Since its official formation dating back to 1947, Singapore Airlines have founded its business on world-class service quality in the airline industry. Such a reputation is built on core aspects of the airlines service delivery which includes features like the friendly service, prompt flights and in-flight entertainment system. As consumers, we only see these final outcomes and therefore, often forget that these qualities are a product of much planning, trial and of course – teamwork. The efficient, continuous use of teams throughout the business is a fundamental tool in which Singapore airlines is able to deliver `quality’ to its customers.
More specifically it is the way that the team operates and the values instilled within those teams that make them so effective. By designing and training these teams to be highly motivated, creative, able to communicate and equipped with comprehensive decision making skills, Singapore Airlines are able to achieve high performance. Team Design First and foremost let’s examine how SIA’s team is designed. Firstly, the issue of task interdependence can be applied. Task interdependence is the degree which a task requires employees to share common inputs or outcomes, or requires them to interact in the process of executing their work.
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In relation to how SIA operates we can certainly see a high level of interdependence. For example, when customers arrive at the airport they have to check-in through the counter. If there are delays at this stage, personnel in customs and onboard the plane may have to deal with agitated customers and subsequently run into difficulties. The check-in staff sets the foundation for the service provision to begin and therefore employees from that point onwards are dependant on its efficiency. It is also important to note that Singapore airlines staff have aligned goals of providing top quality customer service.
Such an outcome is made possible by the utislisation of various training centers within the company which unifies employee direction and motivation (Cabin Crew, Flight Operations, Commercial and Management Development). Team Size and Composition is also relevant. IN terms of team size SIA is able to achieve efficiency by appropriately building `right’ size teams. What this implies is that the team size is optimal for efficiency in that they are large enough to perform the necessary tasks and small enough to maintain efficient coordination. An example of this is the 15-20 onboard hosts/hostesses who are onboard the B777-200 aircraft.
This allocated team size is appropriate for the environment in that it allows for the employees to be able to communicate with each other effectively and also perform all the tasks needed. Singapore Airlines also promotes team diversity. One of their most notable team design characteristics is how they effectively use both homogenous and heterogeneous teams. For example, heterogeneous teams are utilised in their Product Innovation Department which requires more complex decision making whereas homogenous teams are used more on the operational level (onboard) as they tend to be more effective in the response time and emergency problems.
COMMUNICATION Singapore Airlines attaches a very high priority to the concept of communication in their operating activities. This stance predominates because they view their employees, contractors and agents as critical components of their success. The application of communication in regards to this company can be broken into two parts, external and internal. External communication refers to the airlines ability to influence its reputation and its portrayal to customers. It also refers to improving customer relations with innovations in physical communication.
External communication has been as integral to Singapore Airlines success, if not more, than internal communication. Singapore Airlines prioritised in consistent brand image to the public. This strategy has been used by the company in all its communication vehicles to the public. They achieved this through the iconic `Singapore Girl’. The primary message “Singapore Airlines – A Great Way to Fly” has been consistently conveyed in exclusive print media and also in selected TV-commercials of very high production value to underline the quality aspirations of brand.
But all these messages are featured through the iconic Singapore Girl in different themes and settings. The result of this is reduced information overload. By simplifying their message, and introducing non-verbal cues like the smiling Singapore girl, the message has less chance to be affected by noise, and becomes universal, transcending cultures. Everyone understands a smile. The Girl is the personification of the great service, and is the brand identity. The Airline also makes a concerted effort to stay in touch with customers through in-flight surveys, customer focus groups and rapid replies to every compliment or complaint they receive.
The company then consolidates this input with other key data to create a quarterly `Service Performance Index’ that is very closely watched throughout the airline. This increased communication with the passenger’s increases relation, in the sense that passengers identify more with the company. Frequent flyers are also distributed, connected with special messages, attractive offers and publications sent regularly to Priority Passenger Service members. Overall, the airline makes an effort to always communicate with passengers, to ensure the right message is conveyed, and that any feedback received is clearly understood and worked on.
Internal communication refers to Singapore Airlines ability to facilitate effective feedback and integration between employees and management. They do this by exploring various channels and mediums in which to communicate, and making an effort to raise stakeholder’s awareness of the workings of the company. The company itself, subsidiaries included, is a large organization, with more than 28,000 staff located around the world. To facilitate communication between employees, regular dialogue sessions between management and staff keeps communication flowing. They rely on both verbal and non-verbal communication.
These sessions take the form of regular meetings and briefings. They also actively encourage the use of intranet to communicate regularly. The company holds semi-annual business meetings, as well as end of year meetings. This means that situations concerning rich medium, non-routine, ambiguous information can be transmitted and discussed through the regular meetings, whereas the routine, clear information can be sent as documents through email. Employees have direct access to management through the intranet, making it easier for information to circulate around the organisation.
The intranet also erases the social status of employees relative to management, which has the effect of empowering them. Management also seems very responsive and attentive to issues relating to employees, becoming in effect, very active listeners. This ensures that whatever message is being debated between persons is clarified and understood, minimising conflicts and negative issues. Of the things discussed between management and employees include sharing and evaluating results in sales, marketing, yields and customer satisfaction levels.
The company also initiates a program called `Staff Ideas in Action’. This scheme ensures that new suggestions for improvement are constantly put forward by employees, for management to review. Singapore Airlines recognises that its employees are the `sensors’ of the organisation, and that they are the ones who are on the ground floor who know how things work, and how to improve it. The company pays a particular interest in maintaining effective internal management because they recognise that it is a key organisational concept, integral for success.
Because of the size of the company, and the reaches it has over the globe, the airline is immensely rich in cultural terms. For example, the company currently has pilots from 25 different countries. Although the cross cultural diversity may hamper communication in normal circumstances, Singapore Airlines have countered the problem with by creating more opportunities for employees to communicate. To keep everyone on the same wavelength, the company publishes a variety of department newsletters, websites and a monthly company-wide magazine.
These publications ensure that employees from different cultures all understand how the company is run, its outtake on the future, and how to further work together to produce a seamless and consistently positive customer experience. DECISION MAKING Effective decision-making is integral in achieving organisational success. Singapore Airlines demonstrates how a coherent team environment fosters innovation and ultimately maximises the effectiveness of decision-making. The key to SIA’s success is their high level of employee involvement despite the size of the organisation.
Employee involvement in decision-making is beneficial in that it enables better problem identification, diverse choice generation, increases probability of selecting the best alternative and increases commitment to the decision. In regard to the `model of employee involvement in decision-making’, the contingencies of employee involvement in SIA facilitate participative management thus SIA is able to reap the benefits of employee involvement. Due to the often-unpredictable nature of the airline industry, many decisions that need to be made are non-programmed.
The Senior Vice President responsible for cabin crew, Mr. Sim Kay Wee, emphasises the importance of individual employees’ decisions in optimising customer satisfaction and encourages employees to make innovative decisions, as opposed to following guidelines regimentally, in order to overcome unforeseen problems. The `Deputy Chairman’s Award’ has been introduced as a prestigious annual reward for outstanding individual or team response to a `unique customer situation’. This emphasis on the importance of employee involvement in decision-making motivates employees to continuously strive for excellence.
As SIA is operating within a service industry, the source of decision knowledge is often subordinates who have more intimate contact with customers, rather than those in management positions. Mr. Yap Kim Wah, Senior Vice President responsible for product and service asserts that employee feedback is one of the most valuable inputs to decision-making as they have the most direct interaction with customers and can help identify problems that may otherwise be overlooked. It is this willingness to address problems at all levels that has enabled SIA to achieve seamless consumer satisfaction.
SIA has also acknowledged that decision commitment is improved by participation. Accordingly, they encourage employee participation through corporate newsletters, regular staff meetings and recognising staff members who have actively contributed in decision-making processes. Employee involvement also reduces the risk of conflict over a decision made. A common issue that arises in organisations is that employee goals conflict with organisational goals. SIA have worked to ensure that this is not a risk factor within their organisation as they constantly strive to align employees with the organisation as a whole.
This can be seen in the values underpinning SIA’s mission statement whereby staff are described as valuable and there is a focus on providing them with fulfilling careers, there is also an emphasis on viewing the organisation as a `worldwide team’. Such a corporate culture reduces the likelihood of conflict when decisions are made. As already mentioned, SIA succeeds in promoting a high level of creativity in their organisation. Such a creative work environment is made possible through various initiatives from upper management which is filtered down through the business.
Firstly, SIA has achieved organisational support through tolerating mistakes. The corporate culture encourages giving new ideas a try and if they don’t work out they are removed from service. They place more value on amending mistakes made than not taking any risks at all for example the introduction of fax machines was unsuccessful. Additionally, the aforementioned emphasis on communication within the organisation and job security (through performance appraisal, training and development, and promotional opportunities) also enhance organisational support.
Another factor in achieving a creative work environment is providing intrinsically motivating work. The `team concept’ was developed in order to achieve this. The concept is concerned with viewing each cabin crew as a team unit in order to develop camaraderie between members. This also enables more individual evaluation and means good performance can be rewarded with ease. The concept aims to increase empowerment and a sense of belonging to the organisation.
SIA also encourages informal pressure, which has resulted in increased levels of discussion between various levels within the organisation leading to new ways of approaching problems and ideas. Evidently, Singapore Airlines is a prime example of how the encouragement of a team environment facilitates decision-making within an organisation. Employee involvement in decision-making has been a major contributing factor in SIA’s success. Additionally, such involvement also serves to foster innovation and divergent thinking thus enabling SIA to continuously meet and exceed consumer expectations and maintain a competitive advantage.
CREATIVITY Singapore airline is successful in Asian’s fiercely competitive airplane service industry because it relies on creativity for innovative new services. Creativity is the development of original ideas that make a socially recognized contribution. Such a concept is integrated into the company through its Product Innovation Department which focuses on anticipating needs consumers didn’t even know they had. An example of this is SIA’s have pioneering of the in-flight experiential and entertainment systems.
Their in-flight entertainment system (IFE’s) `Krisworld’ was developed in 1997 and significantly raised the standard in that department. Prior to that, only Emirates and Virgin airlines had IFE’s and they were expensive and had limited options. Singapore’s Krisworld offered a significantly broader entertainment experience including Krisvision which offered over 50 different viewing options SIA was also the first to introduce hot meals, free alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages, hot towels with a unique and patented scent, fax machines on board, telephones in every seat, personal entertainment systems, and video-on-demand in all cabins.
Furthermore, they were the first to introduce the alert service, which sends short text message informing the customer of flight arrivals and delays. In addition, Singapore Airlines introduced its Suites – in a class beyond First, together with cabin improvements in all other classes while still providing excellent service. The company keeps driving innovation as an important part of the brand, and the cabin ambience and combined experience are key factors of SIA success. Organizational conditions supporting creativity SIA leaders also maintain a work environment that supports the creative rocess for everyone. SIA has the task of trying to create esprit de corps among its cabin crew, cabin crews, as a unit, flying and working together, allows them to build camaraderie, and crew members feel like they are part of team, not just a number, they tend to be more creative when they believe that their work has a substantial impact on the organization. Cabin crew can directly gather information from customer to know what their needs and wants. They pursue novel ideas, which can improve and sustain service excellence through understanding customers and anticipating their needs,
In addition, the team leader will get to know cabin crew’s strengths and weaknesses well, and will become their mentor and their counsel, when team member get new idea about improving services. The team leader support authority and encourages team members to take initiative and “have a go”. They encourage team members to try-it-out, make-it-work and see-it-through. Not every innovation succeeds, and some are eventually removed from service (the fax machines are long gone), team leader tolerate mistakes and recognize the reasonable mistakes as part of creativity process.
Even if unsuccessful, the leader insists no one should be punished for taking initiative and trying new services. Singapore Airlines recognizes that each innovation has a relatively short life span. Once other airlines adopt it, it is no longer considered “innovative”. Therefore, the airline continues to invest heavily in R, innovation and technology as an integrated part of the business strategy to further differentiate itself. MOTIVATION Based on MARS model, motivation is one of the four important elements that contribute or influence individual behavior.
Motivation is the cognitive, decision making process through which goal-directed behavior is initiated, energized and maintained. It will determine direction, intensity as well as persistence. How SIA staffs can achieve such a high motivation? These can be explained by a number of motivation theories. If we look at historical approaches, SIA does not follow the traditional approach such as scientific management which only emphasizes on wage incentive and management control. Instead, it uses the human relation approach in motivating its staffs.
It believes that fulfillment of individual’s needs and making them feel useful and important are more important than giving out monetary incentive. It belief, the illusion of involvement and importance will motivate its staffs more in performing their jobs. In SIA, staffs are regularly appraised for their performance and potential. Furthermore, high- flyers are identified and given opportunity to learn and grow. This make them to feel valued, thus, motivated to work harder. Basically, theory of motivation can be divided into two parts.
First, the content theories of motivation which identify the motives for our behavior and second is the process theories of motivation which explain the reasons why we are motivated to act in certain way. For the content theories of motivation, by referring to the four drive theory, SIA staffs are motivated to join SIA, to perform their job very well and to achieve the company goals due to their drive to acquire, drive to learn and drive to bond. SIA lets its staffs to deal with customers on a one-to-one basis.
By dealing with different type of customers in different circumstances, they will be able to gain a lot of experiences, thus, meet their drive to acquire. They will also be able to satisfy their drive to learn in SIA since in SIA, training is not a `one time affair’. In meeting customers increasing expectation, SIA provides four training centers within the organization. These centers offer a wide range of educational programs whether in classroom, on the job or through full scale simulations. On top of that, SIA also could meet ones drive to bond that is form relationship and social commitment.
SIA is a large company with more than 28000 staffs which located all over the world and comes from different background. This enables its staffs to mix around and work together in giving their best service to customers. All these drive motivate them to remain in SIA and perform well. For the process theories of motivation, expectancy theory can be applied in SIA context in explaining the reason why its staffs are motivated to do their job very well. This theory says that motivation depends on how much you like or want something and how likely you think you are able to get it.
In SIA, its staffs believe their efforts will increase their performance which then will be recognized and rewarded by SIA. And most of the rewards are valued and liked by these staffs which include increased pay, increased position and the annual `Deputy Chairman’s Award’. Therefore, they are always motivated to work towards SIA goal. Apart from that, referring to goal-setting theory, specific goal lead to higher level of motivation and performance. SIA fundamental mission or goal is clear to its entire staff which is to provide high quality service to their customers.
This is why its staffs are always on the right track. Apart from that, SIA also motivate its staffs through job design. According to Herzberg’s motivator-hygiene theory, job design can affect staffs’ satisfaction or dissatisfaction and in turn affect their motivation. SIA does job rotation whereby there is frequent rotation amongst top positions in the organization. As a result, there is management team with great and shared understanding of the `big picture’ of the organization and with the commitment to do what is best for customers and the business as a whole.
It also uses the job enrichment strategy where it establishes client relationship and put the staffs in direct contact with clients. Last but not least, SIA motivates its staffs through training and investment. For example, SIA undertakes a teamwork project. The objective of this project is to develop specific skills associated with effective cross-functional working across the airline’s Flight Operation, Cabin Crew, Engineering and Airport Management department and to avoid `silo’ mentality within the organization which personnel in one department take little consideration for the requirement of other departments.
PERFORMANCE/CONCLUSION Now, I am going to talk about applied motivational practices used by SIA. As mentioned before, SIA has a financial rewards system as one means of motivating its staff. Bonuses are paid according to the profitability of the company, which is employed throughout the entire company, no matter the level of seniority. As a result there is a lot of informal pressure for each other to perform from everybody. SIA has also adopted a Performance-based Reward system in the form of recognition, which is used to encourage good service.
The “Deputy Chairman’s Award” is given yearly to teams or individuals for responding to unique customer situations with an exceptionally positive, innovative or selfless act of service. This award carries no financial benefit, but is considered as the most prestigious of all awards in the airline. Winners and their families are flown to Singapore for a special dinner celebration, the story of their unique efforts is published in the monthly “Outlook” magazine, and their personal status as a “Deputy Chairman’s Award Winner” remains a badge of distinction for life.
The company considers recognition as being essential to functioning of a successful company, believing “a good pat on the back, a good ceremony, photographs and write-ups in the newsletters. They also award a special badge for those individuals who have received a lot of passenger compliments. They recognise our heroes and heroines. ” The performing stage of team development is critical to the accomplishment of tasks.
Singapore airlines is an example of a high-performance team, and this is exemplified by the airline being named as winner of the prestigious “Airline of the Year” title not once but twice, and most recently last year. A high performance team is one where members are highly co-operative, have a high-level of trust in each other, are committed to the group objectives and identify with the team, all of which are demonstrated by SIA. Their successes may be attributed to their team concept – a workforce of 6,600 members is divided into small units of 13 people, with a team leader placed in charge.
These teams can be thought of as Self-Directed Work Teams. The teams are rostered to fly together as often as possible which creates camaraderie The team leader plays an important role in establishing the Self-directed work team structure – they get to know all team members well, including their strengths and weaknesses. This assists in the assignment of tasks whilst on board a flight. For example a team member with stronger speaking skills or more experience will be given the duty of announcing the in-flight emergency procedures at the beginning of the flight.
The team leader is also a mentor and counsel to the members of the team, and, someone to whom they can turn if they need help or advice. A team leader is also essential in providing team-level feedback and rewards – their staff appraisals are meticulous and detailed of each staff member. This is important in identifying the need for re-training in some areas and if a member has performed particularly well, the possibility of a promotion. As discussed before, Singapore Airlines has been internationally recognized as one of world’s leading carriers.
Not only making profit every year (the group made $675 million in the third quarter of the financial year 2007-2008), SIA also frequently wins international awards for top flight quality and service including the 2007 Skytrax Airline of the Year Award voted by over 14 million travelers. Basically, there are many different factors that lead to their success today as a high-performance team, including sound team design, a high priority towards both external and internal communications, cohesive team decision making processes, creative innovations, and most importantly a high motivation among SIA staff.