- Good companies must have learning culture foundation
- Started as in-house system to manage, measure, develop its learning culture
This article formed part of the Digerati50 magazine that was published in Feb 2016. The digital version of that publication can be downloaded from the links at the top right corner of the page thanks to the sponsorship of Telekom Malaysia Bhd, Malaysia’s broadband champion.
LAM Mun Choong, (pic) chief executive officer of Nettium Sdn Bhd, a software company with 360 staff across Malaysia and Singapore, is well aware that it is really tough for IT services companies to productise their services.
Which is why, in 2010 when he came in and took a stake in Nettium – then with only eight staff – he shared his ambition of building a world-class company.
“I received a bunch of confused looks,” says Lam, bursting out in laughter at the memory.
But he was serious. “All IT companies have talent issues, both in terms of quantity and quality. Did I want to be doing just well enough to survive?” says Lam, who in 1997 left his corporate career to be a cofounder of a system integration (SI) company in Jakarta called Jatis Solutions, with three Indonesian partners.
Interestingly, with Nettium, Lam did not go out and build software to solve an IT problem. Instead the journey has led him to focus on building people.
“Look, all companies have difficulty in managing IT people. We get customers because they realise we can manage IT people better than them,” says Lam, who marries an IT degree with an MBA and a strong personal interest in psychology.
It was here that the realisation struck. “I was in the talent business, not IT,” he adds.
Yet, he didn’t just want to train talent, he wanted to develop it by building a learning culture. “To be a good company, you must have a learning culture foundation. Without it, you cannot innovate or improve; and if that happens, you end up stagnating.”
In 2013, Nettium started using its inhouse-developed cloud-based SELF DRVN to manage, measure and develop its learning culture. The software, previously known as Always Trying to Achieve Something (ATAS), has elements such as gamification, social and big data to automate many processes and business rules.
In 2015, a key observation became evident from all the experiments. For this learning culture to really take hold, people must be open to new knowledge and feedback.
With 79% of his talent pool below the age of 35, Lam had a core of millennials, all of whom were hungry to learn and craved feedback. As a result, the annual feedback system was ditched and replaced with a real-time system in September 2015.
With five appraisals a year and strong elements of gamification such as rewards and points, it was about instant gratification.
“I also came to realise that what I was actually doing over this time, in building a learning culture, was in fact building a company for millennials,” says Lam.
Indeed, even the name SELF DRVN (derived from ‘self-driven’) has millennials in mind. The response from his younger employees has been enthusiastic.
The challenge is with his Gen-X team, “who are freaking out over what I have been doing, especially with the real-time feedback system,” admits Lam, who himself is a Gen-Xer who has had to adapt to the company of the future he is building.
Betting that other companies, especially those with a strong millennial talent pool, would be keen to introduce a proven learning culture into their organisations, Nettium started selling SELF DRVN in 2016 under the newly formed SelfDrvn Enterprise Pte Ltd.
“What we are doing is radical,” Lam declares. And for those Gen-X working in companies with a majority of millennials, it’s adapt or leave.
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