Justina Tan and team, Changi Airport Group

Changi Airport Group took home the gold award for 'Excellence in Crisis Management and Recovery' at the HR Excellence Awards 2021, Singapore.

In this interview, Justina Tan, Managing Director, People, Changi Airport Group (CAG) talks about CAG's four strategic objectives in handling the COVID-19 crisis, namely, ensuring business continuity, employee wellbeing, business sustainability, and continuous investments in L&D.

Q What is your organisation’s winning HR strategy, and what are some milestones you’ve accomplished along this journey?

The COVID-19 pandemic has posed challenges for many companies worldwide, especially for those in the travel and aviation industry. Even as the industry faces headwinds, CAG continues to apply boldness and creativity, working with relevant partners and experimenting with technologies, to seek solutions to create a safe and productive workplace for our people.

CAG’s four strategic objectives in handling the COVID-19 crisis are:

  • Ensure health & safety of employees, business continuity, and clarity of communications,
  • Ensure employee wellbeing and engagement,
  • Ensure employee retention and business sustainability, and
  • Ensure continuous investments in learning & development.

Our strong efforts and swift response to the COVID-19 pandemic have translated to over 90% of our colleagues expressing confidence through a pulse survey that CAG will emerge from this pandemic stronger than before. This spurs the People Team to continue exploring new measures to hold our people together through these challenging times. 

Q How has this strategy helped you achieve your HR priorities, and what role has the leadership played in helping make this initiative a reality?

As a result of the swift actions taken to manage this crisis, we were able to implement safe management measures across 45 offices (located across various parts of Changi Airport) and attain 99% of COVID-19 vaccination rate amongst our employees. 

Our employees’ wellbeing was also taken care of, and we moved quickly to identify new ways to communicate and engage with our employees.

We increased the frequency of engagement through townhalls, townchats, EDMs, and our in-house In.Touch social media platform to ensure that employees were well-informed of the happenings around the company.

There were also many instances in which we helped our employees discover and move into new roles amid the slowdown in some areas of our business. Unprecedented disruptions to the aviation industry business operations and traditional job roles steered CAG’s People Team to proactively engage our workforce to pivot to new business and career opportunities, ensuring that we continue to retain our talents. 

Lastly, we did not compromise on our learning & development efforts, and in fact, accelerated our implementation timeline to launch LinkedIn Learning as an additional digital content provider. We also launched the FutureReadyME Programme - a structured upskilling programme with learning paths to equip our employees for the digital future of work.

Our leadership team has been very supportive and actively involved in our activities throughout this period. For instance, we had to work with our senior leaders to switch to pop-up townhalls, which are less formal and conducted virtually. Pre-event briefings, rehearsals and alignments helped allay any concerns on technology and messaging consistencies. Our senior leaders gamely took on the challenge.

This move was well-received by employees as it strongly signalled our ability to remain agile and the informal format showcased authenticity, as we updated employees on developments in the company. We also strengthened and sustained senior management’s influence and participation to encourage adoption of healthy habits through casual virtual fireside chats and exercise sessions with senior management. 

Q Unexpected roadblocks are part and parcel of executing any initiative. What were some of the barriers that you and your team experienced while rolling this out, and how did you successfully get past them?

The People BCP team’s first key challenge was to mitigate the risk of cross-infections at the workplace.

We had to find solutions to segregate our employees and reduce our workplace density urgently, before the first Circuit Breaker had kicked in. We had decisively installed video conferencing (VC) equipment in all the large meeting rooms at our CAG offices within a week. By doing so, large meetings can be held across meeting rooms, limiting the physical attendees in each room and thus reducing the risk of cross-infections. To further reduce our workplace density, we also fitted-out new temporary offices for up to 350 employees within two weeks so that our employees could be quickly spread out in a team A/B arrangement. 

We also had to pivot our implementation approach for certain L&D projects with the unexpected onset of COVID-19. To engage our employees and encourage them to learn during the extended WFH period, a #MELearnTime newsletter was launched. The newsletters, consisting of curated learning items of the month and external learning resources, were sent on a weekly basis during the circuit breaker and subsequently sent monthly when we headed into our extended WFH period. 

Q As evidenced by the win, this initiative clearly delivered some amazing results. What was your gameplan for measuring ROI? What are some proud achievements you can share with us on this front?

When the Circuit Breaker was first implemented, a pulse survey was conducted to understand how our employees were feeling, and about 41% of the employees cited feelings of “frustration” and “loss of motivation or energy”. With the subsequent introduction of virtual engagements, communications and interventions, we received positive feedback, and many employees requested for more of such fun and light-hearted sessions moving forward.

Our success was further reflected in our employee engagement and pulse survey results where 82% of employees surveyed agreed that “CAG cares for employees’ health and wellbeing”; 88% of our employees agreed that “CAG keeps them well-informed and on track to emerge stronger from this crisis”.

Our employees shared in our 2020 Employee Engagement Survey that they were appreciative of CAG’s continuous investment in providing employees with a wide variety of learning opportunities despite a challenging year, which had enabled them to continue to grow their skillsets.

We also saw active participation in FutureReadyME programmes and LinkedIn Learning digital content. 

Q We’re now seeing HR manage portfolios that were previously considered far from their job description. In your view, what are the top three skills and attributes of today’s successful CHRO?

In my opinion, the top three skills and attributes would be:

Ability to align passion & purpose – How we work with leaders to navigate change, inspire passion and confidence in the organisation’s future, and define the company value proposition for individuals to find meaning and purpose in their work.

Ability to build employee engagement & help them succeed – How we invest in employee experience, develop and care for the people we work with to help them succeed.

Ability to build a learning organisation – How might we build a growth mindset in employees, to enable them to constantly learn, unlearn, and relearn given the speed of change and expected. 


Image / Provided by CAG team

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