HR & EDUCATION | Contributed Content, Singapore
Wendy Tan

Wholeness to adapt in a disruptive world


We know we need to adapt quickly in a disruptive world. The magnitude, nature and frequency of change have accelerated tremendously in Singapore and the world around. Technology is a game changer that shortens business cycles and disrupts long-established routines and structure. Organisations continually restructure, resize, and restrategise to survive. We are repeatedly asked to do more with less with more surprises and less control. The demands outside of work have increased as well, with our children engaged in this technology-enabled space, our time with family at a premium, and community organisations seeking our support to help them cope with challenges they face in the modern world.
None of this makes us whole. It is easy for a sense of disengagement and disempowerment to set in. This is turn has a negative impact on innovation, productivity and ultimately the bottom line. In Singapore, the productivity level is 118.8 for the last quarter of 2016, trailing behind countries like Ireland, Hong Kong, Denmark, and New Zealand. For many years now, Singapore has been trying to improve productivity with little success.
People are one of the key factors of productivity—their expertise, experience, and engagement. Of these three factors, one’s level of engagement drives us to seek out the expertise needed and accumulate relevant experiences. However, 52% of Singapore workers surveyed say their stress level has gone up over the last six months, compared to 43% in Hong Kong and 45% in China. 40% said that they work more than 50 hours a week. The risk of burn out is high. How can people find clarity and energy to reinvent and innovate?
To adapt in a disruptive world, it has never been more important to be whole. I define wholeness as a sense of completeness and balance within oneself and with the community. What does wholeness have to do with how we respond productively in today’s disruptive world? As Einstein said, “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” Let’s first reconsider what wholeness is to paint a vision of an alternative way of being in this disruptive world. There are two aspects to the definition of wholeness:
-“I” - Wholeness in individual: When individuals are whole, we feel happy, at peace, and healthy. We are engaged in our lives, we envision a desire, and are empowered by our abilities to move towards it.
- “We” - Wholeness in teams and organisations: When the collective is whole, people are collaborative, support one another to be successful, and contribute with conviction to a larger good.
Both “I” and “We” wholeness is connected, just like the leaves of a tree are connected to the roots and trunk. When we are whole, we have more capacity to look out for others, the larger whole. Conversely, the larger whole, our colleagues and organisation, gives us courage to step out of our comfort zone. Individual and collective wholeness reinforce one another.
So how do we foster more wholeness? It starts with individuals. How does a tree stay tall and strong amidst the hurricane? It’s the roots. Similarly, in the face of the hurricane of change, anchor ourselves deeper and wider. Your anchor is who you are as an individual and who you are in relation to your community. Awareness of your anchor gives you clarity, courage, and commitment. Here are some questions to reflect on your anchor:
- Values: What do you value in your work and life?
- Purpose: What is meaningful to you?
- Identity: Beyond your job title and roles in your life, who are you?
- Responsibility: What or who are your core responsibilities?
Case in Point—Lilian Tan, a mid-career sales manager who changed roles to take care of L&D. “In my role, it is always adrenaline charged with quarterly targets and multiple accounts. I organise many high profile events and work with my senior leaders. But the bullet-fast pace and ceaseless pressure was harder to take over time.” So Lilian shifted to a Learning and Development role. “Suddenly the pace is slower, I didn’t need to face external customers and for a while, I felt uncertain about my contribution. Am I adding value?”
Like a metamorphosis, a shift in identity is taking place. Lilian cares about doing good work and her colleagues. Realising that a group of secretaries in her company had not received any development for many years, she decided to put together a program for them. In the design, she utilised her business experience to ensure the program was relevant and with a sharp marketing eye, promoted it internally. It was a hit. Now, Lilian is more at ease with the role change and continues to develop programs for the different groups.
“The emotional part of this change was something I was not prepared for. My identity as a sales driver was giving way to the new L&D role. I used to derive satisfaction from hitting my targets, which were very objective and clear. Now in my L&D role, my success criteria is less clear. But seeing people grow and learn is a new source of satisfaction. I realise at the end of the day, regardless of my roles, my values remain the same—do good work, challenge myself, and contribute. In this process, I realised I can have different roles but when I take guidance from my values, I can be more adaptable and not be stuck in my former job identity.”
In Lilian’s anchor, she had both “I” and “We” focus. She took care of her personal needs by stepping down from the fast pace and constant pressure. She used her expertise and experience to help others develop, which in turn gave her new meaning in her work. By taking care of her personal needs and collective purpose, she remained engaged and highly productive at work.
So, over to you. In your own world of disruptive change, how are you adapting? What do you need to do to take care of your individual wholeness? How can you contribute to collective wholeness?

The views expressed in this column are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect this publication's view, and this article is not edited by Singapore Business Review. The author was not remunerated for this article.

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Wendy Tan

Wendy Tan

Wendy Tan is the author of Wholeness in a Disruptive World: Pearls of Wisdom from East and West. A speaker, consultant and founding partner of Flame Centre, she works with organisations to develop, engage and retain their talents.

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