Embracing Extracurricular

Why Building Organisations with Conscience Helps Retention

The Great Resignation is here in Asia and there is no telling if we have already peaked.

Coined by Texas A&M’s Anthony Klotz, the Great Resignation refers to a massive voluntary exodus from the workforce. 46% of the global workforce is resigning this year according to The Microsoft 2021 Work Trend Index.1 In Asia, thousands are resigning and fueling the flourishing gig economy which is projected to grow to US$455 billion by 2023.2 While the trend signals that the workforce needed more flexibility, there is more going on. We’re seeing two generations - Millennials and Gen Zs - consider job opportunities with two priorities in mind: social change and accountability. Organizations will now have to adapt, acting conscientiously and reengineering workplaces to foster inclusion, equality, and holistic well-being3.

We talked to Brian Liu, SVP – Group Head of Learning and Organization Development of Lazada, and he lays out a holistic approach in employee engagement to support longevity in the organization. Brian lives and breathes learning constantly taking on roles as a keynote speaker, mentor-coach, panelist, trainer, emcee, facilitator, and content creator. During his free time, he volunteers for the National Youth Council in Singapore where he advocates for youth interests. Volunteering informs his work in L&D and shapes his thoughts on flexibility in the mechanisms of the workplace.

Integrating Purpose and Authenticity in the Workplace

A common dilemma facing neophytes in the workplace is finding their purpose while building a solid career foundation. For most people, the experience is two distinct states with a career on one side and purpose on the other side. The disconnect can result in a perceived misalignment of values, undermining our sense of authenticity. 

Finding our purpose can start from something as simple as observing someone do a task and thinking to yourself that you can improve it. Brian shares that while he did not exactly go through a jarring conflicted situation, he experienced a spark while volunteering which led him to undergo a career shift. Still working as a management consultant at the time, he got involved in his community through youth development work. At first, it was just basic tasks like moving chairs, then he became a more familiar face and assisted with community funding panels. One day, they asked him if he could give career talks and training on relevant skills and topics in the workplace. The wheels started turning and prompted Brian to reflect on better and more effective ways to equip, develop, and reach out to the youth. He was driven by virtuous momentum, wanting better ways to connect with others for a noble outcome. It showed him that what he was doing in the youth development space could be a career as well. Today, he continues on this trajectory, developing youth and leaders, in his full-time job and through extracurriculars.

Developing a Holistic Approach

A common topic Brian encounters in his conversations with young people in the workplace is cross-cultural regional issues. As companies decentralize and regionalization spreads within the tech space, startups must collaborate and innovate at speed across culturally diverse teams. Gone are the days of geographical and hierarchical borders. We now see young and more experienced folks coming together, and people from various regions working and collaborating on projects side-by-side (often virtually). It is a positive development but Southeast Asia still has some work to do with only 58% of companies having some form of Diversity & Inclusion (D&I) program, lagging from the global average of 96%.

Aside from D&I programs, Brian underscores the need to develop employees based on their career directions and aspirations. The two may not always coalesce but a holistic approach also implies that we care, and we are not merely looking at isolated skills apart from the individual. First, we must help employees identify the skills that matter to them personally and professionally, and the causes and agenda that they want to champion outside the workplace. The next step is to help them gain momentum through skills training and development, and pro-bono or skills-based volunteering to build their portfolio and brand of work. It can be volunteering to handle the social media account of a non-profit or blogging about your futurist views of your industry. For Brian, he equips employees with training needed for their work and supplements their aspirational needs by connecting them to non-profits in line with their interests.

Allowing Flexibility Within the Structure

Amazon takes on an unconventional approach in employee retention strategy in that they don't aim to retain but engage instead. They do this through Amazon Career Choice which trains employees with job skills in high-demand industries such as Health Care, IT, Transportation, and Mechanical and Skilled Trades. They figured that a huge percentage of their workforce is composed of lower-wage warehouse-type employees with high turnover rates. Instead of laying down iron-clad rules or raising wages, they decided to show care to the employee by equipping and providing them with better opportunities outside the company. That way, they are merely renting the time of the employee while engaging them to learn and grow into better versions of themselves. 

Brian echoes a similar sentiment. He says, “Any company or brand that wants to engage and catalyze and set on fire their employees should be the one to encourage and support employees to show up and do the great things they want to do and what they are great at.”  Companies can no longer expect their employees to just line up and comply with rigid rules and regulations. Organizations must develop people managers to support and build mobility and opportunities into the system. These opportunities include adjusting and amending an individual’s job scope to handle more work or take on slightly different roles based on their strengths and aspirations. This level of flexibility will signal to the staff that their leaders are actively discussing the problem. Ignoring it will only lead to the company losing good people.  

Lastly, Brian emphasizes the value of investing in people managers who will form a critical layer. They are close enough to Gen Z and Millennials but can still relate to Senior Management. As they are the ones able to synthesize both the concerns of top management and entry-level positions, they hold a unique perspective that can influence leadership but also galvanize and build communities with younger staff. As the talent war is both massive and competitive, we must be able to build flexible mechanisms in the organization and to develop people managers who in turn can develop and give opportunities to employees, and champion the cause of the organization and the individual.

Final Thoughts

Organizations must craft a holistic approach to people management to engage and retain good talent. If we want our people to be invested in what they do, we need to be invested in who they are. 

  • Identify career goals and life aspirations of employees and find out how the company can develop and support both aspects.
  • Consider weaving diversity and inclusion into your corporate DNA to ramp up innovation and unlock new ways of thinking. 
  • Invest in people managers who will champion the cause of the organization and the individual.








Brian Liu

Senior VP - Group Head of Learning & Organization Development

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