Monday, May 18, 2015

Unleashing Potential..

Unleashing Potential.
I developed this chart in 2005 when I was the head of HR for Unilever Arabia and Gulf, to help me explain to the future leaders of the company at the time on how to plan for their career.
The chart was based on my own experience of how I developed my career.
The chart was valid way back when I first stepped into the work-life for the first time in 1983 and still valid for now.
a. Choosing a career options
- Always consider your source of motivation; what kind of work and accomplishments motive you the most? If you are motivated by scientific break-through, embark on a career as a research scientist.
I have always been motivated by creating values for organizations through structure, culture, and people. After one year of working, I decided that I wanted to be a  HR professional even though my starting point was as an engineer.
- Also assess your own strengths. Choosing a profession where you have to be strong or have an aptitude towards learning the subject matter, will make your pursuit easier and happier.
- Take a realistic view. What are the possibility of success, whether internally in the organization or in the open market? Why choose to pursue an ambition to be astronaut when you know that the portability of every achieving that is almost zero. 
b. Taking stock of your reality in term of strengths and weaknesses, and comparing with the profile of a successful figure in the profession will identify the gaps for you to close through learning and development.
- Find a successful figure as your bench-mark.
In my case, as a 26 year old young engineer I walked into the office of Texas Instruments HR director, Tuan Hassan Ali, and said to him that I hope one day I can step into his chair as a HR Director. I grabbed his attention. He was so pleased with the pro-activeness I displayed and made it his point to regularly stopped by my office after official work hours to chat and catch up on my progress. I profiled him; his traits and his competencies. I identified my gaps.
I listed down steps I needed to take in term of Skills, Leadership qualities, Experience etc.
c. For development, I engaged in all available options; formal training, informal involvement in people and HR related activities such as volunteering to organize events like  'family day', 'sports day' and 'annual dinner'.
For formal training I enrolled myself for post graduate program , the Diploma in Human Resource Management (DIPM).
I read numerous books as my self-learning initiative and attended seminars and conferences.
I consider my bosses Tun Ibrahim, Mr Gunaratnam, Mohana Krishna (Now a Dato), Tuan Effendy Abd Rahman, and many others whom I respected and admired as my mentor and examples. I learned not only what they did right but also what they did wrong.
I seeked opportunities to be involved in projects, and also undertaken job assignments which I consider will enhance my development.
The point I wish to emphasize, I took responsibility for my own career development and development. I took a very pro-active approach, and fortunately the company was very supportive.

To be honest, if the company was less than supportive I would have moved on to another employer.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

My first six months at Texas Instruments was as an Intern...

For Bachelor's degree, I did a sandwich course in Applied Physics. Wiki defines Sandwich course as
"A sandwich degree is a four-year undergraduate course in which students undertake a placement year or internship in industry, normally after the second year at university. During 1989 in the United Kingdom, about 20% of the students in higher education were on sandwich courses.[1]"
For my 3rd year in 1982, I applied to Texas Instruments Malaysia for internship of six months, and was accepted. I remember very well receiving a letter signed by Puan Norilah Khan of Human Resource Department. Located on Jalan Enggang in Taman Keramat, Texas Instruments was one of the electronics MNCs which came to set up their factories in Malaysia's free trade zones, capitalizing on very attractive tax incentives in one of the most politically stable countries, educated work force, and excellent infrastructure.
My internship period was from March until August. I was assigned to different work areas, each time reporting to a different boss. Being an undergraduate who was studying overseas, I was given the due respect by the staffs and management.
Six months of working cum learning in an American company in Malaysia opened up my mind to career options outside the normal routes of working for the government. Even then at a gullible age of early twenties, I was attracted to the culture of meritocracy and work ethics I was exposed to. I found straight talking managers of multi-ethnicity intimidating at first. Once I received a few rounds of recognition for my performance and contribution, my confidence level grew and I found myself in the groove. I became one of them; fast, direct, and very focused on results.
I was assigned as a Trainee Engineer conducting experiments for process improvements. I learned from technicians and engineers. My best teachers however were the operators. They knew a lot about the processes and the machines. Many of them could do minor repairs themselves but they weren't always allowed to or wanted to. There were no incentives for that. This observation was what I leveraged on in the future years after I joined Texas Instruments on a full time employment. I tapped into the knowledge and capabilities of the operators. But I will reserve writing about this part in future chapters.
Writing about work experience at Texas Instruments will not be complete if I do not include anecdotes about the female staffs. There were more than two thousands of them, mainly working shifts as production operators, and mostly singles and available. I must admit feeling flattered with the attention they gave. The occasional cards slipped into the drawer of my desk, and invitations to have lunch and dinner, and even the odd invitation to the movies from a few who were more forward. I remember having picnics at the Taman Tasik Titiwangsa with a few girls. I wish I can find the old photos taken with them to bring back the memories. Even though I can visualize their faces  unfortunately I can't recall their names.

As I am writing this, I am making a promise to myself to look-up for as many of the old friends made during my internship as possible. I am having a pang of nostalgia attack.
Knowing that my soon to be fiancé Aishah was coming back upon her graduation was one of the reasons I didn't get involved emotionally with any of TIM girls even though the temptation and opportunities were there. I met Aishah in Portsmouth and she graduated in the same year (1982), and got a job with Telecom Malaysia. I introduced her to Sharifah, one of the ladies from Texas Instruments,  and they became housemates. That was very convenient for us to meet regularly, practically every evening. When my internship ended, Aishah and I got engaged, and I returned to the UK to finish my final year.
The six months went by very fast. I made many friends, even though temporary the memories were good. I learned a lot about working life in a fast-paced result oriented American Electronics company, and I was able to produce a thesis worthy of advancement to the final year.
In fact when I submitted my thesis, my course director had this to say to the whole class, " If internship report is assessed by weight, Ariffin's surely can score the highest mark~!"

A community where people are not color blind

One unique challenge for a brown Asian person working in the Gulf Countries is the tendency of the locals to look down on him as compared to his Caucasian peer whose skin has fairer shade. Unfortunate but true, people are treated differently based on skin color. An Asian decent with American or British passport still falls under the brown skin category. So it is not the nationality of the passport you hold, it is the color of your skin!

During my 12 years stay in this region, I have many personal anecdotes.
When I was new here in 2003, I was often called upon by Saudi men at supermarkets to push their shopping trolleys to their car. I was 12 years younger, and I did look like some of the Asian workers who were earning tips as supermarket porters. I simply smiled and declined politely. I learned not to hang around at the check-out counter areas and also upgraded the way I dressed whenever I went to supermarkets with my wife. 
One time I was traveling to the city of Abha and the flight was delayed due to unexpected torrential rain. In a country which seldom rain, the infrastructures are not ready for rain and airline pilots became extra cautious about taking off. The delay was long enough for the airline to serve packed meals to stranded passengers. One gentlemen approached me aggressively and asked for his food, obviously unhappy that I have not served him. He thought I was one of the catering staffs.  Again, I smiled and simply said, "Ana Malasie, Maffi maklum Arabic" ('I am Malaysian, I don't understand Arabic). That reply itself indicated to him that I am not whom he thought I was.
Malaysians are very well regarded in this region, if and when they realize we are Malaysians most of them will show special affiliation and respect. In most cases too, they would immediately mention the name of Tun Dr Mahathir followed by 'thumbs up'.
The problem is we do look like any other Asians. Except for Malaysians, our regional counterparts do come for menial jobs. Malaysians who are working here are professionals and in higher management.
In order to be able to stay and work here happily, one need to learn to brush aside the occasional discrimination and mistaken identity. Humor is the most dignified approach. Taking offense is not advisable and pointless.
Most recently, I went to a Pizza restaurant near my office, with a colleague from India. The restaurant does not allow dining-in during lunch hours due to shortage of staffs. I asked if the two of us can find a quiet corner inside away from the view of the public just to have our pizza. We were not allowed.
A few days later, I went again with a colleague from Europe. He asked for the same thing I did a few days earlier. Yes, you guessed correctly. We were shown an isolated table and allowed to dine in. Once seated, I called the staff and asked whether he recognized me. He was embarrassed, but yes he said he did. The guy was not even a local, but from one of the countries in the Middle East - yet he practiced the same discrimination of treatment based on color.

At work, Asians have to prove themselves three times harder compared to Caucasian counterparts. Only a few are able to break the barrier normally by display of technical expertise and exemplary leadership characteristics.

I have personally experienced how an Arab manager would shout to an Asian but change to respectful tone the instant he addressed a European; over the same mistakes on the same occasion at the same meeting.
One day, I hope, even here in the Gulf States, people will be color blind and treat everyone equally with respect and dignity.
The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), during his Last Sermon in Minâ, said: “O people! Your Lord is one Lord, and you all share the same father. There is no preference for Arabs over non-Arabs, nor for non-Arabs over Arabs. Neither is their preference for white people over black people, nor for black people over white people. Preference is only through righteousness.” Then he said: “Have I conveyed the message?” and the people declared that he had. [Musnad Ahmad (22391)]

Saturday, May 16, 2015

'Happy Teachers Day'

Throw back. 1975. Form 5. STAR. Ipoh.
Once the MCE (O-level)  trial exams results were known,  students who scored good marks were ask to submit application for scholarship to further studies overseas. Besides writing down family background, we were asked to list down up to 3 choices of the Course we wish to pursue at a Bachelor's degree level.
My results were above average, but I knew my strength was in the Arts subjects as opposed to Science or Mathematics. Where I scored distinction was in Bahasa Malaysia, Islamic studies, Geography, History, Modern Maths.  
However, I also knew that at the time, the Government were sending Science, Medical, Accountancy, and Engineering students overseas. My prime objective was to get one of those scholarships. The prospect of studying in England became an obsession, but I never made that public. I didn't want to disappoint my mother or anyone should I fail in the selection process.
Putting the highest probability of securing a scholarship as criteria number one and perhaps the only criteria, I listed the following as my options of Bachelor's degree choices:
1. Applied Physics
2. Biology
3. Chemistry
I also wrote that my ambition was to be a teacher or a lecturer in one of those subjects. The reasons for that were
a. Not many students wanted to join the teaching profession
b. The Ministry of Education was on a drive to sponsor students to make up for shortage of Science Teachers and Lecturers.
I remember attending the interview in Kota Bharu, I had to face a 3 men panel of interviewers. It was quite a daunting experience, but somehow I gained self-confidence to answer all questions projected to me calmly and clearly. I even joked and made the interviewers laugh. Unfortunately my memory failed me when I tried to recall what the joke was (It was a joke on myself).
Not too long afterwards, I received the wonderful news that I was selected to study 'A Levels' in the UK with a contractual obligation to pursue a Bachelor's degree in Applied Physics as a preparation to be a Teacher. It was a Ministry of Education Scholarship. 
I was elated.
When my (late) grand father asked me what will I be after graduation, I answered, "Pensyarah".
He was not impressed. For all of his life in a village in Kelantan, the only 'Pensyarah' he had seen in action was when Penjual Ubat 'bersyarah' di kaki lima of shop-row in Kuala Krai.
I explained that my career option was to be a teacher but not in school, instead in Universities.
"Oh Cikgu di University lah!" He said, satisfied that his grandson was not to be a Penjual Ubat afterall.

Fast forward to 1983. UKM. Bangi

I graduated successfully with an Honors degree in Applied Physics. Upon returning to Malaysia I was required to register at the University Kebangsaan Malaysia for a one year Diploma in Education course.
With a sling bag which contained nothing more than a week's worth of clothing change, I took a bus from Kuala Lumpur and went to UKM. My days as a student continued. I attended classes, but emotionally I was drifting away to the outside world beyond the campus of UKM. I wanted to work. I envied my friends who started to draw good salaries immediately upon return.

One day, I skipped lectures and took a bus to Kuala Lumpur. From the Pudu Raya bus stop I walked the stretch of Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman to find the Office of the Ministry of Education (MOE).

I entered the MOE office looking for the officer in-charge of Scholars. There was no prior appointment, but I was lucky, the gentleman in-charge was kind enough enough to listen to what I had to say.

I presented my case. I asked for release from my bond to be a teacher. I explained that I had a job offer from a Multinational Company and I could serve the nation from there, as an engineer in the electronics industry. To strengthen my case, I said, the Government was encouraging Bumiputra to enter the private sector and Multinational companies were required to employ a minimum of 30 percent Bumiputra in Management.

I handed over a schedule of payment which I planned to re-pay the penalty for breaking my government bond.

The officer (May Allah bless you sir) promised me that he would personally brought up my appeal to the management.

History of my career was re-written that day. The MOE released me, and I had to pay back the bond penalty at zero interest (For the record, this I have settled). I was and still am indebted to the Ministry of Education for their understanding.

Fast forward. Today. Jeddah.

I owe all of what I have become to my teachers at Sekolah Kebangsaan Pangkal Kalong (1964-1969), teachers in STAR Ipoh (1970 - 1975), teachers at the Grantham College for further education (1976 - 78), and lecturers and professors at the Portsmouth Polytechnic (Class of 1983).
"To you sir / ma'am, my prayers with love"

Happy Teachers' Day.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Introducing my new blog...

My work desk is normally neat without any papers except those which require my immediate attention. My e-filing on my work laptop is also quite neat and organized; I can find what I need within seconds. I thought it is time to also organize my blog; one for my usual ranting, one for my creative e-book which seems to be in-progress forever and made private, and this latest one which is dedicated for  writing related to my work experience.
My intention is to un-load whatever I can recall from my 32 years of work-life. Amongst the many trivial and clichés, hopefully there will be some nuggets of wisdom worth preserving.
Ariffin Mamat's "Unloading Bay" is meant to be exactly what it says ...a place where I unload. Self-censorship will be minimum. Feedback and discussions with readers if any can be motivated enough to leave comments will be much welcomed.
I have learned early in life, is the more we share the more we will get. I therefore hope that by sharing I will also be receiving new lessons and new insights from readers of this blog.
Introducing this blog without introducing my professional background somehow looks empty and lacking credibility. Therefore, at the risk of appearing like I am blowing my own, here is a summary of my professional experience...
q Malaysian. 32 years work experience, gained in 4 companies. Been in Saudi since 2003.
         Since 2009, joined current employer. Holding current position of Director, Corporate Support. I am responsible for all aspects of HR, Community Services, CSR, Procurement & Warehouse, and Public Relations.
q 1983: Graduated from Portsmouth Polytechnic, United Kingdom – Bachelor of Science Applied Physics.
q 1983 to 1997 (14 years): Texas Instruments Malaysia.
         Engineer (3 years),  Head - Production (4 years), Head - HR operations (4 years) Director - HR (3 years)
q 1997 to 2007 (11 years): Unilever
  Director of HR for Malaysia.   VP of HR for Asia (Singapore based).   VP of HR for MENA  (Jeddah / Dubai based)
q2007 to 2009:
Joined a family Emirate business (Dubai)
I have worked for American Electronics High Technology company, for Anglo-Dutch Fast Moving Consumer goods, for a family own Conglomerates and for Saudi owned Aquaculture Company which produces and markets Shrimp, Fish and Sea cucumber, globally.
The diversity of industries, products, consumer groups, nationality of company ownership, and work culture have contributed to significant growth and accumulation of work experience. These are what I hope to unload and share here...

Fun at Work

Vacation is fun. Parties are fun too. The first has specific objectives, and fun is an outcome. The second's objective is to have fun.
Fun at work is not an objective by itself. The objectives are defined by the job and the job is defined by the company objectives. Fun at work is how we can and deserve to feel while pursuing results for the organization.
Let us go back to our vacation example and try to understand what make vacations fun?
During a vacation we usually can do what we 'want' to do. We have the freedom. We can be 'creative' and lose ourselves in the moments without fear for judgment or repercussions? Nearly always all our senses are involved. These factors give is joy and we feel like we are having fun!
Contrast the above to situation at work?
At work we feel we are 'controlled'. Other people often tell us what to do, and after a few months activities seem routine. These three factors; 'controlled', 'Taking orders', and 'routine activities', differentiate work environment from vacation.

By adopting some of the elements present during vacations into work-place we can indeed bring joy and fun to work-place too.

- Freedom
The first element, freedom, means that the bosses have to give p their power and give space for employees to use their skills in making decisions. Bosses can start with simpler low risk decisions and with development, employees can be given more space for more complex decisions.

- Purpose
The second element is to find higher level purpose for what ever that you do. If our purpose of going to work everyday is to make money to buy bread, then work life can be laborious. However, if we identify a higher level purpose which involve giving to mankind, then our work-life can be inspiring and motivating.

Even a bricklayer can have a higher level purpose - that of building a castle!

Work place can be more fun when everyone makes it their habit to spread joy. Celebrate successes. Give recognition generously. A simple act of smiling to colleagues can go a long way in making your place a much better place to be.

I have seen different teams practicing one or more of the following as efforts to bring joy to their work-place...

a. exchanging gifts - they organize small tea parties and agreed before hand to bring gifts of a certain monetary value to be randomly exchanged at the tea-party.

b. daily walk-around as a way of breaking the monotony of sitting down at their desks. an elected leader for the activity will give a signal and everyone gets up and follow the leader to go on a 10 minutes walk around the building complex or the outdoor area of the office.

c. they organize 'theme' days or weeks - where everyone dress according to the theme, as long as within the guideline of company dress codes.

d. 'post it good news board' where members of the team post-it good and wonderful news pertaining to them or their colleagues; example, child birth, passing driving test, discharge from hospitals etc.

e. celebrating birthdays!

f. pot-luck for lunch or snacks. Everyone brings a little something for the dining table for sharing.

And many more. All it takes is for someone to lead with the initiatives, and the leader does not necessarily always have to be the boss or the big boss.

It is worthwhile noting though, it is hard to have fun when the team is missing the organization targets constantly. Fun at work starts with winning over challenges, meeting targets, and delivering commitments.