A conversation with boxgreen and TC Acoustic: 2 SMEs share how they build a high-trust team and what being Certified™ means to them

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Workplace Culture Masterclass series

In our final instalment of Workplace Culture Masterclass, Great Place to Work® turned the spotlight onto two of our Certified™ Small and Medium Enterprises (SME). Co-founder of Boxgreen Walter Oh, and Christian Honegger, CEO of TC Acoustic shared with Lily Wong, Great Place to Work Singapore’s Sales Lead, on the importance of building Culture, Trust, and Purpose for employees in a SME environment. Both Boxgreen and TC Acoustic are also placed on the 2021 Singapore Best Workplaces List (Small Category)

1.  Craft your company’s purpose with intent

As a start-up, Walter shared how Boxgreen was started with the mission of giving back. The idea was to have a social enterprise business that was for Profit, for Purpose and for People. “Since day one, even before we started business proper, we were giving. For example, if you buy a box of snacks, our sales go towards supporting other causes such as donating a meal to a soup kitchen. When we hire people, they know that we have a social mission of wanting to do good, not just with our consumers but with our employees as well.” The company instils in employees the idea of meaningful work as a cultural value within the company and from a leadership stance, they try not to micro-manage employees but to provide proper training and give room for improvement.

Efforts to realise this over the years resulted in its people knowing that there is an element of trust in them to get the job done well. The company has also grown to a group of 30 since they started in 2014.

Similarly, TC Acoustic’s team of 65 employees from the Singapore, Malaysia and Hong Kong offices also share common work principles. Although the company started out as a group of 4 friends in 2010 after the management change, it gradually found the need to define the company values as the team started to grow. Christian shared:” The first thing that we did is we sat down and defined the values that we have and want. We are very intentional about our culture. Our culture is built by what we celebrate, praise and reward. There must be a celebration of praise and the reward for the culture you want to build whether it is in your team, in your company or the department that you work at. At TC Acoustic, we say that what we celebrate becomes our culture. What we reward becomes our goals, who we honor becomes our values. And who we elevate becomes our role model.”

The company pushes core values such as Care for each other as employees, for the brands that TC Acoustic represents and for the consumers. The role of a Team Player in every employee is also highly regarded and Leadership is also emphasized. “We believe that every person in our company is a leader. We always say that if you see a problem, you own the problem, the moment you see it, you own it. Even our interns are empowered to say, hey, there’s something going wrong. I want to solve that,” he shared. The entire staff team meets once a week virtually to share and honor employee stories that represent the company values as well.

2.  Address challenges within a SME environment

Employee engagement can be a challenge for a SME that may not have the budget to actively do so, as compared to a bigger company. Addressing this, Christian shared that the company believes that employee engagement comes from having a leadership team with managers that are trained to recognize the needs of every employee. Managers are equipped to create a team where they set and build the company culture so that employees feel engaged. 

In this aspect, being Great Place to Work-Certified™ helped the company to figure out the needs of their employees.

“For us, we have a leadership team of about six people, and they are all in their mid to late 20s. We believe that everybody is a leader. So we read leadership books, we train them on how to be great leaders, and they create the culture within their teams and that helps to grow employee engagement,” says Christian. “It is the leadership team that needs to actively and proactively do it. Never expect HR to do it. They can help, they can guide but we have found that it’s much more effective when we have active leadership training for all of them.”

For Boxgreen, being a SME can mean having endless tasks to accomplish in a day as it may seem that there is often insufficient manpower or budget to do so, acknowledged Walter. However, he added that it has been an intense and deliberate decision on the part of the leadership who resonated with Great Place to Work’s mission of building a Great Place to Work For All. This was why the company embarked on the Certification process. “It’s making the time and intent to go through it …it’s a learning journey for the team.” The willingness to go through the process of asking employees to do the employee survey helped Boxgreen to address any gaps or improvements in the workplace culture. “Culture, it’s not just something you put on the wall and you read it every day, right? It’s all these little things you practice,” said Walter.

100% of its employees agree that the company encourages them to practice work-life balance. The key lies in productivity, and trusting employees to get the job done in a productive and efficient manner, he says. This principle of trust has been built within the company for the past 7 to 8 years but it took time as some employees were used to a far more rigid work environment. “There are challenges…they need some guidance along the way, they need to know that they are empowered and they can focus on getting the job done instead of being worried that someone is constantly watching them,” he said.”

3.  Amplify your employees’ abilities as an asset to the company

TC Acoustic stands firm on the belief that when their employees are part of the team, each of them knows that every team member is an amplifier to their own abilities and the things that they can do. “That means that you are better off being in this team than when you are alone,” Christian explained. Developing a can-do attitude and mindset in its people and leadership ensures that employees take ownership over problems and feel safe to try, to fail and with opportunities to try again. It is also intentional in taking care of its employees as leaders scope out time to meet them to find out how they are doing personally or at work.

4. Establish employer branding as a tool to building a great workplace culture

For Boxgreen, the process of hiring was easier after receiving the Great Place to Work-Certification™ badge. It helped when potential candidates saw the Certified™ badge and understood what it stood for.

“For HR and the team, it made life easier for them when we can attract the talent that would recognise this (employer branding) and they are also aligned with the company’s mission and vision,” shared Walter. He added that due to the knowledge economy, employees do recognise a great place to work and validation from external companies as well. “The company is almost like a living organism on its own with a set of belief system and values … so I feel being a a great place to work is one way for people to see that we are trying, we are not the best but we’re trying so that gives us an edge compared to many companies.”

Christian concluded that when employees see that a company is a great place to work, it can often be attributed to a good company culture. He shared the example of how during the COVID-19 pandemic, their employees rallied to donate their Solidarity payment from the government towards a company initiative to continue paying its brand ambassadors during the COVID period when work was scarce. The company matched every employee’s contribution dollar-for-dollar. This is reflective of the company’s workplace culture. “As the leader and the person running the company, culture is 100% your responsibility and you have to do whatever it takes to communicate that.”

You can access the full panel discussion: Building a High-Trust Team, the SME way here. The event was co-hosted by Prudential’s SME Ecosystem Lead, Lim Shan Shan.

Find out why leaders take the first step to survey and understand their workplace culture and to build a high-trust workplace model For All™.

Daphne Lee

Daphne believes in building community-relatable content, telling stories through narratives that add value in today’s workplace and in culture-building. Her idea of a great workplace is one that thrives on openness, support and inclusivity while building trust and working towards a common business growth and purpose. A journalist, she spent 15 years writing for trade publications, lifestyle magazines and broadsheet supplements. Daphne was also active in the Parent Support Group of her daughters’ school, chairing the volunteer-run committee for 3 years. A mum of two teenagers and two adopted dogs, she enjoys riding on her trusty bicycle to discover new sights and sounds in Singapore.

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To be eligible for the World’s Best Workplaces list, a company must apply and be named to a minimum of 5 national Best Workplaces lists within our current 58 countries, have 5,000 employees or more worldwide, and at least 40% of the company’s workforce (or 5,000 employees) must be based outside of the home country. Extra points are given based on the number of countries where a company surveys employees with the Great Place to Work Trust Index©, and the percentage of a company’s workforce represented by all Great Place to Work surveys globally. Candidates for the 2017 Worlds Best Workplaces list will have appeared on national workplaces lists published in September 2016 through August 2017.