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Adaptation and management toward an ever-changing landscape 

Adaptation and management toward an ever-changing landscape 

Guiding the next generation of leaders with the right foundation is vital for bridging challenges, says RSM Hong Kong’s Managing Partner. 

Eugene Liu, Managing Partner of RSM Hong Kong, also the Head of Consulting, China Practice and Japanese Practice, the Leader of Financial Services, the Convener of the Capital Market Group of the firm, leading multi-disciplined teams and providing strategic leadership for various divisions. 

His experience of over 30 years in multidisciplinary aspects across the accounting field has seen him providing auditing, financial advisory, and business valuation services to his clients in various industries, from NGOs to real estate and software development. He is also the partner-in-charge of over 20 initial public offers on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange. 

He started his career with Arthur Andersen (legacy firm of PricewaterhouseCoopers) in 1988, rising up to Partner in 1998 before moving to RSM in 2000. 

As an active speaker on business development and IPO related areas and a judge in the HKB Management Excellence Awards, Hong Kong Business sat with Liu to see his insights on the future of management and the challenges the next generation faces. 

When you speak at schools and universities about management and personal development skills, what words of wisdom do you share to inspire the next generation of leaders? 

“Do you like helping others?”, this is one question I regularly pose to my young audience.  

We often hear how “actions speak louder than words”. True as it is, I should add that “our hearts speak louder than actions still”. To offer help is to genuinely care, to go beyond lending a hand. Being professionals, our qualification is important, yet our eagerness to help goes a long way further. Apart from the technicalities, we must also understand the needs of others. At RSM, we work under the banner philosophy “The Power of Being Understood”. When we can thoroughly relate to our clients, we will be able to perform better and differentiate the value we offer. 

As with friendships or any kind of relationships, care and trust bond people together. This is equally true in a professional-client relationship. Clients are more likely to open up and disclose information or pain points once rapport is established, and better-quality interaction may result in greater efficiency and shared decision-making. 

What management skills will be relevant in the future? 

Our world is transforming at a mind-boggling speed. We must constantly adapt and evolve otherwise, we will quickly find ourselves obsolete.  

Diversified team management will be critical for the future.  Generation Z will be joining the workforce while the last of the pre-digital generation nearing retirement age.  Survival and success will depend on cross-generation collaboration more than ever, especially through communication and technology. 

In order to enhance the effectiveness of cross-generation collaboration and build diversified teams, management must learn how to maintain relationships in a non-traditional working environment.   Successful managers have to be open, inclusive and sensitive to their colleagues, by building cultures that encourage cooperation, communication, and even encourage constructive controversy. Such an environment can enhance teamwork and foster innovative ideas. A more diversified team management system enables companies to flourish and adapt in the fast-changing environment.   

Additionally, pragmatism and flexibility are crucial elements of future management. The former allows companies to maintain focus and filter out unrealistic and unnecessary options, while the latter suggests that management can be open to unconventional approaches outside of the box.   

As COVID changed the way businesses operate, how can leaders and management support and engage their staff? 

The Covid-19 pandemic changed conventions and accelerated digitalization in the business world. It is necessary to support and engage our staff in this transformation, all the while ensuring that the health and safety of our staff remain our top priority.  

As uncertainty spread throughout the pandemic, establishing trust between leaders and their teams through effective communication became vital.  We appreciated more so than ever, every staff member’s opinion, voice and concern. For example, each individual’s working schedule was attached a higher priority over the company’s interest. Flexi-working hours and work-from-home options were offered to promote safe distancing and avoid peak commute hours.  

Furthermore, management must be more receptive to staff in the workplace, responsive to their enquiries and reactive to their difficulties.  Staff should also expect greater flexibility and autonomy at work. Leaders should deliver clear messages to their teams and set realistic expectations.  They should also anticipate further disruptions if a large proportion of staff work from home, and therefore set clearer targets and streamline their commands.  Through such flexibility and open communication, we gained confidence in maintaining our daily operation and productivity during the pandemic and any future situation. 

As a business leader, what are your thoughts on the workforce’s preference for working remotely? How does this affect business or client service? 

The outbreak of Covid-19 propelled the phenomenon of remote work. I believe it will become mainstream and will be here to stay post-pandemic. Working from home allows staff to flexibly manage their day, staying on top of both their career and personal agendas for a better work-life balance.  

Despite many empirical studies revealing that WFH will not compromise productivity, it is noteworthy that the arrangement poses practical challenges for certain professional industries. Relationships with clients lie at the heart of many services, including audit and advisory services. Face-to-face meetings are still indispensable to ensure seamless exchanges, and it is often through close dialogues that important aspects are revealed. In addition, intra-firm communication is less fluid over the screen, especially when activities such as brainstorming and teambuilding are involved. It is therefore important that companies can strike the right balance to come up with hybrid work models according to their specific needs.       

What can Hong Kong / China businesses do to grow in a world beset with today’s challenges? 

In a world where change is the only constant, today’s companies must be open-minded and always ready to embrace changes.  

To be open-minded is to be able to perceive strengths in others and recognise weaknesses in oneself. It is the ability to stay ahead of current developments and swiftly adapt. It is the determination to consistently improve and not rest on one’s laurels.  

Over the past decade, we saw an acceleration in industry disruptions where new technology or innovation displaced old conventions. If there is one lesson we learnt, it is that nothing is irreplaceable. It is therefore very important for companies to keep reinventing their offerings, and for individuals to upskill themselves to meet the challenges of the future.  

What do you think is the right balance between staff well-being, productivity, and better client experience? 

I believe the three are highly correlated and positively reinforce each other.  In the accounting profession, we are in the “people business” and our staff represent our greatest asset. We invest in our talents, we nurture, we groom, and we help them succeed.

The COVID health crisis has brought “staff well-being” and “job satisfaction” to the centre stage as many quit their jobs during this time, in what is touted as the “Great Resignation”. The pandemic has compelled many to rethink the value of life, and have chosen to leave previously toxic lifestyles. Studies have shown that salary only ranked 16th in terms of factors surrounding employee retention; a harmonious corporate culture, respectful managerial treatment, ethical practices and work-life balance are 10 times more important than pay. 

Therefore, as leaders, cultivating a rewarding and fulfilling corporate culture is of paramount importance. When staff can focus on jobs free of anxieties, productivity and quality of output will naturally improve. 

In reviewing and judging the entries to Hong Kong Business Management Excellence Awards, did you notice any extraordinary themes? 

Over the years, I have had the honour of meeting many outstanding leaders as a panel judge on the Hong Kong Business Management Excellence Awards. What sets our awardees apart, is their demonstrated excellence in leadership versus managing.  

Many great managers can effectively delegate and achieve great successes. Nonetheless, their teams may lack the vision of how they contribute to the overall big picture. On the other hand, great leaders inspire and empower. Their staff learn and grow. They find satisfaction and purpose. This is one of the distinctive attributes I observed in our winning entrants throughout the years. 


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