Not only does competition inspire inquisitiveness, it also inspires differentiation and collaboration, says Sim Cher Whee, Senior Director, Global Talent Acquisition and Mobility, Micron Technology Inc. She explains this, why she switched from engineering to HR, and more, in this interview with Aditi Sharma Kalra.

Q How did you venture into HR after first starting out in engineering?

Upon my graduation from University, I joined Micron as a manufacturing engineer. During my first year, I was sent to the US and Japan for training before returning to start up the first 200mm wafer fabrication facility in Singapore. Riding the rapid advancement in technology, I had many opportunities to push the boundaries of innovation. I approached these learning opportunities with inquisitiveness, a desire to pursue excellence, and a strong focus on achieving win-win outcomes.

I was subsequently selected to lead the industrial engineering team for three years before being rotated to be responsible for financial planning. It was an extremely challenging time - the semiconductor industry was very volatile; the economic market was turbulent, and there were many difficulties with the technology roadmap and execution. Through analysing many different financial scenarios and recommendations, I quickly learned what it takes for an organisation to thrive in a highly dynamic and complex environment.

Apart from technology and financial capital, talent and culture are critical to delivering strategies and performance, driving business outcomes, and, most importantly, helping the company to stay ahead of its competitors.

Following this, I had the opportunity to choose between furthering my studies in finance and leading a training and development team, and I realised that my heart was inclined towards the latter. That is how I ventured into HR. Today, I am the Global Head of Talent Acquisition, and Talent Mobility. I am fortunate to work for a company and leaders who believe in developing talent to their fullest potential as it was through my diverse experiences and opportunities that I discovered my passion for HR.

Q What was the most innovative HR campaign that you've worked on, and what was your biggest learning from it?

One of the most recent innovative HR campaigns involved leapfrogging our capabilities with advanced technologies such as Textio, a machine learning tool that offers an augmented job-description writing platform and Eightfold, an AI-powered talent Intelligence platform. This has radically transformed our recruitment process and how we market for talent. We are in the midst of rolling this out globally.

One of the most significant learning points was getting our team members to make the conscious decision to break the old habit and adapt to the new way and best practices. This is independent of seniority, background and experience. It is a universal challenge. Even though team members are involved early in the change, it is still difficult to let go of current practices. Hence, it is critical to have a group of early adopters and champions who believe in the vision, relentlessly explore different engagement models to increase the desire and confidence to learn, unlearn and relearn the new tools.

Q You've worked in the semiconductor industry for over 25 years, what keeps the experience energising and fresh for you?

The highly competitive business environment and the demand for great leadership keep the experience fresh.

I believe that readiness for competition is critical to navigating the business reality today. We need to shift our mindset to view competition as a positive challenge rather than an exhausting one.

Competition is good because it inspires inquisitiveness. A decade ago, the electronics industry in Singapore was facing great challenges, it was viewed as a sunset industry and top engineering graduates were increasingly opting to join the financial and government sectors instead. This spurred me on to try and discover what the financial and government sectors were doing right. I also pondered long and hard over how we could create value in internship and align with the universities’ vision for preparing “future-ready” graduates.

We talked to both internal and external business leaders and HR and attended career events organised by the financial and government sectors. At one of these career fairs, it struck us that the government sector was presenting itself as a cohesive platform that allowed students to explore the wide range of jobs in the different ministries. This insight helped me realise that the semiconductor industry had to also present itself as a cluster – a united force to present the end-to-end career opportunities to the students.

Competition is good also because it inspires collaboration. With a clear vision, industry partners can come together as one strong Industry voice to collaborate with government agencies and universities. For example, when STEM Inc was established five years ago, the industry team led by Micron partnered with MOE and the Science Centre to transform how science is taught in the secondary schools. We have also transformed the internship programme in the past few years to build an enhanced internship framework and implement it across the entire industry. This allows interns in different semiconductor companies to visit the entire ecosystem of this industry and expand the quality of their exposure.

Finally, competition is good because it inspires differentiation. Once we were able to interest the top undergraduates in the semiconductor industry, we had to think about attracting them to join Micron. I believe this is when we need to define our differentiated engagement and showcase Micron’s care for employees, and strong focus on talent and career development. We are able to do that because each of our Micron leaders and team members are great Micron culture champions who help to create an exceptional and uniquely Micron experience!

Q Have you had a mentor through your career, and what advice have they shared with you?

I have met many great mentors throughout my career who have provided excellent food-for-thought, facilitated my self-discovery and inspired me to discover my potential and shift my belief. Some of the insights that I have gained along the way are as follows:

  • Value the talent’s ability more than their experience, and always deploy talent in projects and roles that require more from them than they think they can deliver;
  • Always pursue the MBA - Master by Asking. Let curiosity be the driver of your performance;
  • Be honest to yourself – both about your strengths and weaknesses. Be vulnerable, ask for feedback and thrive on a growth mindset;
  • Talk straight to build trust;
  • Feedback is a gift - make it real-time and actionable!

Q Is there a phrase/mindset that HR professionals should do away with? And what should they replace it with?

I think HR professionals should shed the mindset that we exist to deliver HR services to our team members and partners.

Instead, we need to realise that we are in the business of creating moments that matter, and these include experiences that engage, empower, motivate and inspire the talent to be their best!

Q Do you believe there is a thing such as a work-life balance?

I believe in managing my job such that I can have work-life balance. I make choices each day that are aligned to my life purpose. I set boundaries so that outside of the office, I am able to spend quality time with my children, extended family and friends. Similarly, when I am in the office, I focus all my attention on my work and give off my best each day. I believe in self-care and spending time to do things that we enjoy. Personally, I am happy to be engaged in activities such as reading, hiking and painting.

Q What are the top career mistakes CHROs make and how should they avoid them?

I have observed two traits that differentiate outstanding CHROs from good CHROs. One of these is the ability to embrace the diversity of experiences, perspectives, knowledge and ideas in designing and developing People solutions. The other is the ability to harness inclusiveness to make people feel heard, respected and valued. To achieve this, we need to be mindful of who we invite to the brainstorming process and conversation, paying dedicated attention to how the interaction is manifested and decisions are made, and empower the team to express their opinions and recommendations.

Q With the evolution of technology, what is one main challenge faced in rolling out new HR initiatives?

The main challenge is achieving a good balance between global and local relevance. We want to scale global initiatives with consistency and local initiatives with relevance and quality. While technology allows us to do this faster and reach a wider audience, the challenge is to make it sustainable and engaging.


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