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Director of Personnel Lee Shun-king Corinna on Harmony in Music and the Workplace

Ms. Lee Shun-king Corinna, Director of Personnel

Please tell us about your work experience in the higher education sector.

I joined the Hong Kong Polytechnic University after graduation as an executive officer in an academic department. My duties included student affairs, academic affairs and budgeting. Four years later I transferred to the central secretariat and began to deal with personnel matters. I then joined the Personnel Office of the Chinese University. Time flies, 18 years have passed. I have taken up different posts and been responsible for the recruitment of academic and non-academic staff, and helped implement a number of policies and schemes, e.g., the academic personnel structure and review mechanism.

It’s been one year since you were promoted to the post of Director of Personnel. Have you got used to it?

I have adequate understanding of how different areas of personnel management operate. What I feel most uneasy with turns out to be introducing myself as Director of Personnel. As a result, I always tell people that I am ‘a colleague from the Personnel Office’. I need to learn how to discharge my duties in my new role. In the past, I only had to attend to my respective areas and do well. Now, I need to consider how to deploy the most suitable candidate or create the best team for the job. It’s also my responsibility to help my colleagues understand the views of the University administration, and adopt a macro perspective to work in line with the overall direction of the University.

How did the Personnel Office retreat in September go?

More than 30 colleagues of executive grade participated in the retreat themed ‘Dancing with Business’. It takes two to tango. I hope that we won’t see ourselves only as a service department which completes the job as assigned, but as an integral part in the University’s structure which proactively responds to the University’s mission and agenda, or even to the development objectives of different Faculties. The retreat has made a very good start for internal communication and understanding. We will explore the feasibility of various suggestions for short- and long-term development as proposed during group discussions.

Personnel policies of government-funded institutions have been criticized for being outdated and inflexible. What do you think?

Personnel management in a university differs much from an organization of a smaller scale. Here at CUHK we have some 7,200 full-time plus close to 2,000 part-time staff members. That calls for a set of well-defined policies and guidelines to maintain stability and equality. There are standard practices to follow, and requirements to fulfill. To exercise flexibility without restraints is not allowed. That said, the University is bringing in changes, allowing more flexibility in offering entrance salaries, and implementing a performance-based pay increase system.

Is the higher education sector attractive to fresh graduates?

Posts like executive officer and project coordinator at the general grade are quite attractive to fresh graduates, especially to those who do not study professional programmes like medicine and law. These posts are good training grounds for basic skills. Academic or student affairs departments also like to recruit fresh graduates as they will have a better grasp of the needs of the clients they serve.

What advice do you have for fresh graduates who join a higher education institution?

Communication and presentation are the keys to success in practically all career fields nowadays. Above all, young executives must master both the Chinese and English language well. You need to pay attention to the development of ideas, and choose the most appropriate tone and wordings for expression after considering the interpretation of the direct recipient(s) or the third party. My first boss was a very learned Englishman. I learnt a lot simply by reading the old files of reports and letters written by him. There was so much knowledge in how he presented his justifications, how he began and concluded his arguments. I even copied the vocabulary from his writing to a notebook for further learning, which I still keep now.

I also urge young executives to have perseverance. As a junior member of the team without much experience, you will be doing mundane work that often constitutes only a small part of a big project. Don’t reject it. Make the best of it. Besides doing your part well, put yourself in the shoes of your coworkers or your service clients, try to understand and cope with their needs. In doing so, you will know your trade much better.

You are an amateur chorus singer and drama actress. Why do you like choral singing and drama?

I got acquainted with choir and drama since college days. After all these years, they have become my habits, or to be exact, they have shaped me into what I am now. I am capable of singing in tune, but it takes constant practice to turn oneself into a vocal instrument, to read the scores and sing by sight. Having got used to it, I can also apply such industriousness and persistence to other things. I spent 10 years learning how to sing in a choir, and then I discovered in order to sing better, what I actually needed to learn was to listen. I’m an alto, and the melody in a choral work is rarely sung by the altos. In fact, altos need to listen to the other parts, to back them up or to echo, in order to achieve harmony. I love harmony. It is also part of my job to facilitate harmony in the workplace.

Drama, like singing, is an art of communication. When I utter a line on stage, I need to figure out how to deliver it, why the character says so, and what he/she wants to achieve. The same applies to work. In order to make myself understood, I have to understand the thinking and needs of my audience, and adopt the most effective mode of communication. Drama makes me grow, and helps me understand the people and happenings around me.


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