Patrice Choong: Stepping Out of Your Comfort Zone

When change is the only given constant, the best skill you can equip yourself with for the workforce is adaptability. It makes you an invaluable asset to any company but many struggle with this for fear of going beyond their comfort zone. Read on as Patrice shares how stories can be used to inspire you to step out of your comfort zone.

Key actionable take-aways:

In this interview, Patrice illustrates how a great leader:

  • uses stories to inspire action
  • see opportunities for growth/improvement even during hardship
  • regularly push themselves to go beyond their comfort zone
  • is a visionary who guides their team to achieve their goals through a shared vision

What is the best piece of advice you have ever received?

When you give your team a sense of “being on a journey”, you give meaning and purpose to day-to-day activities.

In your opinion, what makes a great leader or storyteller?

In my years of leading teams of varying sizes, I came to understand that there are three elements that are necessary to move the hearts and minds of people.  A good leader cares, inspires commitment and possesses conviction. This is not learnt in schools but is developed through the leader’s own personal life / work experiences.  This is why, more often than not, behind every good leader, there is an even greater story.

“An unexamined life is not worth living” – Socrates.

This quote taught me the value of self-reflection to grow as a person.  To this day, it continues to remind me the importance of setting aside time to reflect and draw lessons. Schools and various training programmes can teach the hard skills of a good leader but values, character and genuine growth, I believe, comes from self-reflection.

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Each individual story has a struggle and opportunity. Learn to find the opportunity.

What would you say has been the greatest lesson so far as a leader in your work?

Opportunities lie in conflict. Opencerts was born because administrative officers spend countless hours working on manual certified true copies of certificates.  When you talk to people and find out the stories, you uncover opportunities that would otherwise be ignored.   A fresh graduate who struggled with the choice of working in an MNC or a startup, inspired the Startup Talent Factory initiative.   A polytechnic graduate rejected by several commercial incubators ended up building a great company that inspired us to build Pollinate. Each individual’s story has a struggle and opportunity.  Learn to find the opportunity.

What would you say was your greatest difficulty/sacrifice faced as a leader so far? How did you overcome it?

It is hard to pick one but I would say that one quality I have realised is critical for growth is to learn to step out of your comfort zone. One of my greatest challenge was when I was asked to form the innovation and entrepreneurship office of NP, called The Sandbox.  I am an educator and technologist at heart and definitely not an entrepreneur.  It was a daunting task and I felt inadequate. Five years later, that office received numerous awards for the many national-level initiatives it kick-started, including the Public Service Transformation award for Exemplary Innovation.

Public Service Transformation Awards (Exemplary Innovation)

Public Service Transformation Awards (Exemplary Innovation)

This is what I learnt from that experience:
  1. Learn from others. I had a talented team that taught me what I needed to know about innovation and entrepreneurship. I’ve met with several entrepreneurs who talked me through their entrepreneurship journey.
  2. Dare to try something new and fail. We’ve launched over 50 initiatives during my 5 years at The Sandbox but most people would only listen to about 5 – 8 of the initiatives. Most failed. That’s part of the journey.
  3. Collaborate. We won’t have the resources and know-how to do things alone but together, you can create something meaningful.
  4. Move fast. Time is critical in this rapidly growing space. We are no longer in the “big fish eats small fish” world but the “fastest fish” wins.

How important are storytelling skills to you as a leader? How have you applied it in your work?

Almost every great initiative starts with a story:

The Untold Story of Pollinate

This is the story of Maxim. After Maxim graduated from Singapore Poly, he had an idea and a strong conviction that the market needs this idea and wanted to launch his startup. Armed with courage, he applied to several commercial and university-based incubators but was rejected by all. He persevered and rented a small office in an industrial estate and launched his business all on his own. Pollinate was created to provide Polytechnic graduates with a safe and familiar place to start and grow their business. It had three basic operating principles:

  • Purely developmental and no equity
  • Focused on poly grads and accept graduates from any polytechnics.
  • 20% of the offices to be opened to startup founders outside of polytechnics.

To date, over 30 startups have cycled through Pollinate, and we’ve seen many grow in terms of revenue and team size. Three years later, he sold it for a profit. With the proceeds from the sale, he used it to fund a short course education at Stanford University. While at Stanford, he participated in a two-man hack-a-thon team where he met his future business partner. Together, they continued working on the hack-a-thon idea and launched Gtriip in San Francisco which later expanded to Singapore. If Maxim had gave up on his first idea after being rejected by several incubators, Pollinate or Gtriip may not be here today.


1st batch of Startups moving in

The Story That Inspired Startup Talent Factory

Meet Gladys. After graduating from SMU with a Bachelor in Business Administration, she applied to several positions, mostly in MNCs and a few startups. She received several offers which she was able to short list to two. A pharmacy company that offered a salary of about $4K+ and a startup company that offered a salary of $3k+ with 3% equity. She had a hard time choosing which offer to accept. Her parents and uncle were persuading her to accept the offer from the pharmacy company since it pays more and the company is more stable. She was leaning towards the startup but she doesn’t quite understand the 3% equity and the fact that she will receive a lower pay than her peers. Eventually, she chose to work for the startup. There are many graduates out there, like Gladys, who may decide to work for the MNCs instead. We can’t blame them for their choices. It can be hard to compete especially salary-wise. This is where the dilemma lies. Startups constantly look for good talent but are often unable to afford the salary to compete with MNCs and they lose out on a potential hire. STF was conceived to help startups and the polytechnic graduates alike. To date, STF has successfully placed over 100 graduates to work in startups as a gap year programme post-graduation.

If you had to offer a piece of advice to someone just starting or who aspires to lead a team/organisation. What advice would you give?

1) Team bonding activities do not build teams. Vision builds teams. People need a vision to anchor their efforts, give meaning to their work and provide a sense of direction towards their destination. 2)  Be wary of lots of Motion without Movement. Some call it: Hentak kaki or marching in place. Lots of motion without movement. We need to ensure that every effort is directed towards the vision, and is moving the team closer to its destination.

Share with us something you learned recently that changed how you intend to run your team/business.

The importance of human connection. We can teach via Zoom, meet over Skype and chat on Messenger but human connection brings elements of serendipity that often is the spark that creates value.

Staff Excellence Award (Innovation Award)

Staff Excellence Award (Innovation Award)

What are 3-4 tools (digital or offline) that you feel everyone should know about?

Design a Powerpoint deck (design skills) Tell a good story (communication skills) Write a Project Proposal (writing skills) Ace your spreadsheet (data skills)

Now more about Patrice’s backstory:

Patrice Choong

A picture of Patrice with his mentees during graduation

What’s your story?

I am an educator and technologist who is passionate about creating value through innovation. I’ve always had a thirst for learning even when I was young. During my ‘O’ levels, I wanted to take 9 subjects but the maximum that I was allowed to take in school was 8 subjects, so I took an extra subject as a private candidate. I learned the BASIC programming language at 13 years old just so I can hack into the SNAKE.BAS game that came with MS-DOS. I subsequently picked up other languages and wrote my first database-driven application in DBASE III at 16 years old. I completed my M.Comp in 2007/8 and M.Ed in 2012/13. Today, I teach tech to diploma students, adult learners and working professionals, and help companies innovate using technology.

How did you get into your current line of work/ why did you decide to do it?

I’m fortunate. I’ve never gone in for a formal work interview. In 2001, I completed my Honours thesis for Ericsson, a telecommunication giant at that time. Right after my thesis presentation, my supervisor called me to his office and offered me a job to work for Siemens R&D Labs in 3G research. I worked for Siemens for about three years till the R&D labs moved to China.  I took the severance package to pay off my student loans and travel the world.  I was 25 years old then. A friend of mine asked me to teach Java as a part-time lecturer in NP as the faculty needed some help.  I accepted.  One semester later, I was offered a full-time position.   16 years later, I’m still doing what I enjoy:  teaching about technology and innovation.

How can people connect with you?

Linkedin or email me.

3 ways to improve your L&D needs analysis and drive organisational growth


It’s the time of the year again when Learning and Development managers plan for the year ahead. Sending a survey to gather insights about the learning needs is a common practice, but exactly how useful would these insights be? Will the data collected help L&D managers strategise learning initiatives that can drive organisational value and performance? 

The answer lies in how your questions are crafted. In the article “Is your feedback form effective?”, we explored the importance of designing purposeful questions that can solicit insightful responses. We can take the same approach for the Employee Learning Needs Surveys by being clear on: 

  1. The objectives behind the questions; and
  2. The types of questions to ask to help you achieve your objectives.

There are three areas to consider for purposeful and actionable insights from your employees. These areas can potentially save you massive amounts of money from implementing learning solutions that don’t deliver outcomes.

Different learning motivations Learning needs analysis Highspark

1. Look beyond the “What” and understand the “Why”.

“What skills do you want to learn?” is a standard question. 

A generic question like this would typically generate generic responses such as “communication skills, presentation skills, facilitation skills”.  While the question helps to identify relevant programme topics, it doesn’t offer insights into how the suggested skills:

  • are essential in enabling the learners’ to perform better at work; or
  • can support them in career progression (upwards or sideways); or
  • would help the teams or organisation excel.

Furthermore, the same responses may be given but with very different sets of motivations. 

Same-same, but different

For example, if both Sandy and Andrew indicate their interest to improve their presentation skills, without digging deeper into the “WHY” behind their responses, L&D managers may conclude that a presentation course is the solution. However, upon a closer look, Sandy and Andrew require different learning interventions to reach their desired outcome.

Sandy’s motivations and desires: 
  • Feel more confident to voice out her ideas during meetings.
  • Be perceived as competent and as a result, increase her chances of being selected for a leadership position. 
Andrew’s motivations and desires:
  • Help customers understand complex concepts for the projects he handles, so they see the value of his recommendations. 
  • Be trusted to manage bigger and more sophisticated projects.

Their learning objectives and outcomes are vastly different. Prescribing a generic presentation course to them doesn’t take into consideration their contextual needs and definitely won’t help them achieve their goals.

Here are a few follow-up questions you can include to remove ambiguity in responses: 

  • Why is this skill important to you?
  • Describe how this skill can enable you to excel at work
  • Describe the (personal or work) challenges that this skill can help you to address 

Note: The word “Describe” prompts the surveyor to elaborate their responses. This allows you to capture more nuances.


Result oriented training Learning needs analysis Highspark

2. Consider the most effective way to turn skills into results

Managers have to look beyond the process of learning to ensure that any solutions prescribed would be effective in achieving their goals. Learning is only the beginning. What gets your learners, teams, and organisation the results is the application of the skills, yet many learners struggle to apply what they’ve learnt. 

There are times when programmes are well-run and well-received but soon after the programme, learners revert to the default. This is as though the training didn’t take place at all! 

It is not the learners’ fault

One may reason that the learners weren’t committed enough to apply learnings but from our findings, most reasons are beyond the learners’ control. Two classic examples are:

Example 1: Lack of alignment


“My direct boss isn’t aligned to the best practices of effective presentations. I couldn’t convince him, and he kept revising my work. So, I gave up. If only my boss attended this course!”


Example 2: Lack of opportunities


“I haven’t had the opportunity to present my ideas for the past 2 months. Hence, I can’t practise”


There are also times when the learning solutions were well-designed but learners felt that they weren’t useful in helping them achieve their goals. Rather than tackling these obstacles after the learning initiative has concluded, you can prevent them from surfacing.


Consider including these questions in your L&D needs survey to set your learners up for success: 


What have you tried to get better at X?
What worked and didn’t work?

If the employees have attended fundamental courses in the past, you can plan programmes to reinforce their existing knowledge rather than sending them for another similar course. You can also adopt elements that are effective and avoid pitfalls.


What are some reasons/potential reasons that are stopping you from getting better at X?

You may find that employees aren’t skilled in certain areas not because they aren’t interested to learn but because they struggle to find time to do so. If this is a common challenge across teams, L&D teams can consider micro-learning or speaking to team leads to dedicate a specific amount of time in a month to learning.


What needs to be considered in order to ensure skills can be applied at work?

This allows L&D teams to set up processes and involve relevant stakeholders who are critical to the success of the learning. These insights can also help training partners take into account the organisation’s contextual requirements to customise programmes and materials.


What would be the most effective way for you to get better at X?
Give a score for the following so that they add up to 100.
    1. On-the-job coaching by an expert
    2. Mentoring from boss  
    3. Learning from peers 
    4. Teaching peers 
    5. Project-based learning 
    6. Structured classroom learning
    7. Micro-learning
    8. Others

Notes: You may list a few options for learners to choose from but always leave room for alternative suggestion(s) to unearth new possibilities.   


Ask positive questions Learning needs analysis Highspark

3. Positive framing of questions

While one of the objectives for the Learning Needs Analysis is to unearth competency gaps, we have to be careful around using words with negative connotations. “Gaps” is one such word. 

This is especially so when a survey form isn’t kept anonymous. One may hesitate to provide honest feedback to HR or L&D teams with the fear that it may affect their work appraisal. Would revealing more gaps create a perception that they are incompetent? Competent people have little to improve, isn’t it? 


To tackle these, you can:

Avoid questions such as: “What would you like to improve?”

This can make learners feel that they are lacking in something and deter them from being transparent about their gaps for fear it may affect their performance appraisal. 

Instead, use questions such as “What skills would help you excel even more at your current job?”

This is empowering as we are looking for ways to support them and help them to shine even brighter. This may allow you to uncover performance goals that aren’t on the standard list, m e.g. Productivity.  



Parting thoughts:

With these considerations, you will be able to cover both breadth and depth in your survey of learning needs. 

Most importantly, purposeful and thoughtfully crafted questions will offer you valuable insights to guide you in designing an L&D initiative that delivers results. 

After all, money spent on learning solutions that aren’t outcome-driven becomes an expense rather than an investment to the organisation. 

P.S: Yes, you might be doubling the length of your survey and having employees spend more time completing it. But if we look at the bigger picture, what’s 10 more minutes as compared to many hours of training that doesn’t work? 



Photo credits: @stories via

Val Yap: Delivering Success Through Effective Communication

Success is not dictated by the hard work of one person alone. A great leader is also a great story-teller because effective communication is the foundation of any successful organisation. Read on as Val shares how communication is a vital part of their company culture.

In this interview, Val reflects and illustrates how a great leader:

  1. Is being able to guide your team to move forward with sincerity, enthusiasm and willingness to take on the risk of decision making
  2. Inspire and motivate because inspiration is contagious
  3. Guides the team in exploring and figuring out ways to solve the problem to achieve the desired results
  4. Communicates and be present
  5. Plans ahead instead of having a reactive approach to things that are coming
  6. Is open and vulnerable

How important are storytelling skills to you as a leader? How have you applied it in your work?

Storytelling is a great way to communicate with all the different stakeholders, from investors to customers and even the team! 

To investors, I have to illustrate how our product has evolved from the start and what I have envisioned for the future. 

To customers, I narrate the story of how we add value to their lives and how we can help them to make better financial decisions. 

To employees, I use storytelling to explain organisational and directional changes. It may be difficult for them to understand why we have to re-strategise due to changing circumstances and try new ways, but storytelling helps me to give real-life examples that everyone can understand and relate to.

Val Yap at SFF 2019

Val Yap speaking at the AMTD booth during SFF 2019

How did you approach marketing your business/self so that customers know you’re different?

“Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning,” says Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft. 

If you think of every customer complaint as an opportunity to improve, then you will be able to handle those that come later much better. We strive to provide exceptional customer service especially for insurance coverage claims. This is to ensure that our customers feel secure and safe with our services. 

We have been constantly working on the insurance vertical since its inception four years ago and our customers value our continuous dedication to making insurance affordable and accessible. 

We are the first to introduce a single touchpoint for all our customers’ insurance matters. In fact, our first life insurance customer has been a loyal user for the last three years and has been managing his family’s insurance policies from the app. He found our app to be useful especially when he needs to check their financial portfolio.

What would you say has been the greatest lesson so far as a leader in your work?

The greatest lesson I’ve learnt is to communicate and be present. 

Communication is key to ensure that the other party is aligned with you and your ideas. However, that alone is not enough. It is also important to be present in the moment so you can quickly pivot because change happens and often, things don’t go as planned.

It is also important to engage with your team across different departments and listen to their concerns and ideas and be open to discussions. A successful long-term planning is not easy to come by when the world is constantly evolving so we need to keep re-strategising to stay relevant to meet the market’s needs. 

For instance with COVID-19 impacting the world, I have to keep constant communication with my team to ensure that we are working towards the same goal and meeting our customers’ needs. With new news and regulations coming out everyday, we need to keep up to adjust to our customers’ changing needs.

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What would you say was your greatest difficulty/sacrifice faced as a leader so far? How did you overcome it?

It is not easy to leave a stable job especially when I have to borrow for my university studies. Without the guarantee of a regular paycheck, I had to cut down on all my expenses and lived in a prudent manner. 

Unfortunately, I had to tap into my savings in my first year of starting PolicyPal. The process of building a company and a reputation from zero is quite challenging but I was determined to change people’s lives, and ensure that families will have the protection they need when the time comes.

As a leader, you’ll regularly face situations where you need to get buy-in against the odds. How would you overcome a hurdle like this?

Open up to your team. This first step is probably the hardest. However, the only way is to be open to them and tell them the truth about what’s going on. I would align the team to our end goal, explain the current situation and why things have to be done a certain way, and clear any doubts or queries from the team. I have to reassure the team that we are working together to reach our goal and emphasize on teamwork.

In your opinion, what makes a great leader?

I think that being a great leader is being able to guide your team to move forward with sincerity, enthusiasm and willingness to take on the risk of decision making. A leader makes these decisions and takes risks knowing that if things don’t work out, they will be accountable to themselves and others. 

“True leadership stems from individuality that is honest and sometimes imperfectly expressed…Leaders should strive for authenticity over perfection.” – Sheryl Sandberg. 

Perfection is not possible in the real world and people do not usually respond to perfection. They follow authentic leaders who inspire and motivate because inspiration is contagious. 

A leader is not just about providing solutions to the problems, but guiding the team in exploring and figuring out ways to solve the problem to achieve the desired results.

Val Yap's volunteering trip to Nepal before founding PolicyPal

Val’s volunteer outreach trip to Nepal before founding PolicyPal

What is the best piece of advice you have ever received?

The best piece of advice I’ve received is to find like-minded people and invest time in the community! 

It is incredibly helpful to have a women support group whom you can share your experiences with and get advice from. The kind of support that comes from finding others in similar situations helps with the isolation I feel in this industry so I’m always happy to join such gatherings and events to share my experiences.

If you had to offer a piece of advice to someone just starting out or who aspires to lead a team/organisation. What advice would you give?

  1. People will treat you based on how you let them treat you. 
  2. You have to work hard to get what you want! 
  3. Don’t sit around and wait for things to fall in place, try different ways to reach your goals. 
  4. When others see that you are a hustler, they will treat you with more respect!
PolicyPal Team dinner

PolicyPal Team dinner

What have you started trying this year that has been working well for you as a leader?

As a leader, I believe in having discipline. Discipline comes down to focusing on the right thing, which means you need to be crystal clear on what your success looks like and how to measure it. 

Starting this year, I set aside half a day each week where I allow myself to concentrate and think about the business growth. I found this to be extremely important to plan ahead instead of having a reactive approach to things that are coming.

Share with us something you learned recently that changed how you intend to run your team/business.

I started writing reflections of my day and sharing it with our leadership team and this has helped them understand my daily wins and challenges. I believe that opening yourself up to others and being vulnerable is actually a sign of courage and self-confidence in a leader. 

Our team members can, likewise, open up and share with each other and this keeps communication channels flow more smoothly. Empathy leads to understanding and imparts a healthy communication flow.

What are 3-4 tools (digital or offline) that you feel everyone should know about? 

Notebook, I’m old school and still bring my notebook to meetings and it helps to keep me in check on the items discussed and I will not be distracted by emails and slack messages that are coming in.

Google Calendar is good for organising my personal and work schedule. I block out time slots for regular catch up with team, meditation and workout!

Google Alerts allows you to track our online presence, stay updated on our competitors’ activity, as well as get updates on different topics. It is free and easy to use. You can set up a number of alerts by nominating keywords and updates will be delivered directly to your inbox. You can even choose how often you want to receive them. It is surely more efficient than spending time browsing the web.

Now, more on Val’s backstory:

Val's favourite travel photo - Val with Roy Teo (Previously Executive Director, Financial Centre Development & Advisor, Singapore FinTech Festival) at Japan Fintech week in 2018.jpg

Val with Roy Teo (former Executive Director, Financial Centre Development & Advisor, Singapore FinTech Festival) at Japan Fintech week in 2018

What’s your story?

I worked as a Risk Assurance Consultant for PwC in London right after graduation. After that, I went on to become the Assistant Vice President for OCBC Bank in Singapore. We focused on launching digital campaigns, and worked closely with wealth management and marketing to drive innovations. 

I was recently named into Forbes “30 Under 30”’s list for Finance and Venture Capital and currently, I am a Fellow at Singapore University of Social Sciences. I am also a frequent speaker on digital media and business management at universities and conferences.

Having been a sales broker at Allianz, I became very passionate about making financial planning affordable and accessible to everyone. This has led me to start PolicyPal, Asia’s leading insurtech firm. As the CEO and Founder, our goal is to help people understand their various insurance needs and empower everyone to take control of their financial future.

In 2019, I wrote a book, Balls Inc., where I shared the struggles and successes I’ve faced in my journey as a solo female founder in the tech industry. The book aims to encourage women who are hesitant to enter the tech startup ecosystem and hopefully, learn from my experience and better equip themselves!

When not at work, I’m an avid globe-trotter and a sports enthusiast.

How did you get into your current line of work/ why did you decide to do it?

The idea behind PolicyPal came about when my family encountered a series of adversaries. My mother was diagnosed with cancer and the insurance company rejected our application for a claim, as the policy was re-incepted after it lapsed for a short while. In that same year, my father had a sudden heart attack and unfortunately passed away. 

Our family had to handle insurance matters twice and this made us realise the importance of insurance and proper financial planning. 

PolicyPal was born in 2016, where we built a digital platform to enable individuals and families alike to understand and manage their insurance better. Today, we are a licensed insurance broker with over 30 global insurance partners to help consumers and SMEs have better access to affordable insurance.

How can people connect with you?

Linkedin or email

Drive organisational performance with L&D initiatives


In this newsletter, I’d like to forward some strategies advocated by notable game changers on how to keep business outcomes in sight with their learning and development initiatives. I’ve also embedded links to free and available resources that you can leverage to drive business impact to your organisation.


September Insights

Click on the Menu:

1. How mature is your learning strategy?

2. The difference between learning objectives and performance outcomes

3. Must listen L&D podcast to drive performance 
And key actionable insights

4. Free Piktochart Business Storyteller Summit



1.Learning Strategy Maturity Model

Without a strong direct connection between business strategy and learning strategy, even the best learning experiences and content won’t be able to move the needle on outcomes.

The Brandon Hall Group broke down Learning Strategy into 4 different levels, with Level 4 being the most impactful to an organisation’s performance. Which one do you think your organisation falls under?

Companies found a blended approach of  learning together with an outcome specific learning measurement model helps them move up the maturity curve.

How can Learning Strategy be outcome specific?

1. Established the desired business outcomes
2. Define the knowledge, skills, and behaviours needed to help achieve those results.
3. Evaluate the most effective composition of formal and experiential learning to achieve the results.
4. Measure change in knowledge, skills, and behaviours  after the programme.

More on

There are a lot of nuances when it comes to the different knowledge, skills, and behaviours that a talent has to possess in order to drive performance in his or her job function. Thankfully, the Skills Framework developed by SkillsFuture contains comprehensive breakdown of these elements in a form of critical tasks an individual must perform to be considered as competent. Due to the actionable nature of these critical task statements, they can be converted into learning outcomes in  a programme versus the typical passive learning objective such as “The programme will help learners to understand XYZ”.


2. The difference between objectives and outcomes

There are different levels to learning objectives that can be written in accordance to the Bloom’s Taxonomy framework. The lower level objectives are knowledge-based that concerns how the learners understand and remember. The highest level of learning is one that is actionable. Unfortunately, many of the learning objective statements are written in a manner that  focuses on the content/knowledge rather than the application and outcome.

1. Knowledge-based learning objectives guide the content to be covered in the training.
2. Learning outcomes guide the application of the new knowledge.
3. Performance outcomes allows L&D to measure the effectiveness of the training from a business strategy perspective.

Here’s a simple table that shows the difference between these 3 components:

Learning objectives vs Performance Outcomes e1601891944949


3. My favourite L&D podcast and episodes about enabling performance with learning

Each episode by David James feels like a home run to me. Most times, it also feels like a boxing match whenever David passionately challenges the old in a no nonsense manner.

These are must listen episodes:
• Is L&D solving real problems?

• Performance focused, data-led and campaign driven L&D

• Performance Consulting

The key ideas covered in these episodes are mainly around how the L&D team should shift from being  training organisers to performance consultants. Without this shift, the L&D department will eventually be seen as irrelevant because:

• Team leads may feel that trading their team’s time for ineffective traditional workshops isn’t worthwhile. This is due to the operational disruption that comes with it.

• Self-directed employees are finding more effective learning avenues on their own outside of work.

• Learning clients may go direct to IT for learning tech solutions

• etc

These episodes offered these insights to becoming performance consultants:

1. Spend time, money, and effort on real problems rather than perceived problems

The following are not actual problems. 

  • No one is using the LMS
  • The company doesn’t have a conflict resolution training programme
  • The company’s e-learning isn’t interactive enough.

Why? These are not problems for the people whom L&Ds are seeking to engage. An individual doesn’t care about whether e-learning is interactive as long as it can help them to do their job better.


2. Contextualise the L&D solutions

The developed solutions are often divorced from its original and actual need because they are taken out of context. When learning initiatives are designed based on aggregated common needs and are standardised in the name of scalability and cost-effectiveness, the performance outcomes are compromised. The moment we try to serve everyone with a single solution, we benefit no one.

Often the solution to the performance problem isn’t a full-day workshop or a new LMS system. Suggestion: Suspend any judgment on  how the solution might look like and seek to understand the underlying contextual problem.


3. Apply a campaign approach to learning (Case study Citi)

The adoption of a learning solution is very dependent on the learning culture (or lack thereof) within the organisation. Citibank has won multiple awards for its Learning & Development Strategy and this is largely attributed to its differentiated performance-driven approach. Led by Brian Murphy, Head of Learning and Leadership Development, the company applied a campaign approach to learning and saw massive results in these areas:

  • Learning participation,
  • Learning engagement
  • Staff satisfaction levels,
  • Sustained learning by staff

“Underpinning the change was a principle that Citi’s people, in whichever part of the firm they worked, deserved better than a menu of training course”

Citi launched #BeMore, a CEO sponsored, non-HR branded, multi-channel internal marketing campaign designed to empower people to take control of their own development. It uses social learning to educate and engage people while providing a central access point for all things learning across the region. Learning the team’s priorities have moved from designing and organising traditional programmes to supporting employee-owned learning experiences. The 70:20:10 learning approach consist of:

(a) 30-day development challenge: learners to undertake 30 micro actions (one per day).

(b) Employee stories: feature employees and leaders transformation

(c) Resource Centre and user generated content

(d) Ideas Jam: World Cafe format to gather insights and feedback about where employees want to be and learning can help them get there.

(e) Development Planning: Connect employees and line managers to create an individual development plan.


You may also download the full paper on the step-by-step approach that Citi took to develop award-winning agile learning solutions here:

Reminder: If you’re a client of our Stories That Stick or Persuasive Presentations That Sell programme and hasn’t gained access to our free 30-day storytelling mastery email course, drop me an email to request access: [email protected]. 

4. Free access to Business Storyteller Summit by Piktochart

Speaking about 70:20:10 and informal learning, you and your teams shouldn’t miss this upcoming Storyteller Summit!

Business Storyteller Summit

This November, Picktochart will be hosting a series of fireside chat and talks featuring storytelling experts from around the world. Many of them I admire such as Nancy Duarte and Andy Raskin and I feel privileged to be included in the line-up of speakers.

I’ll be chatting about “The secret behind writing irresistibly-persuasive pitches” with Agata Krzysztofik, Head of Marketing, at Piktochart. What are the performance outcomes you may ask? Answer: Get your ideas heard, win over tough audiences, and get the “yes” from stakeholders that you deserve.

Koh Kai Xin Business Storyteller Summit Piktochart
This event is completely FREE. Click this link to reserve your spot now. 

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Zia Zaman: How a World-Class Speaker brings Storytelling, Experimentation & Empathy into Business

Any businessperson understands the value of selling and the art of storytelling. They are indispensable and inevitable, yet only a few have truly honed this skill. Read on as Zia Zaman, a World-Renowned Innovation Speaker from Beaver Lake Capital, shares his experience on how he uses stories to connect with customers, drive innovation and inspire change.

In this interview, Zia reflects and illustrates how a great leader:

  1. Has a high tolerance for failure, constantly experimenting with ways to improve.
  2. Uses storytelling to attract and engage audiences. 
  3. Is a life-long learner, exposes him/herself to new knowledge. 
  4. Leads with empathy, considering other’s perspectives as much as him/herself.
  5. Strives to live in the moment.

How important are storytelling skills to you as a leader? How have you applied it in your work?

Storytelling is a fascinating leadership tool. It is essential to selling. We are always selling as executives. We are selling our vision. We are selling our solutions. We are selling when we are recruiting. And we are selling when we are seeking capital or an affirmative decision.

Understanding how to sell, how to pitch, how to connect with people is essential. The process of telling a narrative to explain the vision or the future and then working backwards to say how we are going to get there is a technique I have often used.

An example of this future-back planning occurred with a sovereign wealth fund who asked me to help them work on visioning. I asked its board and its leadership group to roll the clock forward three years and describe how they want to have impacted their countrymen. This forced them to take a broader, wider aperture view on what they wanted to achieve, and then we looked at vectors we could implement today to start on that journey.

Outside of business, I like to write. Memoirs are an amazing way to bring people through your journey to empathize with you and to inspire followership.

What would you say has been the greatest lesson so far as a leader in your work?

The greatest lesson I’ve learned or been given as a leader, I suppose is the idea that you have to test and learn. Iteration is the key. Don’t be afraid of failure, find ways to de-risk the future. Apply methodologies and new mindsets to change the way we work and to embrace change through a more iterative philosophy – early and frequent interaction, testing and delivery.

When one fails early to learn fast and iterate in order to shrink future risk exponentially.  I sometimes refer to this incremental philosophy by referencing a maths heuristic called “the greedy algorithm”.

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Someday I should write a book about all its applications in life.

What would you say was your greatest difficulty/sacrifice faced as a leader so far? How did you overcome it?

The greatest difficulty I’ve faced as a leader so far is creating work-life balance. I have constantly tried to balance the unending needs of work and travel and innovating for the customer with the very personal needs to stay well, fit, and to take care of my family.

In particular, I have a son who has required additional attention from me at multiple points in my career and I have found it difficult to juggle everything. One solution is to stop juggling. I am able to authentically share the challenges I face as the father of a special needs kid and allow people to get to know the whole me as a leader.

It has brought me into a more prominent role chairing Diversity & Inclusion for my company and it has forced me to take a step back three times in my career. While these sacrifices may have seemed like trade-offs at the time, I know that my career and my leadership abilities have only benefited from these decisions to take a step back and focus on the more important things.

Moreover, being a man supporting his wife’s decision to pursue her career should not seem exemplary or unusual and I am happy to role model this gender-neutral behaviour.

In your opinion, what makes a great leader?

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Leadership is about followership. Leadership is more than management as it relates to how you relate to strategic uncertainty. And for me, great leaders are constantly learning, evolving, iterating, failing, and developing new skills.

To lead, one has to instil a sense of purpose, meaning and a vision around how collectively a team can move forward. This way we can draw in people who subscribe to this vision, this purpose, this individual’s style, vision, and magnetism – and creates something greater than the sum of the parts.

Strategic uncertainty is the difference between management and leadership. A good manager operates under known circumstances and follows standard operating procedures well and excels when benchmarked against widely accepted best practices.

A good manager manages teams to deliver results effectively in situations with low uncertainty and where strategic decisions/pivots are not present. A great leader does all the above and can manage through a pivot by motivating and guiding his/her teams through change, by dealing with uncertainty through testing and learning, and who leads by example through a crisis, an opportunity, or an unexpected event.

This requires the leader to identify “Pull the Goalie”-type risks, where one is under pressure to perform a turnaround. This means making unpopular risky decisions that require courage.

Leaders evolve. Good managers hone their existing skills. Leaders are constantly challenging themselves to try new things, are hyper curious, work out loud, are social and authentic – which shows vulnerability, change, and a tolerance for failure.

What is the best piece of advice you have ever received?

The best piece of advice I have ever received is not really business advice at all.

In fact, it counters some of the work I do as a futurist or strategist. It is to Live in the Moment. If we breathe, and we are alert and present right now, we can find peace and be our full selves and be successful.

I use this technique sometimes before speaking in front of very large crowds. I remind myself to breathe, to enjoy the moment, to speak slowly, and finally to have fun.

If you had to offer a piece of advice to someone just starting out or who aspires to lead a team/organisation. What advice would you give?

One of my favourite pieces of advice for a first-time manager or aspiring leader is empathy.

Try to understand the world from others’ point of view. Think about how your employees see the world. Take the business partner’s point of view from their side of the negotiating table to look for a win-win.

Finally, truly put yourself in the shoes of your customers to understand what they really need in their lives and then obsessively focus your efforts and your team’s efforts to solve their problems. Do that and you will be wildly fulfilled.

What have you started trying this year that has been working well for you as a leader?

Meditation has been working for me. I just started committing to my practice this year. Perhaps, it’s changed me for the better as a leader because I am more present and more attentive to my team members? The simplest aspect of the technique, which I have used, is the ability to declutter.

For example, before judging at a startup panel, a simple meditation can increase your focus or link you to your purpose, before you start something that would reflexively be evaluative.

Share with us something you learned recently that changed how you intend to run your team/business.

I suppose the full recognition of our collective human impact on the planet Earth has made an indelible mark on me, my choices, and how I and my teams need to keep this in mind in everything that we do.

Successful companies will embrace change and suggest solutions that are confluent with the key principles of equality, the environment, inclusion, and sustainability.

What is one book you would recommend that every new leader or storyteller be reading?

Creativity, Inc is a few years old but still so relevant for innovators. It’s the story behind Pixar.

Now, more on Zia’s backstory:

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What’s your story?

I have spent 27 years, across three continents as a corporate executive leading growth, strategy, and most recently as a chief innovation officer. I was lucky enough to be able to speak across the world at WEF Davos, IIF, Global Summit for Women, Milken, InsurTech Connect, RISE, InsurTech Rising, Digital Hollywood, Consumer Electronics Show, and UN Women. Much of my inspiration for new thinking sprouted on the two campuses where he studied, Stanford and MIT, and since then I have written about probability, traveling salesmen, small towns in Asia, parenting special needs children, The Price Is Right, innovation, and hockey.

How did you get into your current line of work/ why did you decide to do it?

After spending 22 years in the software industry, I decided to pivot and take on a role in an insurance company, to build an innovation lab. Out of my ambition to do something that no one has done before, I founded LumenLab and it has been a wonderful award-winning success story for six years. Now, in late-2020, it’s time to reframe. I expect to be working on ESG, potentially helping grow companies’ impact, especially around preventative health and inclusion.

How can people connect with you?

@zzaman – Twitter