Sunday, August 7, 2011

Are S'pore Companies Staying Safe By Doing The Wrong Things, The Right Way?

What kind of competitive advantage does a company have with regards to personnel when it is infested with staff who follow orders blindly without question? Employees whose mindset is just follow orders & do. Got do won't get fired. Not fired tonight got dinner.

S'pore's education system is very good at churning out many mindless automatons to fit as cogs into the economic machine. Guess what about mindless cogs? They can be easily replaced. The cliche 'Staff are our most valuable asset' is regarded as mere lip service by many. Machines & process can be easily copied but humans aren't (unless cloned) so engaged workers is an untapped & often neglected aspect of competitiveness.

I agree with many of the stuff in the below article after having experienced it myself. Superiors are risk adverse & coupled with my tendency to question the status quo they find me hard to manage.

Issue with 'zombie workers' aka workers with no passion for what they do has been persistent since Gallup pointed it out in their 2003 article - Disengaged Employees Cost S'pore $4.9B. Is not a surprise that S'pore's low productivity among workers compared to other nations can partly be attributed to employee disenchantment.

Trouble with The Singapore Workplace
It's the people that make a place. Singaporeans are hardworking, loyal & well-educated. Everyone speaks good English but "ask them to jump from A to G and forget about it." The nation abides by a system of strictly-adhered rules & processes. And let's face it, business doesn't come packaged in a box with instructions. Even if it means getting it wrong; the average Singaporean professional would rather do the wrong thing, the right way - than the right thing the wrong way.

Why? Because there's no accountability in mistakes from executing them the 'right' way' & too much risk involved deviating from procedure - even if it means success. It's ingrained in the culture; to follow step-by-step instructions religiously, without question. The penalty for doing things any different than set out are humiliation & guaranteed failure. Even if the alternate plan could have worked, anyone caught operating outside the guidelines is immediately pulled back in by a nervous manager before the plan even had a chance to succeed.

In a nutshell, the Singapore workplace from an employee perspective is about receiving instructions, following them closely to protect from accountability, & continue on a crooked path - as long as it was the one set out. And if you're asked to innovate new solutions? Freeze until further instruction & solid approval. The trouble is, everyone wants to play it safe.

So what about employers & senior managers? Are they more encouraging of innovative solutions & swifter practices from employee feedback & experimentation? Things are changing, but for the majority, the same rules apply: no instructions, no work. Senior managers are always out to cover their backs with set guidelines & approved plans. Employers shy away from innovative solutions they know will bear fruit in the long run, they want to see instant results.

In recent years the Singapore government started movements to encourage innovation & productivity in the workplace. All very vaguely, but I see what they're trying to do. The impression you get from the campaigns is they want Apple to be created in Singapore. When its really just a simple matter of introducing innovative thinking in business, encourage risk taking to trial new ways of doing things, resulting in higher productivity with better practices in place.

The funny thing is, I can actually see things changing in Singapore & these goals being achieved (in time to come). Skeptical as I was coming back to Singapore after working in Australia for 5 years - & knowing the difference in business environments; One prospective employer warned me "This is not Australia where you clock off at 5 & go for a beer. In Singapore, people work late."

To be completely honest, Australians achieve more in the workplace leaving a 5pm than Singaporeans leaving the office at 10pm. Poor leadership & unmotivated teams mean people wait around for instructions, and then run in circles trying to get a job done they don't know how to carry out without proper guidance.

Luckily, the company I did go to work for, gets all this. Buzzing with intelligent, talented individuals in hardworking teams and innovatively in-tune bosses, all passionate about doing the best job and trying new solutions for the best outcome - because they love & care about what they do. I suspect this is a rarity in the Singapore business landscape. So why can't all businesses in Singapore operate more progressively?

The biggest problem with the Singapore workplace is the lack of passion. You don't get a sense of get-up-and-go in the air. Just "My mother told me if I studied this I'd make a lot of money" disappointment. Where is the sense of purpose? As for senior managers & employers, they expect miracles without a touch of their own magic. They have to realize that they play an integral role in shaping employees in their roles and careers - so that they're willing to go out on a limb & apply themselves innovatively. All for the success of the business.

Another interesting observation is the process of learning, information exchange & brainstorming in the workplace. Both young & seasoned professionals in the workplace are adverse to being taught what to do versus told what to do. Innovation comes from experience & fresh ideas, combined with a good opportunity to step outside the box. An undertone of "I know it all, already" & "You can't teach me what I already know" exists in the Lion City. As well as pessimism over new ideas. I get the feeling it's the sense of Singapore pride in being the best - and adverse reaction to being taught something new, bruises fragile egos. Lest we forget, the fear of flying.

That's an easy fix: employers & employees have to adopt 'people skills'. The professional interpersonal relationship skills it takes, to guide & mentor employees & provide feedback positively. Motivate staff so they can be the best they can be in their roles. Employees need to be open to feedback & take to guidance & learning - and be resilient. Keep working on those ideas & solutions, it's perfectly natural to get it wrong the first few times. Take feedback onboard positively & make it work for the group. After all, everybody is working on the same goal "Out with the old, in with the best".

The role of the Singapore government in all this? Fund more projects. It absorbs the risk, for a time, so businesses are willing to innovate - think of it as training wheels that will eventually come off. And perhaps it will happen sooner than later, the more risks Singapore takes.

Liz Zuliani,

No comments:

Post a Comment