Scanning the environment
Ninety percent of the business model of Ademco Security Group, a company specialising in security solutions, comprises of devising customised systems for clients.
Meanwhile, the remaining 10% consists of the man-guarding business.
However, it is this 10% group which continues to gnaw at Toby Koh, Group Managing Director at Ademco (pictured above), which boasts of a staff strength of more than 400 employees across more than 20 cities in Singapore, Malaysia, China, the Philippines, Indonesia and India.
The security sector in Singapore has recently been placed under the spotlight, with firms lamenting the high turnover rates and low retention levels among security employees.
Factors such as low pay, long hours, and boredom make the security profession unpalatable.
Koh concedes there are fundamental issues plaguing the guarding industry.
“Nobody ever grows up wanting to be a security guard. There isn’t the social prestige in being one. Very often and sad to say, it’s one of the last resorts for employment,” he says.
Shoring up on the security front
Ademco has a few aces up its sleeve when it comes to recruiting and engaging its security staff.
Koh says the number one priority is to ensure that the guards are treated with respect.
“Whatever the office employees get, they receive it too. These include Chinese New Year red packets and benefits such as zoo passes for families,” he says.
Ademco has also made a conscientious effort to ensure its security employees’ pay and benefits are above the market rate.
The organisation also offers certain benefits which are not mandated by law.
For example, companies are not required by law to offer term-insurance policy for employees. Nevertheless, Ademco has issued a generous policy for its staff.
“One of our guards actually passed away at home. We then made a claim and took out a sum of money for his family,” says Koh.
Ademco’s approach to recruiting guards is not based on a first-come-first-employed basis.
Rather, it’s about ensuring the right cultural fit. “This is extremely important,” he says.
“It’s been proven time and again that if the person comes without the positive attitude that fits our culture, that person won’t last long. It then becomes an expensive hire.”
What then entails Ademco’s culture?
Koh says it’s about employees being part of a mission and working for a transparent organisation that has a flat hierarchy.
“These people want to be part of a company that possesses a family culture,” he says.
Ademco’s guards are primarily based in commercial or industrial premises.
According to Koh, two specific guard profiles epitomise its security team.
“One group has been in the guarding industry for eons and is very unlikely to move out of the security industry,” he shares.
“The other is the transient security officer. These may be employees who were out of a job but have decided to be guards because they can get a job immediately. However, they will only stay in this role until they get another job.”
Tellingly, Koh shares that 90% of guards from the first group show an inclination towards rising through the skills and career ladder.
In order to upgrade the skillsets of guards and to combat the talent shortage, Ademco dovetails its manpower guarding operations with technological systems.
“That means we can deploy six officers instead of ten and supplement them with technology,” Koh explains.
“Because we’re able to leverage on technology, reduce manpower, and hence combat the talent shortage in guards, our margins have increased. This means we also have a bigger budget to hire better talent.”
While Koh concedes that even his organisation is not insusceptible from the turnover woe, more than 40% of Ademco’s guards have been with the firm for over five years.
Rather than trying to retain all of its security employees, Koh says his organisation is constantly plotting how to keep its long-term staff specifically.
“That is more important because we consider this team to be a core team. In every site, we need core people whom we can trust,” he says.
Ademco’s business offerings are not solely restricted to security solutions and equipment.
Toby Koh, Group Managing Director at Ademco, says his company strives to offer a security platform to help customers manage their HR operations.
A case in point was the bid tendered to Resorts World Sentosa to manage its security blueprint.
Ademco employees tendering the bid recognised that with RWS consisting of more than 10,000 uniformed employees, massive quantities of dry cleaning would be involved on a daily basis.
This meant that employees may have to clock in to work slightly earlier to collect their uniforms.
“We thought about all these operational issues and when we crafted our solutions, we decided to integrate our security system with their laundry system. This means employees can flash their card and their uniform will arrive through an automated conveyor,” says Koh,
“We felt it was addressing staff morale issues because no employee wants to come and line up half an hour earlier to collect their uniform before their shift starts,” says Koh.
In addition, Ademco automated the same smart access card to enable RWS employees to clock in and out for attendance at the point of uniform-collection.
Ademco eventually fought off stiff competition from giants such as Honeywell, Tyco and Johnson Controls to win the bid.
“One of the things I want to inculcate in our company is for employees to have a siege mentality, whereby if we don’t innovate and if we’re not the best of breed, we’re going to be extinct,” adds Koh.
With Ademco’s employees skilled in functions such as system integration, maintenance and after-sales support, the organisation has structured a comprehensive learning framework for all staff.
Ademco’s training blueprint comprises of five competency levels with a combination of in-house and external training.
In-house training entails designated employees coaching colleagues on different functions, while external training comprises of outside experts sharing their industry wisdom to employees.
“For example, it may be an employee working for a certain manufacturer of a system who will come in to train employees about the product,” says Koh.
Recently, Ademco also implemented a cloud-based HR management solution for its learning needs, which falls under the ambit of online learning.
A chunk of these online modules require employees to apply their theoretical skills in real-life and practical scenarios.
Personal development is something close to Koh’s heart, even if it comes at the expense of an employee eventually seeking greener pastures.
“The old staff will probably get tired of me saying this, but I always tell them to learn as much as they can here because they will enhance their own value,” he says.
“Even if they decide to leave eventually, they will be able to get better value in their next job because of the knowledge they have garnered.”
Despite some employees eventually departing for new roles, several of them have returned back to the fold at Ademco, something that makes Koh beam with pride.
“Right now in the Singapore office, there are about ten employees who have come back to Ademco,” he shares.
The organisation has also made internal promotion a core part of its career development structure, with employees well-versed in different functions.
For instance, Koh’s personal assistant rotated to a sales function before moving into customer service, while technical managers have been transferred to sales teams, hence affording employees the chance to be skilled in various roles.
Junior employees are also promoted to become the team lead in their respective functions.
As part of Ademco’s commitment to continually reassess and benchmark its practices against industry norms, it embarked on an exercise last year with consulting firm Hay Group.
This allowed the company to review and revamp its HR policies, to test its level of competitiveness, and to help realign its strategies as the business continues to grow.
According to Koh, three issues cropped up when the Hay Group undertook an anonymous survey with employees. Staff wanted more pay and leave, further training, and more company social activities.
Hence, the organisation has moved swiftly to cater to employees’ needs.
After a thorough review of its benefits policies, Ademco has implemented a structured tier to reflect different compensation levels, and has also increased the medical and dental benefits of employees.
Besides engaging in more training, the organisation has also moved away from an annual appraisal to one that is based on mentorship, with department heads required to mentor their employees for at least one session monthly.
“The session could be three minutes or an hour; it doesn’t matter. What matters is that there must be facetime, and that it must be engaging,” says Koh.
One key reason for this change was that employees felt they had to wait too long to have their work performance assessed.
“They wanted faster updates on how they were performing, and whether they were still in line with what was needed. We took into account these sentiments and thus changed it,” says Koh.
On the social front, Ademco hosts a company luncheon for all employees every quarter.
Besides events such as the annual family day and twice-yearly sports activities such as badminton and bowling, the company also co-pays for overseas employee trips。. These are held once every two years for between 60-80 staff.
Ahead of Chinese New Year this year, Ademco also engaged in a townhall-style meeting and a reunion dinner with all staff.
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