Work It – The Leader’s Chair: STB’s Aileen Wong on why leadership development doesn’t rest on one individual

In this episode of The Leaders Chair, Crispina and I interview Aileen Wong, the Director of Human Resources and Organization Development at the Singapore Tourism Board.

The Journey to HR Leadership

Aileen stumbled into HR by accident, but she grew to love the public sector work because of the impact she could make and the insights she gained into how the economy and country were being governed. She notes that HR is a science that involves designing policies to shape behaviour and achieve organizational outcomes. Aileen’s insights echo those of Siu Ming, a previous guest on the show, who found HR meaningful because it was more than just about money.

HR as a specialty, it’s actually a science because there are many ways in which you can design policies in order to shape behavior and therefore accomplishing the organizational outcomes.

Aileen Wong

Contextualizing Leadership

Leadership must be contextualized at the receiving end and from the giving perspective. Organizations have mandates and purposes that leaders must serve. Aileen notes that leadership demands differ depending on the organization and its mandate. For example, at STB, the focus is on building a dynamic tourism landscape that can continue to fuel good jobs for people and build Singapore’s reputation as a place to work, live, and play. In contrast, a bank may have a different mandate and purpose.

Leadership needs to be contextualized, both at the receiving end as well as the giving perspective.

Aileen Wong

The Importance of Employee Well-Being

Employee well-being is crucial, particularly during the pandemic. STB has advocated for wellness initiatives like mental health support and flexible work arrangements. Aileen notes that leaders must lead by example and prioritize their well-being to set the tone for the organization. She emphasizes the importance of listening to employees and understanding their needs to provide them with the required support.

Leaders must lead by example and prioritize their own well-being to set the tone for the organization.

Aileen Wong

Motivating Younger Entrants to the Workforce

Motivating younger entrants to the workforce can be challenging, but Aileen notes that creating a supportive environment is crucial. HR and organizational leaders must consider the environment in which employees work and design policies and structures that allow flexibility and experimentation. She emphasizes the importance of setting clear parameters for assessment while allowing for innovation and creativity.

This is where the parameters of assessment is very important because the destination is Rome. Then do we want to add other layers of assessment? Say for example, we are looking for speed, we’re looking for comfort, we’re looking for inclusivity. And therefore then you have these parameters by which staff can work within and just innovate.

Aileen Wong

Employee Well-Being During the Pandemic

The pandemic has brought HR to the forefront, and employee well-being is crucial. STB has been experimenting with new ideas and initiatives to support employee well-being during the pandemic. Aileen notes that the pandemic has shifted how we work, and leaders must adapt to this new reality. She emphasizes the importance of communication during this time and creating a sense of community to maintain morale.

“I think the pandemic has really brought about a shift in the way we work. And I think it’s important for HR and organizational leaders to adapt to this new reality.

Aileen Wong

The Impact of the Pandemic on the Tourism Industry

The pandemic has brought about many changes and adaptations for the tourism industry, and STB has had to experiment with new initiatives to support the industry. Aileen notes that the Singapore Rediscover vouchers were one such initiative that allowed people to explore tourist attractions and fulfil their travel quests domestically. She also highlights the importance of hygiene and sanitation in the industry, which has become a baseline for tourists and locals alike. While technology has its place in the industry, Aileen emphasizes the importance of the personal touch that makes a difference.

From a tourism perspective, we do recognize there are pockets where we can automate, there are pockets where we can try and use technology. However, there is still the face to face, the personal touch, which really makes a difference.

Aileen Wong

Finding Meaning in Work

Pursuing work has evolved, and finding meaning in work is crucial. Aileen notes that leaders must understand the science behind HR to achieve better organizational outcomes. She emphasizes that HR is a science that involves designing policies to shape behaviour and achieve organizational outcomes. Aileen also emphasizes the importance of recognizing the goodness in people and being grateful for the opportunities and privileges that allow us to pursue meaningful work.

If we are able to recognize the goodness in people, if we’re able to recognize that each day has gone on fairly smoothly, that we’re able to make contributions in our work, able to make a positive impact on someone else’s life. Being able to build up meaningful connections both at work, at home and socially. I think that in itself actually constitute meaningfulness to me.

Aileen Wong

The Art of Leadership

Leadership is about delivering results and motivating team members to deliver the work most effectively and effectively. Aileen notes that a good leader is flexible, draws strategic insights from employees, and capitalizes on what everyone brings. A good leader also has clear directions and principles that are consistently followed.

A good leader is someone who is empathetic, willing to tell you, as it is in a very diplomatic way, being able to bring about change and growth in you.

Aileen Wong

Personal Tips on Dealing with Stress and Overwhelming Situations

Aileen shares her tips on dealing with stress and overwhelming situations in a special segment. She advises breaking down problems into smaller, digestible chunks and stepping back to gain new perspectives. Aileen also emphasizes the importance of knowing one’s limits, learning to say no, and drawing boundaries when necessary.

Break it down into smaller digestible chunks… Unless it’s life-threatening, generally, you can afford to take a step back, catch a breather, and come back to it with new perspective… It’s important to know how much you can handle and to learn how to say no, to be able to know how to manage your stakeholders and be able to draw boundaries when the time calls for it.

Aileen Wong

Conclusion and Future Outlook

In conclusion, HR leadership is a science and an art that requires a contextualized approach. The pandemic has brought employee well-being to the forefront, and leaders must adapt to the changing landscape. Aileen’s tips on dealing with stress and overwhelming situations remind us of the importance of self-care and setting boundaries. As we move forward, HR leaders must continue to innovate and experiment with new initiatives to support their organizations and employees.

Listen to the episode on Apple, OvercastSpotifyGoogle Podcasts, or your favourite podcast platform.

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