growth, talents will need to move overseas. We may lose these talents altogether.

In the workplace, aside from the civil service, government-linked companies and multinationals, many private companies still treat the training and development of their staff as something that “the government” forces upon them. The implementation of the Human Resource Development Fund (HRDF) put paid to some of these lack of training commitments as contributing companies have to pay 1% of their payroll as HRDF contribution and they get back training grants in return. But there is still a lack of training culture in private companies, especially among the Small and Medium Enterprises (SME). SMEs form the bulk of the companies that do not fall into the the HRDF contribution requirements.

When I was operating a federal government funded institution that provides technical and vocational training in 2011, my centre was awarded RM100,000 by the SME Corporation Malaysia (SME Corp) to spend on subsidising 50% of the training fees of approved short technical and vocational courses for SMEs. The qualifying criteria were very simple: the trainees need to be Malaysians, the companies have to be majority Malaysian owned or in sole-proprietorships or partnerships. I was told by my staff that every year we would have trouble spending the full allocation. I decided to do something different. I packaged soft-skills courses (which were not covered by the grant) into the offering so that the trainees would get 2 courses for 50% of the fee for each SME Corp sponsored course they take (2 for half the price of one course). I was prepared to lower the margin for my centre to benefit these SMEs. Despite the incentives, I was having great trouble spending the RM100,000 grant!

It seemed that in that part of Malaysia, the culture of appreciating and nurturing our talent pool did not exist.  I was wondering why many bosses only paid lip service to my effort. In the end my centre only managed to spend less than half of our allocated grant. Later, after I have made some enquiries and spoken to some of the SMEs and clients, I discovered that there were two reasons for my failure to entice SMEs taking up my offer. Firstly, most do not subscribe to the idea of training their staff. I was getting this question thrown to my face many times,”If I send my guy to your training course, who is going to do his job?” Secondly, many of the SMEs were nearly fully relying on foreign workers with only token Malaysians working in the administrative, marketing and supervisory functions. Foreigners are not eligible for the training grant. Many of these SMEs seemed to be contented with being the fabricators or contract manufacturers, at the bottom of the value-chain. They stand to lose out to other companies, especially those from cheaper cost regions when there is any changes in the business environment. They will always be squeezed by the big customers or main contractors because of their lack of technical ability or design capability.

Some years ago, I read a very interesting article in one of the Chinese dailies. It was describing the 4 types of people that employees can be classified into. “Wealth generating people” (WGP) (“Ren Cai“  - 人财) are talents that you have who will help you to create all the wealth of your company. “People being there” (PBT) (”Ren Zai” – 人在) are those employees who will clock in to work each day waiting to clock out and have the “minimalist” approach to doing work. “Woody people” (WP) (“Ren Cai” –  人 材) are those described as deadwood. “Talented people” (TP) (”Ren  Cai” – 人才) are staff who have all the potential and talent waiting to be developed. Of course you will want to be rid of the WP and PBT as fast as possible. You will need to be very alert when communicating with the WGP. These guys know what they have and can do and they will bring their talents elsewhere as soon as they detect any major issues with you or your company. Your success rely more on the TP. But if you do not take the trouble to develop them, either they will look for better opportunities or they will, when they become more experienced, turn themselves into WGP for other companies.

Although all entrepreneurs aspire to soar with the eagles, but many, like those I had encountered in my vocation and skills development centre, are content to run with the turkeys. But I sincerely hope that they know, only with a bit of commitment in cultivating the “Talented people” among their staff, even though they might not be soaring with the eagles, at least they can be the “roadrunners” to always race ahead of the turkeys and escape from the coyote….Beep! Beep!

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I wrote the draft of this article on November 01, 2013. At that time I had been roped in to contribute articles to help in getting the then brand new English business weekly, Focus Malaysia off the ground. As happened to many new publications, getting credible writers was the main headache for the editors. Hence I became the “accidental” writer to fill in the gap till the publication could engage sufficient full-time and part-time writers. This piece was prepared for my column, “Learning Circle” in which I had been publishing my column under my moniker of “Plantcloner” but it did not get the see the light of day in 2013 as my column was pulled in favour of a “star” columnist. For my stint as a columnist for Focus Malaysia, I did not receive a single cent or any incentive for my effort.

Since then this draft has received several revisions when I was writing for The Heat (the print version) and later Focusweek, but somehow I did not manage to shorten it from the 1,000 words (as specified for Focus Malaysia) to about 800 words for the latter two.

If you are a business owner or managing a business for an employer, may all the staff that you have turn out to be either Talented People or Wealth Generating People!

(The image used was derived from: http://schenec.com/business/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/Corporate-Training.jpg

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