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Looking back to move ahead

Setbacks and wrong turns in work life can be disheartening, but they may be necessary for growth in the long run
Saturday, January 2, 2016 - 05:50

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MR FIAT: If it ain't broke, don't fix it. And if a mistake is made, apologise, make up for it and move on - this will be appreciated by colleagues and staff.

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MS LOO: Not everything works out the way you have planned, so it's important to let go of some things and roll with the punches.

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MR WILLIAMS: My job was not to make sure all 10,000 transactions were right but to make sure all 300 staff were supported to do the best job they could do.

Singapore

IT seems 2015 was a chapter that many were happy to close. It was generally considered a lacklustre year for many businesses as global economies slowed and bonuses shrank.

Everyone loves a fresh start, but before moving ahead, some reflection on the past work year is always good. BT talks to three business leaders on some of their setbacks and lessons learnt in 2015.

Admitting you were wrong

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For Patrick Fiat, general manager of Royal Plaza on Scotts, it has been more challenging in the past year, as his hotel felt the effects of the dwindling economy and fewer tourist arrivals in the country.

One particularly hard lesson learnt involved the reversal of an earlier decision. The team had spent much effort starting ATOS, short for Asian Tapas on Scotts, converting part of the existing buffet restaurant Carousel into a contemporary chill-out spot specialising in Asian-inspired tapas and cocktails.

But after months of operation, they reviewed the figures and came to the conclusion that the space was better utilised as part of Carousel's dining area.

"I had to take the difficult decision to restore the area as it was, especially after the whole team worked so hard to prepare the innovative tapas and cocktails menus," says Mr Fiat.

From this, he understood more deeply the meaning of the saying, "if it ain't broke, don't fix it".

He adds that if a mistake is made, apologise, make up for it and move on - this will be appreciated by colleagues and staff.

Roll with the punches

For Loo Pei Fen, chief marketing officer of Challenger Technologies, the year was nothing short of a whirlwind.

"It was absolutely hectic and crazy work-wise as we have been turning our direction to the online business. There have been a lot of changes and mindset shifts," she explains.

To top it off, her daughter had just entered Primary One in 2015. That meant plenty of hand holding to help the little one adjust to new school rules and cope with the academic routine.

"The first year of school has been so exhausting and saps a lot of your energy. It feels like I'm going to school with her. I come home from my day job and then start on my 'second shift' at home. That took a lot of juggling," she says.

Ms Loo draws parallels between exploring new ideas at work and navigating the first year of primary school with her daughter. Not everything works out the way you have planned, so it's important to let go of some things and roll with the punches, she says.

"That's the beauty of wrong turns . . . everything is a learning point. It's how nimble we can change."

Getting the focus right

While missteps are inevitable, the important thing is to find out what can be done differently the next time around, says Glenn Williams, CEO of Axa Life Singapore. "When failures happen, I always try to keep in mind that the only way to never fail is to never do anything."

Mr Williams shares several lessons he has learnt over the years. The first took place when he was based in Hong Kong and was asked to be the chief operating officer.

"The first six months were very tough as there were tens of thousands of transactions every month and I was trying to overcome the issues around some of the errors that would inevitably happen," he says.

Coincidentally, he was attending a leadership course around that time, and something clicked about what being a leader meant.

"I realised I have been going around the job in the wrong way. My job was not to make sure all 10,000 transactions were right. My job was to make sure all 300 staff were supported to do the best job they could do," he says.

Rather than obsess about the process, Mr Williams realised that he had to get obsessed about the work culture.

At some time in his career, Mr Williams was asked to be the interim CEO for his company's India business while he was based in the regional office in Hong Kong.

"I was travelling between countries a lot. In India, I spent a lot of time on the business and in Hong Kong, I spent a lot of time with my two young kids," he says.

Along the way, Mr Williams says that he ended up taking his wife for granted.

"I only found out when the Singapore job came up, and she told me she was not going. That eventually led to a separation and divorce," he shares.

Being disciplined with time and better communication with loved ones are some of the changes he has made in his life since then. It was a hard experience to go through, but on a positive side, he says that he has now learnt to balance work, family, friends and time for himself.

So what's next?

As Confucius puts it: "It doesn't matter how slowly you go as long as you do not stop."

Setbacks and failure can be disheartening, but these experiences may be necessary for growth in the long run.

And for those still mulling over the past year, perhaps a dose of perspective is needed. Last year may have been tough, but we all survived to tell the tale. Celebrate successes - no matter how small - and they will keep you going.

With new lessons learnt, let's set aside unnecessary baggage as we move ahead into 2016. Here's to the best one yet.

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