Why culture and values are the heart of a healthy workplace: Chin Yin Ong, Grab’s People Officer

Jun 14 2023
3-min read
Healthy work culture lays the groundwork for a team to thrive and succeed. Chin Yin Ong, Chief People Officer at Grab, draws from over 20 years of experience in Human Resources (HR) to share her insights on the art of talent management.

In the pursuit of performance and results, organisational culture often gets overlooked. However, this intangible yet vital aspect of a business sets the stage for long-term success and can be the missing piece you need to propel your startup to new heights.

According to Forbes, organisational culture refers to “a shared set of values, commitments and perspectives that drive a team’s decisions”. Strong company culture not only attracts top talents but also brings about a slew of benefits, including increased employee engagement and retention, higher productivity, and a greater sense of belonging.

In the early stages, trying to build a culture can be incredibly daunting. When I just joined Grab in 2015, the company was growing at warp speed. I looked at many great companies from Silicon Valley and China, trying to identify which parts of their culture we could emulate. However, I quickly realised that their cultures couldn’t be replicated as they didn’t align with our unique identity. It became clear that we needed to create a culture tailored specifically to who we are.

As Chief People Officer at Grab, Southeast Asia’s leading superapp, I’ve had the privilege of being at the forefront of shaping our company culture and witnessing the remarkable impact it can have on long-term success. Here are some key lessons I’ve learnt throughout this journey.

Raise the culture bar in your hiring process

“Hire slow, fire fast” – this is the biggest piece of advice that I would give to any startup founder, even though it is an incredibly difficult thing to do.

To support growth, companies often find themselves scrambling to fill positions swiftly. However, the consequences of hiring the wrong person can be detrimental, requiring time and resources to rectify. Toxic behaviour, when left unchecked, spreads way faster than positive behaviour.

That’s why holding a high culture bar during your hiring process is key to building a healthy organisational culture. Assessing cultural fit should be the first step of the interview process. Even if someone has an impressive resume, you need to walk away from them if they don’t align with your culture. By doing so, you safeguard your culture and ensure that every new candidate enhances your collective values and goals.


Take a future-focused approach to performance reviews

Performance reviews serve as a tool to manage performance and reinforce desired behaviour. However, the traditional appraisal process where employees are evaluated based on past performance and given a rating based on that has been called into question.

According to Gallup, only 14 per cent of employees strongly agree their performance reviews inspire them to improve. One reason for this is, according to psychology, most people think that they’re better than average, and for performance reviews to be effective, individuals need to feel that they’re evaluated fairly. Hence, many companies have started to rethink their appraisal approach – whether it’s replacing annual reviews with informal check-ins or removing scoring systems.

Talking about the past which cannot be changed is a bad use of time.

At Grab, we wanted to take a future-focused approach to performance reviews, so we removed the rating system. Instead, the emphasis is now placed on providing qualitative feedback that nurtures growth. We can’t change the past, but we can invest time to point our employees in the right direction on where to develop.

The people in leadership are key to making this a fruitful evaluation process. This goes back to the importance of a slow hiring process to ensure that only quality candidates that align with organisational culture are hired. Furthermore, 50 per cent of the review is weighted on performance, while the remaining half is based on values. People are evaluated and recognised in both aspects, which ensures that culture is lived out well.


Embed values in everyday language and operations

A strong, compelling culture is one that is lived out by its people. The daily language that they use should reflect the shared values of the organisation. For instance, asking for feedback on a regular basis is a powerful way to live out humility and hunger – two of Grab’s core values. It drives motivation and fosters an environment for learning, collaboration, and personal growth.

To facilitate this, we developed a new tool we call “Team Health Checks” that leaders can use to understand the feelings, motivations, and concerns of their team members. This tool creates an avenue for leaders to ask for feedback and a safe space for members to voice out their concerns. By normalising seeking feedback regularly and building tools that facilitate it, we nurture a culture of collaboration and growth at Grab.


Forge a culture where everyone thrives

Building a culture goes beyond writing down a set of values and having occasional team-building events. Be clear about what is important to your organisation and what you want to achieve. With that, you can establish meaningful values and develop systems that align with your unique goals and create an environment where your people can thrive.

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