By MICHELLE BOON
Destiny. One word. A million definitions.
William Shakespeare once wrote: “It is not in the stars to hold our destiny but in ourselves.” But what does Shakespeare know about stars anyway; he was not into astronomy, or was he? However, I digress.
There are many organisations around the world that are grounded by shared values and ideals. Many other organisations are built on the leaders’ philosophies or principles. But not many organisations can proudly say they practise what they preach.
IJM Corporation Berhad (IJM), one of Malaysia’s leading conglomerate, is one of those rare gems. Formed during the toughest of times, it has grown and established itself as a professionally managed group.
Walking the path together
More than that, IJM is a people-first company. Take it from Dato’ Soam Heng Choon, chief executive officer (CEO) and managing director (MD), as he opened up about what truly mattered for IJM: “The people are the company. We need to understand their needs and know how to treat them. For IJM, we are always guided by the core values in everything that we do.”
In the real world, problems arise at every juncture. And with the five core business activities in IJM—construction, property development, manufacturing and quarrying, infrastructure concessions and plantations—it is always easier to just focus on the bottom lines instead.
But this is where the concept of a shared destiny comes to play. While it is true that some of these businesses do not necessarily interlink with each other, Soam was honest about the efforts to try to connect them so that the employees are and will always be a part of the IJM family.
“Otherwise, you will be operating individually and creating little Napoleons. We’re talking about inter-department, intra-department, and cross-division, and in IJM, when we create a certain business, we create the business for other divisions,” he added.
As Soam described an example of the construction of a toll road, you can’t help but feel that he’s just like any responsible father trying to provide equal opportunities to all his children. And wanting the best for everyone.
“The construction job goes to the construction division, then the construction materials are sourced from the industry division, like stone, concrete, sand. . .Then the property division will do linkages to the township nearby. There’s a lot of cross-unity happening.” As the economy is cyclical, it is only natural that at certain times, a particular division will not be performing well.
“With different areas of expertise and different backgrounds, it’s not all the same. Like the global financial crisis, plantation is a commodity, and it was the star performer. But the plantation employees also took a salary cut despite it being a record profit for them. It’s not about the good times we share, but also when times are bad, we are in solidarity with all the other business divisions as an IJM group, we all go through a salary cut. It’s tough, and that’s how the group has been growing,” said Lee Chun Fai, deputy CEO and deputy MD.
An accountant by profession, Lee expressed that no organisation is perfect. “IJM is a professionally run company where practically everything is handled by the management. This doesn’t happen overnight and you need to build the trust and confidence of stakeholders and for the management to do the right thing. When times are good, you can’t over-reward yourself. The pressure is to be whiter than white because when the shareholder prospers, the employee prospers too.”
Culture of IJM in driving a high-performance workforce
The recent refreshed of the four IJM core values—integrity, teamwork, innovation, customer-focused (ITIC)—reiterates an integral part of IJM’s corporate culture, which is geared towards long-term success.
Oftentimes, it can be challenging to alter behaviour, but IJM believes in creating and setting the right processes to improve the shift in thinking. Creating a high-performance workforce may be the objective but living out the core values is more important. And integrity is one value that Soam feels very strongly about.
“We should not just be seen to be doing the right thing. We should always be doing the right thing while also making sure the stakeholders are being taken care of. Temptations can be found everywhere in business and it is our responsibility to put certain processes to address any issue. That way, the chances of complications happening will be less,” added Soam.
Naturally, as the number of employees continues to grow, management would have a tough time aligning different people with different mindset. Firstly, it is of utmost importance that the company acknowledges that there will be differences. And Soam’s advice to his managers: teamwork.
“I always tell them [managers] not to be stumbling blocks to the staff because if the staff doesn’t perform, it reflects on them as well. These employees are a subset of you.
We are all sailing the same IJM boat, wherever you are, whichever division you are in, you could be in the engine room, you could be the lifeguard, etc. Everybody has their part, if one person doesn’t perform, the whole group will suffer. If we perform well, we share it with everyone.”
The future of IJM
Always the practical and methodical one, Lee explained that IJM has been building the foundation and the focus is always to look for growth for all businesses. It is the culture in which it will drive the business continuously, but what really drives the culture?
“The people with the right mindset should be encouraged to think innovatively. The game changer is what we’re looking for, something that will change how things are being done. If we can change the approach of how things are done, make it better, that’s when you know you’re getting somewhere,” said Lee.
But for IJM to change the way things are done, it is going to be laborious. Whether or not the company will be relevant 20 years later, everyone will need to innovate. Despite the market being so unpredictable sometimes, Lee was proud to share that IJM has been doing very well by getting better and being more efficient.
“People innovate. But at the end of the day, the people in the organisation are what matter the most,” said Lee.
“A shared destiny is basically the culture in the organisation and how it defines the way people work and treat each other. The values and guiding principles are what influence the employees to carry themselves and how they approach work,” added Lee.
Perhaps, Shakespeare does know a thing or two about stars.
IJM-ers speak out
By DARSHANA SIVANANTHAM
While culture may have been subtly present in organisations of the past, its role in shaping and propelling businesses and its people forward today has taken a giant turn of importance. The unique quality of culture is simply just that; culture is so exclusive to organisations and businesses, that there can be none exactly like the other. Who drives culture in an organisation, and how does it play a role in the lives of its employees? LEADERONOMICS speaks to four enthusiastic employees of the IJM family to learn why they love the organisation’s culture.
What’s great about the IJM culture
Foong Sook Hwa, Assistant Accountant, Accounts (Group Services)
Joined in 2013
“IJM culture is very employee-centric.”
Sook Hwa has only praises to sing about the work-life balance emphasis in the organisation, her first job after graduation.
“When I left university, I thought my social life would be over! However, after joining IJM, my perception of work changed. There is a supportive, well-rounded environment to learn and grow here. Colleagues are willing to share experiences, and our superiors are understanding. IJM also pays great attention to their employees’ well-being. There are people who have served IJM for more than 20 years; that definitely says something about the organisation,” says Sook Hwa, an IJM scholar.
“IJM-ers have strong passion for what they do. It shows in how they work. I relate best to passion, especially in my field—I see this in teamwork, integrity and efficiency,” she adds.
The organisation’s human resource department truly champions the active promotion of staff wellness in IJM. Numerous initiatives are carefully selected and deployed with the purpose of ensuring all employees have an equal opportunity at learning and improving their lives. Among the initiatives are mindful-gym, yoga for ladies, health and financial talks to list a few.
Other key initiatives at the company level include the IJM Sports Club, the IJM Toastmasters Club, Zumba lessons and various personal development training opportunities.
Learning and development at IJM isn’t just a company mandate, but a commitment that each employee makes for their own progress.
Teamwork makes the dream work
Divash Menon, Assistant Manager, Engineering (Industry Division)
Joined in 2011
“I really look forward to being at work every day!”
An assistant manager working with IJM for five and a half years, Divash was very candid and honest about why he loves the organisation.
“Basically, it’s about the work environment and opportunities present within the group. My favourite IJM core value is teamwork. It sounds like a given, but to make it work, there needs to be a high level of commitment and understanding of the company’s vision and goals. All IJM-ers are committed to the shared destiny, and we believe in it. It drives us to contribute as effectively and efficiently as possible. Working together for a common goal takes our passion for work and translates it into purpose-driven action,” explains Divash.
Keeping the common goal in focus is very important, according to Divash.
“When we see the common goal, we are empowered and inspired to pool together our resources to work synergistically.”
The IJM core values are designed to support and propel the organisation’s vision of a shared destiny.
Integrity, Teamwork, Innovation and Customer-focus form an integral part of the corporate culture, and this gears the organisation towards realising long-term success.
When destiny becomes a collective goal
Mohd Ashraf, Assistant Manager, Health, Safety and Environment (Construction Division)
Joined in 2011
“You just feel excited to be a part of something bigger here.”
Mohd Ashraf who joined in 2011 as an executive, sees clear opportunities for professional growth in IJM. As an individual who takes pride in delivering promises, he sees everything he does as an opportunity to add value to the company culture.
“The shared destiny means that the organisation and individuals share and mutually believe in a common goal. For this to happen, there must be strong levels of accountability. This is why integrity is the value that I’m most connected to. Here, we say that ‘we deliver.’ This value is a reminder of how we work in IJM,” Ashraf describes.
Ashraf sees many mentors in the organisation, irrespective of rank. He draws inspiration from them, as they help him emulate the core values.
“Dato’ Soam himself is a very motivating mentor. The way he conducts himself and communicates with the employees is inspiring to learn from,” says Ashraf.
Embracing challenges for a brighter tomorrow
Tan Guan Lee, Manager, Property Development (Property Division)
Joined in 2012
“The best way to understand culture is when work challenges arise.”
As a manager, Tan enjoys problems and challenges at work. He sees a strong spirit of synergy within the organisation that allows for creative ideas to emerge, especially in problem-solving.
“Everyone in IJM has a clear understanding that if we share the journey, we also share the results. I always encourage my staff to face challenges together, experience and remember the values of the organisation at all times,” Tan explains.
In his line of work, Tan knows that customer focus is the core value he connects to the most.
“If we focus on the customers, naturally, everything will fall into place. We go over and beyond to uphold the values and really keep our customers at the forefront,” Tan stresses.
The ambassadors of culture
So who drives the culture in IJM? Unsurprisingly, there was a unanimous answer for this—employees do!
Tan was quick to point out that the people are key drivers of culture. “It’s up to us to share our culture with everyone. When new IJM-ers come on board, we always ensure there is open communication and dialogue on the company culture and how it relates to us, in everything we do.”
Sook Hwa believes that all employees contribute and drive culture, not just senior leaders. “I believe that IJM’s destiny is shaped by its culture and people. There is no one person that holds culture; it’s a collective effort and responsibility.”
”Since we set foot into the company, we’ve aligned ourselves to the values and the shared destiny. Culture is part of our everyday work. All of us drive the culture,” emphasised Divash.
Ashraf firmly concurs that IJM-ers drive the company culture. “Of course, our leaders play a crucial role, but the whole IJM family is doing their best to drive our culture in view of attaining long term success.”
Culture—The foundation to success
There is a popular quote from Simon Sinek that echoes everything that these four employees have shared: “customers will never love a company until the employees love it first.”
The love and enthusiasm IJM-ers have for the organisation is apparent in the way they express their thoughts and firm commitment to the shared destiny. A shared destiny can only be realised if all individuals feel empowered to be held accountable to it. At IJM, it is clear that their shared destiny is in good hands.