All posts in The Frontier Way

The Frontier Fitness Week

It’s been just over a year since we started our Fitness Initiative (which you can read about here). How did we do so far?

Well, in a word, meh.

Wait, let us explain…

Initially, team members were encouraged to start activities that contributed to their fitness and they did! Several team members joined gyms, took up yoga or just started walking more.

Day 2: We went Cycling/Running

But we believe that no one likes to be forced to do something they don’t want to do and when they are the results are, generally, not great.

So, we put it to the team. We asked each team member if they’d like to “opt-in” for our fitness initiative and this worked out better than expected – only one team member opted out.

 

Working together vs. working alone

Things were moving (get it?), just not enough – and we think we figured out why.

Yes, all team members were encouraged to start some fitness activity individually, but that takes a lot of motivation and effort. We decided to try out group activities, where the team could share each other’s motivation and get moving! (A little bit of friendly competition didn’t hurt either!)

Day 3: More Badminton!

We started small, scheduling weekly walks/runs (again, attendance was voluntary). While motivation was lacking, we figured what you won’t do for yourself, you will do for others. In that light, we asked the team to use our weekly walks as “training” for an upcoming charity run.

This worked out initially, but attendance waned after the charity run passed. We realized that walking wasn’t the kind of exciting “sport” that had people raring to go each week. So, we decided to get a few more options by calling for suggestions from the team. After too many a few anonymous internal surveys, we had a list of activities that the team would like – ranging from badminton and football to cycling and Zumba.

 

Day 4: Because no one wanted to take pictures at Zumba

Enter the Frontier Fitness week.

We decided to try a few of these activities, over the course of a week, during the holiday period in April. As an incentive, we decided to treat all qualifying team members to an unhealthy pizza extravaganza a dinner at the Hilton and with a walk around the Colombo Fort area. How do you qualify? Well, here were the rules:

  1. There will be 5 core activities. Team members need to attend at least 2 of these to qualify.
  2. If at least 3 team members attend all 5 (only one of us did), they would get another treat.
  3. Team members are free to organize their own activities as well.
  4. Each activity needs a minimum of 3 team members to qualify.

Overall, the fitness week was a success!

We played badminton on two days, went cycling, took yet another walk and even tried Zumba! Badminton took the cake, in terms of attendance, but cycling and Zumba were rather popular as well.

Day 5: Rounding it out with a jog!

The fitness week gave us a better understanding of the types of activities the team prefers and has really helped us plan out our future fitness activities (we’ve sprinkled in a few Badminton games amidst all the walking now – #progress).

 

Health is more than just exercise!

We also broadened our vision from just fitness/exercise to overall health. In that respect, we partnered up with Hemas. In case you haven’t heard, Hemas recently released an online “Wellness” platform – offering everything from medical checkups to activity tracking on one platform, with a monthly subscription. We’ve been using the said platform for a few months now and, while the activity tracking hasn’t kicked off with us, we recently concluded our first medical checkup through the platform and came away rather satisfied.

 

That’s it for now. Stay tuned for our next update on the Frontier Fitness Initiative!

 

The Story of Time Twister

We are on a mission to solve your “No time” problem and here’s how Time Twister became one of the solutions!

Before Time Twister..

Our team members would spend an inordinate amount of time searching for up-to-date news on the latest Economic, Financial and Political developments, which is a key aspect of any research based firm. Every team member at Frontier used to go through several news sources individually for very similar information, which, in retrospect, was not the best use of our time as a team.

The early days..

We set up a system for some team members to browse through a few critical news sources which were then categorized and prioritized. The news was compiled into a newsletter which was then shared via email with the rest of the team. Interestingly, it was initially called “Amal’s Daily News Update”.

Some fine tuning required..

The email newsletter was a hit, and we started introducing it to our close friends and clients. We received great feedback, which helped develop the product to what you see today. Some of the critical changes that were done include:

Expanding our sources – We found out that many of our clients are starved for information and like to see different perspectives on news stories. Hence our Time Twister newsletter provides an exhaustive coverage of the Economic and Financial market related news which includes almost all the English language Sri Lankan news sources. Recently we started monitoring a few key Sinhala and Tamil newspapers and translating them to be included in the following day’s edition of Time Twister.

Early Delivery time – All our time twister news products are ready and waiting in your inbox by 8 a.m. which is one of its most appealing factors for its readers. We even have an “Early Daily Time Twister” which is sent out before 6 a.m. for those clients who prefer to get a head start on the news

Customization – We learnt that different readers have different information needs. Some like it in one long email, others prefer it broken up in different ways, others would like it only when travelling. We cater to all of these, allowing users to select which flavor of Time Twister they like best.

Time Twister Now..

While our news products may have changed and become more diverse since the days of “Amal’s Daily News Update”, our mission to filter out the noise and give you the most important news in a timely and convenient manner is unchanged.

We call it Time Twister because of its core purpose of saving time. But the name is also reflective of how we “twist” work hours, well away from the norm, to bring you Time Twister as early as possible each day.

‘Science’ (you can call it pseudo-science if you like), has it that human beings function best at different times and, for some, these times are not the usual working hours.

There are what you call Larks, who are morning people, and Owls, who work best at night and are next to useless in the morning.

Time Twister is a product where Larks and Owls make best use of their work-time differences to add value to clients.

Time Twister in numbers..

8 Time Twister team members ensure that you get the news you require, delivered to you 7 days a week, 365 days a year.

1 of them stays up late to capture comments on equity forum discussions, 2 others are up as early as 4.00 a.m. to get the basic version of Time Twister ready, and 2 others are ready at the considerably less peculiar time of 6.00 a.m. for a final source check and update. To ensure that we can overcome any hiccups, we even have 1 person acting as the ‘back-up’! We also have 2 additional team members taking up duty during the weekend to give the rest of the team a well-deserved break.

Looking to the future….

The good news is that we’ll keep improving, taking feedback from team members, clients and friends. Feel free to send us an email or give us a call if you have any suggestions.

Are We Really Your Best Choice?

This week on Friday Focus, we continue to implore more on the “Frontier way”. Here’s why we help all stakeholders make the best choice suited for them.

 

“Are we really your best choice? Isn’t either X, Y or Z a better option for you? Why don’t you check with them first?”

Sometimes we give bizarre responses, like the above, when a client approaches us to do something outside of our focus areas. For many, it is a notion that’s a little difficult to comprehend, but this comes from our core values that guide us in what we do:

In particular a core value we have is we help all stakeholders make the BEST CHOICE, even if it is not with Frontier.

We believe it is the right thing to do, to help team members find better jobs, and our clients better business partners, if Frontier is no longer their best choice.

As our business grew, we have built our “brand” and “relationships”, not only about the specific work we carry out, but in a general perspective that we could be trusted and good at a variety of things. However, we don’t really want this developed comfort and familiarity to be something that wins us business. If someone is better than us at a certain job, we believe that we are only adding negative value by trying to do the same. We want to be the best. Ideally, “the only ones.

Our values could sometimes be confused as “new-averse” due to our discomfort in robbing someone of business they do better.

We are, however, definitely willing to venture into unexplored waters looking for new things that no one else does.  We are experiencing change in the way we do things and we do not shy away from opportunities to rapidly experiment with new ideas.  But we do not take anything head on just because there is a simple opportunity for us when we are well aware that there is someone who could do it better.

We apply the same values to our internal stakeholders. Recruits and current team members are constantly allowed to question if, “Frontier is the best choice for them?” We allow and often encourage and guide them to make that choice, providing direction into understanding what suits them best.

For us, it’s not all about saying “YES”, but to make sure the client chooses the most optimal solution possible – even if it’s not with us.

 

For more on the Frontier Way, visit our blog.

Catch up on your favorite Friday Focus in our Archives page!

Recruitment, The Frontier Way

This week on Friday Focus we take a look at an article from our own blog on how recruitment works at Frontier.

Candidates often ask us what the recruitment process at Frontier is like and whether it is as contrarian as the culture at Frontier. 

 

While specifics for roles differ, the underneath captures what everyone has to go through, including interns, on whose recruitment we place as much weight as on longer term posts. The key take away from this is, it is very hard to get any sort of position at Frontier. There is a range of tests/interviews you need to take part in that would take a lot of your time, and even at the final level, after going through many hours of your time and ours, you still have a high chance of being rejected. This can be the cause of hard feelings by some, but in our view has been essential to our success.

As you may know from past blog posts, the work environment at Frontier is very independent and democratic. And this philosophy extends to the recruitment process as well.

The initial stages would have any new candidate sitting through multiple tests/questions. Some are done online, in keeping with our largely remote work culture. The tests done would be dependent on the role for which she is being hired. An economics related hire would face economics related testing and equity related hire would face capital market related testing. Most interviews happen after this stage. Very often we try to schedule recruitments at a time we can blind test similar candidates. I.e. Tests are often given for which the answers are sent to the assessors (which include Amal, our CEO) without the candidates’ names on the answers. This is to assess the tests separate from the identity of the test taker without any sense of bias.

However, towards the end of the process, each candidate will have to be given the go ahead by every team member, including current interns. A new candidate will only move forward if he receives unanimous approval from the team, a question which is put to them on an anonymous basis, so they can answer it freely.

Further, at Frontier, prestigious qualifications and pedigree count for much less than how a candidate performs at our own tests. Almost all judgement is carried out based on performance during the in house tests that every candidate will be put through. Even those who have failed in the traditional sense but do well at the tests will find themselves on similar footing to those who have perfect CVs or perfect grades.

 

For more on the functioning of the Frontier way, visit our blog.

Catch up on your favorite Friday Focus in our Archives page!

Recruitment, the Frontier Way

cartoon picture of selecting a candidate for a job

Candidates often ask us what the recruitment process at Frontier is like and whether it is as contrarian as the culture at Frontier. Given that, we thought to write a post on it which we can share with future candidates.

While specifics for roles differ, the underneath captures what everyone has to go through, including interns, on whose recruitment we place as much weight as on longer term posts.

The key take away from this is, it is very hard to get any sort of position at Frontier. There is a range of tests/interviews you need to take part in that would take a lot of your time, and even at the final level, after going through many hours of your time and ours, you still have a high chance of being rejected. This can be the cause of hard feelings by some, but in our view has been essential to our success.

As you may know from past blog posts, the work environment at Frontier is very independent and democratic. And this philosophy extends to the recruitment process as well.

The initial stages would have any new candidate sitting through multiple tests/questions. Some are done online, in keeping with our largely remote work culture. The tests done would be dependent on the role for which she is being hired. An economics related hire would face economics related testing and an equity related hire would face capital market related testing. Most interviews happen after this stage. Very often we try to schedule recruitments at a time we can blind test similar candidates. I.e. Tests are often given for which the answers are sent to the assessors (which include Amal, our CEO) without the candidates’ names on the answers. This is to assess the tests separate from the identity of the test taker without any sense of bias.

However, towards the end of the process, each candidate will have to be given the go ahead by every team member, including current interns. A new candidate will only move forward if he receives unanimous approval from the team, a question which is put to them on an anonymous basis, so they can answer it freely.

Further, at Frontier, prestigious qualifications and pedigree count for much less than how a candidate performs at our own tests. Almost all judgement is carried out based on performance during the in house tests that every candidate will be put through. Even those who have failed in the traditional sense but do well at the tests will find themselves on similar footing to those who have perfect CVs or perfect grades.

Even if we feel a candidate would be really great through all this, at varied points in the process we try to understand if Frontier is the best thing for them as we are open about what we don’t offer.

If we also feel that they would do better for themselves in another firm, even though they would add a lot of value to us, we lead them that way, because a core value we have is that:

… we help all stakeholders make the BEST CHOICE, even if it is not with Frontier.

We believe it is the right thing to do, to help team members find better jobs, and our clients better business partners, if Frontier is no longer their best choice.

Are we really your best choice?

“Are we really your best choice? Isn’t either X, Y or Z a better option for you? Why don’t you check with them first?”

Sometimes we give bizarre responses, like the above, when a client approaches us to do something outside of our focus areas. For many, it is a notion that’s a little difficult to comprehend, but this comes from our core values that guide us in what we do:

In particular a core value we have is we help all stakeholders make the BEST CHOICE, even if it is not with Frontier.

We believe it is the right thing to do, to help team members find better jobs, and our clients better business partners, if Frontier is no longer their best choice.

As our business grew, we have built our “brand” and “relationships”, not only about the specific work we carry out, but in a general perspective that we could be trusted and good at a variety of things. However, we don’t really want this developed comfort and familiarity to be something that wins us business. If someone is better than us at a certain job, we believe that we are only adding negative value by trying to do the same. We want to be the best. Ideally, “the only ones.”:

We also like to ask ourselves the question; ‘what valuable products/services are not being offered?’. This is the strategic ethic that has driven us since our inception, and as the market changed around us, we have so far been able to keep expanding into new areas, and hope to keep doing so.

Our values could sometimes be confused as “new-averse” due to our discomfort in robbing someone of business they do better.

We are, however, definitely willing to venture into unexplored waters looking for new things that no one else does.  We are experiencing change in the way we do things and we do not shy away from opportunities to rapidly experiment with new ideas.  But we do not take anything head on just because there is a simple opportunity for us when we are well aware that there is someone who could do it better.

We believe businesses are there to solve problems and if we are not the best choice to solve a problem, we think we are only demeaning the value of our stakeholders’ time and the work entrusted upon us.

We apply the same values to our internal stakeholders. Recruits and current team members are constantly allowed to question if, “Frontier is the best choice for them?” They could function better at a different environment or belong in an entirely different field altogether. We allow and often encourage and guide them to make that choice, providing direction into understanding what suits them best.

For us, it’s not all about saying “YES”, but to make sure the client chooses the most optimal solution possible – even if it’s not with us.

The Rule to Guide All Rules – Week 1

As a norm we curate and extract from other published articles for Friday Focus. However, this time around, we’ve got a few of our own thoughts extracted from our blog. This is the first of many to come and will explore Frontier’s way of doing things.

For many, maintaining law and order requires the existence of stringent rules. But do we really need that many of them?

Here’s why we think rules aren’t mandatory. 

 

Rules are generally accepted as a necessary evil, created to maintain order in the chaotic world we live in. This applies to the workplace, as much as anywhere else. However, in a workplace, these rules don’t always need to be written into a book that every employee simply must refer. At Frontier we don’t believe in setting up a rule book for two main reasons;

  1. You don’t need policies for everything. For example: at Netflix, a company whose culture deck gave us a lot of ideas says “there is also no clothing policy at Netflix, but no one comes to work naked”. Many rules are generally known and accepted; they don’t need re-stating.
  2. Simply because someone made a mistake years ago doesn’t mean we need a policy.We don’t penalize the many for the mistakes of the few.

Thus, we can reduce the number of rules to be published in an employee manual to the “golden rule” or the 3-word policy of Use Good Judgement. This can be considered the “rule to guide all rules”. It is expected that people working at Frontier would use their common sense and good judgement rather than having to refer to a list of rules every now and then.

In the event that someone does make some bad judgement, our response will depend on whether that mistake is “mission critical” or not;

  • If it is a mission critical issue or likely that many others might make the same mistake: We will talk about it so everyone understands and it could go into a process book (a small guide we use to support decision making in complex situations)to avoid any future confusion over the matter.
  • If not:

o   At times we will let it slide (to see if it repeats, in order to assess if it is bad judgement or carelessness)

o   At times it will be dealt with quickly, mostly individually.

Broadly, making “bad judgements” impacts perceptions towards one’s judgment/maturity. This is symmetric to Frontier’s relationships with its clients. What our CEO, Amal Sanderatne, says and does matters, in the context of how clients perceive Frontier. This is implicit in all firms; even those with big rule books still rely on judgment. It’s about demonstrating maturity and professionalism.

 

Not every action requires a rule to supervise. Next week we’ll show you how we judge conduct at work.

For more on the Frontier way, visit our blog.

Catch up on your favorite Friday Focus in our Archives page!

At Frontier, Expertise trumps Position

While in the past Frontier has worked with quite a flat hierarchy, in recent times with the expansion of the team we have added a few more layers to the flow of responsibilities. We now have team leaders who are in charge of different teams within Frontier, i.e. Econ, Equity and Information curation & Business development.

Amal, our CEO now works more as a coach as opposed to a team leader, taking responsibility of the overall growth strategy, direction and diversification of the company. The three team leaders are responsible for the specific work in each sub-area. They have the freedom to decide and delegate work among their team members. Amal, as the coach, provides guidance on the broad directions of work.

Once the team leader decides the overall work targets for each team for a specific period of time, e.g. special reports, events, presentations etc., the work is then delegated among various team members within each team. The delegation is done based on team members’ capacity, skills and willingness to take on work.

While team leaders are responsible for the overall performance of the team and for the overall quality and accuracy of the work, every team member within each team is responsible for the work they take on. With that comes the responsibility of representing the work they have done – may it be presenting them to clients, writing/publishing a report, or media representation etc.

Basically, expertise is shared at frontier – each team member has a particular area they are specialized in. So often times, when Frontier gets requests to address a conference or make a media presence on a particular topic, the team member who is most knowledgeable on the topic and capable and willing to handle the responsibility is given the opportunity to represent Frontier, rather than Amal always taking on the responsibility as was the case in the early years. We believe this adds more value both to media output as well as to Frontier.

These media representations are some of the instances where different team members expressed their views on their specialized areas;

Travis

Travis on understanding the Key performance Indicators of Banks:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cpAY1VNwTvg

Travis interviewed by Echelon Magazine on the outlook for the CSE:

http://echelon.lk/home/cse-slump-may-last/

Travis was part of a panel discussion organized by UNFPA Sri Lanka on the generational impact of changing demographics in Sri Lanka:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ww7EQNOhjVI

Shiran

Analysis on the economy with the recent dollar bond issue in FinanceAsia:

http://www.financeasia.com/News/427692,sri-lankan-bond-proves-fleet-of-foot.aspx

Shiran part of panel discussion organized by the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce on Brexit, IMF deal, 2016 outlook:

http://www.economynext.com/Ceylon_Chamber_forum_on_Sri_Lanka_fallout_of_Brexit,_IMF_deal,_2016_outlook-3-5570-1.html

Op-Ed in the Sunday Times on expectations for the economy in 2016:

http://www.sundaytimes.lk/151227/business-times/ringing-in-the-new-year-with-uncertain-economic-prospects-176333.html

Ashini

Opinion piece on boom and bust cycle of the economy:

http://www.lankabusinessonline.com/opinion-rite-of-passage-boom-and-bust-cycle-of-the-economy/

Ashini & Thilini on provincial and sector household income growth in Sri Lanka:

http://www.sundaytimes.lk/150301/business-times/provincial-and-sector-household-income-growth-in-sri-lanka-137346.html

What is Frontier Research?

Frontier Research is built around its founder, Amal Sanderatne’s, belief that time is our most valuable resource and his views on how to make better use of it. He believes it is essential that individuals maximise their time, in the ways that are important to them.

In the beginning…

Before setting up Frontier, Amal had experienced different work environments: some very rigid, some more flexible.

 There were some where the work was very exciting and he was very passionate about what he did, but it was very demanding and simply precluded the possibility of having too much of a life outside of work. There were others where he had very little actual work to do, with little motivation, clocking in a set eight hour day but with much of that time spent idle. Then there were others which were very well paid, but with very little underlying purpose to it.

The kind of work Amal  wanted was hard to find and this search for a better way to work was the core reason for setting off on his own. He aimed to craft the kind of career he wanted for himself and then later to the team that he hired.

Fulfilling work, in a life-first environment!

In a nutshell, the core idea behind Frontier Research is to enable our team to engage in fulfilling work at times that are best suited for them, in a life-first work environment

“Life first” is easy to explain, and for Amal that means putting Health, Family and Friends before work. However, it’s hard to capture in words what “fulfilling” work is, but at its core, it can be judged within the following framework:

Truly fulfilling work can be found at the centre of these 4 attributes. In short, it is about finding work that has meaning, through providing something the world needs. As Richard Branson said, “Great businesses are places where problems are solved and lives are improved”.

Right now with all our work, we find fulfillment by helping our clients create time in their lives by providing them the information that matters to them in less time.

Putting all of this together, we’ve come up with these belief statements to help us shape our corporate culture:

“We believe time is our most precious resource.

We believe in work that enables people to live better by using their time better.

For our team, this means enabling them to engage in fulfilling work at times that are best suited for them, in a life-first work environment.

For our clients, this means getting them the information that matters most to them in less time, through time efficient research and information services”

The Rule to Guide all rules

Rules are generally accepted as a necessary evil, created to maintain order in the chaotic world we live in. This applies to the workplace, as much as anywhere else. However, in a workplace, these rules don’t always need to be written into a book that every employee simply must refer. At Frontier we don’t believe in setting up a rule book for two main reasons;

  1. You don’t need policies for everything. For example: at Netflix, a company whose culture deck gave us a lot of ideas says “there is also no clothing policy at Netflix, but no one comes to work naked”. Many rules are generally known and accepted; they don’t need re-stating.
  2. Simply because someone made a mistake years ago doesn’t mean we need a policy. We don’t penalize the many for the mistakes of the few.

Thus, we can reduce the number of rules to be published in an employee manual to the “golden rule” or the 3-word policy of Use Good Judgement. This can be considered the “rule to guide all rules”. It is expected that people working at Frontier would use their common sense and good judgement rather than having to refer to a list of rules every now and then.

In the event that someone does make some bad judgement, our response will depend on whether that mistake is “mission critical” or not;

  • If it is a mission critical issue or likely that many others might make the same mistake: We will talk about it so everyone understands and it could go into a process book (a small guide we use to support decision making in complex situations) to avoid any future confusion over the matter.
  • If not:
    • At times we will let it slide (to see if it repeats, in order to assess if it is bad judgement or carelessness)
    • At times it will be dealt with quickly, mostly individually.

Broadly, making “bad judgements” impacts perceptions towards one’s judgment/maturity. This is symmetric to Frontier’s relationships with its clients. What our CEO, Amal Sanderatne, says and does matters, in the context of how clients perceive Frontier. This is implicit in all firms; even those with big rule books still rely on judgment. It’s about demonstrating maturity and professionalism.

However, we do have one key “rule” at Frontier – No bullying and harassment. Which brings us to how we look at conduct at work.

Conduct at Work

Unacceptable behavior at Work is viewed in two main aspects:

First, discrimination based on stereotypes. Everybody has stereotypes, we agree, but we must not act on them, especially if it unfairly discriminates a few. What is important is that one must have the maturity to respect other people and accept them for what they are as individuals. Be it religious, sexual orientation, gender, other beliefs or lifestyle choices which can lead to people being categorized in a group (such as people who frequent night-clubs or even those that prefer to stay at home). Acts of discrimination or bullying must be avoided and are not judged by the perspectives of the majority but by that of the individual.

The other aspect is general nastiness, gossiping, backstabbing etc. Again, a lot of this also depends on context. Everything is subjective and a remark in a certain context may cause hurt, while in another context it could be joke that we can all laugh about. It could even have a different impact on different people.

The general idea is that if someone feels they are being harassed or treated badly by another team member (as outlined above), it is something that matters and should be dealt with in some way. This can be done either among the parties in question, with other peers intervening or by another senior member or Amal becoming involved. No one should feel that work is a place that they get bullied, harassed or discriminated against.