Friday, August 06, 2010

Shame on you, SMRT

I refer to the MediaCorp News on August 4th showing a SMRT officer giving out warning to young children drinking on the train. The first thing that came to mind was, why the offenders are mainly children, although it's reported in the same segment that teenagers make up the bulk of the offenders.

The news footage seems to indicate the intention of the authorities to re-assert the point that even young children are not allowed to drink, and not even plain water is permissible. Children who feel thirsty should inform their caretaker, get off the train, engage the help of SMRT officer and go to the designated room. God bless those who have the urge to take a small sip every 5 minutes. How much time is needed just for a sip of plain water when you are travelling on SMRT train? How much stress do parents need to force on their young toddlers who are too young to comprehend the situation? How about physically handicapped people?

Why is there no provision for young children and people with special needs? To make the point clear, the laws make provision and clearly separate the legal responsibilities of the adults and juveniles. There is a good reason for this: children, especially the very young ones, do not have the same capability of logical thinking that makes them behave differently under different situations. While adults can exert control over the behavior of their children, one wonders if simple thing like taking a sip of water on the train necessitates such disciplinary action against the children. Instead of having rules and regulations to protect the children and people with special needs, SMRT seems to be enforcing rules that go against their needs.

While I generally agree that commuters should not eat and drink on the train, I do think that SMRT has gone too far in its implementation. One suggestion is for the company to study the implications to allow for exceptions, such as children under certain age, senior citizens above certain age and people with special conditions and needs, to at least drink water or take medication without having to go through the inconvenient process. The findings can then be used as a basis for the provision that may be put in place for the interest of a wider population.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Re-blogging: An excerpt from HBS Working Knowledge: Good Banks, Bad Banks, and Government's Role as Fixer.

Q&A between Roger Thompson (Q) and Robert Pozen (A)

Q: Corporate boards have been criticized for being asleep at the wheel leading up to last year's financial meltdown. Are boards at fault?

A: After Enron and WorldCom, Congress hastily passed Sarbanes-Oxley, basically a very elaborate set of procedures for boards to follow. But it's very clear that the boards of megabanks?the nineteen banks with over $100 billion in assets?complied with Sarbanes-Oxley and somehow didn't realize what huge risks they were taking.

Q: If boards don't need more procedures, what do they need?

A: Some of the most effective boards are those at companies that are owned by private equity. They are composed of the CEO and six directors, all of whom have relevant industry expertise. The directors make the time commitment, spending several days each month at the company. And they all have significant stock incentives.

The question is, what can we learn from the private equity model? When it comes to megabanks, I'm in favor of a smaller board with deep financial expertise, substantial time commitments, and a different pay structure. We can try to be clever and add more procedures. But unless we rethink the board model in a very fundamental way, I believe we're kidding ourselves. Is it likely that somebody who isn't a financial expert can show up six times a year and really understand Citigroup?

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Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Does incentive work?

Incentive works if it motivates people. But would it? People are motivated to do something if they know this: "If I do this, I will get what I want." Managers often get it wrong by telling their employees: "If you do this, we will give you what we want to give you." Managers should stop assuming that they know what their employees want.

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Thursday, September 17, 2009

Product knowledge

The recently held computer and consumer IT exhibition COMEX 2009 made record sales in its history with S$63 mil of goods sold.

Indeed it's a popular event packed with people. I came back with two nothing in hand and two disappointments.

First is the item which I was looking for, Panasonic Lumix LX3, is not on display. In fact Panasonic did not participate for whatever reason.

The second disappointment is that most sales persons I spoke to do not understand what they are selling. One look really confused when I asked about the lens' aperture. The other one told me that there is no difference between a 24mm lens and a 28mm lens, "All you need to do is to take a step back," she said.

For people who studies consumer behavior, this type of places is one of the best to conduct field experiment and see if the theories are adequate. After all, with such level of product knowledge, and not forget about the economic situation, we still see a record in sales here.

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Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Raising a sick child

The way corporations is managed today is akin to raising a sick child -- with TLC (tender loving care). The logic is simple, if corporations cannot survive beyond tomorrow, all the talks about long term visions and values are as good as thrash. It is not an easy task to manage a corporation that is constantly pressured to deliver short term results.

It is similar in raising a sick child. What if the child does not live beyond tomorrow, next month, six month, one year, five years... Tender loving care, the doctors will tell you. Educating a sick child with values and principles that will help make him a better person when he grows up sounds like a nice thing to have, but maybe irrelevant.

I have seen in paediatric wards how some parents struggle emotionally to 'educate' their children. I remember one mother said, "I will just give you whatever you want, anything, anytime." It is heartbreaking to hear this under such circumstances.

At the back of these parents' mind, there is probably another question -- What if the child lives long enough, longer than the parents? While science has advanced tremendously, the survival rate of many illnesses still bogged down to a probability game. There are simply too many factors that affect a patient's survival.

Turning the lens to the corporations. Many corporations are fighting for their survivals; and their survivals are similarly affected by a confluence of internal and external factors. Should the management think only short term then?

My family is rather unfortunate that one of the youngest member of our family is diagnosed with an uncommon illness since he is merely 16-month old. I have the pleasure to host him for close to a year when he's in Singapore for medical treatment. While the adults keep saying that we should treat him no different from a normal kid, the reality is that it is a very difficult thing to do. It seems like two simple choice: 1. Treat the child as perfectly normal kid and schooled him with values and principles the way we were raised. 2. Treat it like there is no tomorrow and spoil the child with tender loving care...

As with most rational people, we chose the middle path. And as with most parents (we have a daughter of our own), we soon found that we were jumping from one extreme to the other, and couldn't stop blaming ourselves for being too hard on him or spoil him when he should have learnt his lesson. Now, we stick to certain principles, but not setting fixed boundaries.

This experience doesn't make me better in managing similar situations. What I do learn, though, is that middle path is a means, and so is other choices. We took a principle-based approach. Others might prefer TLC. The end motive is probably the same.

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Thursday, July 23, 2009

Getting back into hardcore KM

Not that I have ever left KM completely. But my friends over at iKMS would probably suspect that I have abandoned them for a fatter job elsewhere. Anyway, I am back.

While trying to revive some old memory, I stumbled upon this article by Jan Torsilieri and Chuck Lucier of Booz-Allen & Hamilton titled: Steal This Idea and decided to quickly steal it. I am probably the n-th person who do so, as the article was published here in 2000 (registration required).

Here's a quote from the article which I tend to agree, unfortunately, which sums up the challenges in KM:

" The theory behind KM is simple: If you give people access to each other — and to the core content and information they need to do their work — everyone will make better decisions, make contributions to the health of the enterprise, and be happier.

Of course, it doesn't work quite that simply. KM requires people to do things that are, well, unnatural. It demands that they share their best ideas freely, giving up a piece of their personal competitive advantage, often without getting credit. It also obliges them to use other people's knowledge, which means admitting that somebody knows more than they do. Finally, it requires that they keep looking for ways to improve — what's good enough today will never be good enough tomorrow. KM calls on us to steal boldly and let others pilfer freely from us, day after day. Needless to say, the change program associated with knowledge management can be really hard."

All along I have been interested to learn more about why people give and take knowledge to and from other people. To say that knowledge sharing and learning from others is against human nature may be a little over-sweeping. Such tendency may be stronger in some people than others. Such individual differences would mean that managers need to also know the personal traits of their employees better in order to manage learning and sharing more effectively.

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A KM role with CPA Australia (Singapore Div)

I have just joined CPA Australia (Singapore Division) a week ago. CPAA is a not-for-profit professional accounting body, and one of the largest in the region. My role is to create more values for members through knowledge offers. What's really in the job remains to be explored. I am sure thrill with excitement over what lies ahead, which is not very clear yet at the moment.

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Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The AWARE saga: Two Wrongs Do Not Make A Right

The debacle surrounding Aware is most unfortunate for a voluntary organization which has served an important role in our society.

Some said the damage is done. If this is true, then both the old and new guards need to shoulder equal responsibilities. If Aware goes down, both the creator and the conqueror will have only themselves to blame.

An issue that is in the center of the debate is about homosexuality. The old guards are accused to 'promote' homosexuality; while the new guards are accused for being 'anti' homosexuality.

None are politically correct positions. Naturally, they have both denied the accusations. But their actions and words do not seem consistent.

In yesterday’s Straits Times, the new guards’ ‘mentor’, Dr. Thio Su Mien, talked about the old guards' pro-homosexuality stance. Although she denied to be anti-homosexuality, she blamed the old guards for not labeling homosexuality as a 'negative' word, alongside ‘pain’ and ‘HIV/Aids’. Another new guard, Ms. Maureen Ong, cited her worry that her children may be influenced to become homosexual as her motivation to join Aware.

But the old guards should shoulder half the responsibilities too. The concerns about their pro-homosexuality orientation are not new. There were questions from the members and public, for instance, one from Dr. Thio, about why it has chosen a film on homosexuality in one of its event. My guess is that those concerns have not been addressed to the satisfaction of some people. They were warned, but they choose to ignore the warning. Some comments in the past weeks have attributed the fall of the old guards to complacency. I would think that this is more of poor judgment than complacency.

Now, the old and new guards are like two ostriches who bury their heads in the ground. They thought they are fighting against their enemies. The truth is that they are fighting against themselves. The real fight is between their personal belief and their willingness to acknowledge it publicly.

Perhaps, they are both not suitable to lead an organization like Aware, if we can agree that most women do not consider homosexuality as 'the' major concern in their life. I wouldn't mind, subjected to the approval from the Registry of Societies’ office, to see two new societies, one for, and the other against homosexuality. At least, if they fight again, we will have a 'neutral' Aware as a mediator.

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