The Singapore Management Agenda

This report presents the findings of Roffey Park’s second Singapore Management Agenda. Findings from last year’s Singapore Management Agenda. The survey aims to highlight the views of employees, in particular those in managerial roles, on aspects of organisational life and hopes to identify what is working well and what may need to be changed in service of Singapore’s continued economic success.

By Roffey Park


Executive Summary

1. Leadership capability gaps in key areas for growth
2. Productivity still measured in hours rather than outcome


1. Leadership capability gaps in key areas for growth


Whilst Singapore continues to experience economic growth that many other developed countries would be proud of, there are challenges on the horizon. Managers responding to this year’s Agenda report are looking to grow through developing new products and services and entering new markets whilst becoming more efficient through the better use of technology and the redesign of existing systems and processes. All of this requires leadership which is effective at encouraging creativity and innovation, engaging employees, improving workforce productivity, and above all, managing change. Our data would suggest that whilst managers identify these issues as some of their key challenges, HR are less certain about their ability to deliver. Less than one-third of HR managers say that leaders in their organisations are effective at managing change. Equally, there is some question as to whether employees feel their leaders have the capabilities to manage change. Whilst it is encouraging that employees, on the whole, seem to regard their line manager as supportive and trustworthy, they rate their capability to articulate a vision and communicate effectively less well.

2. Productivity still measured in hours rather than outcomes


Improving workforce productivity has become a key challenge in Singapore, with productivity figures in terms of GDP per hour worked not as high as one would like or expect. Bureaucracy, excessive paperwork, unproductive meetings and heavy workloads are all cited as barriers to greater productivity. Our data tell us that the workforce in Singapore work long hours, regularly working beyond office hours, taking work home and on vacation. It appears, then, that the workforce in Singapore may be working hard but not smart. Encouraging cultures which support autonomy and which see leadership as a process rather than a hierarchical position may all contribute to increasing productivity. There is also a real need for effective teams, those where unproductive behaviours are challenged and where failure is seen as a learning opportunity rather than a secret to be buried.

3. People’s mindsets perceived as main barrier to innovation


Encouraging innovation and fostering workplaces where new ideas can flourish is often cited as a key challenge for businesses in Singapore. Our data, on the whole, suggests that employees are positive about the extent to which innovation is encouraged in their organisation. Having said that, barriers are still perceived in terms of people’s mindsets, organisational culture and the resources made available for innovation. By far the most common perceived barrier was ‘people’s mindsets’. It is however, important that innovation is perceived as a social process rather than the result of a lone creative genius. To be innovative, organisations need to view innovation less as an occasional productbreakthrough and more as an ongoing pattern of strategic behaviour ingrained in all of their operations.

4. With people factors the main barrier to change, OD capability is key to effective change

The importance of managing change is writ large across our data. Whilst the vast majority of managers responding to our survey report their organisation attempting to change its culture, those rating such change as successful are far fewer in number. The reported barriers to successful change are largely people rather than technical factors. Resistance to change, lack of proper communication with and involvement of employees, lack of leadership in directing the change effort, and lack of transparency around the purpose of change all feature strongly in the list of barriers to change. This places OD centre stage. OD practitioners possess the values and approach that is both people-focussed but at the same time alive to more technical aspects of organisations (structures, systems, processes etc). OD practitioners report their organisations adopting an OD approach to change. This is encouraging. They also report a number of barriers to the more effective use of OD, the principal barrier being lack of knowledge amongst managers about what OD is. There is a responsibility, then, on the part of OD practitioners to educate managers about the value of OD and to find ways to demonstrate and communicate its impact. 

5. Co-creation of values is essential if they are to be widely shared


Central to effective change is a shared set of values and purpose, enabling the organisation and leaders within it to respond flexibly and adapt to complex operating environments whilst remaining true to who they are and what they hope to achieve. Our data suggest that values are less well understood lower in the organisational hierarchy. This only goes to emphasise the point that values need to be co-created and co-owned by the wider workforce if they are to have any value at all. Our findings also make clear that many see a disparity between espoused and lived values. Lack of congruence between actions and words can make values seem insincere and serve to undermine their purpose.

6. Whilst recruitment challenges loom large, HR needs to ensure that the development of existing talent hits the mark


HR managers, on the whole, report that their organisations are looking to increase the size of their workforce over the next two to three years. At the same time, many report difficulties in recruiting suitable candidates. Whilst pay is clearly an issue when trying to recruit, a lack of candidates with suitable skills and experience features more prominently. Whatever the reasons, difficulty in recruiting from the external market places extra emphasis on what organisations are doing to develop their own staff. Here, our data suggests that whilst talent programmes are widespread, they are not always perceived to be that successful. Indeed, only one-third of HR managers regard their existing talent programmes as such. Why this is the case is not entirely clear from our data, but it is a cause for concern if resources are being wasted on ineffective development programmes. It is also evident that the majority of programmes focus on employees with the potential to occupy leadership positions and there is less of a focus on highly skilled staff who may wish to develop as experts rather than as leaders. Our own work would suggest that providing multiple career routes can aid retention and engagement, as well as helping to avoid the situation where employees (who may not be suitable) seek leadership roles as it is perceived as the only way to progress.

7. Better leadership the answer to retention challenges


Whilst insufficient financial rewards features as a common reason for looking to move jobs, it is not the most common reason. Lack of career growth and poor management both feature above poor pay. Management style is also reported to be the greatest cause of workplace stress, above workload and organisational politics. All this points to the importance of leadership styles which focus on people as well as task, and manage to marry the two in providing interesting and engaging work. Our findings this year provide evidence to support the contention that engaged employees are less likely to consider a move in the near future, helping to tackle the retention challenges reported by HR.

8. More could be done to leverage the value of difference


Singapore has a diverse population and this is a strength. In the workplace, diversity is a potential source of competitive advantage if managed well. Too often, diversity is stilted by conformist organisational cultures and a lack of appreciation of difference. Our findings here are mixed. Whilst the majority regard diversity as important for business success, it is still seen as a ‘tickbox’ exercise by more than one-third of mid-level managers (managers of managers), two-fifths of first-level managers, and one in two employees in non-managerial positions. Less positive impressions are therefore held lower down the organisational hierarchy, in other words in the location where diversity most likely rests. That said, there are encouraging signs of change. The majority of managers, regardless of their gender or role, believe that their organisation is effective at encouraging women into senior leadership positions. This is in spite of the fact that women are still under-represented in senior leadership positions. The jury appears out on another aspect of difference in the workplace, that of the generations. With increasing working-life spans and changing societal attitudes, particularly amongst the younger generations, leveraging the diversity of views and ideas that this could generate is a key challenge. On the whole, it seems that most are undecided as to whether organisations are effective at meeting the needs of the different generations. It seems that organisations could do more in this regard, and in so doing, potentially help solve some of the recruitment and retention challenges they face.


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