Building a winning HR/OD team

Ng Ying Yuan from the Singapore Economic Development Board says this is crucial to having a resilient internal operating model.

As an organisation of rich heritage and being one of the oldest government entities in Singapore, the Singapore Economic Development Board (EDB) has been well-known for generating leaders for the public service and private sector for decades. 

We have consistently produced talent who have gone on to serve as political leaders, taken on top leadership roles within the government, or who have assumed leadership or deep expert roles in the global corporate world.

What has not been as well-known is the silent yet steady building of EDB’s HR/OD engine to ensure that we continue to manage our organisation based on the right set of talent management and leadership development philosophy and practices.

The most critical part of our EDB HR/OD engine is our HR/OD team, made up of 25 of the best HR/OD talents who run the entire spectrum of activities from talent attraction, talent management, talent performance and rewards, to leadership and organisation development.

Building a strong HR/OD team is a journey that is never fully completed.  As EDB goes through this journey, we have developed our house view on the four necessary approaches for a stellar HR/OD team:

Look for talent with the right values and anchors

HR/OD is an exhilarating activity, especially when done in an organisation like EDB that values this function.  One can experience invigorating intellectual challenges through the analytical and systems-thinking work, build one’s emotional maturity and self-mastery, and hone one’s skills in stakeholder management, engagement and influence. 

However, the ultimate objective of practising HR/OD is service to the organisation and the staff, so having talent with the right values to serve is critical.  It is easy to find candidates who are attracted to the role of a recruiter for the apparent glamour of the position, or candidates who are interested in the talent management role for the perceived intrinsic power that comes with the job.  However, without the right anchor of service with humility, the candidate will not be suitable for the team in the long term, and will not help the HR/OD function contribute at its fullest potential.

Look for talent from diverse backgrounds

We all recognise that HR/OD is a highly interdisciplinary function.  Traditional backgrounds in psychology and social science are definitely still valuable, but with the HR/OD practice becoming increasingly sophisticated due to new technologies and approaches deployed, having talent from a diverse range of backgrounds is essential. 

The HR/OD team at EDB is made up of practitioners with backgrounds in business, communications, engineering, economics, international relations, pharmacy and psychology.  In addition, EDB’s HR/OD talent have accumulated experiences living in different parts of the word beyond Singapore, such as various countries in Asia, Australia, Canada, Europe and the US. 

We realised that such diversity of training and experiences in the team helps build greater collective empathy towards our staff and people-related situations in the organisation, and enables us to be more competent in handling a large range of responsibilities in HR/OD, from people analytics to conflict management to organisation design. 


Invest in constant training and development

HR/OD is a rapidly-evolving expertise so it is critical to be constantly on top of our game so as to serve our organisation best.  This is why we invest heavily in the ongoing training and development of our HR/OD talent.  All our learning and development practitioners are certified in Advanced Certificate in Training and Assessment (ACTA) and Diploma in Adult and Continuing Education (DACE).

Our recruiters have the necessary certifications in psychometric testing, while our OD practitioners minimally have a diploma in OD. In addition, all our HR/OD staff are trained in analytics, change management and internal communications. Beyond formal education, training and certifications, our HR/OD practitioners go through constant horizon-scanning and learning to keep up to date with the latest ideas and practices, using various means such as micro-learning, online courses, seminars and communities of practices. 

We learnt that such deliberate investment in our HR/OD team reaps EDB tremendous benefits in the expertise and value contributed by the practitioners back to the organisation.

Enable an intimate understanding of the business

While we recognise that HR/OD is a deep expertise, it can only provide value when applied in a manner that is relevant to the business context.  As such, it is critical for our HR/OD practitioners to have an intimate understanding of EDB’s business, and a deep appreciation of the challenges and considerations faced. 

An effective HR/OD practitioner should also have a wide and established network across the whole organisation and get a good sense of the pulse on the ground.  EDB is in a good position where we have achieved a solid track record in our HR/OD function, and this has helped us attract many high calibre staff from our business functions to our HR/OD division.

We also have an ongoing and disciplined practice of exposing our HR/OD practitioners who do not have prior business experience to our business functions through one-year attachments, or involving them in organisation-wide projects or assignments to give them the necessary exposure and experience.


EDB’s learning is that it takes top leadership support, years of deliberate design and investment of resources, and disciplined execution to build a winning HR/OD team.  The HR leader needs to have a strong and clear view of what is needed to build a top HR/OD team, but to also be prepared to iterate constantly by taking into consideration changes in the external context so as to determine the new capabilities and team structure needed.  It is a thrilling and fulfilling challenge that can create wonderful impact for the organisation and its people.

About the author

Ng Ying Yuan is Executive Director, HR and Organisation Development Division, of the Singapore Economic Development Board.