Charlene Teo, Human Resources Manager at Conspec Builders (M), speaks to Priya Sunil on why building a 'leadership infrastructure' is imperative to growth and innovation.

Conspec Builders (M) sees leadership development as an imperative step for growing businesses to achieve more. With this in mind, the landscape contractor has adopted a transformational leadership approach to developing its leaders. According to its Human Resources Manager, Charlene Teo, this is the most appropriate approach, as she believes "leadership is 'caught', as well as taught".

The approach starts from the top, where directors are expected to keep learning and growing through mentoring sessions. To supplement this, feedback channels are available for these top-level leaders (directors, managers, assistant managers) to mentor employees and build close ties with leaders of the other levels.

Each leader on these levels is mentored fortnightly – consultants mentor the directors, and the directors then mentor the managers and assistant managers. More importantly, "a big part of each director’s and manager’s key performance indicators (KPIs) would be on 'mentee' development", explains Teo.

Apart from that, leadership training workshops are also organised once a month for these leaders, and senior executives are given a set of challenges in order to be promoted to the assistant manager levels. In addition, new leaders are recruited annually and trained on an ongoing basis, integrating both soft skills and hands-on-the-job training in daily situations.

A big part of each director’s and manager’s key performance indicators (KPIs) would be on 'mentee' development.
The core of leadership development at Conspec Builders spreads across five processes.

Potential leaders are selected through twice-annual KPI appraisals and weighed against a soft-skill appraisal that identifies culture fit. Once these leaders are identified, leadership values are instilled in them through monthly workshop-based learning conducted in-house.

Further, fortnightly mentoring sessions focus on three crucial "Fs" – family, fitness and finance – to reiterate the importance of these factors towards personal stability and growth.

Each potential leader and manager needs to work with their mentor to co-create their own KPIs and targets each year, including activities that are measurable and deliverable within a set time frame of less than one year.

The organisation also hosts a compulsory leadership retreat for all managers annually, as a platform for managers to brainstorm goals and create a timeline to achieve these goals.

When it comes to executive education, leaders are given opportunities to participate in networking and technical trainings in software and construction technologies, conducted by home-grown leaders. However, the team has got some complaints that training outside may not be as relevant as in-house designed syllabuses. Thus, directors and managers are advised to arm themselves with the latest market trends, curate and apply with relevance.

"Don't get me wrong – we are always open to people going out to learn new things, but effectiveness happens when we make concepts applicable to our people. An added bonus would be the home-grown trainer (from among us) will be extremely familiar with the material, and know the teaching material inside-out," Teo says.

Of course, I know people may one day leave us, but our philosophy is that we must let them leave as better people than when they first came.
All of these interventions have proven fruitful to the team. "In 2015, we hired a business consultant to transform the business, and the first action we took was to do identify potential managers and implement proper HR policies with the aim to recruit, retain and grow the right people."

Since then, the organisation has promoted six managers, one assistant manager, and currently has nine senior executives in leadership training – all of whom were promoted based on both high performance and a good culture fit. The company’s revenue has increased 30% year-on-year, with a profit increase of 8% and a staff retention rate of 95%.

"This is exciting, since we only have 40 employees. We have won a few industry-recognised awards and HR awards that attest to our success."

Reflecting on the leadership development journey, she says: "Overall, it’s quite an uphill task! Of course, I know people may one day leave us, but our philosophy is that we must let them leave as better people than when they first came. Building this 'leadership infrastructure' is expensive, but necessary – or we may stagnate as we fail to grow and innovate."

Looking towards 2020: What’s on the agenda?

Moving forward, Teo shares her wish for 2020 and beyond: "My wish is for greater openness by training providers to customise courses to suit customers. If training providers listen to what companies require and hire industry-serving individuals to train, SMEs will feel the price for training is worth their money."


This case study was part of a feature on leadership development, which appeared in the Q2 edition of Human Resources magazine (Malaysia). Read the full feature in the edition out now!

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