CREATING a conducive work environment is not only about providing good facilities and flexible working hours. It is also about cultivating good relationships and enabling a learning environment that will help your employees grow and progress in life.
This will lead to stronger teams and greater teamwork and, ultimately, help build a company, says PKT Logistics Group chief executive officer and managing director Datuk Michael Tio.
Having a good relationship with your team also makes it easier to retain them, he adds.
“If your management team keeps changing, the downline will also be unstable. It is important to know how to retain your employees. Mentoring will come in very useful.
“I’m close to my top management. We are like brothers. We don’t just take care of the business, we take care of each other,” he shares.
Notably, good working relationships are not made overnight. At PKT, they are built over “holidays” together.
Every year, Tio takes his management team on retreats. These management retreats are not just a time to discuss predicaments within the company but also a time to bond.
“During these trips, we gel. We get to know about each other’s personality and we open up to each other. We share our problems with one another. So they are not just my employees, but also my friends,” he says.
Tio’s strategy to cultivate positive relationships at work is taken from the playbook of Oriental Holdings Bhd ’s Datuk Robert Wong.
Tio had been invited to come along Wong’s management retreat and was bowled over by the treatment the team received.
“I observed him and his wife, Datin Loh Ean. And they were serving the employees. And he will serve everyone first. We were stunned.
“This was a lesson I learned. So we followed him. He taught me how to get the team together,” he reveals.
Tio started his own management retreat around 2001.
He came up with the plans and made all the arrangements. He saw it as a time to serve and appreciate his team for the hard work they’ve put into building the company.
He also makes it a point to get his team to switch roommates every night on these trips so that they get to know everyone on the team.
Over time, Tio learned the value of spending time with his team and to lead by example.
“As a CEO, if you don’t want to pick up rubbish or can’t even stand in queue, then there is no leadership there. It’s only a boss talking-down and giving instructions to his workers. How will your team imagine or know what to do next if you don’t show them?” Tio says.
Long-serving employees appreciate Tio’s efforts to set a new culture at the logistics company which encourages a strong bond among its workers.
“PKT is like a family. That’s what makes it different from other companies,” says PKT chief technical officer and director of trade compliance M. Balakrishnan
The 58-year-old has been in the company for over 40 years, rising up the ranks from a despatch boy. He is also among the pioneer batch that joined Tio on his first management retreat.
“We found that we interacted a lot at the retreat. It helps to build the bond with other people in the office. I think it helped me understand my colleagues better as friends. And that helps us perform collectively,” he says.
Balakrishnan also picked up a few lessons of his own from Tio.
“Even though I am a lot older and have the technical knowledge, Tio is a fast learner. He will learn from us, improvise, and then teach us back.
“If there is one thing I learned from him, it is that he walks his talk. Whatever he promised, he will do. So, whatever we promise, we also should do,” he says.
Similarly, director of freight forwarding Tan Seng Soon notes the significance of having a good working relationship with one’s colleagues and how the retreats have helped the team bond.
“What is most important in a company is to be able to work together as a team. And these retreats are the few days that we can spend with each other to talk about how we can make things better at the company.
“It is also a good time to bond. With over 20 people in top management and all of us in different locations, we communicate throughout the year but we don’t necessarily meet each other. So this is a good time to catch up.
“These trips are also about teamwork. When the company gets bigger, the team also gets bigger and you need teamwork to be able to move the company ahead.
“We want to work as a family. We want to make sure that we take care of each other. Being family is different from just being friends and colleagues. This is what we want to build,” says Tan.
While Tio focuses on building his top management team, he is confident that the nurturing and mentorship also trickles down to the rest of the organisation. This ensures a conducive environment for the whole company.
Tio says business owners tend to forget that their employees are their greatest asset. Employers often take for granted that they have compensated their workers enough by giving them a salary and some bonus.
“Ask yourself, who made the money for you? It is the employees. And what did they get from helping you make money? They get a salary. But you are enjoying the benefits. That’s not right.
“Money is not everything in life. Your employees also want to enjoy life,” he says.
Share the benefits, he says. If he is enjoying his time travelling, Tio doesn’t see why his employees should not enjoy the same.
After all, he believes that a team that travels together, stays together.