When Hj Alimen visited his suppliers in Singapore and Thailand who are in the gift production business, he noticed something unusual; many of the production workers were people with disabilities. And according to his business associates, these special people possess a superior attitude towards their line of work compared to other employees.
On returning from this trip last year, Hj Alimen gave this idea careful consideration and then decided to approach Pusat Bahagia in the hope of recruiting 11 Orang Kurang Upaya (OKU) or people with disabilities. The decision to do this not only changed Hj Alimen’s business, it changed his life and theirs.
“I am now a more considerate, more socially aware and a more patient person,” said Hj Alimen. And not only that, he is also a much happier man. Hj Alimen recalled the old days of walking into the company feeling completely stressed and in a bad mood because things were not being done according to instructions. “With the OKUs, things are just different,” smiled Hj Alimen. A year on, 9 of the 11 recruits are still with the company. A remarkable turnover ratio not just in terms of special needs people, but also in relation to the Brunei workforce in general.
Just the day before our interview, Hj Alimen issued a One Month Bonus to all the employees. This was perhaps the first time in many of the employees’ lives that they had been given an incentive that showed recognition for their talent and hard work. But looking back, things were not always smooth sailing.
Amongst the special recruits, some are mute, some are autistic and others have emotional issues. Therefore, the management needed a lot of time to discover each individual’s strengths in order to assign the appropriate type of work. “There was no one size fit all approach,” recalled Hj Alimen.
He then told us about one of his staff members who had a passion for cleaning. When he was given the task of house keeping, he took it so seriously that he cleaned the entire vicinity for three days going through many bottles of detergent. “The supervisor had to confiscate the window spray to deter him from doing any more scrubbing,” said Hj Alimen.
Hj Alimen proudly pointed out that this group of people demonstrates special traits that make them invaluable contributors to the company. Firstly, if given the task of doing a repetitive and mundane type of job, like duct taping parts over and over again, after a while many people may lose interest and become less attentive.
“A great organisation is about efficiency and effectiveness, as much as it is about compassion and good leadership.”
However, this is not the case with the OKUs, they can do this type of job all day, everyday with a renewed sense of purpose, consistent passion and an eye for detail. Often times, they would not want to leave work until the tasks have been completed.
For this, Hj Alimen is extremely thankful to the parents and families for their understanding and support. Secondly, these workers would often turn up to work at 7.45am, even though the official working day starts at 8.30am. When it comes to work ethic, there is definitely something we can learn from these extraordinary craftsmen. And thirdly, Hj Alimen said that the OKUs are excellent at following instructions.
For instance, in the past when Hj Alimen would ask the workers to conserve energy by switching off the power after work, this was hardly ever done. But with the OKUs, this is not an issue as he is certain that these instructions are followed. The only problem is though, he laughed, “They have to be kindly told not to switch off the alarm system.”
Indeed, there is no such thing as the perfect employee, but with determination, this organisation is showing that anything can be accomplished. One of the biggest joys of this experience for Hj Alimen is to see this batch of employees expand their skill sets and over time increase in confidence and self esteem. While the initial training was challenging, time has proven that the effort was worthwhile. For Hj Alimen, exercising leadership is not just about giving instructions to his staff about the work that needs to be done, the toughest part of his role as leader is setting an example for the staff to follow.
This is perhaps why the name Alimen Enterprise is synonymous with quality. Hj Alimen does not compromise when it comes to standards. An accountant and an economist by training, Hj Alimen found his true passion in the designing process involved in the gift business. He has the unique ability to visualise from concept to the final product. He also has the technical knowledge that is needed to bring the ideas to life. As well as this, he is able to communicate his vision to the customers and to convince them about its value before it is even completed. His honesty and solid work ethic sets him apart from other competitors and won him the trust and respect of highly respectable customers across the country.
Hj Alimen’s work philosophy reminds us that a great organisation is about efficiency and effectiveness, as much as it is about compassion and good leadership.