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Sylvain Rochon, May 20 2022

Leong Cheah – Post-Pandemic Transformation of Self

A CykoMetrix Spotlight Production

Every week, the Spotlight shines on an amazing professional with a story to tell and lessons to teach.  Welcome to the CykoMetrix Spotlight.

The following is an adapted transcript of the exchange between Sylvain Rochon, CMO at CykoMetrix as host, and Leong Cheah, Business Strategist and Executive Coach at Ae’lkimi.

Sylvain Rochon: Welcome to CykoMetrix Spotlight. My name is Sylvain Rochon, the Chief Marketing Officer at CykoMetrix, a company that helps coaches like my guest, develop a better sell cycle in coaching through psychometrics, measurements, and benchmarks that we can track over time so that the client sees a difference before and after the coaching and then can be motivated to continue the values, EI, and cognitive coaching that is necessary for their improvements and development over time toward better productivity, more team effectiveness, and all sorts of good things. That's what we do. 

But we’re here to listen to Executive Coach Leong Cheah today. Leong is the Founder, Business Strategist, and Executive Coach at Ae'lkimi. He is based in the UAE, the United Arab Emirates but he's been all over as well. I'm going to let him talk about that. He's an accomplished professional, with over 25 years of experience in Management, much of which were at the senior board level. Leong has been fortunate to work for two of the top four banks in Australia and a top brand airline in the Middle East, the Emirates Airline. Advising and helping scale several SME Tech companies in HR, customer service, people management, performance, organization restructuring, payroll, compensation and benefits, executive coaching and training, and talent development. A lot of stuff that I have very little experience with, it's all HR stuff. We make the tools, HR does their thing. Welcome Leong to the spotlight. 

Leong Cheah: Thank you Sylvain, and thank you for having me. I really appreciate that introduction. 

Sylvain: Very nice. Now, Leong we were talking a bit earlier about many things, including Marvel movies, but let's not go there right now. We wanted to talk today about your journey, the transformational journey that made you who you are and also made you see the world the way you see it, and how you are coaching, in particular in a post-pandemic world, like where are we going, like after this transformation that was forced upon us. 

So, we thought about talking about the transformation of self, which is the self-development aspect of coaching and improvements and development. So, why don't you start off by telling us a bit more about who you are and go from there?

Leong: Absolutely Sylvain, thank you so much for that. So, I grew up on Christmas Island, which many people may not have heard of. My families are originally from Malaysia. We immigrated to Perth, Western Australia when I was eight years old. Normal childhood. Then, I guess things started to take a turn for me and that's when I discovered the growth process. My father, unfortunately, passed away from cancer when I was 19, so, a lot of regrets and as I mentioned previously, a lot of dark rabbit holes that one tends to go through during such a traumatic event. 

But I think I was fortunate enough to land a role within one of the banks in Western Australia. I don't know if somebody was blessing me from above, but the mentoring and the coaching and the guidance I didn't have for the loss of a father figure came in my very first line manager. To this day, 20, nearly 26 years later, I'm still in contact with her and she still makes the time to mentor me. When I reflect back on that particular relationship, it showed me a lot of avenues and a lot of disciplines as well as tools that she was using to not only lead the banking and the branch, but in the way she was dealing with people. When I reflect back on that, it was all a lot of EQ, a lot of emotional relationships, a lot of just listening and dealing with people and I didn't realize it at the time, but I almost was being shown a way to take that next step in my journey. 

I think that's where my transformation really started. You know, lo and behold that led me to climb that proverbial corporate ladder quite quickly, because I started to understand and started to apply what I had unconsciously learned from her, and that took me into managerial positions within banking quite quickly. Then, it took me into a franchise with a fitness company in Australia, where it's very personal, it's very emotional. Helping people achieve that image that they perceive that they want. 

Then from there, I was in Australia, and then I came to Dubai in 2008 and worked in the airline industry with Emirates. I was planning to stay here for three years only and then I'm going into my 14th year now in the Middle East and loving it, having my family and my beautiful daughter here. I had the journey of that, left that, went into recruitment, and then subsequently fell into HR, operations, and the leadership role. But what I wanted to say was that the underlying theme or if there was one connecting point in my career, I would say it all had to do with being customer and people-centric. If you check on my LinkedIn page or if you looked for my CV, the interlinking connector has always been people and has always been in some sort of a managerial or leadership position. It all stemmed from that relationship I had with my first line manager. It's brought me to where I am today, to try and give back and show the people that I'm dealing with that there's a different side. 

I'm unconventional, I haven't gone through a Master's or a University degree, everything that I've done has been backing myself in. I've invested in my own education to fill in the gaps or the perceived gaps from society to take that next level whether it be my career or my own personal development. 

Sylvain: It's okay because it's a lead into the crush of things, which is who you are today as a coach and also operating Ae'lkimi for several years, founding a company that brings you that kind of insight and an approach that you apply in your coaching. So, tell me about this approach. I suspect you're imparting what you've learned to the companies and individuals that you coach. So, tell me about that, and tell me if you use any tools to help you out with that process. 

Leong: That's a great question, Sylvain. I would have to be honest with you and I say I'm not actually using any sort of tools at the moment. I guess I have unconsciously created my own sort of path or sort of steps in my method in how I deal or how I coach my clients and I always look at the career of an individual. For example, if I can share this with you, when an employee or when an individual starts a position within a company, it's all about the learning of that particular role. Okay. Once they learn that particular role, then they start to contribute to that particular role. And once they start contributing, they understand the internals and the cracks of it, they then start to lead the position, right? They become supervisory, team leaders, and [take on] managerial positions. If they are lucky enough or if they get the support of the management, they would then start to shape the business and start contributing to the way and how the business should look, right? 

So, my method in that sense is that when I'm coaching, I apply that same method to whether it'd be the C levels or whether it'd be the team members of his or her business. You look at that method and you look at, “Okay, where is the current gap between those four steps? Have they absorbed? Have they bought into the business? Have they bought into your vision and mission of the company? Are they contributing and how they're contributing to your business? Are they leading? And if they are leading, what are their strengths in their leading? You know, what are the potential gaps in their leading?” 

Then you go back and take it back to if there is a potential gap. I’d look at relearning or look at upscaling them for their particular gaps and if they are going to be your future leader, if there is a succession plan within the organization, how are they going to shape your business? Are they your next CHRO? Are they your next CTO, your CFO your COO or are they going to be your next potentially advisory or an independent advisor for you? A career does not necessarily have to go through a corporate ladder. I think the corporate ladder is starting to really fade away there, especially given the current scenario, that situation that we're in. It's changing at such a very rapid pace at the moment. 

Now, that we have looked at this area then we look at it from the employee or the candidate's perspective now, you look at somebody that is senior or that if somebody has that longevity within your business. What are they currently doing at the moment to better themselves? So, this is now looking inwards. So, we've looked at it from the outside in. Now, we're looking inwards at the individual self. 

This could also apply to the coached that I'm looking after. Are they looking at education to empower themselves to gain more knowledge or gain more understanding about either the current business or where potentially they could take their business down the track? What about the experience? Are they immersing themselves in the experience of the business? Again, that's that buy-in from it. You always talk about the 90-day plan of a new joiner. But in their 90-day plan, are they following your structure, or are they immersing themselves with all the other departments? How can I, as a new starter in my first 90 days, after my 90 days, help contribute to your department, whatever that role may be. Nobody looks at it that way, they just think I'll go through their process of 90 days and I want my hand clean. I'll settle in my role and that's it. 

Then that brings into how much exposure is that candidate or that employee being exposed to, at work or are they exposing themselves to all the potential experiences from the other departments? You get the negatives, you get the positive, you get the water cooler gossip, but how much of that are you exposing yourself to? Then from an evaluation perspective, it comes back to how do you see yourself? Do you see yourself as a potential next leader of this company? How close and how much are you working with your C levels? How much are you contributing to your team members? So, there is no method per se but the steps, the four key areas that I talked about with my clients. If that makes sense. 

Sylvain: It does make sense and makes a lot of sense in fact, in my world of psychometry, there are a lot of companies out there that, for example, apply psychometric assessments to try to determine what is the profession of a person, these ideal skill sets that will match to a certain profession. There are cleantech companies that do that.  I remember, I've always been kind of an entrepreneurial, so, I've never really fallen into doing those assessments personally. But I do remember high school, when they would give you a test to kind of assess what University I should go to and in what program to try to guide me. I remember the results of the test, and I was very frustrated because it told me that I should be doing certain things that I really felt were not fitting for me at all, my personality and who I was. But I felt like you were going to be driven by the assessments. Because in that process for those types of assessments, there's no conversation with the person, like what you're doing. Like, “What do you want to do? What excites you?”  Because that's deeper than just the box of the profession. 

Leong: Absolutely. 

Sylvain: What's your progress? What's your measure of success? I'm also a big fan of Dilbert. If you know Dilbert cartoon. I don't know if people are familiar with it, but it's set in an engineering firm. One of the main jokes is that the better engineers are promoted to management and they make terrible managers because they're good at engineering and management is a completely different type of thing.  Typically engineers are not so interactive with other people well not as much as other types of people and management is about people. So, it often becomes a joke. 

The point I'm making is that sometimes in our surroundings in HR, there's an attempt to put people on the corporate ladder. It's like, well, this is where you should be going. Whereas, if my understanding is correct your approach is more modern, more actual. “Okay, what do you want to do?”, you ask, and expose them to different experiences so that they can figure out for themselves, what they want to do? I became an entrepreneur, but I have only one uncle that's entrepreneurial. Everybody else is a government worker. I got exposure to entrepreneurial thought only much later in my life. Then I figured out “oh, this is cool!” 

Leong: Yeah. 

Sylvain: I want to do that, but I didn't know I knew it because I didn't have the exposure until much later. So, that's what I'm feeling that you're kind of saying. You say, well, let's talk to the individual and put them through different steps and we don't know where the person is going to go, do we? 

Leong: Absolutely. Yeah, absolutely. Just to echo your thought process there, Sylvain is when it comes to psychometric assessment as well. I mean, there's a stigma within the industry on it as well. There are pros and cons to it. You know, sometimes the question gets asked, is the right assessment being used by that company? You can't use a recruitment one to assess maybe the technical skills, right? So, there are different tools. I myself am BPS and Thomas Behavior Qualified.  I've been trained, and even though you can put a question mark on those certifications, they are still worthy certificates to have because you actually learn how to assess and read the results properly, right? 

I think once an individual goes through those types of training, it eliminates a lot of the bias from it because the training is quite intense. Because you do have to write a report, you do actually have to analyze the results. But one of the key things that I see Sylvain and you probably see it yourself, is that the assessments are not being used effectively. They are used at either the beginning of a recruitment process or after a recruitment process to either, confirm, or validate that employee is a good fit for the business. Which is in my opinion, wrong because that can get you into trouble in certain countries because that goes into discrimination and all these things that we don't want to get into. 

The proper use of a psychometric assessment is about developing the individual and making them, coming back to that self-awareness, that I've been a part of through my journey to get me where I am at the moment and to use them. These are the results that have come up. Now, some of it you may agree with, some of it you may not. It could be your thought process or because of the moment that you were experiencing at that particular time. Did you have stress about money, family, or an accident? Something happened, that could have skewered your result. I think 99% of the time, the results do show you a little bit of a glimpse into the characteristics of the individual. 

Now again, some companies have the time, some companies do not have the time. But if I were a manager of that individual and that is my direct report, I would take the time and sit down with them and say, hey, look, I received this report. This is what it's saying to you. Do you agree with that, or do you not? Okay, great, then let's sit down and let's really assess and work out what's the next step for you. How can we grow and how can we make you the best person but also the best employee for this journey that we're on. Because then you get that buy-in… There’s an old cliché. People don't leave companies. They leave bad managers. 

Sylvain: They leave bad managers, yeah. 

Leong: You see it all over LinkedIn, people are not there for the money. Usually, the top five surveys say it's for the recognition, it's for the career progression, am I contributing to a worthwhile company. These are always the key metrics and the key indicators of how well a company is actually going. If you look at the turnover of certain companies, it's because of bad management and the employees don't believe anymore in that company. 

Sylvain: I think what you're saying is so important. It all goes back to what you said since the beginning. This is a very personal journey. For each individual, each team, even HR, they want to do better for the employees as well, evolve and improve also as an entity, as a department. What we do, it's just tooting our own horn. What we do is we were not trying to pigeonhole anybody. Well, this is what the tests say you are and your tendencies and probabilities and trends. Then we give that data to the coach. We don't give it to the employee.  This is a tool for the coach and we teach the coach a little bit like The Myers-Briggs certification. This is how this reads. This is what this means from a psychological point of view. 

Then the coach is the one that really does the development. Because you take that information. You go to HR, you go to the people in the teams like, “okay, this is who you are.” These are the dynamics. These are the risk factors and so on. What do you want to do? And you apply coaching based on the buy-in like you said, as individuals want to improve in a certain direction, the team needs a certain… The CEO wants to improve effectiveness, productivity.  Everybody wants to have something and you get to manage the situation on the ground. Not the test. Right? It's very individual like these journeys. 

Leong: Absolutely. I think our audience has to be aware that we're not here trying to promote, or push coaching or push psychometric assessment as a tool. These are a thousand, a million more tools that are currently on the market. But I think, “With great power comes great responsibility, right?” 

Sylvain: That's Marvel. That's Spider-Man. 

Leong: Yeah. But I think the way the pandemic has thrown the entire world upside down.  What I've seen is that there are a lot of individuals now starting to back themselves in and believe in themselves and they are walking, or they're talking with their feet, right? Whilst certain regions, are those that are assigned to really believe in themselves and say, “hey, if I want to see a better world, I need to back myself in and I can make a difference in today's society.” I don't know if you remember the old VUCA acronym, V-U-C-A. It was Volatile, Uncertain, Complexity, and Ambiguity. It was used back in the US wars. 

But why don't we change that around? In pre-pandemic, there was a VUCA, potentially all over the place. What if we change it into, Vision, Understanding, Clarity, and Adaptability now? Why don't we look at it that way instead, right? Because of the ability to adapt, the ability to have a vision in this pandemic and post-pandemic, and to have an understanding and clarity of what we need to do now? Because the world is changed, we all know that. And I'm not saying anything that hasn't been repeated by the bigger HR gurus, right? 

The world has changed, employees are now walking with their feet if they don't like where the company is going or if the company's not providing the right benefits for them. I think previously, it was from top-down. I think now it has to be from the bottom-up. How you run a business now, you need the voice of your employees now. In HR, I say to guys and girls, young experience, inexperienced, studying HR, you need to start listening to what the employees are saying now and you need to speak up to management. 

Now, this is obviously different from bigger corporates to your smaller, to medium-sized, SMEs. It's very different there. For those in the SMEs, which I deal with quite a fair bit, CEOs who are maybe listening to this podcast, you really need to start getting HR on your side. If you want to see your business flourish and grow, you need to really start having HR as that strategic and business partner, to really start saying and looking deeply into your business. 

Where's our potential gap? Where's our potential for maximum growth? How can we make our business thrive? How can we make our employees happier? Psychometrics and coaching are just two of the tools that are existing out there. There are so many HR and digital platforms that are in the market. Find one that really fits and works for your business. 

Sylvain: I think that's a great sentiment and also great guidance in particular now because we've transformed ourselves in part because of the challenges of the pandemic, like you said, where we are seeing trends.  I did see research regarding the great resignation in the States at least. People were trying to understand why people are not accepting the low-end job even though clearly they need money. But then, they're not and the employers are crying, “please, can I get some staff?” People are saying, no, I don't want to flip burgers. Sorry. I'm going back to school. I'm doing these other things. 

This dynamic has changed.  It is unique to this time. So, this is what's happening now. This seems to be a trend in the near future, whereas you said, people want to challenge themselves. How do you say like put themselves in, the expression you used? They want to have better or challenge themselves a bit more. So, how do you see how this is going to be trending in practical terms throughout the year because prospectively the pandemic crisis is ending this year, one hopes. Then we're going to go back to the post-pandemic where the virus is not a concern.  How do you see the trends going into the future, and is that going to impact your coaching business? 

Leong: I, like everybody else in our audience, hope that the pandemic is over. However, I think we'll be living with it throughout 2022, maybe even 2023. The way I'm seeing things especially from my clientele and in my current region at the moment, I think there's it's a 50/50 split. I think there is an interest to have employees back in the office. For those that are adamant in wanting employees back in the office, I think that is an old way, an old style of thinking and unfortunately, they could and may suffer later on because the employees are going to walk. I think the last two years even for myself and you Sylvain we've had the enjoyment of working from home. 

Again, this comes back to that transformation and that self-belief, right? I kick myself a lot harder when I know that I haven't been putting in the hours that I should. I'm my biggest critic and I'm my biggest judge and I get angry with myself. Because I have suffered in June and I haven't put in the effort. I think that freedom and that new style of working, I don't think it's going to go away, especially now with so many distributed, desynchronized workforce, technology, and different ways of doing business. You have a lot of these employers of record, PEO companies now popping up. 

Now with the advancement in technology years in advance. It's now helping the companies in the US, in Europe, and UK to look outside of their borders, and look at talents in Asia, in the Middle East, and in Africa. Why spend the money to relocate these employees, when you can hire them through the US? The employees are there. There are so many processes you can put into place, but I see that it's going to be a 50/50 split. I think that working from home is going to stay. I don't think it's going away and if employers are potentially adamant or if they don't find a different format of how they look at the working hours and the productivity… There are so many analysis software out there you can analyze the performance of an employee. 

Sylvain: In so many ways, yeah. 

Leong: So, I think to answer your question, Sylvain from what I'm seeing it, I think it's here to stay. But I have to admit also that some of the clients I have spoken to, I asked them. Is it a trust issue? Is it the need to have and justify that “hey, you should be working a number of hours in the office?” What is it that you need the employees in the office? It's admin work. Do you need them to be in the office? I'm sorry to say but I push back on the owners and the managers. That's my role to get them to think differently about how to transform their business. Can they look at unconventional ways and a different perspective? Because I'm coming in from the outside, you're coming in from the outside. Outside looking in first. What's your business about? Okay, this is what it is. Okay now, let's look inwards and how can we grow it and make it better outwards. 

Sylvain: Very good. Well, I think that's a great conclusion because that is ultimately the advice if you've been talking about how much you learn.  Look inwards before you look outwards. Self-development, individualized assessment of what people should be doing in their path. All that stuff that you talked about. I agree with all because it's logical. It's what we see. It's who we are in many ways.  We want to do what we want to do, as individuals and grow with the way we want to grow. 

If companies can support that growth, then, I know from statistics people tend to stick around more, because of the work, and that's beneficial for them financially and also in other words, culturally, it's beneficial to the business. Because you know how expensive it is to get a new hire in and train them. It's more than just the salary and the expense of actually going through the hiring process, there's a huge cost to it. So, from a business perspective, yeah, you want people to be happy ultimately. 

Leong: Absolutely. 

Sylvain: It is an ROI thing, not only fluff.  Thanks a lot Leong. It was amazing. Everybody, this has been Leong Cheah, Founder of Ae'lkimi, a wonderful name. Check him out and his company. He's in the UAE, but I'm sure he can remote-coach companies from around the world because, online, right? And yeah, check him out. Give him a call and see if you can improve and develop yourself and your company. Thanks again. 

Leong: Thank you. Thank you so much for your time, Sylvain. I really, really do appreciate it. Just one final parting thought. I'm unconventional. I didn't go through the normal steps. So, tell your story and back yourself in and all the best to everybody. Take care and stay safe.

About Leong Cheah – www.aelkimi.com

Leong is an accomplished professional with over 24 years of experience in management, many of which at a Senior Board level. Leong has been fortunate to work for 2 of the Top 4 banks in Australia and a Top Brand Airline in the Middle East, Emirates Airline, advising and helping scale several SME tech companies in HR, customer service, people management/performance, organization restructuring, payroll, compensation & benefit, executive coaching & training and talent development. M Cheah has in-depth experience working in management, leadership training & development as well as the creation of talent acquisition strategies in Australia and the UAE. This blend of leadership and advisory skills has given him the ability to work in any industry and help boards grow their business.

About CykoMetrix - www.CykoMetrix.com

CykoMetrix is a leading edge combinatorial psychometric and human data analytics company that brings the employee assessment industry to the cloud, with instant assessments, in-depth analysis, trait measurements, and team-based reporting features that simplify informed decision-making around recruiting, training, and managing today’s modern workplace.

 

Written by

Sylvain Rochon

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