Value vacuum

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 09 October, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 09 October, 2010, 12:00am

A good friend recently made an inspiring speech at a business function on leadership, which can help us better understand why there is such a growing hatred of the rich in our society. I agree with Po Chung, co-founder of DHL Asia-Pacific, that we need to teach our future leaders in both the public and private sector that, in order to manage effectively, one must have strong character traits to inspire and drive people as well as show others you care.

In today's business world, everything has become far too mercenary. Everyone seems to care only about the bottom line; they abandon core values, ethics and social responsibilities.

Hong Kong's economy is extremely service-intensive. About 93 per cent of the city's gross domestic product comes from the service sector and almost 90 per cent of our population is employed in the service industry. In order to survive in this exclusively service-oriented model, businesses must provide the best-quality services to customers.

Yet, many such businesses fail to deliver good services because business leaders do not understand the true meaning of the service sector.

Without a proper mindset and the correct approach, many have been unable to train and manage their employees. One common problem is that many bosses are trained at business schools to only understand the rigid goods-dominant business logic. There is little flexibility in their management style as they apply a manufacturing approach to manage staff. Obviously, this one-size-fits-all approach is inappropriate.

The service sector is totally different from manufacturing, where products are usually mass-produced at factories and there is no direct contact with consumers. In contrast, the service industry deals directly with users and has to constantly improve its performance according to the changing demands and needs of customers.

Business schools focus their lessons on skills, technology, standardisation, efficiency and effectiveness, and how to maximise profits. But building a successful service-oriented business requires the provider to have good character and a good heart. Bosses have to show 'good behaviour' not only to customers, but also among themselves and towards their staff. Well-respected, happy staff will in turn deliver good services to customers.

Some may question how we can teach future leaders intangible qualities such as character traits and a sense of caring. It is indeed possible and could be explained by using IT lingo. Imagine we are computers; we would have both a set of applications that help us complete tasks - things we do - and a personal operating system - who we are, what we believe in, our likes and dislikes, and our morals and ethics.

Like a computer, we can't allow any 'virus' - bad character traits such as disloyalty, unfairness, unkindness and selfishness - to infect our system, so we must apply anti-virus programs to prevent infection.

The files that we seek to protect are our core values, which have been practised by our ancestors for thousands of years. They are the foundation of our moral character, as an individual and as a community.

We need to incorporate these values into our education system and teach our future business leaders and educators that they should pass these characteristics on to the future generations. They are something we should all be proud of because these intangible qualities help build our soft power and moral authority.

Quality service with distinct characteristics and a caring heart are imperative in the service-dominant world of the 21st century. Without understanding the significance of these qualities, leaders are unable to craft, articulate and operate a successful service-business model, let alone a service-oriented business of their own.

It's time to go back to basics, and work our way from inside out - to bring the goodness from within ourselves and our society.

Albert Cheng King-hon is a political commentator