Organisational Transformation with Cornelius Chang

Former Head of People and Organisational Development at GRAB

Thought Leadership

We’ve been working with Grab and a combination of our Sprouta Partners to help the organisation move forward on high-impact operating model transformation to drive a high-performing culture and answer some key D&I challenges.

Tell us a bit about your role at Grab.

For me, it's about helping create a better environment for our Grabbers to work at, to do their best work in service of Grab’s mission to help make Southeast Asia a little bit better for everybody. That's my mission. That's my purpose. Making it a better place for Grabbers to work and do their best, and therefore, help us make Southeast Asia better for everyone.  

How is the Partnership with Sprouta helping you to achieve your goals at Grab? 

I think the partnership’s been helpful in two ways. The first one is just being a thought partner, someone that I can bounce ideas off - share their thinking, share the direction that we're working towards, the challenges that we're struggling with right now, and the context of Grab. I think that's why one angle of it, the thought partnership.  

I think the second is the practical partnership in helping us advance on this journey at Grab. So beyond the sharing, Sprouta’s network helps us identify the right partners, the people who can keep us going in the right direction that we're aspiring towards. To help us solve some of the challenges we're working on, or help us drive the change that we're looking to drive within Grab. I think that’s the value of the partnership -   one, having that thought partnership and two, that practical initiative in helping us find the right people to partner with us on this journey to keep us advancing.

What do you think is working well in the Sprouta + Grab partnership? 

If I put it this way, compared to a traditional consulting type company, Sprouta is partner agnostic, meaning they're not tied up in their own frameworks, not tied up in their own content and their own thinking of “We believe our approach for doing this best”.  

It’s really coming from the place of understanding the context of the organisation, what the challenge is, and then finding the right partner that they believe would help in that situation, or who could best add value in that situation, and tapping into their network to find the right partner. I think that's been really special. 

And the best analogy for that is the difference between having to get a degree from Stanford, or Harvard versus getting the opportunity to do best-in-class courses at all of these universities. And I think that that is special.

What do you think are some of the biggest challenges that HR leaders are currently facing?

It’s such a big question. And I think there are so many possible ones. I think the first thing I would say is just the caveat, that it's super contextual. And the challenges around people for an organisation in some other part of the world, could be very, very different.  

But I think broadly, the trends that I suppose that worry me, that I see are an increasing disconnection between the individual and their work - purpose of their work, and the organisation’s. And that plays in different ways. So, for example, there is this whole notion now that has become popular around quiet quitting. But I think even beyond that, I think now, the greater concern is around “soft living”, and people who are entering the workforce, with the perspective that no matter how hard I try, my life fundamentally is not going to change, it's not going to get better, so why do I struggle? Why bother? I'll just do the bare minimum, and enjoy the best possible life, I can with the most minimal effort.  

I imagine a world where if everyone takes that kind of that approach, then there’s not much progress that's going to come. And so that's what kind of one trend that I worry about that disconnect between the individual motivation to their work and to the organisation that Depart of Yeah, that's one. So that's one trend that I am worried about at the global level.  

Linked to that is just a rising tide of inequality. That affects not just the workforce, but affects humanity in general, in so many different ways, but at the most extreme, generally, when you have inequality that's overly stretched, it tends to lead to social incohesion. And that, again, doesn't bode well. So how do we solve for that, especially given that a lot of governments are trying, but it's increasingly hard to do that so now corporates also then play a role in solving for that.  

I think the third one, specifically around the workforce is the disconnect between the educational systems and the work of the future and preparing people for that. I think about how a lot of education is still very grounded in traditional education, at least in this part of the region, right? In Southeast Asia, especially, and how that is so fundamentally different from the world of work in the future, where a lot of what we learn traditionally is not going to be required knowledge at work. And instead, how do we build that, that love for learning the curiosity for learning the curiosity for challenge, ask the right questions be intellectually curious, right? Those are the skills that are going to be far more valuable. So, I guess the third one is how do we shift from educating people on knowledge to helping them build skills? So that they remain relevant in the workforce going forward?  

What advice do you have for how corporations and organisations navigate these challenges?

Maybe at the core of that, because the solution is that I don't think anyone, any organisation has found the right solution or the perfect solution yet. And the solutions are very diverse, and need to be very different as well, depending on the context of the employees, the workforce, the country that they are in, the nature of the work of the company, so on and so forth.  

I think that's where, for example, a company like Grab is really special in the mission, and the purpose of Grab as an organisation is incredibly clear. And that makes it a lot easier to help point the workforce to the purpose of their work, where maybe it might not be that clear for other organisations or it might be less compelling. But I think, fundamentally where it needs to start from is, if organisations start to acknowledge just the degree of influence that they have on their employees beyond work. I think that will go a long way. If we recognise that the people who work in these organisations and are just not just employees, but people who, yes, they work with us, they work for us, but they're people, they’re humans, they have families, they have life outside of work. I think that just having that mindset would hopefully change already the way that we think about what we do, how we treat people and how we operate. That will make things a lot better.

What’s one thing you know to be true that pushes the status quo?

The one that probably sticks with me is that generally, people believe and know and recognise and acknowledge that people are good, fundamentally - the majority of people are good. And that applies even in the context of an organisation that in general, the majority of people are good. However, many times when it comes to designing the systems, the processes of an organisation, we take the opposite view, and we start designing for the few bad apples, so the few people who might break the rules, who might operate with too much risk. And we design everything around round that small pocket versus optimising for the majority, who operate very differently and will operate very positively. And I think that's something that just as a reminder to myself, I know deep down it's true, but when it comes to me and my role as, an HR practitioner it's often very difficult to put to practice the muscle of designing for that. Versus designing to prevent bad actors from exploiting the system, and that's challenging.

What do you want your legacy to be?

For me, it's really simple. It’s just that I've had a positive impact. If it's in the context of an organisation, I've had a positive impact on the organisation. If it's at the team level, that I've made a positive difference to the team and the team members. And that's it. For me, it's that simple. That, hopefully, in my time with you, whoever that you is, it can be an individual, it can be a team, it can be an organisation, a company or a country, that hopefully, I've just helped make things better.

Want to hear more key insights from Cornelius? Head to our podcast Humanity Works.  

If you’re interested in learning more about how Sprouta can help you solve your toughest organisational challenges and move your business forward book a Discovery Call today.  

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