You learn to know the pulse of your industry, to stay ahead: Will Fan, NewCampus
Will is the co-founder and CEO at NewCampus. Prior to founding NewCampus, he was a debt capital analyst at Nomura and a management consultant at Accenture. He also previously co-founded an edtech, QLC. He is a member of Forbes Business Council and was previously awarded Forbes China’s 30 under 30 (Education) in 2017. His passions lie in writing on the future of work and learning, speaking and lecturing on scaling culture at hypergrowth organizations, and occasionally illustrating for the world of NFTs. In this exclusive interaction, Fan not only sheds light on the ways hypergrowth is manifesting in the business world at large but also about the impact of learning in this background. It’s developing people skills that allows an organization to scale in a sustainable way which ensuring that learning becomes more creative and accessible.
Here are some excerpts.
With building a sustainable learning culture becoming one of the top priorities of leaders, what are some of the challenges that need to be accounted for?
In Southeast Asia, the landscape is still evolving. Often, HR teams, L&D leaders and people leaders in hypergrowth environments are still in the process of finding their footing, moving away from back office compliance to actually spearheading culture and change. We're seeing this in emerging markets and emerging industries, and that's closely evolving in 2022. Most business leaders in our region aren’t thinking about a 'sustainable' learning culture, because they’re still figuring out how to have a learning culture to start off with.
Having worked with hundreds of business leaders across the region, at NewCampus we’ve seen that they have a really strong growth mindset, are often personally very curious and they're learning different things in different ways, whether it's through their own readings or through, having a pragmatic approach all the way to being activist and getting their hands dirty.
So when we talk about 'building a learning culture', we should revisit the idea of what learning looks like for different team members. For traditional corporate institutions, there’s a clear tactical / technical pathway to devote one’s career to e.g. in finance, there’s a 10 year road map of doing a CPA, studying for your Masters of Finance and so on. But in the world of hypergrowth and scale ups, there's no formula, there's no playbook. There lies the challenge.
Firstly, the leaders themselves are becoming more open minded in how they're learning. It's no longer just industry-specific nor skill-specific, but having an "all-rounder approach". In the case of this year, it could be "the future of Web3", "the future of arts", "the future of culture in Gen Z". So the leaders that we work with are applying more of this 360-degree approach to themselves learning, and that influences their team members.
The first step for these leaders is that there's no pathway to learn. They need to create their own thesis and empower their team members to have an open mind in how they're learning and evolving.
Having set up NewCampus across multiple geographies, what are some of the differences and commonalities you witnessed when setting up learning programs? How do cultural environments impact organizational learning?
NewCampus is targeting the fragmented world of Southeast Asia, but there's actually a lot of commonalities in hypergrowth companies, especially because they are spread across organizations and geographies. For example, GoJek’s team is spread across Singapore, Indonesia and Thailand. It’s very interesting from our perspective, looking at the concept of leadership development and management training whether it’s speaking in Thai or Bahasa or in their respective local dialects.
One of the biggest challenges and gaps right now is management development, which is traditionally outdated, expensive and inaccessible. We also believe the delivery model doesn't iterate and serve for the fast-paced nature of a hypergrowth company. If you suddenly move from an individual contributor to a leader of 10 in less than 18 months, you don't have time to do a 2-year degree.
This creates an opportunity for us to sync up on how these young leaders are thinking. We're seeing this in our cross-border global programs, with managers that come from Indonesia, from Vietnam and Thailand, from Singapore, from Australia, all sharing the same problems as a first-time leader (albeit coming from a different background coming from a different industry). What that allows us to do is to sort of 'defrag' the market, by highlighting that we have less differences and share more in common than we think. It's a matter of how you harness their stories. With the pandemic and us going to 2022 and companies becoming more open to distributed working, it's become a really seamless fit for us to play.
What are some of the learning trends that are bound to make an impact on corporate learning programs? Of these, which are the ones you’re most excited about?
What we're incredibly excited about is that learning behaviour is actually going back to the hands of the learner. In corporate environments which we used to work with, it was prescribed by HR and/ or upper management. But now we're seeing younger companies embrace more of an open mind to how people are learning. This is not just part of them doing their job, but how can you retain and create joy and fulfillment in developing someone's journey?
This also ties into the lifecycle of an employee in 2020 onwards. Often we're seeing honest conversations of the 'tour of duty'. How do you have that conversation where someone can be doing their best in an agreed certain time? Also, how do you provide them with the right type of equipment and tools to excel? Sometimes it's not just training to become upper management, but simply doing this role really well until the next inflection point of the business.
One of the central questions in developing personal and professional learning journeys within the workspace has to do with impact. What would be your advice in developing a culture of learning accountability where the learnings are acted upon and transferred onto other team members as well ?
The clichéd answer is that it's a danger if you stop learning and in the hypergrowth world, that is accelerated 100x. If you're not pivoting, keeping a finger on the pulse of your industry and how your clients and users think, you'll eventually be squeezed out and become irrelevant.
I mentioned above about learning as part of that mechanism to stay ahead: it’s also learning to keep your finger on the pulse. Most of the time that pulse is outside of your industry, outside of your field, outside of your team and your function.
We're seeing a lot of overlap in personal and professional integration. Teams that we talk to in Philippines, in Vietnam, the business leaders are not just saying, "Hey, this is my role and this is my company and my personal life is separate", It's actually quite integrated. One specific example is a Head of People that we work with, she runs a side hustle as a lawyer. She's the Head of People for a really large HR BPO platform in the Philippines and she also does creative work on the side.
Impact comes from about melding your interests, your passion, your volunteering into what you're currently doing at work. I think that allows you to not really treat it as accountable i.e. "Have you studied this? Have you completed this program?" But when you’re intrinsically motivated to embrace that, it becomes a fuel versus a. 'ticking the box'. When we work with business leaders that genuinely care about pushing their team forward, it's not just about them clocking in 9 to 6. But how do you actually integrate your life into work and learning into your life.
As organisations develop learning strategies with an increasingly futuristic outlook, what are some of the important skills that will continue to be relevant in the future?
At NewCampus, we're really serving the middle management layer. On average, a person becomes a manager when they're 30 years old, in Southeast Asia, it's even younger. But someone gets official development when they're 40s. So you have an entire decade of the blind leading the blind. Why that's incredibly scary is you have innovative companies that are the bedrock of industries emerging. They've exploded from 100 to 500 to 2000 to 5000 people. And so we see the management gap as an impending comet.
Business leaders also recognise this and have been looking at ways to circumvent this by empowering senior executives to coach and develop. They've been doing a lot of lunch n' learns, brown bags, working with partners like us, and so on. But it's not so much the technical skills that they're looking at now, it's about developing people skills, the softer skills, that allows an organization to scale in a sustainable way.
One of the common workplace trends cited by all organizations, C-suite and HR leaders is the enduring presence of the hybrid working model. How can learning programs be innovated to accommodate the remote and hybrid work teams?
The hybrid working model is here to stay. We've already seen the first wave of people leaving in early 2021 and we’re expecting the same wave in 2022. One key area now is how to retain high performers when as a distributed industry and ecosystem, anyone can work remotely, arbitrage salaries and live meaningful, integrated lives. Learning has an important role to play in this story because, "X amount of millennials" cite that why they would stay in an organisation is the training and growth opportunities.
There's a few ways you can grow. One is through network, two is through learning and three is through experience and exposure. We’re seeing earning becoming more integral into the lifestyle of an organisation, both from a retention and growth perspective.
With the possibilities of business and digital disruption knocking on our doors, how can learning initiatives help the workforce change the rules of the game and achieve business success?
Digital disruption is not ‘knocking on our doors’, it's already a tornado wiping out businesses that aren't digitally savvy. Even the most historical businesses, churches, have all gone online to do mass on Sundays. The way that we are delivering learning can be a lot more creative and accessible, especially when you can significantly reduce the cost of access both in price and by time.
One thing that we're very intentional about with B2B training vs B2C learning development is B2C is inherently biassed to those that can pay. Even if you reduce the cost to 1%, there's always going to be someone with a mortgage and a family to feed vs someone that lives at home or has a well-off family. That’s why B2B is an opportunity to look at equality, helping the learners, therefore helping the organisation. It’s actually in the power of the organisation to have that honest conversation and bridge that accessibility to the end-learner. Instead of thinking about learning initiatives, how might organisations provide equal access to those that otherwise wouldn't have thought of it?
From your years of experience in the field of learning and development, what are some insights you would like to share on re-imagining the learning experience?
We’re part of the frontier of re-imagining learning right now. If you look at the first wave of learning, it's LMS for physical. Think of your MOOCs, your Udemys, your Blackboards, which supported traditional training. The next tier is your content providers, which has done its job in making content accessible. But the third is, how you actually bridge a physical learning environment digitally.
Thinking of techniques, utilizing new technologies, new ways of users interacting on the web, how do you utilize their time now that it’s spent disproportionately at home? How do you capture those moments that you otherwise wouldn’t have captured pre-COVID and pre-2021 when people really didn't accept change?