Chong Kong Chan, Head of People at FashionValet

A no-approval leave policy, encouraging employees to be SpongeBob (to soak up learning), and a kids' room in the office to support working parents — these are some ways that Chong Kong Chan, Head of People, is evolving the culture at FashionValet, he tells Jerene Ang.

Chong Kong Chan, Head of People at the go-to destination for the modest fashion industry, FashionValet started his career in advertising and marketing, as he was fascinated by how a brand creates its stories and experiences. This helped him build a strong foundation with MNCs such as Ogilvy & Mather, 3M and Dell.

At the peak of his career in marketing, however, Chong decided to take the road less travelled and switched to become a people professional for one simple reason - "human psychology and people engagement intrigue me".

The rest, as they say, is history. Since he stepped into the world of people, he brings a fresh perspective to HR, with a mission to synergise marketing, communication, and human capital to integrate the organisation, brand and people.

In this interview, he talks about his priority in driving workplace culture, how the company has managed to stay away from any retrenchment and salary reduction plan, benefits tailored for working parents, and why employees at FashionValet are encouraged to be like SpongeBob.

Q How did you get to where you are at FashionValet? And, what does your role encompass?

I started my career in advertising and marketing. At the peak of my career in marketing, I realised that my learning had come to a halt.

Towards the last phase of my marketing career as marketing manager for Asia Pacific, I found that the people business energised me whenever I got an opportunity to coach team members or was involved in people communications. When Intel Technology offered to appoint me in its human resources department as Employee Communications Manager, I jumped on it straightaway and switched my career. The rest is history.

After spending more than 15 years working in the HR department of MNCs, I decided to transition to a start-up or a growing SME's environment where I saw opportunities to pioneer people-related ideas and initiatives.

At FashionValet, everything about people is my focus. My priorities at the moment are to drive workplace culture, facilitate leadership transition, and put in place the company’s performance and succession agenda.

Q What does a typical workday look like?

Emails and meetings typically fill my day. But my daily focus is on spending time and working with business leaders so that the people matters in their respective functions are well attended to, especially in talent management.

I believe that people are the cornerstone of business growth. If we have great talent, the company can scale new heights to achieve its aspired trajectories. Therefore, I am constantly on the lookout for the most fitting talent whose values and aspirations align with FashionValet.

At the end of the day, I will do my usual rounds by checking in with my team members, formally or informally, to ensure that urgent people matters are resolved.

Q How do you retain and attract talent for the company? How does FashionValet and the wider fashion/eCommerce industry stand out from other industries in this area?

The growth of individuals and workplace culture are the levers for FashionValet to attract and retain its talent.

At FashionValet, we focus a lot on the personal development & growth of our people. Every Head of Department is expected to conduct #SpongeBob sessions for their function.

Aligning with one of the six values at FashionValet - 'Be a SpongeBob', the #SpongeBob session is where our people can continuously learn, improve, and grow by gaining new knowledge and exposing themselves to new and exciting happenings in the world, be it in fashion or other fields relevant to our business.

The company also puts trust in the people — there is no approval needed when the employees want to go on leave.

A flexible working arrangement is in place to facilitate our people’s work-life integration. At the end of the day, it’s the output that counts!

FashionValet fully understands the challenges of working parents in today’s day and age. As such, we have benefits that cater to this group of employees, in that we provide 90 days of maternity leave, 14 days of paternity leave, and one-day monthly parents’ time-off. We also have a kids’ room in our office to facilitate parents bringing their children to the office, when there is a need.

We believe that by providing a conducive ecosystem to support working and new parents, they will perform better at work when their family affairs are well taken care of.

Q What would you say candidates/prospective employees are looking for? Do you notice a difference between the wants of younger applicants versus those with more experience?

When candidates today seek jobs, they look for a few things — company culture and values, growth opportunities and prospects, as well as the overall remuneration package including benefits entitlement.

The younger generation looks for higher remuneration and personal growth opportunities. Thus, they tend to shop around for jobs instead of honing their skills to build a strong foundation and preparing themselves for the next level of progression.

The more experienced ones seek job stability, and culture fit with the company as well as the leader they will report to.

There is no right or wrong. It all boils down to the individual’s needs and priorities at a specific point of their career and life. Of course, this is not meant to be a generalisation, but an observation based on what I have seen through my working experience.

Q How would you describe the culture at FashionValet? What people policies have you implemented that have helped evolve workplace culture?

The culture at FashionValet is all about taking personal ownership and accountability to deliver the best possible result through strong teamwork and focus on our customers. In the midst of achieving results, we are expected to act with uncompromising integrity.

To provide focus to our people on delivering results, we have cut down administrative bureaucracy such as implementing leave-without-approval policy.

In addition, we provide our people with flexible work arrangements so that they can better manage their work and life by channelling more time in delivering their work instead of managing non-productive time such as travelling on the road.

As a team, we are hungry for knowledge and improvement and we continuously learn and grow together with an open mind.

Above all, everything we do is not just about us. We make concerted efforts in contributing to the community and society in which we live. For example, during this pandemic, in conjunction with our 10th anniversary last year, we donated RM100,000 to the Imam Response and Relief Team (Imaret) to fight COVID-19.

Q What role does HR play in fostering this workplace culture?

HR is the catalyst of workplace culture and we believe that leaders in the company serve as role models for our people to see, feel, and experience the essence and nuances of the workplace culture. They are the ones who are going to make the culture alive so that the employees will live and breathe it every day.

In addition, HR should promote the workplace culture through consistent employee communications and recognition programmes to heighten awareness.

At FashionValet, we align everything we do with the six values that we uphold. We ensure that our values are institutionalised in the people ecosystem. For example, these six values form part of the performance appraisal criteria in our performance management structure.

We also expect our managers to hold frequent one-on-one meetings with their direct reports to discuss their performance and growth as well as learning and improvement opportunities.

In promoting a learning culture, we also expect the Head of Departments to drive the #Spongebob Sessions and provide an avenue to their people to learn and gain new knowledge on the latest market trends and best industry practices so that the team can continuously grow while delivering the best results to the company.

Q What part does culture play in attracting talent? What would you say are the benefits of having a strong culture?

Organisational culture is the unique positioning of a company which differentiates it from the rest in the marketplace. Culture is the DNA of a company that defines what it stands for and how its people behave. A strong culture binds the people together for a common purpose of achieving a company’s mission and vision.

This is why we have introduced a set of values that aligns with who we are, where we are, and where we aspire to be in future. We call it 'The Red Carpet' which defines how we behave together as a FashionValet family to scale new heights and achieve the vision of becoming the largest modest fashion company in the world. The Red Carpet is a tribute to FashionValet's humble beginning 10 years ago when it started in a small office with a set of white table and chairs on red carpets – a distinctive feat which everyone walked on every day.

These are the six values that we embrace:

1. Act like an owner
We are proactive and take responsibility for what we do. We are committed to achieving our goals and getting the best possible result. We act with uncompromising integrity.

2. Be a SpongeBob
We are hungry for knowledge and improvement. We learn and grow together with an open mind. We embrace change.

3. Customer is BAE (before anyone else)
We listen to our customers because they are our priority. We go above and beyond our customers’ expectations.

4. Teamwork makes the dream work
We trust and support one another. Diversity makes us stronger. We celebrate each other’s achievements.

5. Dare to be different
Creative energy fuels us to innovate and push boundaries. We constructively challenge the status quo. We make a difference in everything we do!

6. Bite on humble pie
It’s our responsibility to care about our communities and the earth. It’s not just about us. It’s bigger than us.

Q The recent lockdowns can put a strain on company culture and employee trust. Were there any concerns and how did you/the company address them?

FashionValet has been honest in delivering communication to our people since the COVID-19 outbreak.

The first thing we did was to be transparent with our people by sharing with everyone where the company’s financial position was and what needed to be done to tide the company through this challenging time. Our CEO conducted regular townhalls then to keep everyone abreast of the company’s progress so that we can stay focused and united as a team to achieve the results and goals.

Since the start of the pandemic and lockdown, our people’s employment, safety and health have been the utmost priority of the company. As such, we put a lot of trust in our people when they are required to work from home and deliver their work remotely.

The team has been able to adapt fast to the work-from-home arrangement.

Coupled with the concerted efforts from our managers in reaching out and connecting with their team members while operating remotely, we have emerged stronger than we thought!

To date, we have not exercised any retrenchment and salary reduction plan considering how badly the retail industry has been hit by this pandemic. On the other hand, we have been hiring. Overall, we are indeed proud of our achievements!

Q What were your three guiding principles when navigating this situation?

Manage with trust. Communicate with transparency. Exercise flexibility.

Q What are some of the biggest challenges you faced in your current role, and how did you overcome them?

As all HR practitioners and recruiters know, the biggest challenge is finding the right talent. Not only must the individual have the skill sets that we need but also the right fit for the company.

As FashionValet scales up its expansion plans, the challenge I am facing now is hiring the most fitting talent. The ongoing talent war is making my job more interesting than it already is, although it is not quite impossible to achieve.

I believe with our strong company culture which puts a great deal of emphasis on personal growth, teamwork, creativity and corporate social responsibility, we will be able to attract the talent that we need.

Q What do you think HR can do better for companies and employees?

HR operational excellence, which is the grease of the company, is an unspoken expectation.

It is the glue of the company i.e. it drives organisational development & leadership, workplace culture, and employee engagement that will drive the long-term growth of the company.

HR must deliver the people experience at each touch point of the people journey, starting from the time they engage with individuals during hiring right up to offboarding. As the needs are different at each stage, how HR navigates these will play a big role in retaining talent.

It’s also critical that HR professionals must equip themselves with business acumen to participate in business discussions and connect the implications to the company’s people matters on hand. The ability to connect the dots will make HR operate strategically as a people leader in the company and thus ensure a seat on the table.

Photo / Provided 

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