What do big, established organisations and startups have in common? Both are always looking to find the holy grail of effective HR practises.

For corporates, HR professionals want to implement many innovative HR policies, but are always so caught up in bureaucracy and processes. Most times they envy the freedom, speed, glamor and the risk-taking attitude of startups to get things done!

Perception of startup culture

For this reason, Momentum Works’ CEO, Jianggan Li, and COO, Yorlin Ng, recently gave a talk to burst the bubbles of some seasoned HR practitioners!

Whilst every friend I have in the corporate world dislikes the bureaucracy and process, it itself is very important. Processes and bureaucracy are a lot lighter in the startup world, and whilst it may mean less paperwork, it also means that there are no clear instructions! Imagine figuring out how to deactivate a bomb without the manual. Wouldn’t you want to have someone tell you to cut the “blue” or “red” wire then? Yeap – that is one misconception about the “glamour” of a startup.

Someone in the audience shouted that they would liked to join a startup because it can get things done faster than a corporate. “Not so fast!” Yorlin chirped. She told the audience that there are quite a lot of benefits to take some time to think through what an organisation wants to do. Good execution does not not mean speed, but also whether we are on going on the right track. Referring to the Chinese classic “Journey to the West” – you need to make sure at least you are heading west, not east!

Our CEO and COO giving a talk to a room full of HR practitioners

Mom and Pop Model

So what is good HR practice that is common for both startups and corporates? This interesting topic brought up during the talk was the Mom and Pop model which is adopted as a HR tactic by successful organisations such as Alibaba.

When you think about it, people management is very much like parenting. One party is the emotional caretaker while the other is the discipline instiller. The “Moms” focus on fostering teamwork and infusing passion into the team while the “Pops focus on the team’s performance, dictating deliverables that match with organisational goals. Deceptively simple, but it make so much sense.

Most companies use the “Mom and Pop model” but call it by different names. At Momentum Works, we share our own practices.

  • Use stories to shape attitudes

Stories! Who does not like to listen to a story? Stories are a powerful tool for teaching and selling ideas. A lot of the times when we attend a talk or lecture, it is when the professor or speaker communicates the theory or content in the form of a story that we remember and take away some key learnings from it the best.

Similarly, team members too resonate well with stories. It is never easy to shape attitude by just one attempt since everyone interprets information differently so there is a need to sell more than once and tune your story to suit different people.

At Momentum Works, we have our Friday team meetings where we share learnings from that week. I remember during one of the session where a team member was asked to leave the day before, Jianggan had to address everyone’s puzzlement and he shared how he has come to learn that nice and inefficient people were toxic.  We have always been taught that we should try to bring out the best in people, but his story to us was “at the cost of good people? Not worth it!” That story still stays with the team, and we even wrote a post about it.

  • Drive behaviours by being a role model

‘Telling’ your team on how to behave is not enough. For them to see you practice what you preach and lead by example (especially older team members) is often enough. That is how culture is built in a company. That is how it gets transferred and sustained in the most effective way.

How do we do it at Momentum Works? We never ask someone to be at work from 9am -5pm. We don’t believe that being “present” at the workplace is an indication of effectiveness, or the number of emails you send out, or the number of leave you decided not to take. Instead, the company has a policy of no limit to the number of holidays one can take (minimum is 14 days a year). We want everyone to work hard and then take a break for as long as you need – as long as the work gets done.

  • Self-reflection and continuous improvement

We don’t take appointments with our parents or children to give them feedback. You see a behavior that’s harmful and you address it as soon as you can to drive a change.

Similarly, at work, we often talk about continuous improvement but never really focus on the biggest driver of it: self-reflection. Given the hectic lifestyles and work environments that we live in, reflecting on our current performance makes a rare appearance on our already populated to-do-list. We probably only do it only once or twice a year when required during performance reviews. However we should encourage a culture where open and constructive feedback can be easily exchanged on a regular basis and people can then reflect on it to better their performance.

Over at Momentum Works, due to the dynamic of our business, our deadlines are really tight which is why we have monthly and sometimes even weekly feedback session. Jianggan and Yorlin have always been telling me that I am too nice but thankfully not inefficient *phew*. I never felt that being too nice will be an issue. My mentality is that if you are nice, people will find you approachable and open up to you easily. However I have come to realise that being nice does not equate to respect and in fact, some employees may take advantage of that. I have learnt to question when employees request for something because it forces them to think logically about their request and helps me to better understand their thoughts and needs.

Ask any parent and they will tell you that they are constantly learning on the job. Similarly for HR, there is never a one size fit all tactic. We are also learning along the way and we hope for more opportunity to have interesting exchange pertaining to this.

Thanks for reading The Low Down (TLD), the blog by the team at Momentum Works. Got a different perspective or have a burning opinion to share? Let us know at [email protected].