Interview with Tiong Yeow Tan

Tiong Yeow Tan is a Senior Consultant in Singapore. Tiong Yeow has packed an enormous lot into his life already, and we can’t wait to see what the rest of his life’s journey has in store. Read his story here.

Q: Hi Tiong Yeow, thanks for speaking with us. We are really excited to hear your story, but first, how are you coping with COVID-19 in Singapore? Are you and your friends and family well?

A: Thank you for asking. The situation in Singapore is relatively stable. We are no longer under lockdown and able to go out for dinners and movies. We still need to wear a mask outdoors (except for exercising) and we can only gather in groups of five maximum.

Fortunately, my family and most of my friends have been safe and coping well with the global pandemic. Business definitely has taken a hit for some, particularly those in the travel and tourism industry. Things will hopefully get better as the world recovers from it.

Q: I also want to congratulate you on recently completing your MBA, while working for us! How did you manage that?

A: Thank you for the congratulations! I started my MBA journey shortly after I joined Adaptovate close to two years ago. It was before COVID times and I was travelling about 90% of my time. I fondly remember those days when I would fly out on a Sunday night and land back in Singapore on a Thursday night. Gosh I do miss those travelling days.

Anyway, luckily for me, I joined Quantic School of Business and Technology for the MBA and it was an entirely digital experience where I could take my lessons on their digital platform and paired up with students all around the world for projects. We leverage tools like Slack and Zoom for communication and video conferencing (that was even before Zoom became the norm for many).

We even had our presentation done using a virtual proctor where we had to turn on the camera and show the proctor a tour of the room before we can begin! Having come from a psychology educational background, the MBA equipped me with the business concepts ranging from financial reporting to operation management.

This definitely will help me to better understand the business perspectives of clients and how we can leverage agile ways of working to uplift their business outcomes.

Q: So, you’ve been with ADAPTOVATE now for almost two years, and prior with Deloitte. Of course in Singapore you would have done your couple of years in the armed service. What was your role? Did your role in that impact or influence how you are now?

A: Like every Singaporean son, I had done two years of national service with the armed forces in Singapore. My role was a Platoon Sergeant and a Guard Commander in the Republic of Singapore Navy, overseeing the defence of our Changi Navy Base from both land and sea threats.

My main role was to deploy a platoon of over 60 men to the various defence stations in the base to safeguard our naval assets and ensure no security lapses. During my stint, I learnt a lot about leadership and people management. I would say the experience has played a big part in shaping the kind of leader that I want to be. Taking on the leadership role also pushed me out of my comfort zone and instilled confidence in me to become more outspoken and vocal in relating to people.

Q: I know that you spent time at Bifrost University. How did that come about, and why did you do it? What did you take away from the experience?

A: I went to Bifrost University in Iceland for my exchange programme during my college days. Initially my mind was actually set to head for Taiwan as I speak their language (both Mandarin and a bit of their dialect). Plus, living was affordable there as well.

However, I stumbled upon the opportunity in Bifrost University in Iceland and thought that would be an amazing opposite experience than in Singapore. For Iceland, there are only about 300,000 people in a landmass of 103,000km2 compared to Singapore’s 5 million people in a landmass of 722km2! Also, in terms of physical environment wise, Iceland is like an Arctic jungle while Singapore is an urban jungle.

Eventually, I decided to go for Iceland as it would be eye opening for me to experience the polar opposite (no pun intended) of Singapore. It was indeed a blessing that I was able to catch the spectacular northern lights there, as well as experience a short 4-hour daylight in winter during my time there.

Q: Looks like you have been to quite a number of countries! As mentioned, you had also been travelling quite a fair bit before the pandemic. What would you say is the main challenge in working with people from different countries and cultures in your line of work?

A: I would say the main challenge in working with people from different countries and cultures is the differences in the way of communication with them. Depending on the cultures, some might be high-context cultures where they rely more on non-verbal communication using elements such as the closeness of their relationships, strict social hierarchies, and deep cultural knowledge to convey meaning.

In contrast for low-context cultures, more direct verbal communication is prevalent, and hierarchies are more relaxed.

Other non-verbal communications such as gestures might mean differently in different cultures. For example, putting your hands together is a form of respect in Thai greetings whereas it is seemed as offensive in Japanese culture (as it is commonly regarded as paying respect to the dead).

It is paramount to understand these cultural subtleties not only to avoid accidentally offending people but also for more effective communication.

Q: You also majored in Psychology at Singapore Management University. How has psychology helped you in consulting? Do you think it’s an important aspect of consulting, understanding human behaviour?

A: I would say the study of psychology allows me to understand why people think, feel, and behave in a certain way. More importantly, it opened my eyes up to inherent bias that we all might have. For example, due to the status quo bias, most people detest change and therefore, we try to illustrate the benefits of change to these people.

However, as losses loom larger than gains (Kahneman & Tversky, 1979) due to loss aversion, as consultants, we also need to frame the change as a move to not only gaining a competitive advantage over others but more of prevent losing out to others who did engage in similar change or transformation.

One other lesson that I have learnt from the study of psychology is that people are not logical, contrary to expectation, and I have experienced that firsthand a couple of times in my career (with clients and team members). Hence, what we really need is to be empathetic to people and take the time to understand their concerns in order to truly support them in the transformation.

Q: How is Singapore business shaping up post pandemic? I notice that the Singapore office of ADAPTOVATE is hiring, so at least for ADAPTOVATE we are working hard to help businesses!

A: Business is picking up in Singapore. From the global pandemic, we have experienced how ever more important it is to be agile and be able to pivot and adapt quickly in these uncertain times. One moment we were all happily flying around the world and the next we know the pandemic hits, and we all must adapt very quickly to working from home.

Instead of an adversity, we at Adaptovate see it as an opportunity to leverage agile ways of working to support clients to work adaptably and effectively in these challenging times. We at Adaptovate Singapore are also always actively looking for new talent to join our team.

Our talent scouts are happy to have a chat with you if you are interested:

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