HR Summit 2018: Gardens by the Bay's small but powerful workforce

The region's largest curator of plants has a much smaller workforce than commonly thought.

In 2012, Gardens by the Bay started out with a humble ambition of being “the second Botanical Gardens”. Today, as Senior Director of HR and Corporate Administration Phan Yoke Fei shares at the HR Summit & Expo Asia 2018, it has surpassed those objectives to become Singapore's most popular attraction.

The region's largest curator of plants, contrary to common perception, is much smaller than it appears. Furthermore, Phan emphasises that it is in no way “affiliated with Marina Bay Sands”, a much bigger organisation located very close by.

Phan says that in order for the still-growing entity to punch above its weight, HR came up with a strategy of formulating SMART goals. While the traditional SMART goals stand for specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and timely, at Gardens by the Bay, SMART refers to a different set of values.

M, for example, refers to the matching of talent skills and character traits with the needs of each department. On this point, Phan says the company hires individuals based on a healthy mixture of competency and personality.

As Ralf Josef Gresch, director of visitor services, explains, skills are important, but a person's character is “a great indicator of whether an individual will be able to give guests a good experience”.

The remaining alphabets, which respectively stand for adaptability, reskilling, and teaching, are also crucial to the company's rapid emergence as Singapore's number one most visited sightseeing destination.

“I'm most proud of the fact that we've been able to reskill our customer service personnel to provide world-class support and experience for our guests,” says Phan, adding that HR has been able to facilitate this despite limited resources.

He says one way the reskilling has taken place is through regular lunchtime sharing sessions. During these sessions, a team of plant curators and horticulture specialists will share with the rest of the organisation (even HR) on the latest “blockbuster displays”, tand he various plant species and their origins.

In terms of external training, the organisation is working with horticulture students from local polytechnics by sending them to Australia, New Zealand, and the US, and sponsoring their degrees in horticulture. The students then start their careers at Gardens by the Bay when they return.

With an attrition rate of less than 1% annually and nearly 10 million visitors last year, HR is certainly doing something right.


HR Summit & Expo Asia 2018 is taking place at Suntec Singapore Convention and Exhibition Centre on May 9 and 10. Check out our coverage here.

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