Reasons why you should develop your own Standard Operating Procedures

My management philosophy places a great emphasis on standard operating procedures (SOP). This document is tedious and time-consuming to develop, but once in place, can save your company a lot of costs and decrease operational inefficiencies. The common misconception is that a small-scale company doesn’t require SOPs, and this is where the problem initially starts. Years later when they try to scale up their business, they’ll realise that reverse engineering is almost impossible or too costly as the operation processes are too badly intertwined. This bottleneck is the major cause of why many companies fail to scale despite having great products.

SOPs ensure consistency across an organisation and it streamlines the tasks to be executed. A great SOP is more than just a list of tasks that has to be executed accordingly. It needs to fulfil these few aspects below to actually be truly beneficial to an organisation.

  • Precision

This attribute can be achieved by asking the 5W1H questions – Why? When? Who? Where? Which? How (much)? These details have to be as accurate as possible so that when you show them to a dummy, it will be able to understand and execute it without further instructions.

  • Risk Management

If a risk can be anticipated, steps and countering methods can be written down to mitigate the risk and to guide the employees on the appropriate approach when the issues arise. This also intends to minimize discrepancies within the business such as thefts, damaged items, fraud, system incompatibility and etc.

While the top management might be able to highlight risks which are not necessarily obvious to the employees working at the frontline, they could miss out on the lower-level risks which are only known to the employees. This kind of risks should never be ignored as they could induce a huge direct or indirect costs and they’re much easier to mitigate.

I find interviewing the employees under an environment where they’re given enough room to think to be particularly useful to identify these minor risks. Sometimes, to be able to spot these risks, one has to be highly intuitive.  A risk analysis can then be done by creating a risk table which essentially consists of the severity, the cost of the consequences and the probability of the risks to happen. Pareto Principle or the 80/20 rule can then be used to further optimize the spending on risk mitigation.

  • Hierarchical Structure

A list of person-in-charge and their roles and responsibilities should be included in the documents. This is essential in the case when escalation of decision-making is inevitable. It also maps out the reporting relationship within the organisation which will increase the efficiency of communication and enable faster reaction in the face of crisis.

  • Up-to-date

The SOPs of a company should always stay updated to fit the business needs and requirements. If strictly following the SOPs incurs greater costs to the business, the validity of the SOPs should be questioned and the top management should take time to revise the SOPs. Companies should nurture an environment in which employees are encouraged to voice out their own opinions on how their routine work can be done more efficiently and effectively.

I always use the ‘elephant with matchstick legs’ metaphor to address the state of a company which the business internal processes and controls can no longer support its progression. Documents like the policies and procedures and SOPs are supposed to handle this problem, but they’re often overlooked or underenforced. If you’re having problems managing the performance of your employees, try developing and enforcing the SOPs. You’ll be shocked at how effective the SOPs are in tackling this issue.

A Month into My Job as a Change Management Manager

Carlos Ghosn a.k.a. Le Cost Killer which literally means ‘The Cost Killer’ is a prominent businessman who had steered Renault and Nissan from their darkest days to the state of where they are today. Unfortunately, he has become a sacrificial lamb as the Japanese government retaliated against the hostile takeover of Nissan contrived by the French government.

Ghosn was ‘airdropped’ to both companies when they were in a dire state. He turned the situation around, paying off massive debts and the companies soon became profitable within a few years time. On the Chinese news platform Jinri Toutiao and the Chinese equivalent of Quora – Zhihu, some people regarded his work as downright effortless and attributed his success to his boldness when it comes to cost-cutting. Since he was airdropped into the companies, he was not afraid to lay off employees and conduct the sell-off of unprofitable businesses. He had also achieved cost reduction through process optimization.

I personally admire his courage in revitalising the companies, bringing them back to recapture the global automotive market share. The company which I am currently working at now is haunted by operation inefficiencies, chaotic hierarchy, security loopholes and mounting-up-costs. In the last month, my team and I had been restructuring the organisational hierarchy, centralising recruiting process to avoid improper recruitment, enforcing the recording of work done to ease monitoring process and making it compulsory for the business leaders of each division to prepare constructive reports for the group managing director. Over the next few weeks, we are going to revise our company policies and procedures to ensure firm control over our business operations.

Some of the divisions are already under life support but I feel like there is a general lack of understanding of the current state and the sense of urgency. It is the culture of Sarawak that has been holding the top management back. The need to portray our company as being humane and considerate prevents us from taking immediate action. This is made worse by the fact that we have not done much on corporate branding when it comes to recruitment so far. In other words, we have a problem with acquiring talents. I metaphorize this as stopping a dying person’s blood transfusion process. I personally would suffer a serious burnout of enthusiasm if I do not get to work with competitive people.

I really hope that I can turn the company around before I leave as this would have been an impressive accomplishment on my resume. Perhaps after a few more months, I’ll be able to write a more informative and comprehensive article on change management. That’s it for now, ciao!

 

 

Abel

Data Management in Business – Then, Now and Next.

If we were to categorise ‘data’ into one of the 3 universal currencies suggested by Josh Kaufman, then it clearly goes under the banner of ‘resources’. Back when personal computers were not as common, SMEs didn’t really emphasize much on data collection. This is because difficulties of gathering data outweigh its strategic advantage due to several reasons:

  1. They didn’t have a concrete way to store data.
  2. Small-sized data doesn’t really help much in decision making as it only represents the minority.
  3. The processing power of computers was incapable of utilising big data in an economically viable way.
  4. The lack of enterprise services such as those provided by Bloomberg intensified the intransparency amongst businesses.

Due to these reasons, data collection back then was mainly meant for internal and administrative uses.

Fast forward to 4.0 IR, the obstacles listed above have mostly been overcome, and data management has become the deciding factor in any company’s success.  It plays a crucial role in strategic planning from audience targeting in advertising to user interface (UI) development in R&D. It indirectly shapes the competitive advantage of your company, helping your business to stand out among your competitors.

As businesses delve into a future in which artificial intelligence(AI) will be heavily relied on, big data will play a very significant role in helping them to understand their businesses better and make better decisions. I personally believe that the flow and exchange of data between various entities will eventually become more fluid as this will encourage the interaction between different algorithms, helping them to learn at an even faster rate. From my point of view, this is not going to happen in the near future as we are still bound by the current rules and regulations which prohibit the free-flowing of data. The Personal Data Protection Act(PDPA), for example, states that data can only be used in the way that the owners have been told of at the point of collection. Therefore, data cannot be treated as a commodity and sold to any third party even though it could potentially help them to bring greater benefits to your customers and also help your business to recoup the loss in collecting these data in the first place. There is a lack of execution to prosecute the offenders, though, as our data is still being traded maliciously. Those spams in our mailbox and the cold-calls that we receive every day are solid proofs.

Assuming that the barrier of data flow has been overcome, just like how different companies will value their targets of merger and acquisitions differently, the values of data will also vary accordingly. The proverb ‘one man’s trash is another man’s gold’ is particularly true for the big data industry. Finding the right buyer not only brings greater benefits to your customers but it also brings you a greater profit. As with any other properties which have a high value associated with it, these data must be protected and insured to prevent a catastrophic loss to your company in the case of loss of data due to security breach or system failure. Therefore, the next tough challenge to solve would be to find out how cyber insurance can be done in a way that benefits both the insurer and the insured. This is not easy, however, considering the fact that the intrinsic value of data is quite difficult to determine.

Currently, there is a trust issue between various corporations and governments which provide services and the people using them. Therefore, activities which often involve sensitive data such as government surveillance would always spark uproar within the society. The key to solving this issue is to employ a strong surveillance system which would ensure that the flow of data is harmless to the people at the very least. Humans have already come this far in our colonisation of the Earth but there is still a very long way to go before we could venture into space. The free-flowing of data will speed up this process and the usage of AI shouldn’t be seen as a threat to humanity. After all, how could we possibly program our basic desires into robots? Without these desires, how could they possibly do harm to us?

 

 

 

Abel

Late-night blogging. Join me as I talk about potential startup opportunities in Malaysia.

It’s almost 4 a.m. now and I’ve just finished amending my resume for Bain & Company. This is one of the companies which I’ve dreamt of getting into all this time. I’m also currently considering building a startup now, though I’ve yet to decide on when to commit to this project.

I personally enjoy all kinds of excitement which can bring different forms of experiences into my life. This is the reason why I took the opportunity to work in Japan around a year ago. Now, back to the topic. People always ask me this question whenever I’ve told them that I want to start my own company: what product do you have in your mind?

In my opinion, for any business to thrive, it must first identify a lucrative and sustainable industry. The product itself should not come first, and the entrepreneurs should never fall in love with their products. A product which cannot justify its position within its own market is most likely merely an internal hype and it will never become a commercial success. Think of that electric tie press in Jeff Bezos’ ‘The Electric Metaphor’ TEDTalk.

I am a strong believer in the fact that mankind will constantly evolve to become greater. Through the universalization of education, humans will become more humane in the future. (Slightly off-topic here, but this is the exact reason why I believe that a 3rd World War is unlikely.) Through history, we know that it always took time for mankind to build up their sense of morality as in the case of the Slavery Abolition Act 1833 or a more tangible example – environment protection act. Every country and civilisation has to experience major revolutions to bring forth the improvement in the quality of life, but these often give rise to unforeseen complications. As an example, the Slavery Abolition Act created a void in the labour force, solved by the application of steam engines after the industrial revolution which in turn prompted environmental concern due to the high CO2 discharge rate. Based on my deduction, green energy and sustainable production technology are going to become more and more dominant in the future and thus I’m considering this as a very viable option.

I’m also setting my eyes on e-commerce. The market in well-developed countries is probably way too saturated with this now but for developing countries like Malaysia, there is still a very big room for improvement. E-commerce allows trivial tasks to be done more efficiently and thus it is perfectly logical to deduce that it’ll become an essential part of our lives in the future.

Malaysians are still used to ordering online just to receive their parcels around a month later. In my opinion, this phenomenon won’t stay for long as it is human nature to pursue a better life. A local parcel delivery startup which can match SF Express in China will probably make itself to the headlines in the future.

These are just a few of my ideas which I’ve thought of recently. I’m still struggling (or rather, procrastinating) to identify the field which I want to get myself into if I’m going to build a startup. I’m not being pessimistic here, but if I got rejected by the big names which I’d applied to, I’d probably go all-in to start my own company. The recent gold price surge is basically telling us that people are losing hope in the global economy and that a recession is likely to come soon. Just like how the 2008 financial crisis had created Uber and Airbnb, this could spark the growth of some unforeseeable markets. We should either grab this chance or miss it and wait for another decade.

What does it take to win?

I’ve grown to become who I am today by conquering fear, depression, suicidal thoughts and a lot of adversities. Just when I thought I was unbeatable in every aspect of my life, something hit hard right in my face. I had a wonderful time during my study at The University of Manchester, but I was also being forced to swallow the bitter pill that says “Hard work doesn’t really correlate to good results.” Now, before the “study smart, not study hard” comments flood into the comment section, let me clarify one thing: I appreciate the knowledge and hence I don’t take any shortcut, no matter how attractive the reward is. Perhaps ‘any’ is an overstatement, but in my 2nd and 3rd year, I did rely a lot less on the ‘external resources’ and worked harder to solve the problems on my own. One could say that I don’t care about my result as much as most of the other students, and while I have to admit that is true, I also have to say that I live by my own principles. I simply cannot abandon my principles for the sake of better marks.

Whenever I told my dad about these, he would always tell me that academic result is not everything and that my attitude is the key to success. While I strongly believe in what he had told me, my academic result is indeed everything I have so far. I was originally enrolled in the MEng Chemical Engineering course at The University of Manchester, but somehow I got sick of the education system which sometimes doesn’t really reward students who have worked hard for it. Therefore, I have decided to end my study at the BEng level, which means that I’ll graduate one year earlier in 2019.

Back to the question, what does it take to win? Staying for another year to complete my MEng is certainly not the winning way. Even though there is the likelihood of me achieving a First if I continue to pursue the MEng level, it simply doesn’t excite me anymore. I think that all great things which had happened in the past were the fruits of brave decisions made by visionaries. I do have a vision of who I’ll become in the future, and it definitely has nothing to do with engineering.  For once, I hope I can make my own decision to be the kind of person I want to be in the future. I love dealing with people and managing a company. At least when I’d come across a challenge in business,  working hard always guaranteed a great result. Although it can get quite subjective in business sometimes, metrics can be easily measured unlike some of the course units at my university which are highly reliant on the supervisors assigned to you a.k.a. luck.

I’m definitely not the most talented engineering student in my course but I’m definitely one of the most hardworking one. So, to be able to ‘win’, I must take in more skills and knowledge out of my own discipline. Luckily, I just so happen to be kind of gifted when it comes to memorising stats. I’m very sensitive to figures so I can easily spot the error made by the other people provided that I’m familiar with the background information of the data (Ben Shapiro 2.0??). I’m also very interested in history so you can bet that if you’ve mistakenly reported the war casualties which I’m familiar with by the magnitude of 10, I’ll be the first one to point it out. “Magnitude of 10! That’s easy!”, you might think. Well, Enrico Fermi who was one of the scientists involved in the Manhattan Project approximated the explosion yield of the Trinity Bomb and his result was barely in the range of 10 times the actual value and his achievement was considered by many scientists during his time as extraordinarily spectacular. He was able to do it because of his proficiency in physics, but I’m able to make my judgement because I’ve stored a lot of information in my brain and therefore I have more resources to assist me in the process. Now, how is that even applicable to my life? To answer this, I’ll have to brag about my dad. Just by having a glimpse of a piece of land, he can approximate the height of the wall which has to be built to prevent flooding or landslide to be around 1-3m from the actual height, the number of houses which can be built on the land and heck, he could even approximate the capital of investment required to complete the project. When you’re a property developer and you could somehow identify all these data within a few minutes, it’d be quite difficult for a sweat deal to slip past you and you’d even know which project is the best to go for so the project which you’ve chosen doesn’t incur an opportunity cost on you.

Winning is easy. Just do whatever you’re good at and don’t assume that you can do everything as perfectly as the other people. Everyone has a good combination of skills which makes each of us unique. My dad, despite how omnipotent he might seem, is not really a charismatic person. I could have talked more, but I know he’ll be reading this blog so I should stop here. *insert cheeky face* While ‘Jack of all trades, master of none’ has its own merit, it’s not entirely true. It’s meant to reprimand all those people who have no perseverance in trying to master something before getting into another entirely new field. When it comes to problem-solving, having more skills under your belt often proves to be more advantageous as you’re more capable of dissecting the problem differently compared to the other people and solve it from a different angle which would otherwise not be possible if you’re technically a ‘master of one’.

To win, you just have to be open-minded and appreciate all forms of knowledge. It really teaches you to be creative and be optimistic amidst the odds. Even if you can’t actually use some of the knowledge in your everyday life, knowing more does make you more fun to talk to, ain’t that right? 

Abel

Everything happening so far…

It’s been months since I’ve blogged about something. I’ve always had the motivation to write about things, it’s just that they always end up in the drafts. University work had been busy in the previous semester and I simply couldn’t keep my focus on a single topic. Hopefully, I’ll find enough time in the future to publish those unfinished blogs.

 

In the last semester, I had applied to a few Fortune 500 companies to see if I had the chance to get into their summer internship programme. A few memorable ones include PwC, British Petroleum and Unilever.

PwC uses a very ‘fun’ approach to assess the candidates by asking them to download an app to play the games. But it turned out to be frustrating to me as I had a few deadlines to meet and I just couldn’t be bothered to try to unlock the chests. Imagine if you’ve got one of the passwords wrong, you’d end up solving the puzzle from the start. For the emotional recognition part, I had been shown the faces of cartoon characters and asked to guess their feelings. When the result came out, I had been identified as an individual who simply does not feel motivated by rewards and also unable to recognise facial expressions. Cool.

I was a bit reluctant to apply to BP at first, as they have been into many scandals in the past and I simply don’t even think that both of us share the same value. The fact that they’re saying that they prioritise sustainability sounds too much like a hiring tool to me. Nevertheless, I still went for it as I had not received any reply from my applications yet. Surprisingly, among all my applications, I proceeded the furthest in this application. I felt like I had handled the interview perfectly but somehow I still got rejected in the next day. Perhaps I was trying too hard to be perfect rather than being who I’m supposed to be, and this could have seriously affected my credibility to work at this company.

Unilever’s recruitment system is flawed. They should have told the applicants that they don’t sponsor working visa as early as possible. I ended up wasting so much time answering and writing essays, only to be rejected the moment I click the ‘Submit’ button.

I eventually gave up applying and put more focus on my study as I think that I don’t have to rush to get a job. I told myself, just do whatever I’m supposed to do, the rewards will come afterwards.

 

When it comes to investment, I’m always eager to try out new stuff. Having a surplus of pocket money, I had decided to try out NatWest’s new investment account. An initial sum of £200 has since grown to £207 over a span of 2 months. The only question in my mind is, how is this going to be affected by the Brexit? Let’s wait and see.

 

At the point of writing this blog, my result is going to be released in a week time. I’m pretty confident that I’ll be able to achieve a 2:1 at least, but what I’m aiming for is the first class. People would say 2:1 from a top university and enough work experience are more than suffice to land on a job, but what if we can have both?

I believe that attitude is the only thing that matters when it comes to work. I’ve worked with many people in the past and I’d say it’s fairly simple to categorise people into a few types:

  1. The Loud

When dealing with the success of the overall group, they’ll claim the work of the other people. They don’t put in as much effort as the other people who are working very hard but somehow they always ended up being the noticeable one. When something goes wrong, they’ll be the first to point fingers.

2.  The Silent Worker

These people work and contribute silently to the overall project. They deserve recognition but somehow they’re not bothered by it. In fact, I believe this group of people is the most valuable asset to any organization. Therefore, I always verbally acknowledge these people my appreciation of their effort. Being able to recognize this is simply the basics of managing talents within an organisation. This is how a great company grows even bigger through accumulating talents.

3. The 心有余而力不足 a.k.a ‘I want to do something but I simply can’t’ Type

This is actually quite a cringy thing to talk about, as I really don’t see this often until I started working with my design project group. Oh well, these people simply won’t even be invited for any job interview so I guess you won’t see them often in any work environment.

4. The Leader

Leaders prompt teamwork within group members, communicate with everyone and make decisions. They’re the reason behind 1+1 being greater than 2. I had been influenced by many great leaders in the past, including my mum’s business partners Mdm. Sue Lim, Dr. Selva and my ex-boss Yasuko Nagase. They’re in general very charismatic and fun to talk to. Even though I’m the de facto leader of my current design project group, I feel like there are still so many things to learn, such as identifying the appropriate ‘reward’ to motivate my team members to work. My knowledge of dealing with people and management has helped me a lot, and now I feel like it’s fairly easy for me to influence other people, which is why I’ve always kept myself energized to retain the high morale of my group members.

 

 

It’ll be very blunt to end my blog here, but nevertheless, I think I’ve included a lot of things which I really want to tell you about. Till next time then.

 

Abel

 

 

 

A Look into My Summer 2018 Internship

**Feel free to skip to the 4th paragraph to dive into the topic directly.**

A few months before my 2018 summer break, I had already set a goal for myself – to obtain work experience and to build my career profile. My parents are both entrepreneurs in their own rights, so I had heard a lot from them on how ‘fortunate’ I am to be inside the ‘greenhouse’ throughout my whole life. Perhaps I have inherited the ‘warrior gene’ (this attributes to my persistence, can-do attitude and no, it is not a resemblance of the mutated gene which causes psychiatric disorder) from my parents, my urge to prove my value eventually transformed into a real action, actively seeking for the internship opportunities overseas.

At that time, I really wanted to try something really challenging and life-changing. Although I had a certain level of marketing, management skills which I had acquired from my parents and through self-education on top of my problem solving, analytical skills from the major that I was pursuing, my job history was just a plain white field on a paper. I was fortunate enough to come across an advertisement from an agency which helps foreigners to search for placements in Japan. When I started my application, the deadline was already fast approaching. I was an engineering sophomore, so my initial choices were of course engineering related jobs. However, the agency told me that it was impossible to look for one since those fields require high language (Japanese) requirement and their stringent policy means that I would have to go for other alternatives. Since my dad is into the real estate business, I thought that by working at a Japanese real estate company, I can acquire useful insights which could be beneficial for his business.

Soon, the Japanese share house company got into contact with me and we had an interview session. They asked a few questions on my interest in real estates and my hobbies. It was more like a casual chat rather than a typical interview. (I was quite curious about why would they take me in the first place, but I later learnt that because they really needed someone who was proficient in analysing and dealing with data. For those people who are still wondering why do we engineers have a broad range of work opportunities, this is the reason.)

I packed my stuff and travelled to Japan on the 13th of June 2018. It did not take me long before I fell in love with this land of the rising sun. When I first started working at the share house company, I mainly worked on the preparation of documents, translation and correction of Japanglish. Not long after working here, I realised that no one was able to tell me about how to apply my skills to benefit the company. So, I took the initiative to perform research on my own whenever I was free and presented the results during company meetings. I was given the freedom to do whatever I wanted for the company, so there was really nothing hindering me. My boss is an open-minded person so you won’t see the typical Japanese bureaucracy here. Her strict demeanour at work is a disguise of her loving personality. We had exchanged thoughts on the problems and the challenges faced by the modern Japanese society. (She actually published a book on human reproduction, which will be given to the couples who register their marriage in the Shinjuku area. Quite an amazing achievement if you ask me.) Having talked to her a few times, I came to believe that my dream, as absurd as it may seem, could possibly be achieved if I work hard enough and have an unwavering faith in myself.

When I worked there, my company had a partnership project with an education company in Japan. Being part of the project myself, I had the opportunity to meet and also network with students from the top universities in the world. It was interesting to learn about how the universities, especially those in the US, deliver education to the students. Their burning passion and their willingness to share made them fun to talk to. One of my responsibilities was to organise events for them, and I also had the privilege to join them. We had a great night in Hakone, one of the most touristic places around two hours of train ride away from Tokyo (it has a few hot springs and traditional Japanese hotels, so I highly recommend this place if you have the chance to visit Tokyo). Being an organiser of the cooking classes, I had the chance to learn along with them on the preparation of Japanese food. Another memorable event was the Tokyo Bay Cruise, which gave us the opportunity to enjoy the night view of the Tokyo Bay area (could have taken a few good photos there, but my iPhone camera turned into a potato at night.)

When I was not at work, I often joined my colleagues in the house meetings and the BBQ events. Grilling meat gets more intense when you know you can’t screw up since everyone relies on you. (My colleague Satoru with his ‘get this thing done now’ attitude gave me lots of troubles because he would throw everything onto the same spot. That’s not barbecuing, pal!)

Throughout my time working there (in fact, I’m still working remotely for the company as a part-timer), I was more like an employee rather than an intern because I often had to give myself a goal or objective every week. I worked along with the other colleagues, overcoming countless challenges such as arranging for housing for some 180 people, planning events and solving conflicts between house residents. I was also a social media manager throughout my time there, keeping people informed about the events happening every week. I also wrote English blogs for my company as a strategy to improve the SEO of our website. My analytical skill was being put to good use as I took the initiative myself to carry out a market research for the company.

I am always interested in business but I chose to go for a major in engineering. I had no regret choosing chemical engineering over business because chemical engineering is a very versatile major and it gives me a strong foundation of logical thinking which can be applied to many areas including business. I also pick up knowledge on business management on my own by reading books (I doubt I’ll still read books on business if I had chosen to go for a major in business instead).

Alright, that’s it from me this time. My semester has already started and I’m currently eyeing on a summer analyst position at JPMorgan in either Singapore or Hong Kong. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that I’ll be able to successfully pass all the interviews. Life is just getting busier with no sign of slowing down.

Till next time.

Abel