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Rebuilding Team Spirit After A Crisis

PKT Logistics Group jumpstarts staff morale with a stellar management retreat.

Many have experienced the domino effect of the Covid-19 pandemic – from slashed salaries, to increased workload no thanks to reduced manpower, while some even struggled with poor mental health.As we move into an endemic phase and with relaxed restrictions, many are taking this as an opportunity to seek greener pastures, causing the market to experience a wave of a movement dubbed The Great Resignation.

This begs the question employers should ask: How can businesses weather a crisis without losing their talents?

PKT Logistics group chief executive and managing director Datuk Seri Dr Michael Tio who took over the family business in 1996 has managed to ride the rocky waves of several economic crises while expanding its operations.

The secret to his success stems from his people-centric management style and taking his employees on trips.

Walkie talkies were essential in Tio’s trip to communicate with his convoy of six cars.

One standout anecdote

PKT Logistics Group employees often speak of is the “epic” management retreat.

PKT employees were able to make fun memories of snoring roommates and jokes on car rides to hiking challenging trails and co-workers bonding through the shared experience of adventure.

Tio said that PKT’s annual retreat was on hiatus for two years due to the travel ban.

So as soon as word got out that restrictions will be relaxed, he and his top management team took a leap of faith to plan a 10-day trip to Tasmania and Melbourne.

“Even during the pandemic, the team expanded as we embark on three big projects. I see an urgency to bond the old and new blood to get ready for market recovery.”

CEO turn tour guide: His turn to serve employees

As a logistician himself, Tio has a knack for making detailed and extensive travel plans.

He mapped out the driving routes and flight hours, pre-ordered meals at recommended restaurants, wrote a packing list and even prepared a zip lock bag filled with vitamins, face masks and hiking gloves for everyone – all before the trip.

“My staff worked hard for the company, so it’s my turn to serve them on this holiday,”he said,

In PKT’s retreat, there is no hierarchy, rank or title.

As Tio steers 35 people around a foreign country in six SUVs, the team gradually moves in sync throughout the journey.

Department heads from PKT crew enjoying the great weather at the 12 Apostles, by the Great Ocean Road in Victoria, Australia.

“Mobilising this many people requires teamwork and discipline. After a few days of travelling together, you’ll notice the gradual alignment among them as people begin to build an understanding with one another,” he shared.

The team learned to work together on daily tasks such as loading the luggage, following the convoy, communicating on walkie-talkies, getting organised in small teams to hike and even getting in position for group pictures.

He added that road trips have plenty of informal moments for everyone to form connections.

“This is why we reshuffle the people who share the same car and their rooms daily. Each day every car will also have different drivers and navigators in charge. There’s always a chance to showcase their leadership based on their strengths.”

Brighton Beach Boxes in Melbourne at sundown, where Tio was inspired to replicate the structures in his Francis Light Library at The Ship Campus, Penang.

Making core memories as a team

Tio likes to throw in activities in the management retreat that many are unlikely to attempt if they are travelling with family.

“All my trips include a challenging hike. Nothing beats the feeling of making it up to the top with my team and they feel energised after achieving such a milestone.

“Working for PKT doesn’t just help you to make a living, but also helps you tick off life experiences from your bucket list.”

In Tasmania, Tio led the team up Freycinet’s Wineglass Bay Lookout and Cradle Mountain’s Marion Lookout – two spots with breathtaking views of the terrain.

He said planning a hike for a group with various fitness levels and age ranges is not as straightforward as it seems.

There will be instances where fitter individuals must step up and lend a hand to the physically weaker ones, so, they too have a chance to reach the peak.

“This process truly humanises and puts us in a different light outside of the office. It fosters empathy for each other which is extremely important in the workplace.”

Keeping the culture tangible

Tio highlighted that the company’s policies are always rooted in its 5H culture – healthy, happy, honest, hardworking and humble.

Like any other business, PKT too had to manage their finances when the lockdown was announced.

Instead of launching a frenzy of cost-cutting measures and layoffs, it decided to roll out the Voluntary Salary Deferment Programme (VSDP) whereby employees defer part of their salary and earn a 5% interest per annum.

“VSDP was an effective way to keep the company afloat during emergencies yet shows that the company values our staff, rather than abandon them at first sight of trouble.”

With fine weather on the Tasmania 2022 trip, PKT’s top management completed their first hike at Freycinet’s Wineglass Bay Lookout.

In addition, PKT also gave out a hardship allowance for those who came back to work during the lockdown to help families cope with the sudden rise in household expenses.

“Such crisis calls for more compassion for our staff at every level,” he said.

Similarly, when travel restriction eased, Tio immediately revived the annual retreat to renew its top management’s passion to grow the company.

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