Learn about Business Organization
The following is an excerpt from The 50: HR Leaders Reimagining the Filipino Organization. Authored by Paulo Abadilla, this chapter is titled, “The Organization is a System.” In it, Yves Sy, the Associate Vice President of Technical Operations and Regional Head of Freelancer.com, is interviewed about how the organization executes its strategy in analyzing the effectiveness of different business practices.
A Business Organization is a Work-In-Progress
Freelancer.com’s Yves Sy may strike some as an odd choice for Associate Vice President of Technical Operations and Regional Head. After all, he graduated with a Bachelor's degree in Computer Science from the University of Philippines-Manila. His prior job experience certainly reflected on his educational background as well, as he was Senior Java Developer/Architect for ValueCommerce, Senior Software Architect for Mobile Travel Technologies, and Head of Solutions Architecture and Software Development Manager for Bodog Nation before initially becoming Director of Engineering for Freelancer's Manila office. By anyone’s standards, his move to an HR-leaning role is certainly the career shift.
Yet that isn’t a reason to count him out. According to Sy, this unique background enables him to see things in a different light. “I see the organization as a system,” he said.
This is demonstrated in a number of his practices and methods. For instance, he cross-trains teams in other countries to build redundancies for his team in Manila. If the withdrawal team shuts off at any moment, the corresponding back-up team abroad can get to work in as little as a few minutes. They even use the concept of Service Level Objectives, another Systems Engineering principle, to ensure that the operations team’s performance level is constantly monitored. Automated alerts are even put in place in case of a breach. After all, any engineer worth their salt puts contingencies in place to ensure that the system works just as intended.
He even applies this methodical approach to HR to interacting with staff. Compared to others in a similar position, his priorities are very much different. “Rather than simply asking about work, my goal is to build rapport among staff,” he said. However, he acknowledged that this isn’t a process that happens overnight. To this end, he has a planned-out schedule where he spends nearly half his weeks with one-on-one discussions with staff.
Various people, such as the head of talent acquisition, report to him in this manner, and this is a practice that he tries to encourage company-wide. In the discussions proper, he asks them general questions about their days. “Before moving on to work-related topics eventually, for example: if someone had a dog that was sick, I would ask for updates on the dog’s condition. If I spoke to that person again, the week after, I would ask him about his dog again,” Sy said. These meetings simultaneously build a connection between manager and employer, while allowing the manager to be on the lookout for anything that could possibly affect work: hitting a proverbial two birds with one stone.
This is not to say that he is cold and mathematical in this regard; he’s actually far from it. He knows the people under his employ are smart, with Freelancer generally seeking out hires from top universities. “We try to be as authentic as possible, because smart people can sense inauthenticity,” he said. He also understands that the key to building rapport and trust in these sessions is showing his workers that he has their best interests in mind. Tackling things efficiently doesn’t necessarily mean doing so apathetically. At the same time, he states that he can be firm when needed. Balancing empathy and firmness is an invaluable skill for any HR leader that wants to get the most out of the staff under their employ.
Talent development is another part of this “system” that Sy has built for Freelancer.com. He created an incubation program for developing future engineering leaders. Potential leaders are identified and provided a series of training and mentoring. This practice has now also carried over to other functions in Freelancer such as product management.
“The worst thing for an engineer is when he has spent one or two years and he realizes he hasn't grown at all, career-wise. That’s a ticket out of the company. You always need to be teaching them,” he said. This belief extends far beyond just the field of engineering. It was found that one-third of workers leave their jobs mainly because they are bored, and they seek a new challenge. Having them constantly developing their skills remedies this by giving them a sense of progression and investment in their craft.
Sy’s screening and interviewing process has the same meticulous planning and care put into each detail. He has developed the interview process to be a stronger reflection of the company culture, wanting to hire those whose beliefs and approaches align with those of Freelancer.
For example, when looking at internal promotions he makes sure that they would be the best possible reflection of the company before anything else. “I like to ask myself ‘is this person political?’ or ‘does this person reflect our company values?’” he explained, “People look up to people you promote, so it's important that you promote the right people.”
Potential hires for Freelancer.com also have to show that they can make good, data-informed decisions. This is significant considering that being data-driven is one of the company’s core values. Thus, candidates are asked how they make their case when in disagreement with their supervisor. The answer they’d be looking for is that they provided solid data to bolster their case; anything else would be insufficient.
This system that Sy built has noticeably improved their hiring standards, allowing them to properly filter the kind of candidates that they are really looking for who are aligned to company values and believe in Freelancer’s mission. He recounted that before it was in place, there were some cases of junior employees even interviewing seniors, which did not make a lot of sense. The process was done on an ad hoc basis.
Sy is a shining example of how business is not a one-way street. Though his background in engineering and computer science initially limited his career opportunities to just software development or web architecture, he gradually moved up the ranks in his field before reaching the leadership level, which more broadly encompasses HR. When he got to this position successfully, he carried over the methodology and system-of-thought from his educational background so that he could apply to a different field.
By viewing the organization as a system, he optimized the processes through which hires were evaluated, and rapport between workers was formed. The effectiveness of his practices speaks for itself. Under his watchful eye, Freelancer.com has become the world’s largest freelancing and crowdsourcing marketplace, in terms of jobs and users posted―hitting more than 45 million users, across 247 countries. Many notable companies have also made use of the site’s services, including (but not limited to) NASA, Microsoft, Intel, PWC and MetLife.
To get more insights from other HR leaders like Yves Sy, please check out the full book, available for purchase here.
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