4 ways to lead with pragmatism and flexibility

The second part of our posts on The SPARK Series 2017 features the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Housing and Development Board, Dr Cheong Koon Hean’s sharing on leadership. Jointly organised by the Ministry of Social and Family Development, AMKFSC Community Services Ltd, Singapore University of Social Sciences, and the Social Service Institute, The SPARK Series 2017 is an initiative aimed at grooming future thought leaders and change makers of the sector.


As the former CEO of the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) and current CEO of the Housing and Development Board (HDB), Dr Cheong Koon Hean has vast experience in the national macro planning of Singapore’s urban and housing landscape.
She shared about her pragmatic and flexible approach to leadership that helped her bring about solutions to urban planning challenges such as space constraints, limited resources and the growing needs of Singaporeans.

1) Have a long-term vision, and wait for the opportunity

As the “master planner”, Dr Cheong emphasised the importance of planning for sustainability. With Singapore’s problem of being a “small island with big needs”, Dr Cheong found it essential to take the necessary steps towards urban planning.
Citing the example of Marina Bay, Dr Cheong shared that long term planning meant that blueprints for the area were in the making four decades ago, and land was reclaimed ready for the time when the city had to expand. When Dr Cheong took on the role of URA chief in 2004, it was the opportune time to drive the Marina Bay project forward as Singapore was in a phase where it needed to increase its competitive edge. Marina Bay provided the opportunity to give Singapore a new signature image as a global city.
While you may have big aspirations that you are eager to execute in your organisation, it is essential to be patient, take incremental steps towards your goals and plan for the long-term.

2. Seeking personal motivation within organisational vision

The motivation for doing a good job must come from within each person in the organisation. It is important for every staff to know the `purpose’ and the `meaning’ behind their job. If our job is meaningful and we feel that we are contributing, then we will be self motivated and there is no need for supervisors to look over our shoulders. A shared `organisation culture’ is also important so that we work as a team and look out for one another.

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As part of The SPARK Series, participants went on a trail at Punggol Riverside Park.

3. Embracing top-down and bottom-up leadership approaches

A balance of top-down and bottom-up leadership is necessary for aspiring change-makers. Usually, the leader needs to provide the strategic perspective and to steer the broad direction of the organisation. On the other hand, the leader does not know everything and should be open to ideas and suggestions from his or her colleagues. The leader encourages participation from all.
Encouraging individual ownership of projects promotes a sense of belonging within the community, and creates more stakeholders who are potential leaders of the community. Additionally, holding conversations at the ground level opens access to innovative solutions.

4. Be pragmatic and flexible

When multiple agencies work together, friction is inevitable due to individual interests. Leaders are responsible for mediating these conflicting interests and seeking collaboration among all stakeholders. Decision-making entails trade-offs.
Having a big-picture perspective and a pragmatic approach paves the way for feasible solutions. It increases your understanding of each party’s stake, giving you different angles to approach an issue and value-add to an initiative.
Through marrying both pragmatism and flexibility, leaders would be able to better galvanise the multiple stakeholders towards a common objective and lead their team into finding innovative solutions.


 

The SPARK Series 2017 runs until 15 December 2017. Read more about the series’ first workshop, “On Leadership”.

How do you lead through change?

The first part of our posts on The SPARK Series 2017 features Senior Fellow of the Civil Service College, Ms Lim Soo Hoon’s sharing on leadership. Jointly organised by the Ministry of Social and Family Development, AMKFSC Community Services Ltd, Singapore University of Social Sciences, and the Social Service Institute, The SPARK Series 2017 is an initiative aimed at grooming future thought leaders and change makers of the sector.


How do you lead beyond your discipline and challenge the social sector? Senior Fellow of the Civil Service College, Ms Lim Soo Hoon shared her insights and experiences as former Permanent Secretary of the Ministries of Community Development, Public Service Division, Prime Minister’s Office and Finance.

1. Leadership based on relationship

There’s a difference between having a team that will work with you and a team that will work for you.

As leaders, our job is to unify the team to accomplish a task together. Give your subordinates space and encourage them to clarify issues. People tend to have a greater sense of belonging to a team when they know that they have something to contribute. Feedback from subordinates is valuable, and people on the ground tend to have a better sense of the problem, and possibly even the solution.

Besides knowing how to lead downwards and build relationships with your team members, it is also important to lead upwards and know how to manage your boss. For example, when writing a proposal, subordinates who lead upwards know their bosses’ reading style, and thus are able to get information across effectively and efficiently.

2. Embrace change

In the past, leaders were the experts and had all the information. Now, access to information is widely available, and our subordinates may very well be more skilled at a task than we are.

This may be challenging, as many of us would like to have control, rather than to be controlled by others. Therefore, how we react to our subordinates is very important – if we always react negatively, we can be sure that our subordinates would not want to approach us to point out our blind spots. We then lose a valuable resource.

With the many uncertainties that change brings, former experts have to relearn skills. To lead through change, leaders have to persuade and convince people of what’s in it for them, and that it would be worth the cost.

3. Be curious

Leaders are expected to have the foresight and curiosity to know what is going to happen. That is only possible if we read widely – not just keeping abreast of the happenings within our sector, but also issues outside our sector, as those happenings are well likely to impact our own sector in a matter of time.

It takes more than one person to create change. It requires leaders who have a vision for the future, as well as supportive team members.

There is no guarantee that the risks we take will have positive outcomes, but what is more important is the way in which we handle negative outcomes. If mistakes are made, admit it and change the direction if necessary.


The SPARK Series 2017 runs until 15 December 2017. Read also about the series’ second workshop, “On Building City for Community”.

Curating needs-driven help in the social sector

The following is an excerpt from Minister Tan Chuan-Jin’s opening speech at the Eagles Leadership Conference 2017 at Suntec Convention Centre.

Eagles Leadership Conference has been encouraging many of the companies to come together to collaborate and to do good. I thought it’s useful before we proceed, to actually ask ourselves, and to remind ourselves again – why is it the right thing to do? We assume we know that this is the correct thing, but we should pause, and ask ourselves why is it so fundamentally important? How do you talk about this at the national level, where as individual Singaporeans, we begin to look beyond self?

We can put up the rhetoric about being a caring and inclusive society, but the question is: What do you do about it? It’s easy to talk, but we must be able to break it down into bite-sized chunks that we can do. If we believe that it is fundamentally important, then we have to ask ourselves, what can we do? Which is where it comes back to where we started from – this desire to do good.

The social sector is about bringing people on board, and being involved. And that’s where I think we can begin building a very different society. So what do we do? There are basically three buckets that I’m looking at.

Schools – Nurturing every child to desire to do good

Firstly, schools. Imagine the vision where it is possible for us to nurture in every child who leaves the education system with a desire to do good, to want to care for others. Is it possible?

Last week, I visited Bedok View Secondary School. They partnered Katong APSN to cook together with students with special needs during recess time. When I talk to the students and read the reflections of those who have participated in these activities, you know that there has been a change. They learn to care for others, to be more patient. You find that true of many other equivalent activities. Could we work with the schools so that we programme more of these activities? If you curate programmes like Values-In-Action well, you can imagine how this could have a significant impact.

Corporates – Providing opportunities to do good together

Secondly – Corporates. In the corporate world, many of us are increasingly beginning to build more social responsibility. It is important to remind ourselves why it is so fundamentally important. We know that many young people desire to do good, but they don’t always find those opportunities. A recent survey by NVPC pointed out that 50 per cent of companies do provide such opportunities. The overall participation is about 41 per cent for those under 25 years old – it can increase, and I think it should increase. By the 25-34 age group, there is a dip to 29 per cent. After school, they enter the workforce, they have other distractions. This is where we should try again to work within this space, pull the different groups together to collaborate. What other activities do you have to bring employees together to do something meaningful together? Imagine doing this as a company, with your department, the relationships will go deeper, because we are engaging in an activity that is fundamentally different. That happens with the students in school. That can happen with a corporate entity as well.

Community – Coordinating efforts for more needs-driven help

The third bucket is the local community. If you can coordinate volunteerism among neighbours, where they visit elderly folks or those with special needs within the same block of flats, it strengthens neighbourly ties. When you talk about nation-building itself, it sounds very deep, but it comes down to relationships. There is a virtuous cycle that builds on itself, at school, at work, at home. We begin to come together to collaborate, being more needs-driven, rather than creating projects.

How can we begin to look at longer-term partnerships, curate and meet real needs, and do preventive work? When we begin to organise ourselves, when we begin to hub, when we begin to share information and understand the needs, there’s a tremendous amount of good we can do. But more importantly, I think it has a tremendous impact on who we are as individuals.

Facilitating volunteerism between companies and social service organisations

Let me cite you some examples on how we can facilitate volunteerism more conveniently. NCSS, for example, has piloted a new service-based volunteerism model. So volunteers can come into direct contact with beneficiaries, and partner to work with them on a regular basis. Corporate organisations are valuable because they will organise their volunteers and volunteering schedule.

The Japanese Association, for example, have been volunteering with MINDS regularly for 20 to 30 years. Basically what happens is that the afternoon programme for that day is settled, and MINDS can free up their trained staff to do the complex work, which we as average volunteers are not able to do. This allows our VWOs to expand their capacity without necessarily getting help. So we want to curate that experience, expand the partnership.

Another example, SP Group volunteers at the Senior Activity Centre in Geylang Bahru, which is under Touch Community Services. They conduct morning exercises for the elderly and serve them breakfast. This partnership with 20 staff from SP Group began in February 2017. The elderly residents clearly find some of these faces familiar, because of the regularity, and look forward to meeting some of them. The volunteers from the group reported a higher sense of morale and satisfaction.

POSB Bank has embarked on a service-based volunteering model. Staff from 4 branches, located in Jurong, started their volunteering session in May with NTUC Health Nursing Home. About 20 employees per session befriend elderly residents, who would otherwise would have little contact with the community. Many of them will volunteer early in the morning before they go to work, and the banks, where possible, adjust to make sure that there’s flexible time.

I would also encourage you to consider the programme Share As One. Many of you in Singapore will know what it is, where we commit a dollar or two a month from our paycheck to Community Chest. Even for my own ministry, we have made it opt-out. Everybody, as a default, will contribute. You can opt-out if you wish to. Companies are sometimes wary about doing this, but you will be surprised. There is actually a very positive response to it. It may not seem much, but it makes a lot of difference when you ensure that there is a steady stream of funds to the Community Chest – where every single dollar goes to beneficiaries. With the Share As One programme, what we will do is to look at your contributions as a company, whatever additional you are able to bring to bear, we will match that and we will also provide funding to your company to fund your company’s activities. So I do encourage you that as we embark on trying to broker, and trying to structure better programmes, participate in the Share As One Programme as well, so that funds can also come in.

Building a different Singapore, step by step

Perhaps the theme for this conference is about what we can be and do as better leaders. This is what I put to you as you think about leadership, how by embracing some of these activities in the right spirit, you can actually make a tremendous amount of difference. I would urge you to do more, step up and curate the journey. Step by step, individual by individual, we begin to change. Society will change. And we will build a very different Singapore.

 

Proving her ability despite disability

If you pass by Angalamma d/o Marimuthu’s desk at the Registry of Marriages (ROM), you would notice the cupboards and printer are arranged in a way where she can reach them with minimal movement. This is one of few things ROM did to help create a more accessible work environment for Angalamma, who has a physical disability.

She is one of the 15 persons with disabilities working at the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF), and one of the five who have had more than 20 years of service. MSF won the Progressive Employer Award at this year’s Enabling Employers Awards, organised by SG Enable. This is the first time MSF is participating in the national awards that recognisers employers’ inclusive hiring efforts.

“There are many persons with disabilities who are concerned with job fit or that their disabilities may affect others and their abilities to perform well. Sometimes, you just need to have a little understanding and adjustment for the arrangements to work,” said Angalamma.

On an average work week, Angalamma oversees statutory declarations and verification of documents for filing notice of marriage, as well as other administrative duties such as answering public enquires and collating statistics.

While her disability has minimal impact to her work, her supervisor Alex Ang and colleagues help support her to work with confident and ease. “They ensure the pathways are clear for me to move around easily with my motorised scooter. If there is any errands I need to run, Mr Ang and all colleagues are there for me,” she said.

Angalamma also goes out of her way to help her team. “Despite her difficulties in walking, she never gives excuses and would always volunteer to cover duties when there is shortage of manpower,” said Alex.

With her 26 years of work experience at MSF, Angalamma is seen as an elder sister by her team. “New staff look to her for guidance and knowledge in handling different types of enquiries. With her experience, she also contributes by suggesting improvements to processes,” said Alex.

Her commitment to serve customers with service excellence and passion for the job paid off. Angalamma was promoted last year.

“I remembered a recent case where a couple did not turn up for their scheduled appointment at ROM for verification of documents and statutory declaration. Angalamma spotted the case and decided to call the couple. It turned out that they forgot the appointment and their solemnisation was the next day. That night, Angalamma and another colleague stayed back in the office till about 8pm to attend to the couple,” said Alex.

Angalamma hopes that more persons with disabilities will be encouraged by stories like hers and have the confidence to come forward to explore job opportunities, be it in the public or private sectors. She said, “MSF has given me an opportunity to prove my ability despite my disability.”

If you are interested to pursue a meaningful career at MSF, find out more information here or view available job listings here.

Staff profile: Giving hope through social assistance

Limin provides social assistance as a Manager at SSO@Bukit Merah, and works together with agencies in the community to meet the needs of her client holistically.


“How much is enough, and how much is too much?”

As a Social Assistance Officer, Limin often faces the dilemma of striking the balance for every client. She has to consider the needs of her clients in providing financial assistance, but at the same time ensure that she helps to preserve individual resilience and foster self-reliance.

Mdm Ang (not her real name) first came to Limin on financial issues she faced as a part-time working mother raising 2 teenage children. It was seemingly a simple issue where Limin would assist Mdm Ang to seek full-time employment while providing her with short-term assistance.

However, it soon evolved into a multi-faceted challenge within a matter of months. Mdm Ang’s younger son dropped out of secondary school, and her older son married his pregnant girlfriend Clara (not her real name) while he was still serving National Service.

With major changes to the family’s situation, Limin had to come up with an entirely new action plan to better support Mdm Ang with her changed circumstances.  “From seeking employment for Mdm Ang, it became having Mdm Ang look after the newborn child, while we found Clara a job to support the family,” Limin recalled.

Knowing that Mdm Ang had been linked up with a Family Service Centre (FSC), Limin worked closely with the FSC social worker to coordinate support for her in meeting her various needs.

Although there were minor hiccups along the way when Clara left her first job, she eventually sustained a stable employment with help and encouragement from Limin and the FSC social worker. Clara also started becoming more willing to learn how to care for her baby.

The family managed to maintain sufficient income after about a year, and it was heartening for Limin when Mdm Ang said that the family wanted to try coping on their own without relying further on financial assistance.

There were times along the way when Limin felt at a loss as issues evolved, but she was encouraged when she saw significant improvements to the life of the family.

“I’m glad that I could work with other agencies to go in-depth into the different issues that my clients face. Seeing each case through from start till end, I am able to witness how financial assistance in a calibrated manner can positively impact them,” she said. “It reminds me of the meaning of my job, and that it is all worth it when I see how it makes a difference in their lives.”

If you are interested to pursue a meaningful career at MSF, find out more information here or view available job listings here.

With unity comes strength and resilience

In celebration of World Social Work Day, Rachel, Elizabeth and Jeanne (from left to right) from the Ministry of Social and Family Development, share their story of how they helped a pair of young siblings overcome childhood trauma, and eventually reunite with their father.


Social work may be tough, but it is where you see the most positivity, strength, and resilience in life.

Anna (not her real name) had been providing foster care to a pair of young siblings, who were victims of severe childhood trauma. The children’s father, John (not his real name), who was their only kin at that point in time, was unable to care for them.

Initially, the siblings had trouble getting used to living with Anna in a structured environment. The young siblings, who were only 3 and 4 years old then, could not cope with their emotions and displayed signs of aggression due to the intense trauma that they experienced.

There were times where Anna found it challenging to guide the kids well. That was when foster care officer Jeanne stepped in to provide support for Anna and taught her about the effects of childhood trauma. Together with Jeanne, clinical psychologist Elizabeth helped Anna work through her anxieties and taught the siblings skills to stabilise their emotions.

At the same time, child protection officer Rachel worked with John to stabilise his job and living arrangements. She also worked on strengthening his parenting skills, hoping to eventually reunite John with his children. The team subsequently linked the father with a Family Service Centre to build up his support network, which he lacked.

In the months that followed, Rachel, Elizabeth and Jeanne worked closely to best support Anna, and put in extra effort and hours to reconnect the children with John more frequently. They also took time to meet the children’s school and student care personnel regularly to help them understand the children’s past traumatic experiences and how to respond to their current behaviours.

Their hard work eventually paid off. John was able to pick up good parenting habits and play the role of a committed caregiver for his children. Rachel, Elizabeth and Jeanne were pleased to see that the kids were well-fed with John cooking for them on a regular basis. Most importantly, they were glad that the kids were happy and safe.

Soon after the siblings returned to John, the team organised a get-together with the family and Anna’s family. It was a heart-warming gathering, and John acknowledged Anna’s instrumental role in providing a stable, nurturing environment for his children.

“While we were doing different things, we were all on the same page, and could be confident in making decisions with the support from our team. Learning from each other has also helped in the work that we do,” Jeanne said.

Reflecting on the journey of helping the two siblings, Elizabeth said: “We are proud to be able to ‘graduate’ them from MSF’s help. There is nothing is like going home.”

Rachel echoed the sentiment. “Many times, it is the people and the work that keep us going. We are really happy when we see children and families reunite,” she said.