, Singapore

7 success lessons your degree failed to teach you

By Adrian Tan

Recently, a friend of mine had the good fortune to meet Grace Ho, Chief Commercial Officer of SingPost, through a mentorship and networking session organised by the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) for Professionals, Managers, and Executives (PMEs) under its Future Leaders programme.

Ms Ho shared nuggets of wisdom to the attendees who worked in diverse industries such as IT, healthcare, and real estate, from multinationals to startups to non-government organisations.

I asked my friend to share some of Ms Ho's insights that could help inspire and encourage PMEs to pursue their ambitions and excel in their jobs.

1. Proactive prospecting
Ms Ho spoke about her early days working for a software firm to pay off her student loan (financial independence being her goal). Instead of waiting for clients to approach her, she printed a map of Shenton Way and mapped her walkabout itinerary to cover key prospects.

With a curated stack of brochures, she would drop by these offices and personally introduce herself, leaving behind relevant brochures and persuading staff to share the name of the IT manager which would receive the brochures in his in-tray so that she could call him the following week.

How many of us are prepared to seek and conquer the way she did? Do we expect to land jobs or clients simply because "we have already listed our services online"?

2. Learn something you don't already know
Ms Ho was trained in biotechnology and gained sales experience in her first job. She decided to learn something different in her MBA that she didn't already have, i.e. finance.

She advised that having core skills relevant to your job application makes you employable (getting that first interview), but it is the showcasing of your incremental skills that gets you employed.

If you are an engineering graduate competing with thousands of other graduates for the same job, what skills did you learn in your co-curricular activities or personal hobbies that set you apart from the crowd?

3. Brush up on cultural intelligence
Ms Ho candidly shared how she went a mile to appease a Japanese customer which had been offended by her colleague, who had abruptly cancelled a meeting by email without considering his feelings. Without a deeper understanding of Japanese business culture, her organisation could have possibly lost an important customer.

As Singapore is a multi-cultural nation which serves stakeholders from many parts of the world, it is important to nurture our own cultural intelligence as we serve foreign customers and work with foreign colleagues.

Instead of eschewing diversity, we can choose to embrace and learn what helps us and our stakeholders reach common goals, or as NTUC Secretary-General Chan Chun Sing once wrote about the unusual labour movement, "to grow the pie together, rather than to fight over a slice of a shrinking pie".

4. Know your 3 As and 3 Rs
In a question on how she gets herself out of difficult situations, Ms Ho shared her 3 As and 3Rs. She says we cannot control the 3 Rs: Recession, Reorganisation, and Reboot (of the status quo).

What we can control are the 3 As: our Attitude towards the 3 Rs, our life Anchors (family, value systems, etc.), and our ActionsShe emphasised how our 3 As determine our lives, and if we really want something, we will find a way to make it happen.

5. Be a mentor, and look for mentors
Mentors and mentees have contributed a great deal to Ms Ho's understanding of work and life. For example, her previous SingPost Group CEO encouraged a culture of innovation by having a tolerance for failure.

"Fail faster, learn quickly" and "Think big, act small" were his favourite mantras, enabling his staff at SingPost to experiment with new services such as POPStation. This new service kept SingPost relevant to online shoppers who wanted the flexibility to collect their parcels near their home, instead of waiting at home for the postman to arrive.

6. Retrofit your strengths
As one of SingPost's strengths is in running self-service POPstations, Ms Ho shared a dream to retrofit this strength to create self-service POPstations for prescription medication, where you can pick up your regular medication without having to visit the doctor every time you run out of it.

Our strengths help us to navigate an ambiguous future, where workers outlast companies and our ability to evolve quickly will determine how relevant we continue to be.

7. Overeducate reluctant stakeholders
Marketers may feel discouraged when they are not able to motivate a specific target audience to adopt a new product or service after a series of campaigns. Human Resources practitioners struggle with transforming company cultures and attracting talent to work for them.

In response to a question on how to change the mindsets of stakeholders who just refuse to change, Ms Ho advised attendees to continue investing in education and awareness.

It is just a matter of time before a disruption occurs and your previously indifferent audience suddenly becomes a captive audience, giving you a first-mover advantage.

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