Human Resource Development in Singapore International Airline

Crew Resource Development Strategy in SIA(Singapore International Airline)


Today, SIA(Singapore International Airline) has developed to be ranked as the top 10 international air carriers in the world. Significantly, Singapore Airlines has won the "airline of the year" in the airline industry,rewarded by the ATW(Airline Transport World)'s 34th Annual Airline Industry Achievement Awards. How is it possible that SIA is so successful in achieving competitive advantages above the competition over three decades? One of the important reasons is that this has been achieved through crew resource development and employees’ training(Singh,1984)1. Through crew resource development, and extensive investments in training staff, SIA has expanded its different origins to be in the service of 36 cities in 27 countries. Today, SIA still focus on the area of the commitment of staff, and the disciplined long term focus, which is the investment on training.

Singapore Airlines wins airline of the year-rewarded by the ATW(Airline Transport World)'s 34th Annual Airline Industry Achievement Awards.

1. Introduction

How does the company’s internal communication and recruitment give credit to consistently deliver on its brand promise and maintain its premium positioning in the competitive airline industry? To answer this question, we examine the five interconnected and equally supportive aspects that behind the company’s effective human resource management strategy. The five aspects along with the leadership and role modeling of top management, play a crucial role in the ability to constantly achieve cost-effective service excellence through a cost effective manner. The five elements which form the foundation of our company’s human resource management and reinforce its service excellence strategy are: 1) stringent selection and recruitment processes; 2) extensive training and retraining of employees; 3) formation of successful service delivery teams; 4) empowerment of front-line staff; and 5) motivation of employees (Heracleous & Wirtz, 2009)2. Furthermore, we will explore successful communication and motivation in the company, which have been offered through rewards and recognition, and how crew resource development and successful communication in SIA has improved and supported SIA to build and sustain its competencies consistently above the competition over three decades.

2. A strategic view of Human Resources development in SIA

Crew resource management is the main aspect of the company’s dimension, which should enable the abilities that assist a company’s strategy. In SIA’s case, the Crew Resource management performance delivers the improvement of service excellence, customer s’ expectation, values of cost consciousness and adapting to changing market abilities, which as a result, support the differentiation strategy of innovation and service and cost effectiveness (Managing HR for service excellence & cost effective). To achieve this strategy, the company has chosen most particular quality control systems and processes for employee selection and training, and also particular training and service policy (p. 34, Asian Business Review, 1996)

The support of the employees and the contributions every staff made were important. Everyone is bonded, and stressing the bond working relationship between top management and staff. As a result, the company is quick-witted and flexible, which enables fast decisions and speedy practice of measures, which in turn, solve the issue at the beginning (The Annual Report, 2009-2010).

3. The Five Key Elements of SIA’s Human Resource development strategies

In order to manage people effectively to deliver sustained service excellence, SIA’s crew resource management process, is an important aspect of their business. They focus on the people side of the company’s sustained service excellence, more specifically, the five key elements behind effective human resource management strategy and how each of the five aspects reinforces the company’s service excellence strategy. The five elements are 1) stringent selection and 2) hiring of people, 3) extensive training and retraining, 4) formation of successful service delivery teams, 5) empowerment of the front line, and staff motivation.

3.1 Stringent selection processes

The most significant advantage is the right people. Human resource strategy begins with hiring right people, where we implement a highly accurate and strict selection process. It includes meeting a multitude of criteria, interview, etc. This particular selection process with a selection rate of 3to 4 percent of all the applicants, makes sure that the company hires applicants with the preferred characteristics (Heracleous, Wirtz, & Pangarkar, 2008)3.

3.2 Developing staff holistically Recruitment

The holistically recruitment goes on for the whole term of employment, it starts from the new recruits’ on-the-job training for four months, to make sure that they understand the company’s corporate values and the promise of being ‘a great way to fly’. Once they join the company, the training serves focus on improving coalition between the employees’ individual value system and the company’s corporate values. However, everyone, including senior managers has training and development plans. It is an ongoing procedure that calls for all management’s attention. These programs constantly enhance the alignment of individual with corporate values by the communication and shared value of experiences (p.153, Andriopoulos & Gotsi, 2001, cited by Chong, & Chian, 2007)4.

3.3 Investment on Training and retraining

Once a company has good people hired, investment in training and retaining can bring in excellent outcomes. SIA’s experience emphasizes how recruitment and development should be managed, aiming to realize well managed human resource which can efficiently sustain the company’s competitive advantage. The company placed substantial stress on training, so that training is considered as one of the important points in human resource development and service excellence strategy (Managing HR for service excellence & cost effective). The training intends to ensure that the cabin crew offers excellent service. This on-going training and retraining has been essential to the company’s objective of constant development, and it is important to the company in maintaining service excellence through managing employees to be open minded, to adapt to change and improvement and to bring new services that introduces regularly.

In order to assist retrenched staff, the company holds training programs and workshops that included courses on managing emotions, financial planning and career guidance.

Basically, the company has divided the training into two types, which are functional training and general management training, it involves not only safety and functional issues, but also beauty care, gourmet food and wine appreciation, and art of conversation (Chan, 2000a, b)5.

Overall, there are seven training schools, which are responsible to offer training in each of the core functional areas. The general management training is delivered by the Management Development Centre (MDC), which is target with softer skills, its programs are divided into three fields: (1) management development programs focusing on the changing priorities and skills required at various levels of the managerial hierarchy; (2) management skills development programs which are functional or skills related, ranging from the art of negotiation to the learning of other cultures; (3) self-development programs in areas such as social etiquette(Chan, 2000)6.

Leadership as well as the relationship management with employees is the main forces that drive the success of our training and retraining programs. Our managers usually think themselves as counselor and coaches to direct the new employees. We also take on a job rotation approach to let management understand a whole picture of our company, and also, it generates enthusiasm for change and innovation (Heracleous, Wirtz, & Pangarkar, 2008)7.

3.4 Quality of Management (Building high-performance service delivery teams)

SIA has one of the youngest management teams, among all the main and well-managed airlines in the world, the average manager is in his late 30s. The feature of young and energetic team has enabled to react fast and determinedly in decision-making, in turn, quick decisions can be made, as well as action taken (Singh,1984)8.

In terms of the significance of the teamwork in the delivery of service excellence, SIA aims to create ‘team spirit’ among our cabin crew. Team concept is the approach to improve teamwork among the diversity of group of cabin crew staff. In doing so, the company has divided the total crew members into teams of 13 people, in which team staff are managed to fly together quite often, this lets them create better understanding of each other’s personalities and abilities within a team (Heracleous, Wirtz, & Pangarkar, 2008) (Managing HR for service excellence & cost effective). In addition to training, the company also promotes and facilitates activities. For instance, the ‘performing arts cycle’, these activities also enhance building company and team spirit as well as personal interests, which in turn, supply the quality of service that crew delivers in the flight (Heracleous,Wirtz,& Johnston, 2004).9

3.5 Empowerment of front-line staff to control quality (Listening to Customers and Front Line Staff)

In our company, senior management stress that employees should have a clear idea of the boundaries of their rights and which is charge of the management to correspond and illustrate the empowerment limits, especially, empowerment of the front-line staff is crucial during service recovery processes(Heracleous,Wirtz,& Johnston, 2004).10

The company has very complicated feedback methods that help their staff to listen to customers and to understand them better. Information can be collected from a random sample, benchmarking survey, and so on. They track and analyze all the feedback from customers we received. Not only managers but also staff have lots of opportunities to give feedback (Jochen& Robert, 2001).11

SIA has a motto: ‘If SIA can’t do it for you, no other airline can’. To maintain the reputation for service excellence, and to assist the front-line staff to conquer the high expectations and demands from customers, The company encourages the staff to try to sort things out, to do as much as they can for the customer and help them deal with the emotional turmoil of having to handle their customers well.

4. Communication and Motivation (Motivating staff through rewards and recognition)

To ensure that staff will deliver service excellence, we created reward systems which are the major contributor to motivation and reorganization. Motivating and rewarding proactive service staff is also the most effective method of retaining them (Heracleous,Wirtz,& Johnston, 2004).12

The company recognizes excellence, and highlights positive performance. The reward and evaluation system is fully aligned with desired performance (Heracleous,Wirtz,& Johnston, 2004)13. For instance, SIA provides a variety of kinds of rewards, involving interesting and varied job content, etc. Another source of motivation comes from the global award for excellence, such as the ‘best airline awards’. In addition, the company uses non-financial rewards to motivate good service, such as newsletters, to motivate staff (Jochen& Robert, 2001).14

4.1 Internal communication at SIA

The company’s employee communication program is fundamental on the mission and main corporate values of the company. SIA’s mission is to be 'a global company dedicated to providing air transportation services of the highest quality and to maximizing returns for the benefit of its shareholders and employees'. Its main corporate values are the pursuit of excellence (service orientation and product knowledge), (safety, security, and teamwork (work relationship and people management) (Heracleous et al., 2008).15 The employee communication function exists in the People Network department, which focuses on creating and sustaining well-built relationships among management and employees through share of the company’s mission, core values and strategic decisions, this is made possible by a complex and incorporated communication network which includes print materials, online communication channels, face-to-face meetings, bond-building extra-curricular activities and the organizational climate survey. It is important that union members are also actively participant in all meetings and training sessions, it enforce union and management relations and inspire a sense of ownership (Chong, & Chian, 2007).16

The communication of the company’s core values is a sign of their strategic status in the company’s internal communication and training programs. The companies’ core values are also enhanced during the ongoing training program, such as the Managers’ program. The company has an evaluation system to make sure that the core values are associated with performance. Such as an on-board assessment(OBA), which integrate performance indicators which show the company’s core values(Heracleous et al., 2008).17


For over three decades, SIA has managed to achieve what many others in the aviation industry can only dream of: cost- effective service excellence that is reinforced by effective human resource management. We discussed the role of SIA’s leadership, the five key elements constituting SIA’s human resource management strategy (i.e., stringent selection and hiring of people, followed by extensive training and retraining, formation of successful service delivery teams, empowerment of the front line, and motivating staff), and successful communication and motivation, which have helped SIA to build and sustain service excellence at levels consistently above the competition over three decades. In summary, SIA’s core values build the foundation of its internal communication and training programs, which aims to enhance manners to enhance these core values in employees to be able to deliver our brand promise of ‘a great way to fly’.


1. Chan, D. (2000). The story of Singapore Airlines and the Singapore Girl. MCB UP Ltd.
2. Chong, M., & Chian, L. K. (2007).The Role of Internal Communication and Training in Infusing Corporate Values and Delivering Brand Promise: Singapore Airlines’Experience. Palgrave Macmillan Ltd.
3. Heracleous, L., Wirtz, J., & Johnston, R. (2004).Cost-effective service excellence: Lessons from Singapore airlines. Business Strategy Review.
4. Heracleous,, L., Wirtz, J., & Pangarkar, N. (2008).Managing human resources for service excellence and cost effectiveness at Singapore Airlines. Emerald Group Publishing Ltd.
5. Singh, K. (1984). Successful strategies-the story of Singapore airlines(SIA). Pergamon Press Ltd.

Want to know more?

Further reading

  1. Chan, D. (2000). Air wars in Asia: Competitive and collaborative strategies. Republic of Singapore Air Force.
  2. Holtbrugge, D. (2004). Management of International Strategic Business Cooperation:Situational Conditions, Performance Criteria, and Success Factors. Wiley Periodicals Inc.
  3. Ruan, B. (2006). Singapore Airlines Ltd. Glass Lewis & Co.
  4. Wirtz, J., & Johnston, R. (2001). Singapore airlines: What it takes to sustain service excellence – A senior management perspective. NUS Business School.
  5. Chang, Z. Y., Yeong, W. Y., & Loh, L. (1997). Critical success factors for Inflight Catering services: Singapore Airport Terminal Services’ practices as management benchmarks. The TQM Magazine.
  6. Clemons, E. K., Gu, B., & Spitler, R. (2002). Hyper-Differentiation Strategies: Delivering Value, Retaining Profits. Computer Society.
  7. Heracleous, L., & Wirtz, J. (2008). Strategy and organization at Singapore Airlines:Achieving sustainable advantage through dual strategy. Elsevier Ltd.
  8. SIA : Singapore International Airline home page
  9. ATW : The Airline Transport World home page

Contributors to this page

Authors / Editors

Alice LiuAlice Liu

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