Dare to build: How Aspire’s people manager shapes a culture that ignites the entrepreneur in all of us

By
Writers@Aspire
Published
September 17, 2021

What does it take to create a work culture that cultivates the entrepreneurial spirit? Alyssa Aw, our passionate People Manager, knows a thing or two about keeping a team of ex-entrepreneurs and high achievers motivated. Having come from a corporate HR background at Charles and Keith, Aspire was her first foray into a hyper-growth fintech. Seemingly overnight, everything started to move at breakneck speed.


As someone who thrives outside of her comfort zone, she immediately knew Aspire was where she belonged.


The space to build on ambitious ideas was unparalleled. Her vision for Aspire’s culture quickly followed suit. Today, Alyssa has helped to forge a strong foundation for various People processes from onboarding to engagement and wellbeing一all of which comes together to form a high-performing culture that is uniquely Aspire.


In this interview, we caught up with Alyssa to find out how she ensures that every single Aspirer has a space to build, why radical candor is essential to bringing out the best in a team and her new therapeutic hobby that helps her unwind after a long day.

Can you briefly share your background prior to joining Aspire?

I’ve worked in both SMEs and startups previously. In total, I have around 9 years of experience. I first discovered the startup scene 3 years ago. Swapping from a corporate environment to a  fast-paced startup is definitely one of the best decisions I’ve made so far!


Aspire's People Team Bonding
Aspire's People Team Bonding




How did you find out about Aspire? What made you decide to join the team?

I recall coming across Aspire’s job listing for a People Manager role on Tech in Asia’s website. Back in those days we only relied on one job platform but now we are setting up our own Applicant Tracking System (ATS)!  After researching more about the company and finding out that it’s one of the top emerging fintechs in Singapore, I went ahead to apply for the role.

I decided to join the team as a challenge to myself. It was interesting to hear Andrea’s vision for the company and how he’s building something from the ground up, and foreseeing myself being able to be part of that team that inspires personal growth, and the courage to support words with actions was definitely something that excited me from the very beginning. It’s an exciting time to be in this space.


What does a typical day in your role look like? Any go-to coffee / Spotify playlist to help you get through the day?

Seeing how things can move quite fast here in Aspire, there’s no typical day per se. I usually start my day at 8am, and I make sure to have breakfast! Generally on a day when there are no meetings with the team, I start the work day with planning and setting up my to-do list, prioritising tasks. The most urgent task gets done first.

I usually spend the remainder of my day doing focused-work, whether that’s doing analyses of data from our employee engagement surveys to develop and improve things that directly impact employee experience, or brainstorming for new initiatives. In the People team, we are on a mission to develop a high-performing and happy culture, and ultimately the goal is to let all Aspirers feel they belong, feel heard and recognised.


What makes an Aspirer unique?

Being in the startup phase, almost everyone is a “builder”! It’s definitely not easy doing that so we pride ourselves on doing so. I think it’s fair to say that everyone has contributed to the stage of growth that the company is in now.

An Aspirer is a self starter that is adaptable to an ambiguous work environment and being in a fluid role. In Aspire, we’re a dynamic company where things move and change quickly, which also gives us the opportunity to push our boundaries to react proactively to these changes and keep our competitive edge.


What makes a “builder”?

A builder is someone who is inherently proactive and delivers without people asking. At Aspire, where our team is made up of ex-entrepreneurs and high achievers who have already built something, everyone is essentially a builder. There’s no limit to what can be built so long as it ultimately ties back to the company’s vision. It can be everything from building a strong team of managers from a CEO’s perspective to creating entirely new systems or processes that make things run more efficiently. When you have an ambitious idea, it all starts with asking yourself “How do I make it happen?” before doing what’s necessary to succeed.


What does it take to be a good people manager in a fast-growing fintech?

  1. Get comfortable being uncomfortable! In a fast growing fintech, you will need to get used to being in situations that are outside of your comfort zone.
  2. Having to adapt and understanding the demands on being in a hyper growth startup, i.e. having to react fast to the business direction pivots and being comfortable to get your hands on execution work as and when required is crucial
  3. Apart from the support from the managers I work with, I try my best to ensure the team feels supported, I place emphasis on 1:1s and team syncs in my calendar.


In your years as People Manager, what are some effective ways to bring out the best in your team?

  • Setting clear expectations and communicating these goals to the team. You can’t expect the team to become engaged if there’s no clear and decisive message for them to embrace. Always set measurable goals, and listen to what they have to say. This helps to bring new life into projects and get fresh perspectives.
  • Always be accessible and approachable. It is also important to let team members feel comfortable to open up to me and to always encourage having an open discussion to where they share their individual goals that allow them to succeed.
  • Focus on giving actionable, immediate and constructive input on how they can improve. We practice radical candor, and we challenge and care directly for one another.


On a scale of 1-5 how difficult is it to oversee mass hiring across 4 countries? Are there any significant changes you implemented to adjust with the pandemic?

Perhaps a 3.5 out of 5. One major change that took place was definitely replacing interviews from face-to-face to video calls.

In the beginning of our expansion, there was some uncertainty, but with every crisis comes opportunities. We were able to hire some really great profiles during this period of time too because of some companies’ restructuring, redundancy layoffs etc.


Working from home is the default work arrangement. How do you ensure that unity and strong workplace culture is maintained during the pandemic?

With most of the teams having a matrix reporting structure back to the regional team based in Singapore, I would say that Aspirers are comfortable with having weekly syncs via video conferencing calls now. However I would agree that remote working has changed the way that we interact at the workplace. Our all-hands call is one way for team members to interact with each other outside of their department/country. We also provide a team bonding budget for all employees and encourage departments to spend time to bond locally. That being said, we will try to think of new ideas to increase interaction during all-hands while being conscious of everyone’s busy schedule.


Aspire Chinese New Year Virtual Celebration

What do you do during your free time? How do you de-stress after a long day?

Gardening seems to be a popular pandemic pastime now! I’ve discovered many plant nurseries during this lockdown! There are days where you’ll spot your plant(s) unfurling a new leaf, and some days you see it looking limpy, but it bounces back after watering. I find it therapeutic to care for your plants at the end of the work day一a way for me to release my stress. Being a new plant hobbyist, I am growing my collection healthily and progressively. I currently have about 10 pots of plants indoors while waiting for my new plant rack to arrive.


Alyssa's Plants Collection


I am also trying to habitually meditate. One of my ex-colleagues recommended this app called Balance that provides bite-sized meditations I can use anytime, even on the go!

Do you have a hidden talent? Tell us about it.

I can play the Angklung and the Kulintang! I was first introduced to this musical instrument during my secondary school days when I joined it as a CCA. Since I was young, I’ve always had an interest in music and arts. So to be able to be part of school competitions was definitely something memorable.

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