Expand your comfort zone
by Charles Mak
After graduation, Ada Chong spent nearly a decade rotating through various functions in one of Hong Kong's prestigious hotels. In 2002, she took off for a well-deserved six-month holiday and upon her return she made a bold career move which would take her away from her once familiar environment.
"I re-entered the employment market feeling more confident about my aspirations," says Ms Chong, now a Pacific Coffee Company area manager overseeing the operations of nine shops in Central district with more than 60 staff under her direct supervision. "I have finally found my niche," she remarks.
Pacific Coffee now operates 64 shops across Hong Kong and eight more are set to open by the end of this year. According to Ms Chong, there are a host of opportunities for career advancement within the fast-expanding company.
In fact, Ms Chong started in a junior position as a coffeehouse supervisor and in six short years rose to her current position, which she finds worlds of difference from previous ones in hospitality. "The hotel business is very much about customer service. I was grateful for the training that I received in the hotel's front office, restaurant and concierge," she notes. "However, running a retail business is a different story. This is not a job where you clock in, do your own job and clock out. The role requires a great deal of business acumen."
Ms Chong spent her initial days at Pacific Coffee developing multitasking skills through performing a variety of duties which ranged from coffee making to inventory control, environment management and revenue reviews. "It's like taking care of your own home so that your guests feel at home as well." To do this, a great sense of ownership is absolutely essential, Ms Chong emphasises.
Hard work and dedication paid off as Ms Chong progressed and became coffeehouse manager and shortly afterwards area manager, a job that entails greater responsibilities such as staff and operations management plus various administrative tasks.
"Respect and trust from colleagues are the best rewards"
In her opinion, however, no tasks are too easy to master. "For example, making a nice cup of coffee takes skills and don't expect it to happen overnight. You must learn to control the volume and texture of the milk so as to make a perfect cup of coffee," Ms Chong says. "It's a combination of practice and the right mindset." She stresses that this "learn through practice" attitude is important in any job.
Ms Chong's daily schedule varies. "The shops open until 11pm or midnight so I need to make myself available even after hours for urgent matters," she further explains, "I do my best in my capacity to ensure the smooth operation of every shop under my management and it's not always about getting things done in a specific timeframe. I answer every call and visit any shops that require my presence."
On top of her daily office routine, Ms Chong makes the effort to spend time with shop staff. In particular, a special schedule is drawn up so that she can spend time with all her colleagues on day and night shifts ensuring that they receive the necessary guidance and training.
"Fostering close relationships and strong synergy within the team are key to people management," she says. "First and foremost you must seek to build trust, learn to appreciate the differences between people and be adaptable."
Even so, she realises she had to make her position clear at times. "A certain level of authority had to be established because I'm running a business and so must delegate and give direction. However, I should always remind myself to remain approachable so that my colleagues know they can turn to me for advice and that they can rely on my leadership," she adds. "At the end of the day, respect and trust from colleagues are the best rewards."
A team leader in her own right, Ms Chong sets a good example to her juniors while helping to harness their individual strengths. "We often review customer feedback and I make a point of praising colleagues for a job well done," she says. "It gives me great satisfaction to see them grow. As I've always emphasised to my colleagues: whatever the undertaking, you must always give your best." To aspiring individuals, she advises, "Keep an open mind and relish the opportunities to learn. Think long-term."
Taken from Career Times 3 May 2008, p. B16
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