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Speech at Great Place To Work Institute Singapore, 2016 Best Companies To Work For Awards Ceremony

Mr Lim Swee Say, Minister for Manpower, Shangri-La Hotel, Island Ballroom

Ms Joni Ong, Managing Director of Great Place To Work Institute Singapore


  1. Thank you for giving me this chance to join you today at this awards ceremony.

    Employees as Human Capital
  2. Our economy is in transition. Technology is disrupting the traditional ways of doing business. As a result, companies need to be innovative to succeed in the future economy. At the same time, our workforce is also in transition due to the ageing of our population. Our local workforce growth is slowing down quite rapidly. In fact, we will reach stagnation ten years from now. Our businesses have no choice but to become more manpower-lean so that in the future, the growth and businesses will not be constrained by the limited growth and manpower. 
  3. Being “manpower-lean” doesn’t imply that companies can be “manpower-mean”. In fact, the opposite is true. Be lean but don’t be mean. For companies to succeed, in fact, they need to pay even more attention to develop, nurture and engage their employees. They need to move away from viewing employees as mere “human resources”. The problem of human resources, or rather most resources, is that resources normally depreciate overtime. If you look at your staff or employees as human resources, it’s a danger overtime because as they grow older, they become outdated and they depreciate in value. Instead, companies want to invest in their manpower so that our people can achieve their true full potential and generate multi-fold returns, for the companies and for themselves too. Therefore, in other words, we call the companies to embrace employees not as “human resources” but as “human capital” and invest in them.

    Great Places to Work
  4. How can companies develop “human capital”? We believe that we need to create a great place to work and bring out the best in them. Great workplaces to work should have three things in common. 
  5. First, a great place to work has to be employee-centric. The old way of thinking that “management is always right” no longer holds. The better way is to engage and listen to employees. Employees value employers who value their opinions and views. 
  6. For example, we used to think of Cisco Systems as a technology company. In fact, they profess to be “technology-crazy”. But today, we are applauding them for being “people-crazy” too. Under its “Our People Deal” initiative, Cisco seeks to unleash every employee’s potential by connecting everything, innovating everywhere and benefitting everyone. No effort has been spared in engaging employees at every level, in every role. 
  7. Acting on a recurring feedback that employees were too bogged down with the process of performance reviews and ratings, management took a decision to do away with it. To shift the focus from generating numbers and labels for an annual exercise, Cisco now replaces it with weekly check-ins that focus on developing people and their strengths. 
  8. Staff now have regular conversations with their leaders on priorities for the week and how they plan to use their strengths to achieve targets set for them. Supervisors found it useful too, as they can now track performance better and also address areas for improvements quicker. 
  9. Second, great workplaces are diverse yet inclusive. They embrace and accept rich and diverse perspectives. 
  10. The Royal Plaza on Scotts is one such employer. Every worker has responsibilities and interests outside of work. Most employers will consider these pursuits as distractions to the worker from doing better work within the organisation. Royal Plaza saw this differently. They recognised that giving employees space for pursuits outside of work can make them better workers. 
  11. Take the case of Mdm Tan Kim Hing, a mature worker who has been with the hotel for almost 30 years. This spritely 70-year old housekeeping attendant is a doting grandmother who wanted time to care for her grandchildren. So the hotel gave her the flexibility. This has allowed her to be both a better grandmother, and also a better worker. We will see more of Mdm Tan in a video later. 
  12. Lastly, a great place to work is purpose-driven. Having a common goal mobilises people in a way that churning profits alone never will. Take for example, can you imagine if you tell your staff that we must work together and give our very best because of our purpose in life is to make money for the company and make money for ourselves. I don’t think that’s the best way to mobilise people. So companies need to align their goals, at all levels. 
  13. AbbVie, a biopharmaceutical company, does just that. They encourage their employees to immerse themselves in their patients’ journey - from before the disease is discovered, to diagnosis and treatment, via a multi-sensory experience. For example, to help employees better understand how chronic diseases such as arthritis, adversely impact patients’ lifestyles, the staff were asked to put on thick gloves and perform everyday tasks such as pouring a cup of water or opening a bottle by twisting its cap with their thick gloves. 
  14. Our mothers in the audience would relate to this next challenge that Abbvie sought to address – the often bitter taste of children’s medicine. To heighten employees’ awareness to the needs of their young patients, the R&D team re-created the experience of intense bitter taste using foods such as bittergourd. Employees were then put through a taste test and reflect upon what a child may experience when forced to take bitter-tasting medicine. 
  15. When employees understand their patients like this, their goals are aligned. They are inspired to give their best to help patients and their caregivers. A united purpose is key to growing a strong, sustainable and scalable workplace culture. 

    Best Companies to Work For
  16. I am heartened to note that these three characteristics of a Great Workplace – being employee-centric, being diverse yet inclusive, and being purpose-driven, are embraced under the “Great Place To Work” programme. Participating companies are assessed on the credibility, respect, fairness, pride and camaraderie in their workplace culture – in other words, how they cultivate human capital, and not just manage human resources. 
  17. I was told the bar to qualify to become a “Great Place to Work” has been raised from last year. This year’s Best Companies have recorded stronger performances. On average, 13.7% better than the others. There is stiffer competition this year too. Each Best Company had very close scores. 
  18. I congratulate this year’s Best Companies for going beyond “HR”, and going for “HC”. People are our most valued asset. Companies that put people at the heart of what they do are those that deserve to do well. I commend their leaders for inspiring us and I hope many others will follow in their footsteps. Together, let us create more Great Workplaces to work here in Singapore. Congratulations to all winners. 
  19. Thank you.