Air Market Express: Reviving Performance Management, Reinvigorating Employees

As a growing company, Air Market Express (S) Pte Ltd needs to attract and retain qualified employees. However, with no proper HR policies framework in place, it was a constant struggle to attract the newer generation. Faced with a challenging labour market, the company knew it had to boost its HR capabilities and implement new HR systems, policies and practices. Through gathering feedback from existing employees, Air Market realised that they wanted to be recognised for achievements and performance to make them feel motivated and driven. With that, Air Market Express embarked on the Performance Management module to better link rewards and recognitions to performance.

Bringing express delivery to the air freight service industry

Air Market Express was established in 1987 by founder Nick Soon. Since its humble beginnings 26 years ago, the company has come a long way to make its mark in the sea freight industry and take the ever-expanding and highly competitive air freight industry by storm. Today, Air Market Express is a leading name in the air freight service industry, serving as a full-fledged freight forwarder offering complete inter-model transportation services for both inbound and outbound cargo.  It is also a premier provider of sea freight and logistical services, catering to multinational and local companies.

Over the years, the company has fostered strategic partnerships with all the major players in the air freight industry. Building on the twin ideology of dynamism and efficiency, Air Market Express has managed to win itself a place in this highly competitive industry. As one of Singapore’s top cargo agents, the company holds allotment contracts with 48 different airlines. A testament to its success, Air Market Express was listed as one of ‘The Top Fifty’ most enterprising, privately held companies in Singapore for two years running in 2001/2002. It also achieved ISO 9001:2008 compliance in 2003.

To support its business growth, the company currently has a staff strength of 37, with 20 employees working in the Head office and the remaining at the airport office and warehouse. In 2013, as the company geared itself to meet future challenges, it realised that, with an expanding workforce, it needed to strengthen its HR capabilities so as to better manage, recruit and retain qualified employees.

casestud_airmarket01

Time for a change

Having worked his way up through all the departments since joining the company 20 years ago, Managing Director Ang Kay Hong is the ideal person to conduct most of the interviewing of candidates as he knows what skills are required for the different job scopes in each department. Aiding him in running the business is Tracillia Sia, General Manager of Air Market Express, who handles all HR matters of the company as well as marketing and business development. Over the years, they have been instrumental in providing invaluable advice to CEO Nick Soon, enabling him to make crucial decisions for the success of the company. As they geared up for a new phase of growth, they recognised that a proper HR system had to be implemented.

To raise the standards of its employees, Tracillia decided to improve and enhance Air Market’s existing employee handbook, which would contain updated guidelines and protocol for all staff to follow. “We have an employee handbook, but the current one was outdated and we decided that this was a good place to start implementing the new HR changes,” explained Tracillia. She took the initiative to research and draft an employee handbook that would be suitable for Air Market Express..

Having done that, the next step was for the company to improve its HR capabilities. In early 2013, taking advantage of the Innovation and Capability Voucher (ICV) from SPRING Singapore, Air Market Express engaged SNEF and sought its consultancy services. In response, the Federation assigned a consultant specialising in the logistics industry, who assessed the company and helped Air Market Express embarked on its journey towards HR transformation.

Meeting the challenges ahead

To gain a better understanding of the situation, the consultant conducted interviews with the staff to obtain their feedback. Through information gathered from an anonymous survey, it was found that staff morale was low.  The staff felt that the working hours were long and tiring, and had assumed that no additional manpower was being engaged by the management to help to solve this problem.  The general feeling was that this was unsustainable. 

 “We used to conduct performance appraisals, but stopped five years ago when the focus was to turn the company around due to the global economic downturn,” Tracillia explained. “However, as staff turnover continued to be low despite this, we had the impression that staff felt contented.” The survey revealed that it wasn’t monetary incentives that staff were looking for, but some form of appreciation from the company, be it through vouchers, letters or emails of appreciation or even a verbal ‘thank you’. Contrary to what the company had thought, the staff still wanted regular appraisals to see how they were doing so that they could improve where needed. The group also provided feedback that they wanted to be empowered and entrusted with more responsibility. In addition, there was concern about lack of open communication channels and transparency.

“In the past, we overlooked staff welfare and incentive schemes, but we want to change that,” shared Tracillia. Besides improving employee benefits, the company wanted to ensure that its employment practices were fair and updated to be compliant with new employment laws such as new maternity leave policies, etc. 

Improving systems, empowering staff

Having identified the issues, the consultant set about helping the company to reinstate its appraisal system with improvements. “This project has allowed us to understand the needs of our staff and identify the areas that needed to change,” shared Mr Ang. “With the recommendations made by the consultant, this has helped us to improve our HR capabilities,” added Tracillia.

Following the recommendations of the consultant, the company changed the structure of its appraisal forms so that they were customised to the needs of the company. Where previously performance scores were awarded without justification, the new forms required managers to define why staff deserved the scores they got. As a better measure of performance, the company set out each employee’s KPIs in more measurable terms and tagged them to their staff performance evaluation.

casestud_wizlogic02

Also, appraisals would be conducted quarterly, instead of yearly. Previously, staff’s achievements were often forgotten or missed out as the period between each appraisal was very long. With a shorter length of time between appraisals, the appraiser will be able to easily recall the achievements of the staff and grade them accordingly.

In addition, appraisal forms are now a two-way process, with staff assessing themselves first before being assessed by the manager to give them a voice in the process and create points for productive discussion. “With these standardised forms, appraisals are more transparent and fair and we avoid any forms of bias,” explained Tracillia.

To make the performance appraisal system more effective, appraisers were trained on how to establish a link between the appraisal results with confirmation of employment, payment of annual increments, bonus, promotion and transfer. As a result, they are now more objective in their evaluation and can make more informed decisions regarding the staff under them. In addition, appraisers were advised to note good points and not just mistakes, which has helped to increase staff morale and, in turn, improved productivity.

Forging greater changes

As Air Market Express continues to grow in the air freight industry, Mr Ang and Tracillia are planning to implement further enhancement to the HR policies. “Now that we have completed this module, we recognise the importance of making our staff feel appreciated and will be looking into fine tuning performance-based bonuses next,” shared Tracillia. “We see the usefulness of these modules and we will do more to continually improve the HR capabilities of the company step by step,” Mr Ang affirmed.

In time, the company hopes to make salary adjustments and award bonuses based on performance, which will now be much easier to implement with the new appraisal process in place. The company is looking towards creating career paths for staff in future so that there is career progression and a goal to aim for. With a higher degree of confidence in their HR capabilities and a commitment to streamlining processes, Air Market Express is poised for further growth in what is an extremely competitive market.