Saturday June 30, 2012
A helping hand with change
By NG BEI SHAN
Photo by AZLINA ABDULLAH
SHE calls herself a “kampung girl” as she grew up in a quiet village in Kuala Lipis, Pahang. Having travelled far and wide, Joan Hoi understands what change is all about.
Apart from her own transformational changes, Hoi spent a better part of her career helping organisations to change. And she has just published a book, aptly titled Take on Change, to share her experiences.
“I grew up in an era when there were not many forms of entertainment. Even television was rare. The first time I took a plane was when I went to study in Melbourne in 1980. Back then, smoking was still allowed during flight and I remember vomiting at the back of the plane,” says Hoi.
Her first job after graduating in 1983 was with Hong Leong Finance as a loans executive. She left Hong Leong after four years and she and her husband moved to Australia. Hoi found a job with a merchant bank in Melbourne, and subsequently worked with two other banks.
It was a period of consolidation, and of mergers and acquisitions, in the business world. In 1994, the couple returned to Kuala Lumpur and Hoi joined Accenture (then known as Anderson Consulting) where she progressed from being a management consultant to partner in the 15 years she was there.
Sharing through writing
Now a full-time homemaker, Hoi does not consider herself a writer, but she believes she has something valuable to share in her first book.
“Whatever I learnt about writing, I learnt from Google,” she laughs. By that, she meant that she had to scour the Net for articles on creative writing and also for tips on how to write a management book. From what she gathered, and with advice from friends in the industry, she bravely plunged into the world of publishing.
When we met up at the Starbucks outlet at The Curve, Hoi surprisingly ordered a cup of tea, even though she knew much about the different kinds of coffee available, especially her children's favourites.
Hoi says change was the most suitable topic for her as “that was what I have been doing all along.” There is much to explore on the topic but she decided to write about her personal experiences rather than follow the research-driven style of most management books.
Having spent much of her life as a professional consultant, Hoi began her project with the end result in mind.
She knew who she would be writing for, and her target readers are those in mid to senior-level management who believe in the importance of change in their organisations.
The book, says Hoi, is also for the busy people who want to look for good ideas.
“They can easily read it after a long hard day at work,” she says.
The book has been deliberately designed as a light and easy book, with short chapters and large fonts.
Hoi recalls the difficulty she had trying to read thick books with tiny text.
“That is why I wanted to have large fonts in my book so that they are easy for the eyes. I chose a soft cover for the book because it is meant to be carried anywhere. You can roll the book and keep it in your laptop bag and even bring it to the toilet! Or you can read it while waiting for your flight at the airport,” she says.
Hoi looked into every little detail to make the book as reader-friendly as possible. Each chapter ran for two or three pages at the most as she didn't want to bore readers with too many points in one chapter.
“I kept my book thin (120 pages) although some publishers told me that my book has to be of a certain thickness so that people will notice it when it is on the bookshelf. But I thought this (thickness) is just nice,” she says.
As this was to be her maiden effort, Hoi consulted friends on the book. When she sent out the first draft of her review copy, the feedback she got was that the book was “highly conversational”.
“People told me that they felt like I was having a conversation with them through my writing. The conversation lingers and they would say, That applies to me', Why didn't I think of that?' They add their own ideas and conclusions to those conversations' and my perspectives had actually led them to the solution that they have been looking for.”
Hoi reveals that the published version of Take on Change is actually the third version. Her earlier attempts came across as being too instructional after she put herself in the shoes of a senior manager and felt she did not need anyone to give her instructions.
“People usually have an idea at the back of their head already. They just need a perspective that enlightens them,” she explains.
“There is this stereotype that consultants like to present lengthy proposals and presentations to their clients. I had to withdraw myself from this role.
“There were many ideas that came up as I wrote but the real challenge was how to keep the book concise yet wide enough to cover the important elements in that particular perspective. It's so challenging because I've much more in my head.
“I reminded myself of my elevator speech rule' (a short conversation that lasts until the passenger gets out of the elevator) so my perspectives didn't get long-winded,” she says.
“It felt so different for me to decide what to write because everything in this book came from me. That wouldn't happen if I was still a full-time consultant because I would be in a team whereby everyone contributed their ideas.”
On what inspired her to write since she does not consider herself a writer, Hoi says, “I wanted to present my ideas to my clients as a management consultant but I didn't get really far with it. I worked long hours and didn't have the time to write. Whenever ideas came into my mind, I wrote them in bits and pieces. Upon retirement from Accenture, I find that my mind is still very active. I wasn't at work, but I was thinking about work. So, writing is like going to work without (really) going to work. I also have the freedom to choose when to write.”
Hoi says her friends cheered her on to write the book when she first broached the idea to them.
“Everytime they see me, they would ask me about my progress. I was so guilty because I had not done much. I owe my friends a lot for motivating me simply by asking When is your book coming out?' At that point, I realised that I had to take action and started to write proactively.”
Having seen the book become a reality, Hoi is already preparing to write her next book.
It is mission possible, as one can sense the passion and energy in her that goes beyond her laughter and hospitality during our interview.
●Take on Change retails at RM39.90 a copy and is currently available at all Borders outlets. There will be two book-signing sessions with the author at Borders The Curve (Mutiara Damansara, Petaling Jaya) on June 30, 2012 from 2pm to 4pm; and Borders 1 Mont Kiara (Jalan Kiara, Kuala Lumpur) on July 15, 2012 from 2pm to 4pm.
Joan Hoi to write for StarBizWeek
Starting next week, Joan Hoi will be contributing a weekly column, Take on Change, in StarBizWeek. She will be sharing nuggets from her book in the context of what she continues to observe daily as people and organisations go through change.