Surbana CEO defends axing 'poor performers'

Among the design awards Surbana Jurong won from the HDB last year is for HDB project Waterway Ridges, which has special landscaping features. Mr Wong said 54 employees were identified as poor performers, adding that there were no retrenchments nor wa
Among the design awards Surbana Jurong won from the HDB last year is for HDB project Waterway Ridges, which has special landscaping features. Mr Wong said 54 employees were identified as poor performers, adding that there were no retrenchments nor was the exercise targeted at any specific business unit, community, discipline or age.PHOTO: SURBANA JURONG CONSULTANTS

Group cannot allow a small proportion to be a drag on organisation, he says in e-mail to staff

Surbana Jurong group chief executive Wong Heang Fine told staff in a strongly-worded e-mail that the group cannot allow a small proportion of poor performers to be a drag on the rest of the organisation. That was why the infrastructure consultancy terminated the employment of a group of workers in Singapore over the past two weeks, he noted.

"How can we be the best in class and build a great organisation when employees are not concerned with how they are performing relative to their peers?" wrote Mr Wong in the e-mail seen by The Straits Times yesterday.

"More importantly, for those of us who want to do great things, why should our rewards be affected by a small group of colleagues who don't care about how their poor performance affects our performance negatively?

"We cannot allow our 1 per cent of poor performers to continue to affect the rest of the 99 per cent of staff who are performing."

His e-mail, sent on Tuesday night, came after The Straits Times reported last week that dozens of staff at Surbana Jurong's local operations had lost their jobs.

Mr Wong in his e-mail said 54 employees were identified as poor performers - representing 0.41 per cent of Surbana Jurong's global workforce and 0.79 per cent of its Singapore staff. They were from business units such as facility management, affordable housing, urban development, city management, infrastructure, urban planning and international headquarters.

Mr Wong added that there were no retrenchments nor was the exercise targeted at any specific business unit, community, discipline or age.

He said group chairman Liew Mun Leong has spoken vehemently about poor company performance, which will drastically affect the bonuses of those business units that operated below par last year, despite efforts to grow the projects pipeline.

"(The chairman) stressed that managing this poor business performance is a responsibility for ALL of us, both managers and employees," said Mr Wong.

The unions are working with Surbana on how to help the affected union members, while a Ministry of Manpower spokesman has said it is looking into the cases of the 18 unionised employees and providing assistance to those involved.

A former employee, who left Surbana Jurong late last year, told The Straits Times: "In my case, I was given two options: To resign or be terminated once they downgrade our last performance appraisal." He added that the company had put the two options to him without any prior warning, even though he had been meeting performance targets.

The firm employs about 3,000 workers here. It was formed in 2015 through the merger of urban planner Surbana International Consultants and industrial and infrastructure engineering design group Jurong International. Last year, it won four design awards from the Housing Board, one of them for Waterway Ridges by Punggol Waterway.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 19, 2017, with the headline 'Surbana CEO defends axing 'poor performers''. Print Edition | Subscribe