Noodle maker’s values ingrained in staff

SINGAPORE – For several decades, Tan Seng Kee (TSK) Foods has been making noodles the way grandma did – with its own innovative spin.

Over the years, the firm has refined its recipes and introduced modern technologies into its processes to deliver quality products.

It is the first and only noodle company in Singapore to adopt heat pasteurisation technology to extend the shelf life of its food products. But the firm’s efforts at modernising itself do not stop there.

Despite having a modest staff strength of 42, the company has been quick to adopt robust human resources practices to groom and retain its employees.

“As a family business, we have quite a flat hierarchy, and there were quite a lot of informalities when it came to HR,” said executive director Raymond Tan.

Detailed job descriptions for staff, for instance, did not use to be readily available.

Employees used old-fashioned punchcards to keep track of the hours they worked.

It was overall a “pretty informal” system, Mr Tan said.

But he realised that people were TSK Foods’ key assets, and without a well-rounded human resources system, it would not be easy to properly groom its staff with the company’s values.

His sister, Ms Annie Tan, also a director of the company, added: “We want our staff to be clear about our mission and values, so that they know what our objectives are, and where we are heading together, as a company.”

And so in December last year, with help from Spring Singapore’s capability development grant, the firm implemented a corporate training programme and a new employee induction programme, to better communicate and share the company’s culture, mission and values.

“We strive to be truthful to our company values, which means making wholesome, nutritious food – without preservatives – that is fit for our own children and our parents,” Mr Tan said.

The company has also initiated a more robust performance appraisal system, so as to monitor and support the career development of each employee, and better recommend skills upgrading and personal development programmes.

Ms Tan believes introducing formalised job descriptions, and clearly stated grade levels for progression, allows TSK Foods to more effectively recruit, motivate and retain talent.

“We now have a proper, solid system for HR that allows us to be consistent in managing and developing talent, yet keep a family atmosphere,” said Mr Tan.

About three months ago, TSK Foods also implemented a biometric clock-in, clock-out system that makes it easier to monitor staff movement.

It has also initiated a cash incentive scheme for punctual staff.

The system saves having a staff member collect the paper punchcards in the old system, and “collating information about staff punctuality and movement, and then analysing that information and acting on it”, Ms Tan notes. “Now it’s just a touch of a button on the computerised system and this information is available.”

One thing that has not changed is staff involvement in product development.

When TSK Foods was developing its line of pasteurised noodles under the Kang Kang brand in 2010, a project also supported by the capability development grant, it sought the input of staff who would taste and comment on the noodles, which are preservative-free and have a shelf life longer than typical cooked noodles.

And as a company with more than 70 years of history, TSK Foods understands the need to maintain strong relationships in the industry and keep up high hygiene and safety standards in order to continue developing and producing quality food products.

“We are just a humble local company and we want our products to offer a taste of Singapore overseas as well,” said Mr Tan.

For this to happen successfully, the company, which is now looking into re-employment of senior workers and introducing an internship programme for tertiary students, is aware that investing in its staff is one crucial factor.