Thursday, 31 July 2014

Look before you leap

This holidays period allows me to spend more time reviewing news from all sorts of sources. Given what is happening nationally and globally, there are all sorts of news from all sorts of sources which shape our world views and opinions. Social media and news portals are amongst those sources which are frequently used by many of us.

Considering the responses and comments made by readers to messages and news available on these platforms, I am quite concern that many of us take these news and information on face value, do not understand the background of the sources, may not be able to comprehend the context and are trigger happy in responding.

While slowly we are getting used to deal with instantaneous flow of information and are expected (especially by our bosses) to react in similar fashion as well, we may have not developed the skills of comprehending information of such nature. This creates the risks that our instantaneous response may not reflect our thorough thoughts and views. Remember, once you press the RETURN button on your computers or smartphones, your views, thoughts or even LIKES are electronically captured. Even if you decide to delete or remove them later, somebody, somewhere could have gotten the records (especially Big Daddy).

I suppose remembering and applying the old wisdom of "Looking before you leap" remains relevant if not more crucial in the world where the flow of information is unfiltered and the sources may not be reflective of realities.

You may want to consider the following tips:

Diversify our sources of information

Different sources of information have different ways of reporting, sharing and more importantly angles to the issues being reported. By having wider sources, we should be able to sense the general views and direction of the issues. Relying on a single information point will expose you to rely on bias views or angles.

Understand the context

Context will add value to facts that you are considering. A child who cries over a prolonged period could be considered a nuisance until we know that both parents had just passed away. The more you understand the background of an issue, you would be able to have more sense of the information which you are considering.

Take a 20,000 feet view

Before forming your views, step back and look at the big picture. Remember when you are on a flight, at 40,000 feet you may see nothing, when the aircraft lands, your views are limited to thing that are in front of you. However, at 20,000 feet or thereabout, you are able to see bigger picture of the terrain below you. The challenge is to decide how wide the perspective should be and how much details you need before making a decision.

The source of information may be bias

If you watch different news channels, you may find that their coverage could differ even when reporting on the same event. Inherently, people are bias towards what they believe (or told to believe) what is true. If we do not filter this, we will be sucked into their game plan. Even on social media, this is also relevant. Be careful in believing hot news or interesting photos as many may not even be true. I am not surprised that some news portals in Malaysia are paid to side a certain group of people in certain issues. Are they the "information age mercenaries"?

Think before you share your thoughts

While people are free to share their views and opinions, it is worthy to consider what you are saying or writing to ensure you are not far off from truth. Given the ways social media works, for example, once information is released from you side, there is no turning back. As the new saying goes, there is no delete button on internet. What more when, due to your enthusiasm to share you views and thoughts, you are alienating many good friends of yours, both in the real world and the virtual world.

I am sure there are more issues to consider before we act but I believe the able are sufficient guidance to ensure the rest of the world are not laughing at us when we have not done enough before pressing the RETURN button on our keyboards.

Sunday, 27 July 2014

Have we forgotten about being human?

I tired to find the scientific definition of human on Wikipedia but the complex definition is beyond my comprehension. However, I am sure you understand who am I trying to talk about, you and me.

While we share the same classification as human, physically we may not necessarily look the same. Some people have fairer skin colour than others. Some have different types of hair, facial features and many more differences. Many of us use those physical differences to classify us into different ethnic and sub-ethnic groups. They ways we communicate also differ, resulting in many languages being spoken around this planet.

If we explore the softer part of human, we have different beliefs, principles, values and many more. This results in further sub-classification of human, on top of their physical features mentioned above.

On the other hand, we also many things in common. All of us want to be happy, loved and live in an environment where we could achieve most of what we want without interfering with others' rights and interests. The problem is, instead of pursuing this, many of us chose to focus on our differences and behave selfishly without bothering the effect of our conducts on others.

Due to the above, we live in nation states where we choose (in some countries, this option is not available) our leaders, where they are entrusted to manage whatever wealth that we have on our behalf and ensure we live in societies where the rule of law is respected. Are you experiencing such an ideal state? I leave it for you to have your own assessment.

Due to the many differences that we have and the inclination for us to focus on the differences and our self-interests, conflicts are just a second nature. On a daily basis, we have to deal with all sorts of conflicts, minor issues at home to differences between larger groups of people and even nation states.

If we observe the animal kingdom, their dispute resolution is very simple. They fight amongst themselves and either the other side is killed or they leave the territory to avoid further humiliation. We always refer this as the law of the jungle. Is it so? Or are we also using the same rule to resolve our disputes?

With technology nowadays, we are able to know what are happening around the world. We can see events where humans sportingly compete amongst themselves and honour each other in victory or defeat. We trade among ourselves and despite they are winners and losers, all parties are able to respect the rules and will continue to trade again in the future. 

Whenever there are more serious crisis leading to war, groups of people who carry high moral values will intervene, with persuasion or if necessary with force. We call them the United Nations. The funny thing about this arrangement is that the whole world are governed by a smaller group of people who won the Second World War. They are the permanent members of the Security Council of the United Nations. Each carry a veto to override what ever consensus which the permanent members do not agree. Very fair indeed!

Fortunately or not, these permanent member could do whatever that they like with their veto powers, including declaring that invaders and occupiers are the victims should they are harmed by the people who they invade and occupy. It seems that human lives have different value to different people. Some may argue that this is a speculation of mine. Unfortunately, we could observe this daily on our television sets or other means of communication which we use. All the high moral grounds and principles are tossed away when truth and justice collide with self-interests and group interests. Humanity is just a definition in dictionaries but in reality, they are people who have more rights and privileges over others.

Off course they have friendly information suppliers who would tell their side of the story and lie repeatedly so that their version of truths are accepted. While we cherish freedom of information, a free flow of information in only a particular direction and only by those who have control over what we read, watch and hear may not be an ideal state.

In summary, while many of us talk about humanity, fairness and justice, many of us are also sufferings from the conduct of these very people. Given the devastation shown of the media, I wonder whether collectively we have forgotten about what does it takes to be human. I do not know the answer but I will need more convincing that all humans are equal before our own eyes.

Saturday, 28 June 2014

Living the spirit of Ramadhan

Let us be honest with ourselves. When the month of Ramadan is mentioned, what do we picture in our minds?

While many would be thinking about refraining from food and other undesired behaviours, many others would be looking forward to the verity of food and desserts, sold at Ramadan bazaars as well as at hotels and restaurants which offer special fast-breaking deals.

While many would expect to eat less as Ramadan is about submission to Allah and appreciating the sufferings of those who are not that fortunate, surprisingly it is also a period where many Muslims would be consuming more food than other months. What could happen is the timing for breakfast, lunch and dinner are re-arranged? On top of that, people are naturally attracted to buy more than what they need when preparing for the fast-breaking.

To Muslims, Ramadan is a month full with blessings. The fast performed during the days will rewarded with blessings, forgiveness and salvation from the hellfire, if the fasting is performed honestly with the sole purpose of attaining the pleasure of the Creator of the Heavens and Earth. During night time, special prayers are offered and other specific deeds would earn multiple rewards compared to normal months. This is the reason why extended fast-breaking events may deter Muslims from exploiting opportunities available during Ramadan.

As what happen to other major activities in our society, slowly simple and meaningful events are turned into commercial opportunities. Once corporates start to turn Ramadan into a commercial exploitation opportunity, its meaning and values are slowly eroded. That is why to some of us, Ramadan is more about having more food rather that the opposite!

Things will be more commercialised towards the end of Ramadan when Muslims are starting their preparation to welcome Aidil Fitri. Ironically, the last ten nights of Ramadan is when Lailatul Qadar will occur. This is a night where any deed is rewarded as if it is performed over 1,000 months. Given the commercial attractions, many may not be able to concentrate of their prayers but busy shopping for cloths and other necessities for the forthcoming festivities. A miss opportunity?

At the end of the day, how we approach Ramadan is dependent on our honesty to seek the pleasure of Allah and using all the opportunities during Ramadan to be closer to Him and obtain his forgiveness. Once this is lost, Ramadan is all about hungry, food and shopping. The choice is with you and me.

Saturday, 31 May 2014

Who Got Talent?

Ask any leader of organisations on matters which concern them and the chances are talent would be high on their list. It is amazing that in the world where information is readily available and educational institutions are mushrooming, recruiting and retaining talent appears to be one of the key challenges faced by organisations. This is not a phenomena faced by Malaysia alone, many countries around this region are having the same challenge, notwithstanding the strength of their currencies.

Where have all the talents gone?

Maybe I can start by considering talents at the entry point, the graduates. Despite the differences in approaches taken by organisations in assessing talents, the top scorers would certainly be preferred. However, this group would be only around 20% of graduates entering the job market. Most of the time, the kind of employers who are able to recruit these top talents would be large organisations which have allocations to train and nurture the talents that they recruited.

What will happen to the rest? For those who are at the bottom 20%, regretfully, they would find it difficult to be employed. Those who are stuck at the middle, on the other hand, may ended up with less resourceful employers which may not have comprehensive programmes for talent development.

We could see from the above the kind of "mis-match" between skills and competencies and further talent development. Those who are good will be further nurtured which those who displayed moderate results may not be provided with the same opportunities. Perhaps this is none of the reason organisations which employ graduates from the middle segment would be complaining about the "quality" of graduates without admitting that they themselves may have not made adequate investment in their own people. Organisations at the end of the scale would only be able to employ the remnants of students, based on their inferior grades. I am sure you would be able to anticipate the outcome of such situation.

We may have also heard about the issue relating the quality of graduates. Depending where you are on the supply chain, this issue could be viewed in many perspectives.

Employers would always demand for the best, which to my mind is rightfully so given that through their organisations, economic activities are created, which eventually contributing to our economic growth and providing employment opportunities. On the other hand, those at the institutions of higher learning may not necessarily share the view that graduates that they produce should serve the need of industries. They would argue that our education policy is a holistic one which attempts to equip graduates with knowledge and humanistic values, not necessarily serving the need of employers. 

I do not see any problem with the two views. The only question that I may want to ask is why those who are nurtured to have both education and values could not adjust quick enough when they are employed? In fact, many employers would be complaining about the graduates' thinking' and problem solving skills. I am not sure whether thinking and problem solving are not part of the holistic policy? Or, could it be that the standard set is pitched towards the standard of thinking and problem solving of their educators?

As a taxpayer, I would certainly like to see that money that I contributed towards nation building is well spent. Since many of our institutions of higher learning are funded by public funds, they should not ignore the expectations of people who are funding them, the Rakyat!

Employers should also play their role in nurturing talents and cannot expect all graduates posses knowledge, skills and values which fit exactly with their requirements. For the accountancy profession for example, many accountancy firms will require their staff to complete professional accountancy qualifications, to ensure the baseline standards for accountants are achieved. This is not cheap as it requires investments in terms of money, time and efforts in the form of guidance and mentoring. However, the outcome of such investment would certainly make them more effective and competitive.

Graduates should not expect employment as something which does not require them to further work on their competencies. At the early stages of employment, the focus would be on skills and competency development. At the later stages, their management and leadership skills will determine how far they can grow in the organisations.

I suppose the talent issue will remain with us for a long time. However, this should not deter organisations to review the processes which they deploy to develop talents. Graduates should also not expect everything would be given on silver platters, they need to work harder to fit into the organisations which employ them.

Tuesday, 13 May 2014

AOB Annual Report 2013: Oversight focus on internal monitoring systems

Audit firms are reminded to perform the necessary audit procedures to evaluate whether the overall presentation of the financial statements is in accordance with the applicable financial reporting framework, according to the Audit Oversight Board (AOB) in releasing its fourth annual report.
The report highlighted that while the presentation and disclosure of financial statements is the management’s responsibility, there are specific ISA requirements that need to be adhered to by auditors.
The AOB Annual Report 2013 has captured its oversight focus in the past year on activities that reinforced the quality control system of audit firms in Malaysia and encouraged best practices which enhance the quality of their audit work.
The oversight board’s inspections activities stressed on key elements including the tone set by leadership of audit firms, consistency of performance of partners within an audit network and the effectiveness of their internal quality monitoring systems.
Audit firms’ internal monitoring processes were given added focus during inspections to allow AOB to have a better picture of their scope, implementation and effectiveness. In his Chairman’s statement, Nik Mohd Hasyudeen Yusoff, Executive Chairman of the AOB said, “Based on our findings, we believe audit firms need to enhance this component of their quality control procedures to ensure better effectiveness.”
AOB’s 2013 Annual Report also lists down potential root causes to audit deficiencies for major firms.
Lack of resources due to continuous high attrition rate, amount of involvement and insufficient supervision and direction by engagement partners, failure of the firms’ monitoring control mechanism to surface relevant issues and lack of application of professional scepticism in evaluating audit evidence continue to be top potential issues.
Meanwhile, the potential major root causes in other audit firms were weak messages on audit quality by their leadership, lack of understanding of the business of audit clients, inadequate technical competencies in both accounting and auditing, insufficient technical support to safeguard audit quality which includes consultation process and internal monitoring reviews, lack of application of professional scepticism in evaluating audit evidence; insufficient involvement, supervision and direction by engagement partners and ineffective Engagement Quality Control Reviewer (EQCR).
“More honest and holistic approaches in identifying root causes and devising appropriate remediation plans to address the actual drivers of the deficiencies would strengthened audit firms’
system of quality control, and position audit firms in better footings.,” Nik said.
In enforcing auditing standards the AOB took enforcement actions against 6 auditors in 2013, mainly for their failing to comply with the requirements of auditing standards in the performance of their audit.
“While the AOB has always been focusing on working with audit firms to enhance their performance, we would not hesitate to take enforcement actions against serious deficiencies and breach of ethical conducts which will affect confidence on the audited financial statements in Malaysia,” Nik said.
The report also found that audit fees charged by top 10 audit firms had increased by 6% and 9% in 2011 and 2013 to compensate for the increase in salary cost which rose 18% and 13%, respectively, in both years, and an increasing trend has been observed in audit fees since 2010.
The AOB was set up by the Securities Commission in 2010 to oversee the auditors of public-interest entities (PIEs), protect investors’ interest and promote confidence in the quality and reliability of audited financial statements of PIEs.
In 2013, the number of audit firms registered with the AOB went down to 53 in 2013 compared to 67 in 2012. However, the number of registered individual auditors has gone up from 293 compared to 302 in the previous year.
The AOB 2013 annual report can be downloaded here