All posts in The Frontier Way

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 on understanding the Key performance Indicators of Banks:

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

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


Analysis on the economy with the recent dollar bond issue in FinanceAsia:,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:,_IMF_deal,_2016_outlook-3-5570-1.html

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


Opinion piece on boom and bust cycle of the economy:

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

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.

Frontier’s Fitness Initiative: How we plan to tackle fitness in the workplace.

One undeniable truth is that a company’s greatest asset is its employees. This is something that we choose to strongly believe in. As such, we’ve implemented policies like flexible work hours (where employees can work at hours (or places) that suit them) and even a choice-based environment (where employees are empowered with self-management, rather than micro-management). However, in recent times, we’ve come to realise that because a lot of our work is sedentary, it leaves much to be desired in terms of staying healthy.

Our CEO, Amal Sanderatne, holds staying healthy as an important part of his life (and an important use of his time, for which Frontier’s flexible hours is a huge help to him!). Yet we realise that some of our policies to create a flexible work culture can work against a broader goal of having a healthier team.

For example, while most modern offices are hardly conducive to a healthy lifestyle, unless you make a conscious effort to be healthy, working from home will likely give you even less opportunity to hit the recommended level of physical activity as employees even lack the physical exercise derived from travelling to and from work. Working in your pyjamas may not be everything it’s cracked up to be, health-wise at least!

Furthermore, given our choice-based environment, our team members have the choice of how to use their time – what happens if they do not view health as being as important a use of time as our CEO? Yet, we understand that if this choice leads to an unhealthy team (as it very well could!), it would affect our underlying purpose of providing great work in a “life first” work environment.

However, we’re not the first to see these short-comings – other firms that believe in an open-culture, such as Aetana and 37 Signals, have taken to offering incentives to motivate employees to focus on their health. Frontier hopes to follow in their footsteps, with our own little twist. We don’t hope to become competitive with our health initiative – we’re not gunning for the “Fittest team in the country” award – we just want Frontier to be a better option than the alternatives our team members could have chosen, in this regard. We don’t want to push (read: force) team members into becoming healthier, instead we want to encourage them to do so. Our goal here is to be a positive driver for healthy living!

One of the ways we’re looking to do this is through something we call T-Pay. This is a form of “bonus” (but we don’t really like that word, so let’s call it T-pay, that’s T for Thrive/Training). This can be considered a sum of money that Frontier will give team members to spend on their health. However, this is a relatively new concept to us as well, so it’s going to need some more planning in terms of budgeting, transparency and how we’re going to handle the payment (i.e. either cash or incentives like subsidized gym memberships).

Even though we haven’t figured out the mechanics of T-pay yet, we’ve taken our first baby step in our health initiative. We’ve planned to have some group sessions with a professional trainer and even had our first session just last month. Our team, all geared up in sportswear with exercise mats on tow, headed to the infamous Torrington. This baby step turned out to be an eye opener for many. The lunges turned out to be not as easy as lounging. Post all the complaints of cramps and hate towards the trainer, the team realized that they were not as “young and strong” as they thought (quite to the shock and dismay of Amal). We also realized that getting a medical check beforehand and planning it out as appropriate to each person maybe a better way to start, given the varied levels of fitness in the team.

But overall most team members realized they would need to put in a lot more hours to avoid future adverse implications to their health. All in all, it served as a good first start and provided the team the motivation to keep at it.

We continue to be inspired by a new global movement of businesses who are all passionate about re-defining work so that it helps people thrive, and a healthy team would be a key part of it.

Amal Sanderatne – The Contrarian

Here’s our CEO, Amal Sanderatne, “contrarian thoughts ” not only on the Economy but also on what comes first at Frontier and why Frontier “success” is secondary in his life.

Interview by LMD:

Could you provide a brief overview of how economic research works here, in Sri Lanka?

In Sri Lanka, the economic research we see is policy research. This is done for the purpose of understanding, evaluating and advising on the country’s economic policy. The economic research that Frontier does is quite different, as we don’t focus on offering advice on what policy should be.
Our main focus is to help the private sector understand the economy – and, in particular, provide forecasts or our expectations of key variables such as interest rates and the [value of the] rupee.

In terms of economic research and forecasts, what factors are unique to our nation?

Unlike in more developed markets, the availability of comprehensive economic data is less in Sri Lanka – and the credibility of the available data is, at times, questionable. The models or statistics-orientated ways of forecasting (i.e. econometrics) are far less useful in Sri Lanka. Data is also not available on user-friendly platforms, making it difficult to work with them directly.

Understanding the dynamics of politics, and the impact that this has on interest rates and currency policy, is critical in this country, compared to more developed markets, where there is a greater degree of separation between what the central bank does and what politicians want.

On the other hand, understanding politics and the policy impact on financial variables is easier in Sri Lanka, as the same mistakes are sometimes made in a regular cycle. This tends to make it easier to make predictions.

As a researcher, what are the main challenges you have faced?

The reality is that even when we have a strong view, it is never going to be a single, 100 percent on-point forecast. Although a single-point forecast is preferable, we convey multiple possibilities, providing scenarios with indicative probabilities. This is so that those concerned understand the most likely scenario and the existence of alternative scenarios. This should help them acquire a broader sense of the risks involved.

We are also known for having contrarian views. But at times, particularly when expectations are very positive, conveying a more negative view is not popular – it’s sort of like being the party pooper, when the party gets going!

What should be done to make Sri Lanka an attractive investment destination?

Policy economists often articulate the key concerns, and how to address them. We wouldn’t generally disagree with their views, except when we’re relatively pessimistic about whether the good advice will be implemented. However, one view we do have is this: we don’t believe in economic planning – at least, in the sense that most people seem to believe it should be done.

For example, many – including most policy economists – believe that the answer to the question on economic priorities is that government should promote particular sectors of the economy. On the contrary, we believe in a level playing field for all sectors, rather than a top-down planning approach, where bureaucrats or economists offer ‘theories’ about the sectors in which they should invest.

We believe it is best for the economy when entrepreneurs find their own opportunities, based on business realities and risks, and that the collective wisdom of entrepreneurs is better than a policy which is imposed top-down.

Where do you see the Sri Lankan economy heading, 10-20 years from now?

We see Sri Lanka on a volatile but upward path, similar to the past.

People, profit and performance – which comes first for a company?

Our purpose is very people-centred, which is basically about enabling our team to do really great things at work, while redefining what work-life balance is.

How do you minimise inaccuracy in your forecasts?

Accuracy in forecasts is providing a decimal-point-based forecast value, and then seeing how close to it you can get. We focus more on getting the thinking right, rather than on specific numbers. In particular, getting the direction right and identifying turning points in the economy, we feel, are more important. Trying to arrive at a decimal-point level of accuracy often results in missing the big picture.

What is your mantra for success?

I don’t measure success in the conventional way. Success – in terms of the size and growth of my company, my career, financial success, etc. – are secondary to me. To me, success is my ability to use my time the way I think is best, as I believe that time is our most precious resource.

I like to spend a great deal of time with my family and close friends, and also have the time to remain healthy. This involves having enough free time in life, so that stress is minimal. To achieve success on these terms, you need to set clear priorities – in terms of what comes first in your life – reflect that in your schedule and also accept the trade-off of what this would mean in the conventional definition of success.

How long have you been associated with this field?

Since 1993, if you take my initial step as a financial journalist; and since 1998, if you consider my first role as an economist.

In one word, how would you describe yourself?


“Start with Why “ by Simon Sinek: Useful Insights By Amal Sanderatne

My previous blogpost was an account of my reflection on Sinek’s book, here I explore his concepts in depth and present a snapshot of useful insights.

To fully grasp Sinek’s concept we need to identify the WHY, HOW and WHAT in a COMPANY. The following extract from the book helps us visualize these elements.

Sitting at the top of the system, representing the WHY, is a leader; in the case of a company, that’s usually the CEO (or at least we hope it is). The next level down, the HOW level, typically includes the senior executives who are inspired by the leader’s vision and know HOW to bring it to life. Don’t forget that a WHY is just a belief, HOWs are the actions we take to realize that belief and WHATs are the results of those actions. No matter how charismatic or inspiring the leader is, if there aren’t people in the organization inspired to bring that vision to reality, to build an infrastructure with systems and processes, then at best, inefficiency reigns, and at worst, failure results. In this rendering the HOW level represents a person or a small group responsible for building the infrastructure that can make a WHY tangible. That may happen in marketing, operations, finance, human resources and all the other C-suite departments. Beneath that, at the WHAT level, is where the rubber meets the road. It is at this level that the majority of the employees sit and where all the tangible stuff actually happens.

As I mentioned in my previous blogpost, I struggled to identify the “why” to incorporate it into Frontier’s purpose statement.

Why is it so Hard to describe “WHY” ?

  • The Brain makes it hard

“The Limbic brain comprises of the middle two sections and is responsible for all our feelings, such as trust and loyalty. This area of the brain is responsible for all human behaviour and all our decision making. It is where our emotional connection takes place, and it has no capacity for language. It is this disconnection between these areas of the brain that makes it so difficult to articulate our feelings. Simon talks about how when you meet ‘Mr’ or ‘Mrs Right’, how hard it is to put this feeling in to wordsSource

  • Because it’s a “Founder’s Why “ and the company is just one way of expressing it
  1. Shows Bill Gates as someone whose “WHY” in life is to remove obstacles to ensure that everyone can live and work to their greatest potential.
    Living through the computer revolution, he saw the computer as a perfect technology to help us all become more productive and achieve our greatest potential.
    Now he still believes that if we can help people, this time those with less privilege, remove some seemingly simple obstacles, then they too will have an opportunity to be more productive and lift themselves up to achieve their great potential.
  2. In the case of Apple, which is the main example Sinek uses in the book , he says Apple was a way for Steve Jobs to challenge the status quo and think differently,  just as what he did in his Hippie days

A comment I have is, this is a look-back, historical way of bringing everything together. I don’t think Bill Gates ever thought about his WHY when he started Microsoft or would articulate his current WHY the same way as Sinek has implied his “WHY” is now.  But it’s not a criticism, because again, it is something inherent, not something that can be communicated easily.

Is it enough to have a great “WHY”?


“WHY” people need “HOW” people to succeed 

WHY types have the power to change the course of industries or even the world, if only they knew HOW.

WHY-types are focused on the things most people can’t see, like the future. HOW-types are focused on things most people can see and tend to be better at building structures and processes and getting things done

HOW-types don’t need WHY-types to do well. But WHY-guys, for all their vision and imagination, often get the short end of the stick. Without someone inspired by their vision and the knowledge to make it a reality, most WHY-types end up as starving visionaries, people with all the answers but never accomplishing much themselves.”

Bill Gates, for example, may have been the visionary who imagined a world with a PC on every desk, but Paul Allen built the company. Steve Jobs is the rebel’s evangelist, but Steve Wozniak is the engineer who made the Apple work. Jobs had the vision, Woz had the goods.

“HOW” people can be successful Entrepreneurs but not change the course of industries.

Although so many of them fancy themselves as visionaries, in reality most successful entrepreneurs are HOW-types. Ask an entrepreneur what they love about being an entrepreneur and most will tell you they love to build things. That they talk about building is a sure clue that they know HOW to get things done. A business is a structure—systems and processes that need to be assembled. It is the HOW-types who are more adept at building those processes and systems. But most companies, no matter how well built, do not become billion-dollar businesses or change the course of industries. To reach the billion-dollar status, to alter the course of an industry, requires a very special and rare partnership between one who knows WHY and those who know HOW.

The exercise of trying to figuring out the “WHY”  and  “HOW” helped me understand and prioritize what I need to do for myself and frontier.

At the end, after reading through the book, what I realized is that it’s not about incorporating a WHY into a purpose statement as I was originally trying hard to do, but rather about communicating that WHY in a broader way through all our communication as well as making sure the HOW happens and is reflective of the WHY.

“Start with Why “ by Simon Sinek: My Reflections By Amal Sanderatne

“Very few people or companies can clearly articulate WHY they do WHAT they do…By WHY I mean what is your purpose, cause or belief? WHY does your company exist? WHY do you get out of bed every morning? And WHY should anyone care?”

 “People don’t buy WHAT you do, they buy WHY you do it.”

Extracts from Simon Sinek’s Ted Talk “How Great Leaders Inspire Action”

Inspired by these words I’ve been trying to improve Frontier’s purpose statement in relation to it, to incorporate WHY Frontier exists, but found it quite difficult to pin down one clear reason.

Then, I read the book. Though it was badly written and very repetitiveit was only after reading the book, with its specific examples that I understood the reason why articulating it was so hard and in fact that it is not important to “directly” put it into a grand “purpose statement”.

The companies highlighted as having a great “WHY”in his book, use it inherently, but don’t really have it in their “purpose” statements. This understanding, did not come directly from the book but after I actually researched further into it.

The real message for me is the importance of communicating your “WHY” in different ways as opposed just having it written in a document, giving it primacy in your communication and with that taking the actions (the HOW’s) needed to realize the “WHY”.

Even in the book and the video, it is not about expressing it as a “purpose” but rather as your “Belief”. My own view is that the words “Why/Purpose” is also often misinterpreted and thus have to be careful in making “WHY” a “Purpose”

In a small segment of the book, he talks about where this fits in a public declaration

“The vision is the public statement of the founder’s intent, WHY the company exists. It is literally the vision of a future that does not yet exist. The mission statement is a description of the route, the guiding principles—HOW the company intends to create that future.”

Thus for me, what I could try to say is I that I believe in the primary value of time as our most precious and finite resource. Therefore, I believe that anyone dealing with me or Frontier should be making the best use of their time. And we must strive to ensure that this belief is reflected in our HOWs (the way we do things) and that this is communicated properly to all stakeholders.

Please refer to my next blog post which explains Sinek’s concept in detail, aided by examples from the book for a better understanding of this concept.

4 New Ways We Are Making Our Reports Time Efficient For You

Frontier operates on the core belief that our most precious resource is time

With regard to our Research, we have consistently attempted to present our products in a simple concise way and thus enabling time efficiency in reading our Research. In coming months, we plan to take numerous steps to make it more so, reducing the time to get great information and insight.

In our research reports, only some of the information might be of use to all the clients who have opted in for it, while many pages of charts/detail might only be of use to a few. To make it easier for all, and to help you choose if a particular report is worth digging into, we will be structuring it as follows in the future,

  1. First have a couple of very short essential bullet points capturing the most important points in a nutshell
  2. Then a concise executive summary in the email text (so you don’t have to even open the PDF unless of real interest)
  3. The attached PDF will include further in-depth analysis and explanations supported by data and charts.  The email text will indicate the contents of the reports so that you can decide whether the full PDF is relevant for you to read.
  4. In the case of a chart heavy report, the PDF will be structured so that the most important 3-5 charts will be right up front, and then the rest for those who would like further information.

Our aim is to frame our products in a way where our clients could get to the core of what they need, without spending time reading beyond what’s needed for them. By this we hope to show you what to look for, what to avoid, and how to be selective and time efficient when using our Research.

Knaves and Divas: Google’s secrets to recruitment

Recruitment is integral to any firm. It is arguably the most important duty vested unto any manager. This means that a manager can’t go out hiring the first person he sees just because a post needs filling. A manager should strive to find the best employee for the job. But who exactly is “the best employee for the job”? Yes, they should have the proper knowledge for the post and experience will help, but there are other, less looked upon, characteristics that are as important (or even more important) than qualifications and experience. We can get a clue into what exactly these characteristics are by looking at those who seem to constantly hire the best talent there is – in this case, Google.

Eric Schmidt and Jonathan Rosenberg recently penned a book by the name “How Google works”, which gives us some insights into the search giant’s structure and processes. We’ll stick to the part that we’re most interested in – how Google recruits its talent.

In a Google+ post describing their book, Schmidt and Rosenberg state that “Great people are often unusual and difficult” and go on to classify them into two categories, namely Knaves and Divas. Knaves are ill-witted employees that, according to Rosenberg, are devoid of integrity, sloppy, selfish and arrogant. They are also often jealous and take credit for other peoples work. Divas, on the other hand, are employees who are extremely talented and see themselves as better than the rest of the team. However, they still work for the victory of the team and their achievements in the team either match or outweigh their egos. Rosenberg states:

“Not all difficult employees are knaves. In fact, some of most difficult are exactly the people you should fight to keep. I call them the divas. So exile knaves, but fight for divas!

Whereas knaves act the way they do because of low integrity, divas do it because of high exceptionalism. They’re extraordinarily talented and think they’re better than the team (and they usually are!), but they still want the team to win. What’s important is that their contributions match or exceed their egos.”

According to Schmidt,

“Cultural factors can conspire to sweep out the divas along with the knaves, as culture is often about social norms and divas often refuse to be normal.”

Being a Diva isn’t the only thing that defines the best employees though. This article from Fortune magazine shares some more of Google’s secrets to recruitment, with the first being the “LAX test”.

The LAX test (named after the Los Angeles International Airport’s nickname “LAX”) tests a person’s passion for a subject, as well as how interesting he/she may be (known at Google as a person’s Googleyness). In the words of Schmidt and Rosenberg,

“Passion is crucial in a potential hire, as is intelligence and a learning animal mindset. Another crucial quality is character. We mean not only someone who treats others well and can be trusted, but who is also well-rounded and engaged with the world. Someone who is interesting.”

“Imagine being stuck at an airport for six hours with a colleague; Eric always chooses LAX for maximum discomfort (although Atlanta or London will do in a pinch). Would you be able to pass the time in a good conversation with him? Would it be time well spent, or would you quickly find yourself rummaging through your carry-on for your tablet so you can read your latest email or the news or anything to avoid having to talk to this dull person?”

“This includes ambition and drive, team orientation, service orientation, listening & communication skills, bias to action, effectiveness, interpersonal skills, creativity, and integrity.”

The pair, however, stress that being interesting doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to like that person. You don’t even need to share the same viewpoints, in fact, it’s even better if you have different viewpoints altogether.

“Imagine that person with whom you are stuck at LAX has nothing in common with you, and in fact represents the polar opposite of wherever you stand on the political spectrum. Yet if this person is your equal (or more) in intellect, creativity, and these factors we call Googleyness, the two of you would still have a provocative conversation, and your company will be better off having the both of you on the same team.”

This difference in opinions is important as it creates diversity. The diversity they speak about points to the different ways in which people from different backgrounds see the world and the different perspectives they can bring.

“You must work with people you don’t like, because a workforce comprised of people who are all “best office buddies” can be homogeneous, and homogeneity in an organization breeds failure. A multiplicity of viewpoints— aka diversity— is your best defense against myopia.”

“People from different backgrounds see the world differently. […]These differences of perspective generate insights that can’t be taught. When you bring them together in a work environment, they integrate to create a broader perspective that is priceless.

Great talent often doesn’t look and act like you. When you go into that interview, check your biases at the door and focus on whether or not the person has the passion, intellect, and character to succeed and excel.”

At Frontier we follow a similar mindset. When hiring new talent, we run candidates through a series of rigorous tests and interviews in an attempt to judge whether they not only have the knowledge for the posts they are applying for, but also (and more importantly) to make sure they are able to integrate with our culture. Since most people leave their respective universities/institutions vying for a “traditional” firm with its processes, structures, corporate ladders etc. (which we don’t offer), this “culture-fit” is very important. Despite the strictness of our recruitment process, we have seen a steady influx of great talent into our company over the years  and we keep evolving in order to make sure that influx doesn’t abate.


Frontier is largely a self-managing organization, we avoid having a rigid hierarchy and are constantly evolving as organizational needs change. As we have discovered since the inception of our firm however, self-management is sometimes hard to implement among the Sri Lankan workforce. Because culturally, we are used to an organization that subscribes to the metaphor of a machine; with set processes, operating procedures and predictable motions and hierarchies. This is one reason why we are so notoriously picky with who we recruit.

Self-management is not entirely a new phenomenon, earliest examples of it date back to the 1950s. With the world changing and the creative destruction of the internet working its way into every aspect of our lives though, the movement for self-management is growing. Even today in Sri Lanka, more and more firms are adopting policies that provide more flexibility, independence and organizational environments that ‘millennials’ can thrive within.

At the core of it though, what is self-management? As Frederic Laloux writes “Self-Management is not a startling new invention by any means. It is the way life has operated in the world for billions of years, bringing forth creatures and ecosystems so magnificent and complex we can hardly comprehend them. Self-organization is the life force of the world, thriving on the edge of chaos with just enough order to funnel its energy, but not so much as to slow down adaptation and learning.”

Self-management means change; the way the organization functions will constantly shift and adapt to the forces it confronts and unleashes. Everything occurs on a need basis, including remuneration and leadership. As Chris Rufer, founder of Morning Star, says “Clouds form and then go away because atmospheric conditions, temperatures, and humidity cause molecules of water to either condense or vaporize. Organizations should be the same; structures need to appear and disappear based on the forces that are acting in the organization. When people are free to act, they’re able to sense those forces and act in ways that fit best with reality”.

At Frontier we try to be as organic as possible. We only meet when we really have to, and the moment we spot anything unnecessary in what we do, we get rid of it. Everyone has a seat at the table, but we usually find that different team members are more influential when it comes to certain subjects than others, in this sense the concept of ‘power’ within Frontier is also organic and fluid. To quote Rufer again “on any issue some colleagues will have a bigger say than others will, depending on their expertise and willingness to help. These are hierarchies of influence, not position, and they’re built from the bottom up. At Morning Star one accumulates authority by demonstrating expertise, helping peers, and adding value. Stop doing those things, and your influence wanes—as will your pay”.

For self-management to really work within an organization the people that are a part of it also have to be expert self-managers. They have to be dynamic, proactive and ambitious if the organization as a whole is to thrive. They must each be driven to expand the organization’s goals and objectives within their respective scopes of work. Self-management offers a lot of leeway and independence to those that participate within the system, but with great freedom also comes great responsibility, and finding people who can thrive within the environment we create is thus a key for us.

We suggest you read the whole of Laloux’s excellent article on the concept of self-management, which examines some key misperceptions about self-management as well. We’ve inserted some of our favorite excerpts below.

“What often puzzles us at first about self-managing organizations is that they are not structured along the control-minded hierarchical templates of Newtonian science. They are complex, participatory, interconnected, interdependent, and continually evolving systems, like ecosystems in nature. Form follows need. Roles are picked up, discarded, and exchanged fluidly. Power is distributed. Decisions are made at the point of origin. Innovations can spring up from all quarters. Meetings are held when they are needed. Temporary task forces are created spontaneously and quickly disbanded again.”

On power within self-management structures

“Power is not viewed as a zero-sum game, where the power I have is necessarily power taken away from you. Instead, if we acknowledge that we are all interconnected, the more powerful you are, the more powerful I can become. The more powerfully you advance the organization’s purpose, the more opportunities will open up for me to make contributions of my own.”

Self-managers aren’t born, but made. Like anything, it too has a learning curve.

“For people experiencing Self-Management for the first time, the ride can be bittersweet at first. With freedom comes responsibility: you can no longer throw problems, harsh decisions, or difficult calls up the hierarchy and let your bosses take care of it. You can’t take refuge in blame, apathy, or resentfulness. Everybody needs to grow up and take full responsibility for their thoughts and actions―a steep learning curve for many”