From a background in finance and investment banking to setting up her own recruitment firm, Monica Oudang has done it all. However, what brought her into her current role as the CHRO of one of Indonesia’s fastest-growing tech startups was the passion to do something she really enjoyed- understanding and interacting with people.
That’s what set her in the direction of founding her own recruitment firm to help serve SMEs initially and then corporate clients. And ultimately leading to her joining GO-JEK in 2015 as the CHRO.
In an exclusive interaction with People Matters, Monica speaks about the challenges of finding the right talent in Indonesia and how GO-JEK has stayed true to its core philosophy of speed, innovation, and social impact.
How has the GO-JEK journey been to date? What has your hiring strategy been for the fast-growing startup?
When I first started helping out GO-JEK in 2014, we were probably a 100 people including the call centre. Today with all our subsidiaries and our international presence, we are close to 5,000 people. Apart from our employees, we have 1.3 Mn drivers and over 280,000 food merchants and a little over 70,000 other partners on our platform.
Our growth has been exponential- we started with 3 services when we first launched our app, now we are at 20. We have transformed from being a ride-sharing app to a platform with 20 other services on it. Thus, on the hiring front, we needed to be as agile as possible to follow the business needs and be very creative in terms of finding talent for our organization.
The challenge with hyper-growth is the number of positions that constantly open up and how we can fill these positions quickly yet with the right people for our organization.
Hiring for culture fit as well as skill becomes as much an art as it is a science. Empowering others to help hire becomes the key to success in the initial stage to get as many people in the door. Minimal process with the right criteria becomes important to have. As you move towards a more mature organization, this is where the emphasis on criteria to determine who we are as an organization becomes crucial to have.
What are some of the talent challenges you have seen as an organization in Indonesia?
Indonesia is experiencing rapid growth in the number of startups founded and funded. Well-known Silicon Valley VCs are turning their attention to Indonesia. Thus, the pool of seasoned engineering talent is highly sought after, and you find yourself in the middle of a quietly fought, yet dignified talent war with the rest of the startups.
Having diverse products as we do, we are effectively hiring talent for 20 different companies. This is another big challenge we face.
Experienced talent is in short supply locally and taking our younger workforce through their journey of growth takes time. This is the one thing that is always in short supply, time. Therefore, we opt for a strategy where we bring in external talent. Early on we acquired two software development companies in Bengaluru, India and through this, we formed our first engineering center. Since then, we have also expanded to Singapore where we have grown our data science team. This model has proven to work for us and also serves to accelerate our collective growth and experience as the teams work closely with each other.
To rapidly develop the talent pool locally, we founded GO ACADEMY. As the name suggests, we scout out and induct the newer workforce from the STEM fields in through GO ACADEMY where they receive training and guidance. Through intensive, and well-structured programs, we infuse the culture of what it is like to work in a fast paced, high growth startup. This is a scholarship program that admits up to 40 candidates per batch and we groom them for introduction to the GO-JEK family.
What is the culture you are propagating at GO-JEK?
GO-JEK as a company is found on the philosophy of speed, innovation, and social impact.
If I look back on our time since we launched our mobile app 4 years ago, GO-JEK is not the same company it once was. Our culture has gone through an evolution, but we have remained true to our philosophy. The DNA that governs our behaviors have remained consistent with our core despite the different stages that the org has gone through.
We value speed at our core because the landscape for our business is unforgiving in its need for fast product launches, fast apps, and fast service. Speed to deliver was important but as we grow, we have learned to accept that in order to prioritize speed we have to evolve our approach to work and deprioritize other areas of the next stage of our transformation. It is no longer enough to only be fast, but we need to strive to ensure that we achieve accuracy and quality as well.
On the innovation front, the beginnings of this tenet were being first to market. First to market with innovative products was a key strategy to dominating in Indonesia. Our focus on innovation has now shifted with the focus being more towards our people. Innovating ways to foster a safe psychological working environment where our people can play, learn, grow, and be challenged.
Social impact has been the core reason why GO-JEK was founded. Even though we started with the intent to improve the socio-economic standing of the Indonesian people, we have been continuously surprised at how our drive for social impact has permeated and grown organically be it among our partners showing solidarity and fiercely guarding our brand, or in situations where being part of GO-JEK has inspired action that goes above and beyond. We strive to instill this in our employees by discussing the value of collaboration and communicating with purpose. Being surrounded by these small examples of social impact has definitely influenced our culture.
Many of your employees are gig economy workers. So how do you ensure the culture percolates to every level and engage with these employees?
I always believe that culture is top down. It is always driven by the leader.
There is no secret to this in my opinion. The founding team has held culture closest to their hearts from the beginning. The leaders will sometimes agonize over cultural decisions as much as they do business or product decisions. On occasions too numerous to count, Nadiem and I have had discussions regarding culture, the well-being of people, and the harmonious growth of the organization. His capacity to live and embody the three basic principles have been instrumental in influencing the organization as a whole. We firmly believe in leading by example and this is a good example of doing so.
As we further expand into different markets and open offices in Singapore, Vietnam, and Thailand I am keen to understand and develop these principles for them as well. We will need to study this further, but I am confident that bringing in the right leaders helps to keep the culture alive.
What are some of the values you will look for in a prospective hire while hiring for GO-JEK?
Our default setting at GO-JEK is embracing uncertainty. Thus, we look for people that would survive and thrive in a setting where the pace is fast and not always written down because you’re actually the trailblazer! They need to be naturally very curious and able to switch direction and momentum fast, in other words, agile. Every day we’re breaking new ground in our field and so we don’t have it all neatly mapped out or written down, so we gauge people to see if they can embrace this challenge or will drown in the confusion. You can’t embrace uncertainty without collaborating well, and this is also a quality that I look for in people.
As change is a continuous process at GO-JEK, how do you ensure smooth change management and make sure the top and the bottom are connected?
Through our hyper-growth, one thing that GO-JEK has learned is that change management and connection can only be achieved through a clear structure, accountability, and most importantly communication. Through it all, I find that communication is the key element in smoothing out some of the rough edges.
Communicating well to me is a two-way street. When I say communication, I don’t mean that the organization communicates and everyone else listens. That is a sure way to have dissatisfied people.
We foster good communication within the team, but we also provide a space and a forum for people to express what they have as concerns, either collectively or individually.
When you work with a young and dynamic workforce as we do, you want to be able to capture input from everywhere. We strive as much as possible to ensure that this two-way dialogue remains strong. I would not be truthful if I didn’t say that you cannot make everyone happy all the time, but we go the extra distance to ensure that we give every one of our people a voice and record their input and explain to them why a certain change can or cannot be made at a given moment. It is important that the people also understand the challenges that the leadership faces and this dialogue does well in achieving this.
When it comes to managing employees and structuring their growth path, what steps do you take? Is retention a huge challenge for you given the nature of the ecommerce industry?
Employee growth is something that sits very close to the heart of every leader at GO-JEK. Keep in mind though that we are a fairly new company fighting the speed and innovation battle in a market that is constantly demanding more speed, more accuracy, and better service. Hence, the first half of our life we focused more on building the team to ensure we can deliver to the demands of the market.
The next half we spent setting up the infrastructure for improvement and growth of our employees. Starting with 360-degree assessment of the individual to help him understand himself from the eyes of the others down to specialized functional and product-based career development tracks. We still have a long way to go, as we are formalizing our career development programs as we move to a more mature state as a startup.
Retention is a reflection of many areas of an organization. You’re bound to see some attrition due to the nature of how our business is and how fast things move. Yet, if I compare this to industry standards, we are on par with similar industries. Some people may not be able to evolve to keep pace with the business and it is only natural that they decide to move on. For us, we want to always ensure that we have the right people for the organization at its particular stage. Thus, change is something that we embrace as a good thing.
With the huge influx of technology, how are you looking at the future of work at GO-JEK? What HR technologies have you adopted?
In my opinion, GOJEK is very fortunate to be alive in this era of data availability and technology. Adoption of technology for us isn’t ever a problem, we are attuned to using technology in all areas of our work. This is in our DNA and being data-driven is one of our values that we hold dear.
As we stress on the data driven component in all aspects of our business, we see a shift in mindset to adopt technology to help with this. As a result, for us, the benefits of using technology to help us gather data, structure better, analyze deeper and streamline work is very apparent.
We don’t ever need to sell technology adoption hard to our teams because they see the inherent value in it.
In HR we are no different. We have adopted a technology-based approach to help us record, assess, grow, and appreciate our employees. We have systems and tools in place for our multiple streams, recruitment, performance and even our learning and development. We are developing our people analytics capability to further understand our people better and driving HR to make decisions based on data. You quickly see how our HR team has evolved to proactively measure and analyze people. Adopting more of a product team mindset when it comes to our people.
For someone looking to work at GO-JEK, what will be your advice?
Don’t stop learning, always be curious, and develop leadership and grit.
My firm belief is that the key to GO-JEK’s organizational success is producing better leaders. Leaders set the culture and good culture creates a virtuous cycle in further creating better leaders. I believe our culture is a key factor in our success thus far. It should never be neglected and has to grow to keep pace with the organization.
In a world where we begin to see more and more sensitivity, we must learn to filter out what our core beliefs are. Working at GOJEK means that in some cases you will be disappointed, have setbacks and question your motivation. My advice to you is to develop grit and perseverance. Those that have grit are the ones that not only survive but thrive in our organization. It isn’t for everyone but if you can make it at GOJEK you will be rewarded not only for your work but have a rewarding life experience where you learn as much about business and technology as you do about yourself.
Meet speakers from Go-JEK at TechHR Singapore on 28th February, 2019 at Marina Bay Sands, Singapore. Click here to register.