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“I’m a senior Singapore banker, but I have coffee with every 20-something who joins my firm”

I work for a bank in Singapore that’s experienced a high degree of turnover in recent years – plenty of people (especially at the senior end) have left, but plenty of new people have joined us too. We always seem to hiring amid the firing.

This amount of change in a bank this size is challenging for me as a manager. How do I get to know as many of the new people as possible? And how do I make sure they help me in my career (and vice versa)? Despite the millions we spend on various HR initiatives in Singapore, my bank doesn’t have a programme that lets me link up easily with new joiners. And if it did, it would probably be stiflingly corporate and unproductive.

So I’ve taken it upon myself simply to meet as many recent recruits as I can – and I don’t just mean my reports and people in my department. If I run into people I don’t recognise in the office, I simply strike up a conversation and then ask them for a coffee or lunch (I stopped this when Singapore had tight Covid restrictions in place, obviously).

I don’t find this awkward – the vast majority of people accept my invitation and are glad to get to know someone from another team during their early days at the bank.I always meet them outside the office to make sure the discussion is relaxed and informal. Meeting rooms at banks tend to make people too guarded.

You may be surprised to learn that I extend my coffee invitations to new employees at all levels, even though I’m fairly senior myself. Plenty of managers meet other managerial staff when they come on board, but none of them would go for a coffee with a 25-year-old from another team. I do.

During the meeting I offer aspirational advice to juniors and I try to find out what’s really motivating them. Because it’s an informal chat over coffee I can often get behind the ‘career story’ they reeled off at their job interview and are still probably telling most of their immediate colleagues.

In fact, junior banking professionals tend to be much more candid than the older ones I meet. I can even ask them how long they want to stay in the organisation and get an honest answer. You’re probably thinking: why’s he wasting an hour or so of his valuable time chatting to 20-somethings? Well, I don’t just provide free career coaching, I ask what they’d change about the way we do things at the bank.

They may be new joiners, but I believe that unfamiliarity can breed innovation. New people haven’t been indoctrinated into our (often tunnel-minded) culture and don’t yet tow our corporate line. For example, someone I once had coffee with mentioned that our decision making seemed disorganised and was too dependent on who shouted the loudest.

This actually led to us creating a more formal decision-making ‘matrix’. It wasn’t 100% what he wanted, but it was a good step in the right direction. Last but not least, all these informal meetings I’m having are benefiting my own career. It’s a cliché, but knowledge really is power in a large organisation where office politics is rife.

If you build up relationships with new recruits in other teams almost from day one of their careers, you get insights into what’s happening across the bank that you would otherwise have missed out on. As the new people build their careers, you get what I call a ‘pipeline of knowledge’ as you’ll be meeting them again and again over the following months and years.

When you’re collaborating with other departments or working on special projects, you have relationships to take advantage of that your colleagues don’t. And all because you shouted someone a coffee.

Cyrus Li (we've used a pseudonym to protect his identity) is a senior banking professional at a global bank in Singapore. 

Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

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