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While the Asian culture is more command and control, top-down driven; in the US and Europe, people are vocal and usually have a point of view. Sara Cheng, CEO, Fuji Xerox Singapore, explains how she has navigated her various geographic experiences as a leader, in this chat with Jerene Ang.
Vital Stats: As CEO of Fuji Xerox Singapore, Sara Cheng is responsible for the company’s overall strategic growth and further strengthening its customer commitment, digital transformation, and employee engagement. She brings with her 25 years of experience in general management, business development and consulting with Xerox, IBM, Teradata, NCR and Procter & Gamble across US, Europe, and Asia Pacific.
Q Having worked with big tech firms such as Teradata, NCR, and IBM, prior to Fuji Xerox, tell us why you’re so passionate about this sector.
The two traits that appeal to me are the speed of change and the constant refresh of the industry. The infinite possibilities of the technology sector satisfy my curiosity and hunger for knowledge. Regardless of which sector I am in, I am humbled to have the opportunity to be in positions that allow creativity, room for growth and opportunities to develop high-performance teams.
It has been one-and-a-half years for me at Fuji Xerox Singapore and I’m excited by what has been accomplished by the team thus far, and what is ahead of us.
Q With significant accomplishments to your name – achieving the highest employee satisfaction, winning global clients’ contracts, establishing a start-up business in a saturated market – what are your success factors?
I would say that building a future-ready team is an important attribute. There are a few characteristics for this: self-awareness, out-of-box thinking, ability to detect and solve problems, emotional intelligence, and agility.
Q How has your experience varied working across Asia, the US and Europe?
I grew up in Taiwan until I graduated from university. Upon graduation with an MBA degree, I worked in the US for 10 years. Thereafter, I worked in Amsterdam for five years before the move to Singapore 15 years ago.
In general, the Asian culture is more command and control, top-down driven. People respect hierarchy and follow orders well. In the US and Europe, people are vocal and usually have a point of view on issues and approaches. People question “why?”, and equally, “why not?”, more.
In addition to embracing the strengths from different cultures at Fuji Xerox, my aim is also to develop curiosity in our people, and an organisation that believes in lifelong learning.
We promote and operate in a coaching-based team-centric environment with largely flexible chains of command. Employees are encouraged to be change agents and make an impact by thinking out of the box, bringing new ideas to the table, and developing preventative measures.
Fuji Xerox has been the market leader for the past 30 years. Our past successes, sometimes, have become the obstacles to change.
Q As CEO, what is your most satisfying talent milestone in the past couple of years?
Fuji Xerox has been the market leader for the past 30 years. Our past successes, sometimes, have become the obstacles to change. In managing change, we have made people and talent development centre stage, as we believe the success of digital transformation is dependent on human transformation.
In the past 18 months, I am most proud about how much we, as an organisation, have changed and how open and receptive our people have been to change.
Fuji Xerox conducts an employee engagement survey annually. After the organisation went through a period where about 75% of the top-level leaders changed, we expected the employee engagement level to fall significantly. To our pleasant surprise, the results only dropped by two points.
It was reassuring to know the initiatives to manage the transition were well-received with the full understanding of our people.
Q How closely do you work with your HR leader on initiatives for employees?
My HR leader plays the most critical role. We work very closely on our change management programme, which includes a multi-layered formal and informal grid to reach as many people as possible so that change can take effect swiftly.
I hold weekly meetings with all senior leaders to align our objectives and actions across departments. Messages are then cascaded via platforms to provide clarity across the board. At the management level, we have a managers’ event to encourage two-way communications, while town hall sessions are held every few months with all employees.
I also write letters to the entire employee base through the in-house newsletter.
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