The days are approaching for HR Leaders Asia 2022 and we are so thrilled to present you the activities that await you, especially the guest speakers who will purvey the event with insightful views about the HR world. In this Spotlight interview, we have Aziph Mustapha, the current Head of Culture Transformation and Employee Engagement of Celcom Axiata Berhad. Prior to Celcom, he started as an entry level bank employee and grew to become the CEO of a federal agency responsible for grassroot innovation, developing several companies in IT and Education. He has volunteered and sat on the boards of several nonprofits in the sphere of equality, students’ special needs, entrepreneur development and religious tolerance. Aziph is also a talented speaker who imparts the audience with meaningful, memorable life story lessons which led him to deliver keynotes in more than 15 countries. Rockbird Media sat with Aziph to converse about his career, life and on encouraging people to embrace who they are.
From viewing Aziph’s Linkedin profile, one could already know him just by looking at what he shares – interesting and motivating content to encourage his followers, may it be LinkedIn posts and stories. On his profile is also his experience in having several roles in government agencies. It’s not hard to actually know who he is through social media but what else is there to know about Aziph Mustapha? “My wife calls me an oversharer. She says I share too much. My life is an open book. Basically you can see everything about me on my LinkedIn. It is my primary social media. I’ve given up on facebook for some reason. I’ve been on LinkedIn for 10 years but I never took it seriously like most people, I thought it was just a job board. But before the pandemic hit, someone reintroduced me to LinkedIn and said it’s become much more than just about work, it’s become a bit more personal and is now content play. And when I looked into it, I saw that it was a very nourishing and very positive environment which I enjoyed. The more I shared, the more feedback I got so I began sharing everything there,” the speaker stated. Aziph is a family man, a father of five children and they have six cats! Behind his posts on social media, singing and playing guitar are because of his love for music. Recently, he revealed his latest crazy idea to form a dance group. 8 guys have already signed up and they’re just waiting for the coach to come on board. From an HR perspective, Aziph mentioned that he is not a typical HR practitioner. Never in his entire career has he been given an HR job title. “It was courageous of Celcom to take a chance on me and this is testament of the culture they want to build. It takes chances. I don’t have a traditional career path or growth but they wanted somebody different so they found something different in me. I believe I have grown in my position, I think I have relished in my role, I love what I do.”
When asked about one thing he can share with the HR leaders, Aziph related his answer with his experience in Celcom Axiata as the Head of Culture Transformation and Employee Engagement. While some companies report directly to the CEO or report to Strategy, his role is to report to his CHRO so apparently he received a lot more hands-on exposure to HR as he grew in his role. Clearly, the HR side makes a lot of decisions but what he brings to the table is his ability to understand the needs of the people. One of the things why he was brought into Celcom Axiata was his experience in grassroots development and bringing people together. It was part of his job in the innovation foundation in Malaysia. Celcom Axiata is a widespread organization with footprints all across the country and a large employee base. They thought that somebody with that ability to equip that energy of the grassroots was important. “Over the years, I found out that my key strength of what I bring to my role is the ability to bring people together, to listen to people and to basically gain their confidence so that anyone in the company can feel confident on picking up the phone or even knocking on my door and come speak with me and know that I have their best interest at heart.”
Speaking of his role in Celcom, Aziph also revealed to us his favorite part of his position. “It’s meeting the people. I enjoy going around. When I first joined, the CHRO gave me a plane ticket and said, ‘Go everywhere, where people are and meet them’, which is what I did. I think for almost six months, I was on planes non-stop and hotel rooms and just meeting up with people and just sitting in a room and telling them I’m here for them, I’m present to listen to them with no real agenda. Just understanding where they’re coming from, having breakfast with them or dinner with them. I spent a lot of time doing that.” The Head of Culture has a very strong understanding of where everyone is, where they live, where they work which has helped him to establish the organization’s narrative and to become a bridge between the employees and top management, a translator for instance – to share what the upper management wants for the employee to understand and vice versa. In that sense, he interprets between them to have more understanding of what the real issues are. When COVID hit, a lot of restrictions were implemented from having physical engagements therefore, he could not fly around or go outside to meet people. However, to his surprise he finds it a good thing to converse in a virtual setup because it feels more intimate to be able to see the people’s expressions and to get closer to them compared to a physical, big session where he couldn’t see the expressions in a big crowd of people. The smaller, frequent session that he had actually paid a lot of dividends because their employees felt that the organization cares for them – there was somebody to listen to them, to find out how they are doing during the quarantine because most everyone was working from home. “I even did house tours. So my favorite part of my work is to meet those wonderful people.”
Aziph also believes that listening is an underrated and under-trained skill for HR leaders. It is something they need to establish because the employees approach them with different kinds of issues, fears and needs and if they don’t listen carefully to what they are actually talking about, the leaders might miss the main point, or even worse, they might take actions that are noxious which can affect the company as a whole. It’s something leaders need to do more, as well. Being present for people is so critical especially during these difficult times. More are still worried about themselves, their families and their future. Undoubtedly, it is necessary to care and have empathy for others.
In 2017, Aziph gave an encouraging speech at TEDx, a local gathering where live TED-like talks and shows are shared within the community. In one of his presentations, Aziph brought up that to be taken seriously or to be noticed, you’ve got to be different. Now, what would the TEDx speaker say is one thing that sets him apart from other leaders? According to him, the ability to communicate is important, as we all see on his LinkedIn posts, he communicates for who he is and being authentic. It does take courage, he admits. “It’s scary for some people who are not open to share more about themselves, I guess I’m just like that. My wife feels terrified about it, she’s like ‘why are you telling people all of this?’ But I think it’s more of a good thing than any bad from all I have experienced so far. I think as a leader in any field, in any organization, the more authentic you are, the more people can relate to you, the more effective you can be at your job.” For him, an unauthentic leader cannot be an effective leader. Authenticity is key and for that, he tries to live and act in his most natural way. “So you meet me either outside or in a working situation, I’m still gonna be me. I think that does differentiate me in a way ” Some people from Celcom notice Aziph on the streets, saying they recognized him from LinkedIn. Although he might not recognize each of them, he’s confident that he has met almost every single person who works for the company, either physically or virtually.
It also speaks loud about Aziph’s gift of exhortation. The way he creates an impact on every single person he meets comes naturally out of him. There is something therapeutic about it, he reveals. “Creating an impact is also not a selfless thing. It’s not just me giving, giving, giving. All this feedback that I get is so nourishing for my mental health. I also use it as a way to grow and take care of myself. The more I help people, the more feedback I get, the more people care about me. It helps me live my life in this world we live in.”
Connecting to Aziph’s latest TEDx talk, the international speaker has a message for individuals who are scared of showing their true self or weirdness in the workforce. The title doesn’t speak about being weird for weird’s sake. “Each one of us is distinct, each one of us has our own characteristics so in that sense each of us is weird. So the key message was don’t be afraid to show who you truly are out there. ” Few people might find it a scary thing to do because of the negative outcomes when they show their true self. The one thing he believes worked for him is to find his tribe. It may be hard for some individuals to find their crowd, but if they finally meet one other person whom they trust, their tribe could be a tribe of one. “In that safe environment where you’re with somebody whom you trust and somebody who trusts you, you can be your real self. Like anything else in life, it really is about practice. If you don’t practice to try to be your authentic self, then it becomes harder to do that in public. So find a couple of people whom you can be comfortable with. Try different things, try showing your true self with those people. People tend to do that anyway but they don’t kinda realize it, but if you do it intentionally, you say ‘Let me try this and see how it feels’ and if it turns out fine, you can try it with a bigger group like the people at your work. It takes a bit of work, planning, and you need to be intentional about it.”
On more of Aziph’s astounding insights about his journey, Rockbird Media welcomes you to join him in his opening keynote at 11th HR Leaders Asia 2022 on August 24th in Kuala Lumpur Malaysia.
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