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A Culture of Learning is a Culture of Winning

By: Tharaka Appuhamy
07 August 2019

Setting aside our  understanding on the concept of ‘The Culture’ in a workplace in today’s day and age, we should first take some time to decipher this term a bit more and with some detail. Culture is how a group of people live, follow, and work towards achieving a vision and getting along with each other and aligning with similar values and beliefs. Culture is a very strong feeling; a feeling that creates a purpose that in turn, drives a group of people. It becomes a purpose driven life for a certain group. Culture is everything you do to make yourself live out in that feeling.

This was part of a presentation that was conducted by Mr. Tharaka Appuhamy, who is the head of Talent Management & Quality Assurance for seven resorts in the Maldives under the Aitken Spence Group, a well-regarded conglomerate based in Sri Lanka. He revealed that once, he had emailed his L&D calendar to all the resorts of which L&D he handles, specifically requesting for nominations to be provided for a certain training program. The program was titled “The Training LEED, a 4-day Train the Trainer” program.

He disclosed that he was quite surprised and taken by a response followed by a call from one of his very own senior directors who also currently works in a VP level, and who exclusively divulged his desire to become a trainer! This corporate official wanted to participate as a trainee in Mr. Tharaka’s training program! “This is the best example that I can bring out to say that we have created a learning culture within our organisation. If you have a learning culture that is inconsiderable of the level then all associates will be ready to learn, unlearn and relearn,” Mr. Tharaka added, following this revelation.

So, the first question that comes to our mind is, what is a Culture, Learning and Winning? Elaborating further, Mr. Tharaka disclosed, “I believe that it is a strong feeling; a feeling that you create about your establishment. It is a commitment of the leadership and positive actions of followers. A combination of effort creates the organizational culture.”

Culture If one has a strong sense of culture, it also means that there is a strong feeling in one’s beliefs and values. Scientists have discovered that our feelings have an effect on the world around us. They have the power to change the world in wonderful ways.

Everything is energy around us. Energy affects the feelings of other people and the consciousness of a group or community. One can create any kind of feeling or experience they want by changing the energy of the thoughts and feelings of their staff which would eventually help create the culture that is required. Even one’s thoughts affect the DNA in our cells. Loving, caring, happy thoughts have a positive effect on the DNA and they benefit our health. Negative thoughts on the other hand, have a negative effect on our DNA, and hence, affects our health negatively. So, we do need to be careful with our thoughts.

Our DNA emits light called bio-photons. Every cell in our body makes us shine like a lighthouse. The bio-photons carry information about our emotional state, feelings, and thoughts, and about the kind of person we are. You can change that information by changing those thoughts, feelings, and emotions. The more loving you are, the better it is. The bio-photons and the electromagnetic energy created by our thoughts, feelings, and emotions affect our body’s energy field (aura). Loving and caring thoughts have high frequency energy. Negative thoughts have low frequency energy. A person’s energy field (aura) can feel pleasant or unpleasant because of this.

While extracting information from past surveys, according to a study by the research and advisory firm Gartner, both CEOs and CHRO’s have disclosed that “managing and improving the culture” is the top priority for talent management. All starts in a very simple way within us, in what we believe and our thoughts. So what good will a company’s philosophy and brand or the SOP’s credo have if we don’t tune our people’s thoughts? We will never be able to create that desired culture.

Learning A learning culture is what we do in the organization to create a learning atmosphere where people will be ready to Learn, Unlearn, and Relearn, Mr. Tharaka explains. He also emphasized that starting a company from scratch helps you build that culture from the very beginning. However, the case was not the same for him. “I faced a major challenge when I commenced L&D functions in the Maldives. When I started my journey in this beautiful country in 2016, the organization I was working for had already been operating in the Maldives for almost 25 years, while also being the fourth biggest foreign investor in the Maldives with seven resorts and a room inventory of 770, accommodating 1500 associates from almost 35 different nationalities,” he opined.

L&D was never positioned as a business partner in the organization and so, he reiterated that the audience would now be able to understand how high, big, fat and tall the challenge was. In terms of deciphering ‘Learning,’ it can be denoted as something that is a result of any training activity. Learning is gaining knowledge and skills through experience or study, as described by CHT – AHELI.

In creating a learning culture, the prime task is to come up with an L&D Strategy, Policy and L&D approach. All L&D approaches need to be aligned with the organisational objectives and here the following L&D approach was the guiding principle to execute L&D activities within these resorts.

Associate TrainingTrainings provided to enhance competencies of associates in their current roles.

Associate DevelopmentSolutions to enhance competencies for future job requirements.

Associate EngagementActivities to enhance employee motivational levels.

Certification TrainingAchieving certifications through associate participation and uplifting a more competitive streak in the market.

Process DevelopmentTrainings which are conducted in operational process development with solutions to meet standards and consistencies in relation to resort operation.

WinningWinning in this culture can be denoted as achieving organizational objectives through aligned learning and development approaches, as put forth by Mr. Tharaka. He went on to explain that he had another challenge, which was to “reach all associates with limited L&D manning.” So, they strengthened the departmental trainers by emphasizing their own training skills and created a unit of over 45 departmental trainers who were proficient in delivering on the job training programs.

In winning you need to ensure that everyone understands the importance of learning and by creating all section / unit managers trainers will establish a strong learning culture in your establishment.

In an industry where you find that a majority are rankers, they need to be aware of the wonders that Learning can do, mainly the WIIFM principle – what is in it for me, for the organisation, for the customer and the trainee. When they are aware that knowledge is the power that can change and add value, they will take the lead to create that learning culture. A learning culture will challenge the orthodox and people will be creative and take smart risks in adding value. They will embrace failure and learn from these lessons. 

“We faced another challenge; the lack of local representation in management. Being a brand with a firm focus of enhancing the local touch, we developed the Kurimagu – the biggest local Management Training Programme in the Maldives to attract local talent and to create a perception of developing this talent and attaining a good work culture. We were the first and only international company to conduct such a large scale development programme for local youth in the Maldives with the idea of guiding them to be future leaders of the industry,” he further reiterated.

Kurimagu is a classic example of creating local diamonds, in line with their L&D motto, “WE MAKE DIAMONDS”. Those who had completed their programs had gone on to become Assistant Front Office Managers, Executive Butlers and HR Executives. When the associates witness a learning role model, then eventually the rest will feel as what a learning initiative can do and will get motivated with that learning culture. Learning role models will help any organisation to retain talent within the organisation.

Many recent studies show that employees are not engaged at their work and employees are actively looking for joy at their workplace. How can L&D be a part of reconnecting people at work and make learning a fun activity?

A learning culture can be generated in many creative ways. Moving out of the traditional learning patterns, we understand that associates need to be engaged, face competition, and be celebrated. This is when they decided to roll up associate engagement programs such as the Dhivehi Rahathah Challenge, Bed Making & Decoration Competition, Beverage Champions – Mocktail, High Tea, Cocktail and Coffee, Tell your Story (Guest Interpretation) and Table top decoration competitions.

Social Media Campaigns include the Learning & Development (Facebook Account). In a generation where we are heavily judged by social value, L&D started social media accounts to act as a creative bridge between the resorts and the public in order to address the following needs; to socially validate their associates, to share all their associates’ hard work and commitment, to share their trainings and competitions with the public and to encourage employee branding along with recognition of the work they do within the resort in the eyes of the public.

Leadership Leadership always matters when it comes to envisioning and establishing a learning culture. First and foremost, the leadership must believe that learning can change a culture. Leadership must show commitment towards achieving and creating a learning culture. “In terms of my workplace, I truly am blessed to have a leadership that is committed towards enhancing that learning culture,” Mr. Tharaka added. He further explained that leadership matters when it comes to creating the learning culture because people mirror their managers or leaders. It affects their ideas and thoughts and eventually, their followers reflect on the qualities, etiquettes and attributes of their leaders and tend to replicate them, be it professionally or personally.

Mr. Tharaka further added, “As a leader or manager, one has to set up structures, processes and incentives in their organizations and put in an effort in building the ground for a learning culture. That is the part of leadership that people often miss out on; enabling your organization to actually adopt the new culture you so seek to have.” People see themselves visualizing themselves as successful individuals since a culture of learning gives them the ability to do just that and hence, become innovative in their stance. They then begin to formulate ways to work towards their visions. These visions or aspirations can be linked with organizational objectives and eventually, when they achieve those objectives, they will in turn, achieve their personal aspirations. What do we do when we want to plant a tree? We tend the soil accordingly the same way a leader would need to create the background for talent to grow.

As such, associate competencies will develop and they will stay in tune with the organization whilst holding on to a learning that encompasses a positive vibe, feeling and energy. “We have achieved many awards, both locally and internationally. We are not in any competition, however, winning is now the way we operate and live because we have succeeded in reaching that level of intensity due to our learning culture,”

Mr. Tharaka finally adds that he believes that doctors and trainers have many things in common; they use their KNOWLEDGE TO TREAT OTHERS. Doctors use their knowledge to cure patients. Trainers they use their knowledge and intellect to change the behaviour of the learner or we teach them how to catch fish so that they will make a livelihood for their entire life.

He says he loves what he does as he gets that self-satisfaction by adding value to talent for the betterment of their lives whilst helping to improve the organisation’s culture. “I’m sure all trainers feel the same way,” he relayed. In his own words, he mentioned, “We are the Stelliers who help sailors row their boats.”

This is why L&D professionals are a big part of creating a great winning culture in an organisation.

Use our knowledge for the benefit of others. To create a learning culture in your organization, which will be the fuel for a great winning organisation culture.

Author : Tharaka Appuhamy, Assistant General Manager – Talent Management and Quality Assurance at Aitken Spence Hotels. The StelliersSouth Asia Human Resources Hotelier of the Year 2019. CIPD, MBA-MGU, (Hon) BHM, Adv.Dip.HM (Sg), Mgt Dip HCM – SLITHM, LCHSGA

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EMPLOYMENT ACT: Foreseeable changes in the near future

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By: Fathmath Hana Yoosuf
22 October 2018

Prior to the Employment Act 2/2008, there has been absolutely no legislation or regulation enacted on employment in the Maldives except the regulation established and administered by the President’s Office in June 1994. This regulation was historically the first document that enforced a contract of service to be signed between the employer and the employee and defined the rights and obligations between the parties. However, the regulation was the key reference for government or public service appointments only.  A legal framework for the private sector governing the employment relationship was also drafted and enacted later during the same year. These regulations were amended from time to time and remained in force until adoption of the Employment Act 2/2008 in 2008.

Over the past ten years, there hasn’t been any significant or a major revision to the Employment Act although minor amendments were made few times. The question to ask is should this ten year old law be given a major overhaul or should it be kept as it is? In fact, a major overhaul of employment law is overdue. The constitution is no longer fit for purpose in Modern day Maldives. There are many categories of employment from permanent contract, temporary contract and contract for flexible work arrangements to employees working in factories, and in different industries. The current law provides full protection only to employees in the first category.

The dynamics of the Maldives workforce has changed in the past decade and this has transformed the way people work. What was once genuinely welcomed by employers and employees has changed due to the impact of demographic, socio-economic, technical and political influence and particularly due to changes in the labour market. Issues of work/life balance have become more important in Maldives in recent years, with employees paying more attention to “quality of life” such as parental leave, flexible working hours, high quality child care facility, minimum wage, occupational health and safety, health insurance, equal employment opportunity and the like. The provision of medical leave and other leave entitlements now looks much more like exploitation, made all too easy by.

The Presidential Election of 2018 took place recently in the country. The newly elected President Mr. Ibrahim Mohamed Solih has promised during the campaign to revise the legislations on parental leave and introduction of a minimum wage as a way of regulating and improving the life of the labor force. Let’s look on the impact of introduction of a minimum wage and revision of parental leave.

One final thought about minimum wage. What could be the Maldives first minimum wage rate; a rate between MVR18/hour to 25/hour or above? Can small business survive with a rate above MVR25/hour? When the state own retirement pension scheme was established and enacted, lot of companies including state owned companies  reduced the amount of base pay by splitting it into two and allocating one half of the base pay as an allowance, all to cut cost on the amount the employer has to pay for retirement pension. This reduced the base pay to as low as MVR2000.00 for some employees. Will the introduction of a minimum wage force these employers to revise salary again? Another change foreseeable to the law in the near future is the provision on parental leave. Paid maternity leave from 60 days to 6 months, each time a female employee gives birth and one month paternity leave to male employees when the wife gives birth.

Under the section 43 and 46 of Employment Act 2/2008 of Maldives, all female employees are entitled to 60 consecutive days of paid maternity leave every time they give birth. In addition, female employees are also entitled to 28 days of additional maternity leave and 1 year no pay maternity leave upon expiration of the 60 days of paid maternity leave, should a circumstance aris

The proposal as suggested by the President Elect is more favorable to the female employees than the current national statutory protection. This will be a very constructive amendment since it will allow female employees more time to recover from child birth as well as time for nurturing.  According to Maldives housing and population census 2014-Statistical Release: iv Employment, women comprised 47.6 percent of the total Maldives labour force. This was a 6.2 percent growth when compared to 2006. Women are projected to account for 53 percent of the increase in total labor force growth by 2020. Since women form a considerable proportion of labour force at present, the benefits of a continuous career should not be denied from them upon child birth.

We find maternity protection and parental leave entitlements in almost every country. The common and central feature is that it allows employees to leave their workplace for a limited time around childbirth and to return to their job afterwards. However, the provisions vary from country to country.  The Table below shows comparison of maternity leave among different countries in Asia.

If the paid maternity leave is amended from 60 days to 6 months (180+ days) Maldives will become among the few countries with the most generous maternity leave provision. Many other countries around the world also provide paternity leave. However, fewer countries in the region have statutory paternity leave provision. Instead of dedicated paternity leave, these countries offer general emergency leave or family leave, which can be used by fathers at the time of childbirth.

Parental leave protection and other work–family measures are essential to promoting the health and well-being of mothers to ensure a core future generation, and to achieve gender equality and advancement at work for both women and men.  Of course, to achieve greater female labour force participation rates, it will require more than mere reforms to maternity benefits. Other measures could include high quality child care facilities along with flexible work time.

Extended maternity and paternity leave is an adjustment not just for employees, but for employers as well. It requires extra planning and would have to make staffing adjustments which result in added workload on other team members, may have to deal with productivity issues and cover the cost of temporary replacements.

The labour market has undergone a fundamental shift from traditional employment to a dynamic work force. This new era is fuelled by the shifting demographics, rapid technological change, greater individual choices and the global economy among others. The Internet, smart phones, tablet, and mobile cloud computing allows people to link as independent nodes across boundaries which make it possible for work to take place anywhere in the world.  Flexible work arrangement in a manner that benefits both employee and employer are more in demand by today’s generation specially by working mothers and could benefit the aging work force too.

Outdated arrangements for work and an outdated employment law will hurt economic growth. It is high time we confront the reality. Innovative and flexible solutions are key to meeting the challenges of the changing work force. Failing to change could even result in a talent shortage.

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HRM philosophy in Maldives resorts is in need of a paradigm shift

Human Resource Management (HRM) is one of the key support functions for any hospitality operation and organizations will find themselves adding and sometimes subtracting value to/from the organization by how the HRM function is driven. Trust me, I was in HR for a long time. I have seen how conventional thinking slowly became ineffective and insufficient. A lot has changed since I first started in HR. Here, I like to share some of my thoughts that I feel will make the HRM process more efficient and most importantly more effective in today’s competitive environment. Some of it has worked very well for me. I am not implying that these will solve or even fix (short term) many of the complex challenges we have in the industry today, I am saying they might be helpful in addressing some.

Accept reality – high turnover is here to stay

Facts and numbers speak for themselves. Ads for vacancies come out every day and some of these ads repeat themselves for long periods of time. We do not have enough newcomers and existing labor to fill even the immediate vacancies in the industry. We are currently looking at more than 6000 employees for resorts due to open in the next 6 to 12 months. This is already becoming a daunting task for HR teams. The pool is not enough for everyone. Find alternatives.

Don’t waste time, energy and money (and break yourself) to change reality when perception is the real issue. In the society in general and in the smaller island communities in particular, tourism is still not considered as a viable career. Nothing substantial has been done over the past 46 years to change this perception, tourism is still seen as lesser form of employment by the masses.

Discard old paradigms

One of the key guiding mantras for HR for a long time had been retention. Retain more people for longer. This sometimes makes managements bend over backwards until they fall but never achieve this objective. I have seen resorts where retention became an issue when people decide to stay for too long. Truth is, there is no perfect formula and there is no sweet spot as to how long managements should aim to retain people for. My argument is – also my advice to employees – if someone is stuck in the same position for more than 2 years and if there is no suitable role for that person to move up or at least sideways, look for new pastures, find something new before that person burns out.

All employers are not created equal

Differentiate yourself from the competition. We are all chasing the same waiter, butler or island host. Sometimes this is easier said than done. If you are not in Male’ atoll, look around the atoll community, look for any potential that you can tap into. Some resorts are parts of well-known brands and some resorts can command higher ADR thus resulting in higher monthly service charge depending on the occupancy. Some resorts have smaller teams of less than 150 team members and some on the other hand may have larger teams in excess of 500 team members. Sometimes there may be more regular ferries to one (probably the largest population center) island in the atoll. There are strengths you can leverage off, if you are a small independent brand. You must also remember that all employees are NOT created equal – instead of looking for superstars for their individual brilliance, consider people for the contribution they can make to the existing team.

Train and retrain teams to overcome biases and assumptions

Find algorithms that will work for your organization. Recruitment, selection and performance management requires more structure and more effort to eliminate ‘noise’ in the system that cloud a manager’s judgement. More often than not, essential processes like recruitment gets implicitly sabotaged by pre-conceived notions, stereotypical thinking, heuristics, assumptions and biases. HR must take the lead in training their own teams and other HoDs to make sure that they are aware of any such potential pitfalls. As much as possible, base all decisions, especially people related decisions on data and facts rather than assumptions. Look inwards, have sessions for reflection on your performance aimed at continuous improvement.

Pay more attention to engagement

Engagement will come in all shapes and forms. For some, anything that gives them a purpose will be motivation/drive enough to wake up and go to work every day. I have always used varying combinations of training, development and recreational activities for the team to achieve this. There is no silver bullet solution and there is no optimum combination – everything depends on the specific conditions of the resort, size of the team and facilities available. Don’t waste time, energy and money (and break yourself) to change reality when perception is the real issue. I have used up to 40 different training titles and of all these, I found IT (just basic computer usage, specific programs like Social Media, Photoshop, Office Applications) for the everyday user generated the most excitement! Look for activities that large groups of people can interact together, concentrate on those but do not neglect the minorities. I am starting a new strategy where I am grouping everyone by their hobbies and facilitating clubs for music, art, environmental stewardship and so on.

Efficiency is not always the same as effectiveness

Take a long hard look at your processes and procedures, think of them as vehicles that take you to your KPIs or ultimate objectives. What vehicle you choose, what vehicle will be most effective will depend on the destination itself. In Maldives you can always think of the sea transport analogy. I remember a time when resorts further away from Male’ had subjected their guests to long and grueling sea journeys. Those days are long gone – and so should some of your processes and procedures. Do these procedures add any value to your teams of operations? If not, just scrap them, or review them if you need to keep them. I am sure a lot of HR managers will find processes like yearly performance appraisals just create more paperwork and headache than anything else.

Tap into the free power source – social media

If we can get all our 100 or 200 team members work as ambassadors for us on social media that is a lot of social power! They will keep their peers/social group engaged in what is happening at the resort. This in turn creates a lot of goodwill in that social circle. Allow and encourage team members to share fun team activities on social media for maximum exposure. Publicity is always good and just like word of mouth is the best form of advertising to attract new customers, it is as good – if not a better – medium to attract new employees.

If you want to get that competitive edge over your neighbors, don’t depend on one or two initiatives – find five to ten that will each give you just few percentage points of an edge over your current situation. Find your strategic fit. I have in one of my previous blog posts, highlighted the importance of striking a balance between being people-centric or process-centric in your HRM. Some resorts can afford to be people-centric but some cannot. It is therefore important for each management to determine which approach will add most value to their HRM function. Instead of looking for the perfect, best groomed, most meritorious candidate, look for the most enthusiastic, look beyond the first impression, dig deeper and find that candidate who will fill that blank spot on your team jigsaw.

About the Author

Mr. Hassan Saeed
Resort Manager, Dhigali Maldives
Hassan Saeed is a prominent local hotelier with 25+ years of experience. He has an MBA and BA (hons) in Hospitality and Tourism Management. He has worked many local and international hotel chains in various operational and management roles in resorts. He is a guest lecturer to FHTS of Maldives National University and other colleges in Maldives.

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