David Chan, AdNovum Singapore's new Managing Director, tells Priya Sunil why even as every company has its own set of priorities to take the business to a next level, it might not always be the best for the employees. How then can business leaders work hand-in-hand with HR to address both the business' and employees' needs? 

Q How did you get to where you are with AdNovum?

It took me a lot of patience, dedication, and hard work to reach where I am with AdNovum. I have been in the IT business for over 25 years. I started off as a software engineer / consultant at the beginning of my career in Canada and thereafter changed my career direction towards business development and sales and marketing in Hong Kong and China. My scope then expanded to operations and people management at the later part of my career in Singapore. It was a long journey of enriching my knowledge and experience on technology, people culture and management skills to better prepare myself to become who I am and what I do today.

Q How would you describe your leadership style? How has it changed over the years and what experiences helped you shape it?

My leadership style over the years has evolved towards a democratic and affiliative style.

As an individual with a dominant character which has a tendency to be more authoritative, my experience has made me learn that it might not work all the time, particularly as organisations are now more complex in terms of cultural and background mix.

It is imperative that we listen to our clients and also our employees in order to achieve a 'win-win' situation.

People are the key assets of any organisation, we focus a lot on our teammates’ emotional needs and these are assessed through employee surveys done bi-annually. As an organisation that aims for workplace diversity and inclusion, we ensure that everyone feels valued and heard. In projects, we also seek our teammates’ opinions before making any final decisions.

Q What are some meaningful lessons you've taken over the course of your career?

I could think of a few cases where an organisational transformation was needed in order to remain competitive in the market. This includes an organisational identity change, resetting the go-to-market strategy, and also the upskilling plan for the employees. Although the plan was aligned with the business objectives and requirements, the upskilling plan resulted in a high attrition rate due to a mismatch with the employees’ individual needs. That was a huge impact to me and it then occurred to me 'why did they not want it'.

This was a lesson learnt that every company has its own set of priorities in order to take the business to a next level, but that might not be the best for our employees. Business and HR leaders have to be more mindful of the individual employee’s needs, in order to more effectively inspire professional development and overall performance.

Employee development has to also be holistic in order for the individuals to develop both personally and professionally. Employees’ physical, intellectual and psychological wellbeing should be the priority in any process.

Q How closely will you be working with your HR head, and on what issues?

Change management comes down to proper planning, collaboration and execution. When the HR department and business leaders work together, everything is off for a good start. I am working very closely with my HR head on employees’ physical and psychological wellbeing, compensation and benefits, career development and coaching.

This not only aligns the people strategy more closely with what the business needs, the HR department would also have a better understanding of the needs and concerns of customers just as much as their employees’.

Q Describe your ideal CHRO.

The workplace in organisations globally have profoundly changed in the past year and businesses are witnessing a great shift in the workforce operations. There is a need for HR leaders to be highly agile to lead an agile workforce for an adaptable organisation.

The fundamentals of a CHRO like fairness, respect, and care need to be in place always. It is crucial that the CHRO needs to possess strong change management skills and analytical thinking, together with an expressed business acumen and project management.

A consultancy approach needs to be adopted and combined with hands-on experience. The CHRO needs to stay tuned with the key stakeholders and be updated of the latest business needs so as to transform the HR function with the dynamics of the business environment.

Q If not this career, what alternative career path would you have chosen?

I would have been a child psychologist, specialising in art therapy. For now, it might be my second career to pursue after my early retirement!

Photo / provided [Pictured: David Chan, Managing Director, AdNovum Singapore]

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