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Making the grade

Two Business Excellence Assessors share their experiences of helping companies achieve superior performance.

Ministry for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing with Business Excellence Assessors at the 25th Business Excellence Awards ceremony.

Eric Kuah (vice president of technology), ASM Technology Singapore, presenting the product roadmap to the assessment team.

Chng Eng Cheng (senior operations director), ASM Technology Singapore, showing assessors the wire bonder equipment manufacturing process.

SINCE 1994, more than 1,000 volunteers have dedicated their time and effort to conduct business excellence certifications and awards assessment. Known as Business Excellence (BE) Assessors, these practitioners provide valuable insights to support organisations as they progress on their BE journey.

Volunteer assessors come from BE-certified or award-winning organisations. Their key role is to evaluate BE applications, conduct site visits and provide the organisations' strengths, areas for improvement and good practices in the feedback reports. Through their assessments, assessors have the opportunity to learn about the good practices of other organisations and how they overcome the challenges they face. They can use such insights in helping their own organisations strengthen their systems and processes.

To ensure the integrity and objectivity of the assessment, assessors abide by a code of confidentiality and conduct. They are also required to attend a compulsory training programme before they can take on the role.

Assessors who have served five years at the award level and led at least two award assessments are given a Green Jacket. Meanwhile, the Gold Jacket is the highest accolade for a BE Assessor.

We speak to two BE Assessors to find out more about their roles in supporting organisational excellence.

Head Secretariat, NCADA, Central Narcotics Bureau

What motivated you to become a BE volunteer assessor?

My exposure and interest in BE begin in late 2006 when I was posted to do "Organisation Development and Training" work. It was my first staff posting after being involved in operational work for about 10 years or so. It was eye-opening and interesting work indeed.

In 2009, I went back to an operational role. By then, I knew that the best way to learn more about BE was to be an Assessor. I also realised that I would be able to help my organisation in attaining BE certifications if I knew exactly what the assessors were looking for. With the support of my management, I went for BE Assessor Training in 2010 and I have been a BE Assessor since then.

The giving of my time and energy is rewarded many times with BE training by ESG (Enterprise Singapore), various industry insights during the assessments, and new friendships formed with other assessors.

What do you find interesting about the role?

The opportunity to pose bold questions to CEOs, managing directors and permanent secretaries. Their bold vision and the wisdom in their answers are fascinating!

What are some of the challenges you have faced in performing this role?

It is important that the BE Assessors have some understanding of the industry of the organisation that we are assessing so that we can ask insightful questions. We have to read the BE Application Reports, some of which are quite thick, two to three times, as well as do our own research on the company at night and during weekends.

There are times when passionate presenters oversell their organisations. It is our job to pose difficult questions, clarify doubts and in the process identify "wow" factors, so that we can score and recommend the applicant accordingly. There have been occasions that a highlighted strength is found in some circumstances to be a weakness - a double-edged sword.

In a culture of results, awards and achievements, occasionally it can be a challenge to facilitate frank discussions, as some organisations are fixated on scores and winning far more than learning and improving.

What is an interesting case you have worked on?

I remember an applicant whose application report was above average and their presenters did a good job sharing about the organisation's systems, practices and people. The senior leader of the organisation was a dynamic guy who was able to rally his management team. He had a clear vision of where and how he would lead the organisation. Our team grilled the management team and while they were good, they were not yet at the Singapore Quality Award (SQA) level.

We had robust discussions lasting beyond 7pm that focused on identifying nuggets of clear and actionable "Areas for Improvement" that he could follow up in the next two years. The great feeling of working with such committed team members to produce a useful feedback report to help the organisation improve compensated for the disappointment we felt for not being able to recommend them for SQA.

How can BE help organisations overcome the challenges they face?

The world is changing rapidly and it is getting tougher for all businesses. Most organisations know that innovation, adaptability and flexibility are key. The BE Framework provides them with a template to not only survive, but also thrive.

Vice-President, Group Technology Architecture, OCBC Bank

What did you choose to become a BE volunteer assessor?

BE assessments provide rare access to high-performing organisations from different industries to gain insights into how their businesses are run. It is a privilege to have senior management from these organisations share their modus operandi and BE experience with assessors. It offers a platform for like-minded people who are passionate about learning and development to share their experiences and to learn best practices from one another. This helps to provide an "outside-in" view to organisational issues and has widened my social and professional network beyond banking.

I volunteered to be an assessor in 2010 after the department which I was heading was conferred the Singapore Quality Class certification. It's been almost 10 years now and I have a network of friends across many industries.

What do you find interesting about the role?

Site visits offer experiential learning which is enriching. I have gained a deeper understanding and appreciation of various operating environments in sectors such as government, education, construction, healthcare, wellness, hospitality and social welfare. We get to learn more about business practices and real-life challenges from industry experts and sometimes interact with their teams. We have even had the chance to try the innovative products the organisations are working on such as virtual reality-based training and an in-house developed food app to enhance the employee experience.

What are some of the challenges you have faced in performing this role?

The biggest challenge is time commitment as the assessment schedule may conflict with internal assignments. Finding common time slots for all assessors to be available for discussions and site visits may be another issue. This is a very rigorous process as assessors have to commit to at least five full days of pre-site, site visits, post-site and consensus meetings.

Can you share one interesting assessment you have conducted?

I was very inspired by a social enterprise initiative to empower persons with intellectual disabilities through vocational training and work engagement opportunities. This allows those with intellectual disabilities to develop a skill and earn money.

One of these jobs involves manually pasting corporate labels on mineral water bottles before the bottles are sent to the organisation. Providing meaningful employment to the less-fortunate helps to build a sustainable and inclusive society.

Based on your experience, in what areas are local companies generally lacking?

Local companies are generally lacking in resources. Hence, there is limited framework or documentation for processes and knowledge management.

What have you observed as some challenges that local businesses are facing, and how can BE help them overcome these?

Local businesses are facing a manpower crunch due to tight foreign labour policies. Many also face the challenge of upskilling their existing workforce due to automation and digitalisation. The BE Framework provides a holistic tool kit to help local business identify their key strengths as well as areas of improvements. Companies can refer to the enhanced BE framework with greater focus on people development and innovation to enhance their systems and processes. By adopting the framework, companies would be in a better position to manage its people to embrace technological changes.

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