The Impossible Profession

Stephen Tjoa (Author in the works)


Excerpts from the book

“We can never crack the code completely because there is absolutely no science which can predict within a 99.9% confidence level how attraction and attrition can be optimally managed. We would be jumping for joy even if we could get a 70% chance of attracting the best people and engaging them through their corporate life-cycle with little or no disruption to their happiness, the other lives they lead or in any way hamper their personal aspirations and dreams. Hence, my suggestion that it can be a laborious and impossible profession for the most part for those contemplating careers which revolve around people.”

“I wish that the sum of my professional experiences in this space would yield a different conclusion about the top people issues (ie, attraction, development and retention). The fact, however, is that everything revolves around these three fundamental challenges, only the type, intensity and depth may vary. The expectation remains how we can effectively deliver solutions around these problem statements which are relevant, effective and sustainable.”

“As HR professionals, many of us have mastered the art of justifying our existence on a regular basis. We are often told that we need to be able to establish our value to the organisation as many of our value propositions aren’t as tangible as we would like them to be. We do not have sales targets or financial indicators which clearly point towards our worth. We even end up believing that we need to do more than others to prove ourselves worthy.”

“All too often, we talk about how wonderful our mentors are. I am certainly grateful for the inspiring elders I have been so fortunate to come across. Let’s not forget that for each mentor we meet, there is an equally influential nemesis. These individuals are equally important and life-altering. I have certainly benefitted from their anti-wisdom and doubting behaviour because they have laid the groundwork for my search for my version of the Holy Grail – where can I find good leadership? We need to forge meaning even in adversity. What better way than to have a devil’s advocate every step of the way.”

“Aside from donning on an impenetrable outer coat, you must be convinced of the value you are giving. In my own career experience, I understood the importance of adopting a similar lingo as the communities you serve. In my case, they were hardcore accountants. Each organisation has its own peculiar set of beliefs or culture, acronyms, approaches, styles and a plethora of norms which form the accepted language of interaction between colleagues. The key is to incorporate and adapt as much as possible. Never reinvent the wheel.”

“Sadly, many campaigns are borne out of problems rather than a genuine proactive desire to have the best practices. Best practices come with a hefty price tag of money, time and intellectual sweat. I come from a professional services environment where commercial performance often outweighs the need for a culture which rewards good behaviours, people-centred practices and consistent values which bind ourselves to one another. Business will always override every other priority. Let’s not be naïve to think otherwise.”

“What stands out as the only unique proposition will be how we articulate our humanity in our purpose statements and how we live out that tenets we set out to support that compelling human purpose.”

“This impact of insincerity, if not carefully managed, will kickstart the erosion process resulting in the eventual demise of trust. This is often felt in the quality of output, staff engagement and general sense of malaise felt in the organisation. Passion and respect cannot be bought or pushed down in any way. It has to have a foundation of trust – trust that you are being looked after, and trust that one would return to propel the organisation a step closer to realising its strategic business goals.”

“Many of us fall into the trap of communicating statistics as opposed to bringing a deeper context on how the organisation may have evolved and why it is uniquely positioned to be a leader in its chosen space. In addition, there needs to be a narrative which also focuses on the good it brings to clients, people and the larger communities it serves. Static information is best kept in manuals. Onboarding is about inspiring.”

“Leaders often keep many of these aspects close to their hearts because of paranoia. The rationale of which has always been that many leaders feel that employees are not mature or responsible enough to deal with touchy sensitive information. The more we try to rationalise it, the more they want the elephant in the room to be discussed in an open and honest way.”


 Kenneth Kang

For any organisation to have good HR strategies, policies etc is one thing, to have a HR head who is able to constantly innovate and deliver effective HR strategies that transcend, as demographics and workforce behavior changes is another. I have known Stephen for 15 years, and his uncanny ability to connect and empathize with people from all walks of life his stethoscope to hear and feel the pluses of any organisation workforce. Stephen's flexible and approachable nature makes him a great leader who can identify, harness and put together a team of talents that can drive any organisation to greater heights. Looking forward to have a chance to work with you again!

Kenneth Kang
Managing Director at Value Consultancy (Singapore) Pte Ltd
Tat Liang Koh

Stephen has a wealth of experience in wide areas encompassing best practices in especially HR, leadership and management. He is highly respected for his professionalism, tenacity, great interpersonal skills and a strong passion to drive excellence. His commitment in volunteering in numerous capacities is another impactful accomplishment. Being helpful and empathetic to people in need, he is known to go the extra mile.

Tat Liang Koh
Chairman at Intel Wise Group (IWG). Supply Chain & Operations Management Professional

I had the privilege to be part of Stephen’s team since I moved into the HR specialization many years ago. Stephen is a very creative individual who works with the team to bring many (ahead of its time) initiatives to life. Stephen has an uncanny ability to engage individuals as well as groups. This allows discussions to be open and candid with staff and management alike. Through Stephen, I also had the opportunity to work on talent development and employee engagement projects in our organization. Indeed, these were valuable experience that I thankful for.

Grace Loo
Associate Director, Human Resources Business Partner
Mamie Cheong

Stephen holds talent development very close to his heart, both for the professional community at KPMG as well as for tertiary students participating in Enactus. He was instrumental in helping Enactus Singapore set up the Responsible Leader's Programme. He is a supportive Board member and always had time to meet with me, whether to catch up or and to give guidance on various aspects of running our non-profit organisation.

Mamie Cheong
Former CEO at Enactus Singapore

I’ve had the pleasure of working with Stephen for some 10 years in my role at CPA Australia and have known him for a way longer period. He’s a great people person – always listening, championing and thinking through professional collaborations from a people perspective. He has also always had a heart for education and developing leaders. With this approach, he has supported CPA Australia with many practical ideas that have energised our annual International Accountants Day event which seeks to raise the profile of the accounting profession and encourage professionals to give back to society. At the core, Stephen is an inspirational professional of people and leadership development.

Melvin Yong
Country Head - Singapore at CPA Australia

Stephen was an active member of the Board of Enactus Singapore for over 8 years when I was Chair. Representing KPMG, he was highly supportive of the program and made many contributions, one of the most significant was developing the Responsible Leadership model. He was also a mentor to many student members and projects. Stephen is a pleasure to work with - he is grounded, always willing to lend a hand, measured and composed. His views and advice was certainly much appreciated.

Gerard Chai
Chairman - Singapore and Asia Pacific Leader, Technology Officers Practice at Korn Ferry

I worked with Stephen in the first 3 years of my role in HR. He was a good friend, a trusted colleague and a great mentor given his 20+ years of experience in HR. Stephen was undeniably a great listener, and at the same time, he was full of ideas. One of his best qualities was his communication and writing skills. His choice of words was always genuine and positive. Every announcement he created was always creative and persuasive, regardless of how challenging the messages he wanted to send across. I learned a lot from Stephen and I look forward to an opportunity to work with him again.

Ivana Arlianto
Head of People Performance & Culture - KPMG Indonesia

I've had the pleasure of working with Stephen Tjoa for more than 20 years. It was Stephen who introduced me to KPMG, recognising that I could play a role that I couldn't even envisage in the early years. And that's one of Stephen's strengths - identifying people and helping them to be successful at what they do. He's a great listener too and has undoubtedly played a part in the career development of many.

Dawn Westerhout
Head of Marketing & Communications, KPMG Asia Pacific
ISPL Clients

Singapore Civil Service College
Make My Trip
Indian Express
Western Union
Korn Ferry
Birla Sunlife
Estee Lauder
NUS Business School
Goodrich Global
Credit Suisse
MSD Pharma
State Courts
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