Time and time again, Damian Kim, MD, Facebook Singapore has seen that it is the hardest working individual and team that will accomplish the most with the greatest level of consistency. He shares more in this interview with Priya Sunil.
With a career spanning stints in the US, Latin America, and Asia Pacific, one thing has always been a consistent driver of enjoyment throughout for Damian Kim, Managing Director (MD), Facebook Singapore - a constant variety of business challenges and diversity of the people he has met. After all, with each new country, came a mix of distinct, rich cultures.
"When I reflect on that, the things that stand out most are the experiences and the people - a work dinner at a parilla in San Telmo, Buenos Aires, jumping on a motorbike taxi with a colleague to rush to a meeting in Bangkok, or celebrating a big event by having Sichuan hotpot in Shanghai. These are the moments and the relationships that I will always treasure."
Having taken on various roles in the tech industry - including with Microsoft, Kim took over as Facebook Singapore's MD in late 2020. In this interview with Priya Sunil, he shares more on how he works with the HR team to drive the employee experience (think 1:1s, Ask Me Anything sessions), his passion project, and more.
Q In your role, how closely do you work with your HR Director to drive your overall employee strategies, and keep engagement levels high among your employees?
At Facebook, the partnership between business leadership and HR is extremely close - largely driven by the deep care and focus we have on the employee experience. I don’t know of any organisation that has a greater people-centric focus than Facebook. Now, my HR business partner and I speak weekly to stay closely in sync and keep a regular pulse on team health - be it personal support for a team member’s COVID-related family situation in India, leadership development and talent planning, or overall team sentiment and energy levels after a hectic quarter.
There is a combination of mechanisms that we employ - from 1:1s, office hours and AMA (Ask Me Anything) sessions, to regular workplace and employee experience surveys - that are focused on maintaining connectivity and measuring experience across the organisation, identifying key areas of focus, and then monitoring the effectiveness of action plans and programmes that we put in place.
Ultimately, it is important that people feel heard and understood, then see a meaningful level of responsiveness from the company around the things that matter most. This is much more about a rigorous, ongoing process than achieving any sort of ideal end-state.
Q How have these experiences shaped who you are as a leader today, and who is your leadership inspiration?
I suppose all of your experiences feed into the person and leader you are at any given moment. What is important, and perhaps obvious, is the need to be in a constant state of learning and to have a relentless desire to improve - to aspire to a standard that can never be met. As with most people, my mistakes and missteps have been quite influential in my own development - understanding the need to communicate with clarity and consistency, exhibiting a higher level of cultural awareness, practising how to bring others along with you on the journey, understanding the strengths of vulnerability, and having empathy.
I am fortunate to have worked for and to be around great leaders at Microsoft and at Facebook, which makes it difficult to pinpoint a single inspiration.
The true privilege is having leaders that are legitimately world-class in different areas of competency - in APAC, we have executives that are unbelievable commercial operators, some who can sell ice to an eskimo, and others who can lead an organisation of hundreds while maintaining connections with each individual. I also enjoy reading a lot of biographies but won’t go down that rabbit hole here.
Q Any projects that you’re particularly passionate about?
In Singapore, I’m particularly focused on what can be done to support small businesses that have borne the greatest brunt of the impact of the pandemic over the last year. Small businesses are the heart of our communities and the backbone of our economy. There are 220,000 small businesses in Singapore, providing employment for 65% of the workforce so it is quite clear that if our small businesses are not strong, then our community as a whole cannot thrive.
At Facebook, there are some initiatives that we have already launched which are focused on small businesses. At the end of 2020, we had the Small Business Grant programme that will helped small businesses here with cash and ad credit resources. More recently, we launched the Upskill with Facebook Singapore initiative which includes digital upskilling programmes - such as training courses, workshops, and 1:1 clinics - to support business owners and their employees in learning how to use digital solutions effectively. We will continue to listen to the community, work with government and civic institutions, and look for opportunities to continue investing our time and resources locally.
Q What are the top three skills that are highly in demand in the tech space today?
Wow. It’s quite challenging to distill the top three skills, especially as the tech space is increasingly broad. I’ll provide a perspective outside of core engineering and development as that fits within my domain.
First, on a more technical front, proficiency around data is critically important. Being very comfortable working with large volumes of data and, more importantly, being able to distill meaningful insights is really important. As we say at Facebook, “data wins arguments” and coming from an objective, quant-based foundation will generally serve anyone well.
Next, communication will always be core and learning to communicate clearly, credibly, and compassionately is a skill that requires constant investment. In an industry where there is no shortage of complexity and a growing requirement of expansive collaboration, the ability to communicate is fundamental.
Last, and this is a strong personal belief, I would emphasise work ethic. I have seen time and time again that it is the hardest working individual, the hardest working team, that will accomplish the most with the greatest level of consistency. I can appreciate intellectual aptitude but I’ll choose work ethic and drive every single day of the week.
Q On an industry front – how would the recently-launched Upskill with Facebook programme help address this demand?
The pandemic has greatly accelerated the rate at which people and businesses have gone digital - the capabilities that businesses, employers and working professionals need to have today are no longer the capabilities of last year. This has created a skills gap in many industries. In an increasingly digitised and autonomous world, we need to upskill and reskill the global workforce so that people can participate fully in workplaces of the future.
Many others are still trying to navigate the impact of the pandemic, and might lack the knowledge, tools or accessibility to jump start their digital journey. The resources we have created will help businesses along their digital journey, and provide crucial opportunities for individuals to equip themselves with the necessary skills to remain competitive in the digital-first world we live in.
Q Companies in the tech space are always launching new products in the market, riding on a culture of innovation. How do you and your team cultivate and keep this culture of innovation going within your workforce itself?
There are a number of things required to enable that type of culture. As a baseline, there should be established trust and safety. No one can do their best work unless these fundamental requirements are met. From there, we work to create an environment that biases towards higher risk-tolerance vs. risk-aversion.
Innovation requires experimentation, failure, and certain amounts of inefficiency. Our people must have confidence that these are understood and fully-accepted costs as we work to continually push the boundaries.
More broadly, we also signal this through our company initiatives and investments. We recently announced two subsea cables that will connect the United States and Southeast Asia. This involved a lot of problem-solving around things like avoiding underwater volcanoes and designing the cable shielding to be fully resistant to a marine environment. Our Facebook Reality Labs team is experimenting with electromyography to create an efficient wrist-based control mechanism for our AR/VR platforms.
We are also looking for ways to support innovation in Singapore - such as through our work with the IMDA on Startup Station Singapore which is an accelerator for growth-stage start-ups, and the first-ever data center in Asia which will be an investment of over S$1.4bn locally.
Innovation is at the heart of what we do at Facebook and we’re constantly looking for ways to help the people who use our apps, services, and tools to do things in better, more effective and creative ways.
Photo / Provided [Pictured: Damian Kim, Managing Director, Facebook Singapore]