The power of empowerment

Local software company Titansoft aims to instil a sense of accountability within employees so they can take pride in mapping out their own careers.

Khor Poo Siang, a product owner at Titansoft, is an avid triathlete.

A regular participant in long-course events, Khor needs to adhere to a progressive, yet intense training regime in order to successfully complete a punishing triathlon which comprises of a 3.8km-swim, 180km-cylcle, and an arduous 42km-run.

His training programme requires him to partake in early-morning and evening running, swimming, and biking sessions.

This means Khor may arrive to work later than his colleagues, and could leave earlier to focus on his training schedule.

His employer, however, has no qualms with the flexible work hours.

“The company gives me the freedom to plan my own time. I know my organisation trusts me to get my work done so that I can pursue my own activities outside,” he shares.

“When work needs to be done, it has to be done. We take personal accountability for the time spent sitting in the office. There are definitely days when I need to stay back to get my work done.”

Khor says what is key is that he delivers his projects within the stipulated deadlines.

“What’s the point of me sitting in the office if I’m just surfing Facebook and waiting to clock my time?” he asks.

 

Flexible and agile

Khor’s sentiments are shared by Yves Lin, General Manager of Titansoft.

Ever since the organisation in 2014 adopted Agile and Scrum practice frameworks for managing product development, teams have been empowered to decide when and how they want to work on projects.

Working hours are now completely flexible. Employees can come in at any time they want, and as long they have tapped in to the internal system, they are considered present.

“Because we work as a team, employees will arrange among themselves the time they want to work together, and this encourages empowerment,” says Lin.

“I don’t really believe in working from home and we don’t enforce minimum hours for staff to be in the office.”

Engagement reaping rewards

Despite growing from an initial team of three in 2005, to 70 in Singapore (along with another 100 employees in its Taiwan office), Titansoft still encounters obstacles in recruitment.

High levels of security in the niche entertainment and gaming industry, where Titansoft has a number of clients, coupled with the huge transaction values, make it extremely difficult to source for talent in a niche industry.

Titansoft tried to plug this gap by hiring senior-level candidates almost exclusively, without much success.

“Not many senior-level talents knew about our organisation and their skillsets were not what we needed,” says Lin.

The organisation then reconfigured its strategy to target graduating university students.

From 2009 onwards, Titansoft started participating in university job fairs, even sponsoring events such as the National University of Singapore’s showcase for students’ final-year projects.

In addition, the company has been giving seminars in Singapore universities.

Lin says it took three years for the organisation to fully reap the benefits from its robust engagement with universities.

As of now, nearly 40 university graduates have joined the firm.

“We have also arranged for internships with students. When they go back to their universities, they can share through word-of-mouth that Titansoft is an interesting employment option,” shares Lin.

Khor was one of several university interns who eventually became full-time employees at Titansoft.

Lin says Titansoft’s recruitment efforts are presently much more stable.

“The process is much smoother and the quality of our applicants increases every year,” he says.

Embedded training

With the software industry being a hotbed for innovation, Titansoft employees are awash with training and development options to stay ahead of the learning curve.

The company affords a plethora of training programmes for staff, ranging from in-house seminars to engaging external industry trainers to develop technical, management, and communication skills.

Training is also embedded in employees’ day-to-day duties.

For instance, the majority of staff work in pairs when undertaking coding assignments, with one employee engaged in coding and another observing their work.

“Speaking from a software engineering perspective, this is to reduce defects in coding. Secondly, observing how employees do their work allows them to learn further,” says Lin.

“Due to the confidentiality of our products, we cannot use our brand name to attract talents so we’re trying to create something unique, and this is through our training and development.”

Self-promotion

Empowerment is also personified in the development of employee career pathways.

The organisation offers staff its “self-promotion” concept, where employees can make a case as to why they think they deserve a promotion.

Twice a year in June and December, employees have the opportunity to recommend themselves.

Under pre-determined Skills and Knowledge Criteria, details such as the nominated employees’ technical competencies and the contributions they’ve made to the organisation thus far are all considered.

Titansoft’s HR department then collates the information and hands it over to a panel of technical experts.

Should employees pass the technical assessment, they subsequently move to a second-round panel interview, featuring an HR representative, the employee’s manager, a product owner, and two peers who have worked with the nominated candidates.

At the conclusion of each candidate’s interview, the panel then comes to a consensus as to whether they should be promoted – with each individual member having a powerful veto. As long as one doesn’t feel the candidate deserves the promotion, it will not be granted.

“The candidate’s peers can also support the manager to offer them a promotion. Everyone on the panel is of equal standing,” says, Joanna Zhan, HR Specialist in the Talent Engagement and Development Department of Titansoft.

Now in its second year, the self-promotion scheme has a 70% promotion success rate.

 “The company has a flexible quota on our job grade positions to take into account the possible promotions,” says Zhan.

“This initiative breeds a supportive environment where every employee helps each other to grow.”

For those who are unsuccessful in their bids, the company does not, as Zhan puts it, “leave them high and dry”.

Candidates are offered feedback as to why they have failed their assessment and are offered technical guidance from the organisation’s experts and managers to bridge their skills gap.

“We always encourage staff and advise them that failure is okay. We urge them to try again and apply for a promotion once they have become more competent in the required skillsets,” adds Zhan.

Read more about other SMEs striving to craft effective people practices in our SME Spotlight forum

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