Snapshot: Empathy and care are keys to building genuine connections, Deliveroo HK’s Head of People stresses

Snapshot: Empathy and care are keys to building genuine connections, Deliveroo HK’s Head of People stresses

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“People now, especially Gen Z, don't just work for money. They need to feel a sense of mission and purpose. And I like to tell them: You're part of the team, not just a worker here,” says KC Wai, Head of People, Deliveroo.

Having moved from frontline business roles to a more advisory one, back to the business, and focusing on people issues, KC Wai, Head of People, Deliveroo Hong Kong, doesn't believe in working from the ivory tower. Wearing a T-shirt and jeans, frequently walking around the office and talking to everyone he comes across, an extrovert personality; and a passion for connecting and growing people has led Wai to who he is today.

“It's very natural, no brainer for me to do what I'm doing now, because I genuinely like to talk to people,” he affirms. “I also genuinely like to solve problems for my managers or for the people. When I can achieve that, I feel good. I feel good that I have been helping others as well.”

Having joined Deliveroo in mid-2021, Wai is now spearheading people strategies for a 300-strong workforce in Hong Kong, which comprises full-time employees, and those under the company’s cloud kitchen businesses, Deliveroo Editions (hubs with host collections of hand-picked restaurants specially designed for delivery), and Deliveroo Hop (a new speedy grocery delivery service). Wai believes the key to engaging people is by having empathy, genuinely caring, and conducting regular and open conversations.

deliveroo team photo 3 2022

This is why in Deliveroo, from general manager to junior staff and interns, everyone sits together in an open office area. “I can't talk to every single person. We have more than 250 people in the office. But I'm pretty sure people know who I am. I don't remember all the names, but I remember most of the names,” Wai says confidently. “I never see myself as management. I see myself as part of the team. When people work with me, I will use the word ‘#teamwork’.”

Greg Kwan, Head of Corporate Affairs – Asia at Deliveroo, who is also present on the day of the interview, agrees and shares: “KC is approachable, and he really cares. If you ask him some questions, he will definitely remember and get back to you, whether he has a solution or not.”

As Deliveroo is now expanding its businesses, Wai sees the company as more than a delivery platform. The company has talent across almost everything from tech, finance, strategy and customer service, to B2B, press and communications, operations and warehouse management. To embrace the development, equipping the right talent with the right skills, and cultivating a growth mindset are therefore crucial.

“As individual, we need to have a growth mindset,” Wai stresses.

“If you think that you know everything and don't need to learn anymore, then that's the cap, that's the limit. I don't tell people I teach them anything. I am more about the sharing perspective.”

Apart from rolling out different trainings and workshops, Wai shares that Deliveroo has also organised various activities and projects across CSR, DE&I (diversity, equity and inclusion) and sustainability to help people build a sense of purpose and belonging as a community.

“People now, especially Gen Z, don't just work for money. They need to feel a sense of mission and purpose. And I like to tell them: You're part of the team, not just a worker here,” Wai says.

In this walkabout interview with Tracy Chan held at the Deliveroo Hong Kong office, this people leader delves deeper into his journey at Deliveroo, from the most innovative campaign he has worked on, to his vision for the HR function.

Q Over the past year with Deliveroo, what was the most innovative HR campaign that you've worked on, and what was your biggest learning from that?

The one thing I could think of is a new initiative we successfully launched recently, called internal mobility. People, who have worked in Deliveroo for a year or longer, can apply to change to whatever role they want to do. I think this is quite a unique selling point of Deliveroo because in a regular business world, if people want to change their role internally, they have to go through so many processes and procedures.

Here in Deliveroo, we actually see talent instead of a CV. We hire for talent and skills, not the background or where are you from.

We are very flexible as long as people have the right skillset with the right talent. We have built up an agile culture because we have many young talents, and young talents want to move fast. By providing flexibility and agility for internal mobility and switching between work from home and work in the office, we enable people to move around quickly in order to retain them.

Q On the other hand, what was the hardest challenge you had to deal with?

I think the fifth wave of COVID-19 was one of the key challenges not just for me, but also for many HR professionals. Back then, we didn't have very clear social distancing guidelines from the government, so we had to be very agile and act proactively on things that we couldn’t foresee.

Another challenge is personally for me because I moved from a completely non-HR background, there was a lot of learning for me. I had to make sure that I read through all the documents and policies so that I'm aware of everything. When people ask me questions, I can now get back to them straight away. The good news is Deliveroo has an open culture, we have all the policies on our people portal and everybody can access the portal.

On the other hand, in terms of the internal mobility programme, one of the challenges was how to manage people’s expectations. We want to promote internal mobility while ensuring the stability of the team. If people keep moving, nobody is doing the job properly. So, we set up clear guidelines. People need to be in the business for at least one year, familiarise themselves with the business, and prove themselves with the blessing/approval of their managers before they move on.

Q How closely do you work with the General Manager, and what are the specific projects that both of you work closely on?

I work very closely with our GM Andrew Hui on everything people-related, and he's the one I can share anything confidential with. Andrew is the one I speak to the most on any talent challenges. I don't see him as a manager, I see him as my partner and we solve problems together.

I give him my feedback on what we should or shouldn't do. We review our monthly people engagement survey results and identify the gaps and action plans together. We don't just collect feedback, we actually study the feedback. If there's any red flag, we will reflect it to the managers or leaders and then find the solutions. We actively acknowledge to the floor that we are hearing their voice, and we tell them what we're going to do to follow up.

We strive to create a culture where people can open up and dare to ask questions. I'm not a magician. I can't create a culture by myself. This requires all the leaders and managers to align. So every Monday, we have a Monday morning meeting. Our general manager and all the leaders will sit in a big meeting room to share whatever we can share with the team. Everybody can also fill out an anonymous feedback form to ask any questions.

We also have a monthly 'GM office hour'. It is an open session where the GM and I sit in the common area. People don’t have to sign up. They are welcome to come in and ask questions. The GM will also have a welcome session with all the new joiners to help them understand our core values - we work, succeed and fail as one team; never say no to our job; everybody’s hard work counts.

So I'm here to push for certain initiatives, but having the support from the leadership team is super important as well.

deliveroo team photo 1 2022

Q How would you describe your leadership style?

The first word that comes up in my head is empathy. I see myself as a people manager. I genuinely care about people and I want to understand how people feel. I put people first before I look at numbers. To me, my people are my customers. My number one goal is to make sure my customers are happy. When people are not doing well, I like to ask what happened, “Why?”

I like to connect people with a human touch, to empower my team to be more forward-thinking. When people come in and they are not happy, I talk to them and find out the gap, and then think about what's the plan for that person and for the business if we can't retain that person.

So be empathic with the people's mindset, but also have a strategy, and be forward-thinking, I think those are important.

Consistency is also important. You can’t come in with all the energy on Monday and then with a black face the next day.

I see myself as part of the team and in the middle of the circle. I'm not on top of this pinnacle and looking at them from above. I'm just inside the circle, to be one team, and I understand what people need. When I identify any problems, red flags or challenges, I will flag that to the leadership team, or my GM.

Q Who is the one person who has inspired you the most in your career, and why?

Honestly speaking, right now is Andrew Hui, our GM. He is such a charming person when you get to know him. He is a little bit opposite of me. He comes in and observes. When he needs to be setting up and talk, he will get the attention. He always thinks forward and has so much empathy. He never blames anybody. He empowers people to do more, to fix the problem that they made, and not to make the same mistake again.

If you ask me for a book/author, I think Simon Sinek, a writer and a TED Talk speaker, is one of my favourites. He always talks about positivity. I think being positive is equally important to a growth mindset. We are facing so many challenges every day. If I voice everything is a problem, then my day will be very blue. But if I see it as a challenge, and I can win that challenge, then I will gain something every time I solve a challenge.

So Andrew Hui and Simon Sinek are two people that I am really inspired by because they are such good leaders.

Q Looking forward, what do you believe is HRs #1 responsibility that it can add value?

I think on top of my head is to grow the talent. It's very important to equip the team with the right skills to set them up for success and get ready for the next challenges. If you don't equip the team, they may find it very challenging because they don't know how to lead or run the team. This will either create a very unhappy team or an unhappy stressful manager and they leave. We need to create a platform to connect and engage people with the business so that people can actually sense and see the opportunities inside the company.

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

HR should not be an admin-driven or compliance-driven role. HR should be people-driven, act as a leadership advisory and be forward thinking. We need to be proactive and think forward to identify challenges and problems and then fix them before they should happen.

Some may worry about growing people and then they leave the business, so they don’t grow them. What about if you don't grow the people, and they stay in the business just being the same from day one to day 200? Don’t you think this is even worse? People leaving the business is a very common practice, that is our job is to retain people. If people find a better growth opportunity, if they leave with a good reason, happy for them. Our job is to make sure that they don't just leave for money, or just because we don't give them the opportunity they want.”

I really suggest HR business partners or heads of HR to talk to the people and make sure to connect with them. Sitting in front of a computer isn’t going to see how people are doing and whether the policy is doing right. Just go out and reach out, do all your admin work, but also spend time to actually go connect with the floor and to the people. When you see people are not doing well, or they had been doing well but suddenly not doing well, don't just judge first, but rather ask “why?”

People are not going to just tell you what they think when they don't know you or trust you. It takes time to build trust. When you think people don't want to share, you have to first ask yourself: how much time do you invest in that person?

Q Concluding the interview on a fun note, how do you wind down and maintain a work-life balance?

There are a few things I really enjoy – running, hiking up to the peak, and eating. I enjoy trying new restaurants. That makes me happy and proud when I try new restaurants and see restaurant partners have our stickers.

Also in Deliveroo, we have a core employee assistance programme. If I have anything I want to discuss mentally and privately, I will call the hotline specific for Deliveroo employees. Nothing will be shared and it's very confidential. Not that I have many things to call that hotline, but when I feel charged sometimes, they will provide professional strategies to coach me.

All Images / Provided (Lead image: Interviewee, KC Wai, Head of People, Deliveroo)

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