4 aspects of company culture graduates should look out for

How does a company culture evolve to appeal to more Millennials? Ace Pointer, Certis, OpenGov, Shopee and Uniqlo share their workplace culture with graduates and how to advance in their career.
 Sarah Si Yan Ying
Sarah Si
Editor, gradsingapore

It goes without saying that different companies have different workplace cultures, best suited for the nature of their business.

Take Uniqlo for example. The clothing behemoth thinks like a small company and empowers employees to make their own decisions, while, on the other hand, automation giant General Electric (GE) keeps its hierarchy and stiff corporate culture – but never leaves it to stagnation.

Also read: How GE replaced a 40-year-old performance review system

But where loyalty and a strong work ethic may have resonated with generations past, making a difference with their jobs, a work-life balance and individual career advancement are the points of focus now, and companies are taking notice.

Also read: Millennials in the Workplace: Using Teamphoria to Attract, Engage and Retain Young Talent

Today, as most companies look to appeal to the rising number of Millennials in the workplace, more and more horizontal, flat company structures are coming to the fore and lifelong learning is within reach for employees at Certis. After all, as Jamie Gutfreund, Chief Strategy Officer for the Intelligence Group told Forbes, “No organisation can afford not to recruit the best talent.” 

Also read: What Millennials Want In The Workplace (And Why You Should Start Giving It To Them)

“We don’t compromise on hiring standards for the sake of scaling, or filling out the team,” Rahul Daswani, Head, People and Culture, Open Government Products, GovTech Singapore, agreed. 

Some companies are even initiating transformation processes, with Certis undergoing a paradigm shift in culture as recently as 2018. In fact, it helped the employees so much, the company is taking a re-look at its internal policies and re-thinking about how they work as a company.

“It has encouraged us to think beyond what has traditionally been done and made us more agile in our work,” employees at Certis, said.

All this, however, brings us to a range of questions: What cultures do different companies have? How may they affect you? What aspects of an organisation should you keep an eye out for? Read on to find out.

Lifelong learning

Crucial to career development, true of every employee, and certainly not unique to a single organisation, according to Tay, Certis encourages a learning culture, ensuring employees are well-trained and equipped with the skill sets to succeed.

“We recognise that our people are the drivers of our success, and much effort goes into engaging our employees. And this can be seen in the wide range of external and internal training courses offered by our in-house training institution,” Tay said.

“Employees are also given safe spaces to challenge established processes and provide constructive feedback for improvement, and use fast iterative methods to fail fast and learn fast.”

In tech up-and-comer Shopee, learning is a constant too, with Chester Liew, machine learning engineer, saying: “Shopee places me in a fast-paced environment where no two days are alike and there are plenty of opportunities to explore. I get to work closely with industry experts who have plenty of experience in their domains like Machine Learning and Computer Vision – the possibilities are endless here.”

“I learn interesting insights every day, professionally and personally,” Gao Wei, a Software Engineer also at Shopee, agreed.

4 aspects of company culture graduates should look out for, Shopee

In Shopee, employees learn from industry experts and each other, taking advantage of the endless possibilities this up-and-coming tech brand. Image credited to Shopee.

But ultimately, picking up new skills with your employer’s support doesn’t just aid you as an individual, whether as knowledge or an incentive to stay with a company – it allows your employer to prosper too, because your success is also the company’s success.

Openness

It’s impossible for one single individual to have the answer to everything, and, as OpenGov discovered, the best way to keep improving was to stay open with each other while making it part of the organisation’s culture. 

“This looks like everyone being open to asking for help and inputs from each other – putting our work up for review and comments by anyone on the team, asking each other for help and different points of view,” Daswani elaborated.

“We do what it takes to keep our culture alive in our processes too, and for example, everyone’s individual development plan is open for everyone else to read, production bugs in our projects leading to no-fault retrospectives shared with the larger team for everyone to learn, and more senior people being open to [constantly] repeating that their thoughts are just thoughts, and everyone is free to speak up and say otherwise.”

Ace Pointer keeps much the same culture as well, encouraging employees to work wherever they feel comfortable and sharing their ideas with co-workers around them.

“Every now and then you will spot an employee of ours in the office grabbing their laptop, bringing them into the common areas, and brainstorming on a bean bag,” Coey Pang, People and Culture Branding Specialist at Ace Pointer, revealed. “They show each other their ideas, give feedback, and help each other improve as well.

4 aspects of company culture graduates should look out for, Ace Pointer

Creativity and innovation don’t tend to be issues in Ace Pointer, especially when employees are encouraged to share their thoughts and ideas. Image credited to Ace Pointer.

Employees in Certis, on the other hand, openly support one another, helping others overcome challenges and problems faced at work, with co-workers commenting that colleagues are “especially generous with their sharing of their work experience and knowledge.”

Empowering employees

Before empowering employees, an employer has to put themselves in their shoes, and Ace Pointer seems to have taken that to heart.

“Sitting at a desk all day can take its toll, and not to mention, be extremely boring. And that’s why we make it a point to ensure our shared environment is not just bearable for everyone, but enjoyable,” Pang elucidated. “We empower our staff with decision-making, from deciding on places to eat together, building Legos, and what to do on our weekly Friday games day.

4 aspects of company culture graduates should look out for, Ace Pointer

Employees are empowered in Ace Pointer, from deciding on places to eat together, to what they want to do on games day. Image credited to Ace Pointer.

Employees in Ace Pointer not only became more vocal and engaged, they become more accountable, involved and receptive to change, which was, according to Pang, “Exactly what we need in a fast-paced, ever-evolving tech start-up.”

On the other hand, with a specific target of bringing in people with disabilities into stores, no vertical organisational structure and key information made known to employees, Uniqlo followed a very different route to empower their employees.

“We would like every employee to be involved in the business process, and we believe in the concept of “Zen-in keiei,” which simply means thinking like a business leader,” Siti Marina Abdul Alim, Talent Acquisition Assistant Manager at Uniqlo, divulged.

“In instances where decisions are to made quickly, our leaders should be there to help employees make good decisions and not to make the decisions for them. We also encourage direct communication to resolve issues or drive new initiatives, and each person considers the best way to approach the problem, while thinking about what can be done for the benefit for the customers and society.”

Giving autonomy

Empowering employees comes with giving them autonomy to impact the business by exploring, learning and improving with co-workers, and Shopee, as Christine Xu, Data Engineering Lead put it: “Our team is given the autonomy to ideate and build the date infrastructure from scratch.”

4 aspects of company culture graduates should look out for, Shopee

Empowering employees also means giving them autonomy, and in Shopee’s case, it allows employees to build their data infrastructure from the ground up. Image credited to Shopee.

OpenGov is however, known for giving employees an inordinate amount of autonomy and trust, resulting in higher productivity. 

“I am constantly thinking about direction, how to achieve it, and innovative ways of getting things done. That is alternated with focussed execution, where there is flexibility for me to work at different places, in different attire, at my own times,” Daswani admitted.

“There is so much more freedom to try something, and then iterate and improve it.”

Why it matters

At the end of the day, you will be spending most of your week, if not most of your life, working in an organisation. As such, it is far more beneficial to find a company culture you fit into well and are comfortable in. If you fit in, chances are, you will enjoy your time working there, cruising on the satisfaction your job gives you. If you don’t, you’ll not only be unhappy, you’d likely find yourself being far less efficient as well.