Before becoming one of the most respected human resource (HR) practitioners in Singapore, Aileen Tan learnt a valuable lesson when she was starting out in her 20s.
“Early in my career, I was entrusted with managing a team of 20. As I was more headstrong and goal-oriented then, it took me a while to appreciate that the journey towards completion of a goal was as, or more, important than attainment of the goal itself.
“I took the advice of a team member on the importance of leading not just with my head but, more importantly, with my heart as well,” she said.
As she realised textbook concepts on people management don’t always work in real life, Aileen changed her style to one of coaching and teaching. And positive outcomes came almost immediately.
“The engagement score of my team was significantly better that year compared to the year before … I was able to unleash the full potential of those under my charge.
“In mindful decision-making as a leader, one must harness both the head and the heart. The latter, especially, plays an important role in the execution of plans,” said Aileen.
She has carried this philosophy with her throughout her various leadership roles over the last 30-plus years.
Now 54, she is Singtel’s Group Chief People and Sustainability Officer, and has led the company to win many awards for its leading people and sustainability practices.
Many would say that having a passion for people is a natural requirement to being a good HR leader.
Through her work, Aileen discovered this about herself. It led her to champion staff welfare and inclusivity to support employees’ physical, mental and emotional well-being.
But beyond the workplace, she shows the same desire to help others succeed. This stems from her own experiences growing up.
“I come from quite humble beginnings, and in school, I had to take on part-time work and I also worked very hard to ensure that I won book prizes, so that I could help relieve the financial load on my parents.
“My background gave me a deep appreciation of the importance of [assistance] schemes to the less fortunate,” Aileen shared.
She has supported various company initiatives such as annual donations of $100,000 to the NTUC-U Care Fund, and contributions of over $700,000 towards the joint Singtel-Union of Telecoms Employees of Singapore Bursary Awards scheme, for which children of staff are among the beneficiaries.
“I strongly believe that everyone should have the opportunity to achieve their fullest potential no matter their financial background, and with such schemes, we hope to be able to support our youth in this,” she said.
Through Hard Times
When the pandemic struck, HR practitioners, like everyone else, had to find ways to adapt to the crisis.
Aileen formed and co-led Singtel’s Pandemic Control Committee, which moved quickly to put in place critical measures that kept staff safe, such as distributing masks to frontliners.
They also ensured all Malaysian employees impacted by Malaysia’s Movement Control Order were taken care of.
“During this time, we provided accommodation for the affected workers, as well as an allowance to cover the cost of basic daily necessities,” Aileen said.
The priority was to ensure the safety and well-being of staff.
Giving Back, Moving Forward
Despite her busy schedule and the many heavy responsibilities on her plate, Aileen finds time to indulge her other passions.
“I have benefited from the kindness of others in the past, whether it’s through their mentorship, their sound advice or through what they did for me, and this ignited my passion for giving back,” she said.
Aileen does volunteer work at the community and supports special needs education.
On the lighter side, she shared that keyboard lessons are now a part of her Sunday routine, and she enjoys breathing in fresh air whenever she can.
“I like cycling, jogging and exploring new eateries and the great outdoors, which ties in with my curious nature.
“COVID-19 has not doused my curiosity for exploration, and I am proud to say I have explored almost every inch of Singapore via the park connector network,” said Aileen.