In Pursuit of Excellence

The 2013 Business and Service Excellence Sharing session was held on 26 March to showcase best practices from outstanding organisations. As a Singapore Quality Award (SQA) winner, Singapore Customs was invited to share insights from its business excellence journey.

Left : Singapore Customs Director-General Fong Yong Kian related the agency's transformational leadership experience at the 2013 Business and Service Excellence Sharing session. Right : Assistant Director-General (Policy & Planning) Lee Tiow Yong (middle) shared Singapore Customs' productivity practices with the audience.

Through a series of talks and panel discussions, the one-day seminar focused on how leading organisations manage their business challenges and improve productivity. The speakers, a mix of private and public sector senior executives and academics, provided examples of best practices that spur innovation and productivity.

Driving productivity

The first session of the day discussed productivity practices. Singapore Customs Assistant Director-General (Policy & Planning) Lee Tiow Yong presented the agency's three-point strategy: engagement of staff, technology and innovation to enable transformation and co-creating solutions with partners and customers.

An engaged staff is a productive staff. Singapore Customs places heavy emphasis on energising its people by actively shaping the organisation's desired culture. Investing in people is also important, thus the agency has identified a set of core competencies to make sure each officer is equipped with the right skills to execute his job.

Leveraging on technology and innovation is also key. TradeFIRST, or the Trade Facilitation and Integrated Risk-based System, is a one-stop assessment framework for all Customs facilitation schemes. It not only provides convenience to traders, but also cuts down the time needed to process applications.

Adopting a customer-centric approach – such as having dedicated Account Managers for companies – extends Singapore Customs' pro-enterprise approach and strengthens its engagement with its customers.

Leading with empathy

In another plenary session, Director-General Fong Yong Kian related Singapore Customs' transformational leadership experience, introducing the organisation's 4Cs of Leadership – Connect, Contextualise, Courage and managing Change.

As the top man, he makes it a point to meet 20 staff each week, for an hour or two without any pre-arranged agenda. This allows him to connect with staff and solicit their views on areas for improvement.

When asked by participants if business excellence is a paper chase and how to achieve staff buy-in and consensus, Mr Fong said it was important to be sincere when explaining changes.

"If it appears to be a paper exercise, it probably is. Then don't do it," he said. "We tell our staff that as an agency that serves the public, we want to be the best, and we use the Business Excellence Framework, which is well-established and widely recognised, to learn and see where we can do better."

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