Are Employees #1 or are Customers #1?




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SSON is pleased to share with our readers a series of articles contributed by Clarence Ti, Chief Executive Officer of the Singapore Public Service’s shared services organization [Vital.org won Honourable Mention in the 2007 SSON Excellence Awards for "Best New Shared Services"]. In this series Ti explores four key milestones along the shared services journey: aiming for Service Excellence; developing Operational Excellence; focusing on Productivity Growth; and Engaging Staff.

Read part 1 in the Singapore Public Service SSO Series

Read part 2 in the Singapore Public Service SSO Series

Read part 3 in the Singapore Public Service SSO Series


The Formative Years – Engaging Our Staff
Stories from a Government Shared Services Centre (Singapore) Part 4

From the C-suite perspective: Family@Work; straddling generations; investing in social capital; and respecting employees’ time.

Are employees #1 or are customers #1? A simple search on the Internet throws up different views from both camps. It’s probably a chicken and egg debate. Engaged employees can often lead to increased customer satisfaction and increased customer satisfaction can often lead to increased employee engagement. A virtuous or vicious cycle can develop. From the C-suite’s perspective, where do we start?
But first – a little about us. Vital.org was formally launched in July 2006 as a captive shared services centre for the Singapore Public Service, serving initially just shy of 20 agencies in areas such as payroll administration, HR services, finance services (primarily dealing with vendor payments) and learning & development services. Today, Vital.org serves over 100 distinct government agencies in the original service lines as well as new areas, such as asset management and travel management. By 2010, over a million transactions have passed through our hands, organised along nearly 600 distinct lines of services. Vital.org has a staff of close to 500 people serving a population of some 80,000 public servants.

Family@Work
The customer/employee debate starts, we believe, with management being clear about what kind of culture it wants to build. There are several strategy choices that one can pursue at this point. At Vital.org, we went with Family@Work.
We developed an employee value proposition that centred on a list of belief statements. We reproduce them here for your reference.
We believe that work is important but not the most important thing in life. We believe we can build a generation of finance, human resources & business specialists employable anywhere. We believe that we can have a family at work just as we have a family at home. We believe that we can train specialists who can operate complex systems, running millions of transactions. We believe we can build a culture where passion for excellence, professionalism with integrity, and caring teams are not just words on a wall. We believe that we can make a difference in the over 100 agencies that we serve. We believe that success is sweeter and failure less devastating when we are in it together. We believe that ordinary people coming together can do extraordinary things. This is what we believe.

Inter-generational workforce
Our youngest employee is 19 and our oldest is 73. This presents many opportunities and also challenges. In some of our management dialogue sessions in 2010, more than one young person came to say that an older colleague was like a 2nd mother at work. This was amazing to us. While we have invested in mentoring and coaching programs, it’s the informal adoption program that is the real glue for the organisation. Another story that came to our attention was a colleague who was touched by the concerns of another who went to the temple to pray for her, when she fell ill. Some of our younger generation employees got together to form a pop band, which has performed on a number of occasions at internal events. Two of our colleagues married each other recently, and many of us attended the wedding. We don’t measure social capital directly. We know it exists. We believe that the adage "it takes a village to raise a child," applies also to new employees who join our organisation.

Respecting our employees’ time
While we engage our employees on the theme of Family@Work and emphasize the family part, this is after all, a workplace. From this perspective, one important social contact is that they will come to work five days a week for an average of 8-9 hours a day and we shall, as management, endeavour to make good use of their time. Just as a soldier under orders places his life under the care of his commander, we can squander away our employees’ time if we are not deliberate. Time is the one commodity that no one has too much of. The work family must then come together and constantly review how work can be organised better. We have a list of tasks that we constantly try to minimize, eliminate or automate away – tasks such as data entry, manual computation, manual verifications, manual routing, screen-by-screen updating of cases, non-standardised work, etc. Any task that can create opportunity for human error is open to be targeted. We have to declare war against any task or activity that we cannot build a sustainable career around. This is the clearest demonstration of respect for our employees’ time that we can articulate today.

The Journey has just begun
These efforts in engaging staff in a common belief system, in spreading stories of Family@Work, or in clearly demonstrating a respect for the one limited commodity in their lives, are our starting point in engaging our staff, in the formative years.

To read more about Vital.org, please see: "Strategy questions from inside a captive shared services centre"; and "Building a managed travel program across the government in Singapore"


About Mr. Clarence Ti

Clarence Ti was appointed as the Chief Executive of Vital.org on 2 January 2010.
In the public service, he has served in the Economic Development Board in both Singapore and the United States, where he was Director of the San Francisco Centre; the Singapore Land Authority, where he was Director of Land Business & Management; and the Ministry of Law, where he was Director of Strategic Planning. During his career, he has served in areas of investment promotion, business & operations management, planning & co-ordination, and legislative & policy reviews.
He holds both a Bachelor of Science degree with High Honours and a Masters degree in Electrical Engineering from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and an MBA with distinction from INSEAD. He is also a Certified Financial Analyst.


About Vital.org

Vital.org, a department under Ministry of Finance, was formally launched in July 2006, as part of the Singapore Public Sector’s effort to aggregate common administrative services and reap economies of scale to bring about greater business value for the whole of Government. It currently serves more than 100 Ministries, Departments, Organs of State and Statutory Boards in Singapore. The suite of services includes finance services, human resource services, payroll and claims services, learning and development services and travel management services. Vital.org won the Honourable Mention Award under the Best New Shared Service Organisation (under 3 years in operation) Award during the Annual Asia Pacific Shared Services & Outsourcing Awards 2007. Visit www.vital.gov.sg for more information.