FROM a pool of over 900 organisations across Asia and 50 organisations in Singapore, 11 companies have emerged as winners in the Best Employers in Singapore Award 2009.

While the biennial award saw familiar winners from the hospitality and food and beverage sectors making the list, new winners this year - Arup, FedEx Express Singapore (FedEx), Hilti Far East, Housing & Development Board (HDB) and Nanyang Polytechnic - represent a wide range of sectors.

Says Ms Julia Smith, country leader of Hewitt Singapore: "This year's winners have excelled at making employees feel connected to the business.

"Through performance management and aggressive career development, they link pay with performance of the individual and the company."

For the first time this year, winners have not been ranked, as the judges felt that all are equally deserving of mention.

Applicants were graded on their "people practices" in areas such as recruitment and retention, capability building, and reward and recognition.

The process included a chief executive officer (CEO) questionnaire, an employee opinion survey and, finally, a blind judging by an acclaimed panel of industry professionals.

Evolving test

This year's judging process also included four new areas of consideration, one of which examined tactics with regards to changing employee expectations.

New winner HDB manages the changing economic outlook and employee expectations through a multiple-platform approach that includes impromptu visits, departmental dialogues, focus groups sessions and newsletters.

"To reinforce staff morale in the current economic downturn, we assure our staff that the volume of work at HDB is not decreasing, and its estate improvement programmes, which are not demand-driven, are also unaffected," says Mr Tay Kim Poh, CEO of HDB.

The organisation also plans to use the downturn as an opportunity to step up its training programmes to enhance its staff's professional competency and skills.

Honouring performance

For FedEx, an important talent management tool is its "promotion-from-within" culture.

One example is Mr David Cunningham, president of FedEx Asia Pacific, who began his career sorting and loading packages in the company's Memphis hub.

Says Mr Ramesh Kumar Singam, managing director of FedEx Express Singapore: "More than half of our global management team has risen through the ranks of the company."

Among the company's range of employee awards are The Humanitarian Award for service beyond work or basic community standards, and The Five Star Award, awarded to about 300 employees worldwide each year for superior performance, leadership, vision and creativity.

Growing segment

This year's study also examined how companies managed their "most rapidly growing sector of the workforce", which might include part-time employees, contractors and external consultants.

Mr Andrew Hunt, general manager of winning European building technology firm Hilti, says: "Our most rapidly growing sector is our direct sales force.

"We have a strong internal referral programme to ensure we get excellent candidates.

"We also have a new-employee integration programme, 'Let's start together', which sees managers following guidelines to ensure that the employee's expectations are clear, active coaching is provided and feedback is given on a continuous basis."

He adds that all compensations are measured on a team basis, with fair and rationale targets.

Through the simple yet effective approach, Hilti has achieved integration success rates of more than 90 per cent.

Building allies

Aligning workers to the company's vision is key to repeat winners McDonald's Restaurants and Singapore Prison Service (SPS).

SPS' vision, "Captains of Lives", encapsulates its goal of building an exemplary prison service for the safe custody and rehabilitation of offenders, and supports its rigorous training programme at its Prison Staff Training School, says director of prisons, Mr Ng Joo Hee.

For seamless communication "from boardroom to crew room", Mr Alex Yeo, general manager of McDonald's Restaurants, uses a structured feedback programme called The Personal Action Letter (PAL).

PAL is a confidential tool for McDonald's employees to pen concerns, suggestions and opinions to the head office.

It reaffirms Hewitt's conclusion that "workers at Best Employers express a high degree of trust and confidence in company leadership. Such companies are better positioned to weather business cycles effectively".