Climbing Out of Troubled Times
How one club did it with DIDIK
In the Malaysian state of Sarawak, on the island of Borneo, one of Toastmasters’ most tenacious corporate clubs manages to thrive despite considerable threats in recent years. Former club president Barbara Jabu discussed the club’s challenge-filled history in a presentation she gave at the Toastmasters International Convention in Calgary, Canada, last August. Originally, the group was known as the 1st Silicon Toastmasters, but when its Malaysian company, 1st Silicon, merged with German company X-Fab Semiconductor Foundries, the club’s name evolved to fit its new parent: X-Fab Sarawak. That was only the beginning.
Jabu noted that the new parent had different priorities. The club was at high risk of being abandoned as the “stepchild” in this new marriage. Since 2006, X-Fab Club endured three corporate management changes and three company-wide cutbacks. In less than one month, the club lost 22 members. But it survived.
The members acknowledge two reasons for their club’s survival: early company support that was eventually renewed and Jabu’s use of an island tradition popular with school teachers: didik.
It all began in November 2003. 1st Silicon’s director of human resources founded the club to develop leadership and communication skills in the employees, says Stephen Chin, X-Fab’s Chief Financial Officer, who serves as the club’s patron and advisor. “Initially,” says Chin, “all human resources managers and officers were encouraged to join to start the membership ball rolling.”
Club president Tan Hong Mui, ACB, CL, is proud of the club’s strong start – originally with 23 members – and points out, “We just celebrated the club’s fifth anniversary last month.”
Toastmasters Values and Survival Strategies
But company support can waver, with devastating effects. Like community clubs, corporate clubs often face the challenge of maintaining a steady membership roster, but they must do this in the wake of personnel shifts, mergers and other large-scale upheavals.
Jabu said the club members’ resilience to whatever happens – in the company or the outside world – is of prime importance. To pull her club through a slow business year and repeated company mergers, Jabu adopted an attitude that she shared with her fellow members.
She explained, “In my native tongue, the acronym DIDIK translates to the English word ‘nurture’ or ‘teach.’ It’s a common word used by school teachers [as a guiding axiom when they] motivate students at a young age. This reminded me of the values Toastmasters taught me. Hence DIDIK (Dedication, Intelligence, Discipline, Integrity and Knowledge) became the principle I chose to adopt for my home club, X-FAB Sarawak Toastmasters Club.”
A healthy club produces inspired and happy members. In her presentation, Jabu compared the club to a mountain-climbing team: “Having to survive a dynamic cycle of the semiconductor industry, our club faced emotional ups and downs. Thankfully, the team consistently mapped out the trails and needs of each member.” Using regular membership surveys, it was able to identify individual paths and paces of climbing.
When people struggle through a mutual hardship, they often stick together through subsequent difficult times as well. At one point, the club almost folded, but the remaining members were determined to bounce back. With Jabu’s newly adopted DIDIK, the club went into high gear to rebuild membership. For each letter of their new mantra, the members enacted a strategy for survival:
- Dedication. The leadership team remained dedicated, keen to work and communicate with each other.
- Intelligence. They stayed in touch with club mentors and sponsors and valued their advice for success. To maintain corporate rapport, they invited corporate managers to speak at the club.
- Discipline. They paid close attention to club learning opportunities, tailoring the program to the company engineers’ educational needs, packaged in a way to showcase the benefits to the technically inclined staff.
- Integrity. They honored their members’ achievements via rewards and recognition.
- Knowledge. They didn’t just work hard, but worked smart, learning everything they could about their club’s history, needs, potential and prospects.
These efforts weren’t lost on the company leaders, and their support eventually regained momentum. X-Fab’s corporate culture strongly supports education and training for employees. Chin says, “I believe the creation of the club at X-Fab Sarawak is in itself an incentive to the staff...The company subsidizes 50 percent of the membership fees of staff members. Snacks and refreshments are provided by the company during training meetings.”
One benefit for X-Fab employees of having a company club is its convenience and accessibility. If a member must drop out for a while due to work pressures, it’s not difficult to rejoin later. For example, club president Tan says charter members recently rejoined the club after taking a break of one and a half years.
X-Fab has also offered a Speechcraft program, which Jabu organized with the company’s blessing. Twelve new members joined the club from that one program alone.
Of course, the company reaps several benefits from playing host to Toastmasters. The X-Fab club conducts its meetings in English, as this is the main language of communication used during work. Stronger employee English skills have also helped X-Fab compete in a tough market. “English is widely accepted as the international language of commerce and trade,” Chin says, “And as we conduct our business globally, this enhances our staff’s communication skills in the international arena.”
With strategies like DIDIK and company support, it’s no surprise the X-Fab club bounced back to become a successful corporate club. The members are a hearty bunch, eager to prove themselves in every venture, whether it’s climbing a mountain, building semiconductors or presenting speeches in their club. Throughout it all, their spirit of DIDIK prevails. Jabu summed it up by ending her convention presentation with the following song, borrowed from the famous lyrics of Marvin Gaye:
Ain’t no mountain high enough,
Here are some tools that can help your club apply the DIDIK principles:
Ain’t no valley low enough,
Ain’t no river wide enough,
To keep our club away from chasing its dreams!