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8 Career and Culture Insights from DBS HR Managing Director

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A while ago, I had the pleasure of speaking to Laurence Smith, Global Best Selling Author of ‘Transformation Mindset‘ and Award-winning leader of Digital Mindset, Innovation Culture & Transformation. This Chief Talent & Learning Officer (CLO) hails from the South of England and has always been passionate about Personal Development, Technology and Organisational Learning.

At the time of our conversation, he was the Managing Director HR, Group Head of Learning & Talent Development of DBS Bank. Since then, he has been the Global Head of Digital Transformation at, Chief People Officer at Eradah Capital, and is now the Head of Digital Asia at PictureWealth, a Financial Services Firm.

Laurence Smith
Head of Digital Asia, PictureWealth

“Choose the role you could learn the most and make the most difference. Ask yourself what excites you the most and when you most often find yourself in that sweet spot called flow.”

During the ‘Meet LinkedIn Power Profiles’ dialogue with the National Trade Union Congress (NTUC) that I had attended a couple of years ago, Smith shared some of his experiences with a small group of professionals coming from a myriad of industries. Below is a collection of quotes and notes taken during the evening discussion. I’ve compiled it into 8 pieces of insights from Smith which is useful to people in every stage of their career journey today, from job-seekers to CEOs. Here are the steps covered in his advice:

1. Choosing Your Job – Passion vs Salary

On career path and focusing on your passion, Smith commented that there were times where there were more attractive opportunities offered in fields outside of HR but Smith stuck to his guts and positioning as a professional.

He said, “I haven’t always taken the best paying job or move to the country that makes most sense. But I’ve always pursued my passion and choose roles which I feel I would gain most emotional satisfaction.”

“Choose the role you could learn the most and make the most difference. Ask yourself what excites you the most and when you most often find yourself in that sweet spot called flow.”

2. Side Hustles – To do or not to do

Next, he talked about the choice to undertake side projects and to be assertive. Smith joined McKinsey in North America as a senior associate after brief stints in Seoul and The World Bank. The role accepts mostly Ivy League MBA graduates who join as associates.

Smith states that he managed to speak to the team at McKinsey due to a consulting project he undertook with The World Bank as a graduate student. He sent an email to reach out to his contact in McKinsey after reading on an article his contact published. He was able to impress his contact and hiring executives with the relevant knowledge to the specific role based on the 7-month project he worked on at The World Bank and justify a higher salary.

3. Getting Your Dream Job – 3 Tricks

On working for your dream company, Smith mentioned that:

  • Trick 1: doing research is necessary but
  • Trick 2: he also leverages on his networks to land the job.

Smith would target events where staff of the specific company would be giving talks and then make contact with them. He would also tap on to common connections with the hiring executive and ask his contacts to drop a quick note to the hiring executive stating what they thought about him.

By the time he does the interview with the hiring executive, they would have heard about him from trusted sources and he would have learned about the hiring executive and the common interests he shares with the hiring executive.

He also asked this same question to interviewers at the end of every job interview he attended:

  • Trick 3: “Am I the man for the job? If not, what are your reservations?”

4. After Getting A Job/Offer – 4 Killer Tips

His genuine advice for young white collar professionals is that,

  1. The more options you have, the more confident you are (at a job interview).
    He believed that one shouldn’t just bank everything on one company during a job search. Confidence increases when you feel like you have more options which comes from applying to more companies, and this in turn betters your performance during the interviews.
  2. Don’t get beholden to a company.
    Smith recalls his tenure at LG Electronics in one of the best performing teams he has worked with where he eventually had to leave when there was a change in CEO and management direction. Many a time, you don’t get to decide how long you stay in a company and this is more true than ever with the unpredictability COVID-19 has brought. Hence, it’s important we never get too attached and are okay with a change of environment which more often than not, helps in our growth.
  3. Don’t be negative, gossip or speak crap. It doesn’t reflect well on you.
    This one is self-explanatory. It stems from the idea that you never know who you’re going to meet and who you might unknowingly impact negatively which then negatively impacts your future career prospects. In the same vein, the next tip is about impacting people around you positively.
  4. Always have a couple of questions and talking points on the industry you work in. You never know who you will meet.
    Smith recalled an awkward moment in time when all young leaders from the management graduate program in the company had no questions for the CEO. So, always be prepared with knowledge and keep nasty talk to a minimum with whomever you might be with.

5. Working Overseas – Yay or Nay

On gaining overseas experience as a professional, Smith encouraged Singaporeans to do overseas stints early in their career. He mentioned that he could not imagine anyone taking a senior leadership position in Asia without working experience in China, India or Indonesia.

6. Retaining Your Team – Innovate, innovate, innovate

On attracting and retaining talent, Smith comments that the organisations that do it best are ones with a Massive Transformative Purpose. e.g. Google’s mission is to organise the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful & AirBnb’s vision is to connect people in real life all over the world and help them belong anywhere.

7. Managing Change – KPIs and External Pressure

On transforming culture within organisations, he says:

“People don’t change until they believe it’s in their best interest to do so.”

  1. KPIs help align employees to organisation’s purpose.
    Smith encouraged HR executives to start with the scorecard and KPIs of different individuals to help them align to the organisation’s purpose. This means that the organisation’s purpose needs to be strong first and made known to every single person in the company.
  2. Competing with other innovative organisations pushes your company to be better.
    Smith also shared the story on how he got Vice-Presidents (VPs) at DBS Bank to team up with startups during a hack-a-thon to build a working prototype for their group in 72 hours. The experience transformed the VPs inside out. During their final presentation to venture capitalists is when they realised,

“The digital space is probably the biggest threat and the biggest opportunity.”

8. Staying Connected – Online Presence

On digital tools and social media, Smith mentioned that Yammer, an enterprise social network, has helped increased productivity for LG due to more fluid communication within the organisation.

Smith also shares how doing something as simple as taking a photo of an interesting slide at conferences and sharing them on LinkedIn has helped him stay in touch with his professional network and garnered interest in the work he does.

“Unexpected connections may lead to surprising opportunities.”

Smith ended the discussion with a few book recommendations…

Thank you Laurence Smith for granting me permission to share the contents from his insightful session. You may follow him on Twitter via @AsiaSmith2020 or reach out to him via his LinkedIn profile