This weekend I joined my local friends and other expats in celebrating the 50th anniversary of Singapore’s independence. Singapore’s National Day is like nothing I have ever experienced in any country I have visited or lived in, and I felt very privileged to be witness to such an event.
Over the four day weekend, we attended an evening engagement with the New Zealand Prime Minister John Key organised by the New Zealand Chamber of Commerce to commemorate 50 year relationship between New Zealand and Singapore; visited the site of the National Day parade, and went to the newest UNESCO Heritage Site, the Botanical Gardens, to join the crowds in celebrating Singapore’s jubilee National Day.
During this time I could not help but marvel once again at Singapore. This small country has achieved so much and is rightly the envy of many nations. The formula for this success is not mystical, but is rooted in an unwavering discipline to create a society and economy that any country would be proud of. There are many lessons that businesses can learn from the Singapore story and if I was to reduce this to five, the following would be my pick:
1. Create a sense of pride, a sense of loyalty
What country or company can boast the pride and loyalty that Singaporeans feel for what they have accomplished? In the photos above you can see residents of Housing Development Blocks (HDB) displaying their national flag proudly. Indeed, many households were given flags to hang outside their homes (I’m holding ours in the photo above), and both locals and foreigners did so because the flag symbolises something they believe in and has personal relevance to them.
To build a successful company, you need to create a similar level of pride and loyalty. This idea is captured perhaps best in the concept of Lovemarks. Loyalty comes from creating an emotional connection that engenders both love and respect. When a country’s citizens fully embrace their National Day, love and respect are not questioned and loyalty and passion are fully on display. If a company could capture just 10% of this with their brand, then undoubtedly they must be doing something right.
2. Support the people and they will support you
Singapore is a country that is very much committed to helping its own citizens first and foremost. Whether this is public housing, assistance packages for the pioneer generation, immigration policies, or efficient public transport, Singapore makes it clear that its own citizens are their first concern.
Companies that have strong engagement from staff will likewise reap the rewards. By looking at how a company can reward employees fairly, and create the most optimal work-life integration, then companies can embody the concept of support in a meaningful way. Just as Singapore cannot make all its citizens happy, nor is it likely that a company will have a fully engaged workforce. Giving a primary importance however to the wellbeing of staff within the context of a given business and communicating support for employees, is an obvious key to an organisation’s success and one that is often overlooked.
3. Embrace and respect diversity
One of the most unique aspects of Singapore is the religious tolerance and multi-national nature of the country. All children are expected to be bilingual learning both English and one other national language whether that is Tamil, Malay or Mandarin. Two public holidays are given to each religious group and respect for religion is legislated for. This makes Singapore truly cosmopolitan and tolerant in a way that is almost unprecedented in the modern world.
Companies that fully grasp and embrace diversity will likewise win in the global market. This means understanding the benefits provided by different age cohorts, different perspectives and different ethnicities. Far too much lip service is paid to diversity without understanding how deep and rich this word is when embraced and how vital it is for companies that wish to compete globally to see diversity, and more importantly respect for diversity, as non-negotiable.
4. Unwavering leadership and succession planning
Much has been written about Lee Kuan Yew and the strength of character of the man who led the country from the break from Malaysia in 1965. Suffice to say that his legacy will always remain in Singapore and deservedly so. The country was however progressively been built by many great leaders, both in government and civil service, all of whom showed commitment to the Singapore vision.
These leaders were onboarded through a strong succession process that is somewhat unique to Singapore, giving a sense of political stability that is without parallel. While the decisions of these leaders were not always popular, either locally or in the eyes of the international political community, they were made by people who believed them to be right for the country. That conviction was all that was required and the best rebuttal that Singapore has is not words but their achievements
Companies live and die through good leadership and good succession planning. This simple fact is either missed or not understood by many given both the lack of attention placed in areas such as onboarding, succession planning and leadership development. The net result is a continual rotation of people in key positions and a lack of organisational continuity.
A leader that knows what is right and who is prepared to leave a legacy which others are proud of is a rare commodity. A company that understands that leaders are not born but are selected, onboarded and developed can’t help but succeed. This success will only create lasting impact if succession plans are well thought out and implemented.
5. Unbridled vision: The ability to dream the impossible and to think expansively
In the centre of the montage is an illustration of Singapore in 2065. During National Day celebrations we were all made aware that 50 years was not an end point but rather a beginning. At no time does Singapore rest on its laurels; it commits itself to continual progress. The vision becomes more and more grand, encapsulating a country with unbridled vision and a deep understanding of the role that technology has in driving growth in the 21st century.
Companies likewise must take this same attitude; not resting on their past achievements but always striving to be better. Great companies must start having a vision that extends not 5 years into the future but generations. While many will not survive the trials and tribulations that come with changing times, the idea that one should always be progressive and play for the long term is where true legacies are formed.
I feel very privileged to be living in Singapore at this time. Here, I see a country where people are mindful of their past and excited about their future. In Singapore, I see a country that people are immensely proud of. While no country or company is without areas in which it can improve, the undeniable fact is that Singapore has created a point of comparison that offers many learning lessons for countries and companies alike.