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A journey of quality begins
AS more of Singapore's enterprises started to compete globally in the 1990s, there was an increased focus on enhancing the quality of local organisations. This strategy recognised the fact that the quality of the workforce, capital and management systems, as well as products and services, were critical in sustaining the Republic's competitive edge over other countries.
The Singapore Quality Award (SQA) was unveiled in 1994 as a nationwide effort to achieve quality excellence. It was positioned as a symbol of world-class quality to spur local organisations to achieve excellence in their products, services, management systems and people.
In 1997, the Singapore Quality Class (SQC) was launched as a developmental programme to develop a pipeline of excellent organisations. These initiatives came under the umbrella of the Business Excellence (BE) initiative.
Business Excellence certifications such as SQC today are highly sought-after by both private and public sector organisations in Singapore. Back when it was launched 25 years ago, however, it took a few pioneering enterprises to take a chance on this new platform. For over two decades, these early adopters have reaped the benefits of embarking on this journey of excellence.
A TOOL FOR DEVELOPING TALENT
One early participant of the BE initiative was Beca Carter Hollings & Ferner (S.E.Asia), which provides building, infrastructure, industrial and project management services in the Asia-Pacific region. Beca started on its BE journey in 1997 to help build up its talent-development strategies. Since then, the firm has established itself as an employer of choice in the market for design and consulting engineering services.
"Back in the 1990s, our senior leadership team saw the benefits of the BE Framework, which could provide our organisation a consistent way of shaping and maintaining a sustainable business going forward," said Beca's managing director Lee Ang Seng.
"The BE Framework gives an organisation like Beca a consistent structure to help improve our business functions, our processes, our people-development strategies and our business results. We are proud to be one of the few pioneers in achieving the certification for SQC in our industry."
Beca won its first BE Award last year, where it was honoured with the People Excellence Award.
Implementing the BE Framework has helped the company review its human resource practices by identifying gaps, as well as opportunities to make it stronger.
In the area of leadership, for instance, the framework has assisted management to develop effective staff engagement programmes, invest in people development and plan for succession.
To this end, the firm conducts an Emerging Leaders Programme to develop potential leaders and help retain key talent. The framework has also helped Beca to systematically track its non-financial performance in areas like project delivery and developing best-in-class practices. "We use an internally developed comprehensive competency framework to benchmark our employees' career progression," explained Mr Lee.
These initiatives have been paying dividends for the company over the years. Beca has produced Young Engineer of the Year Award Winners at the national level for the last six straight years. And since 2006, its project delivery teams have successfully contributed to the design and delivery of four President's Design Award-winning projects.
Attaining the SQC Star and People Excellence Award has also helped the firm to be recognised locally and internationally as a credible organisation with the right capabilities and skills to meet the needs of its customers, according to Mr Lee.
"This gives confidence to our clients both local and overseas in entrusting their projects to Beca to deliver great outcomes for them. Also, attaining the People Excellence Award for our Singapore business will set the benchmark for our sister companies across Asean to emulate our example. We have plans to help them in their people-development strategies using the framework and experiences that we have gained through the Singapore BE Framework."
A FIRST FOR THE PUBLIC SECTOR
Another pioneer in adopting the BE Framework is the Housing & Development Board (HDB), which was the first public sector organisation to win the SQA in 1997. Since being set up in 1960, the government agency has built homes for over a million Singapore households through its roles as developer and master planner; a builder of homes and communities; and an innovator of new technologies.
According to HDB, the organisation decided to adopt BE early on as "it offered a rigorous and holistic approach for continuous improvement of our systems and processes to make significant and positive transformation to the lives of Singaporeans".
Reflecting its efforts to continuously improve, HDB went on to win the SQA with Special Commendation twice, in 2008 and 2018. This honour recognises past award-winners for achieving even higher levels of excellence.
In the 10 years between its two latest awards, HDB has formulated masterplans for towns and estates such as Punggol, Bidadari and Tengah. In the planning and design of these new housing areas, HDB will build upon their distinctive characters to bring about a unique living experience.
For instance, HDB's new town, Tengah, will be Singapore's first "Forest Town", fully integrated with its natural surrounding environment. HDB will build homes amid lush greenery in the town, and provide dedicated farmways for community gardening and urban farming, so that residents can meet and interact with others in their neighbourhoods.