Singapore Productivity


In my Asian work and travels there has been a lot of talk and interest surrounding Singapore’s declining productivity. The Singapore Training and Development Association (STADA) asked if I would provide an article for their web site slanted toward organizational change processes in productivity improvement and that is what you are reading here.  The article, along with reports from STADA members on ASTD’s certificate programs and recent international conference in Chicago, IL can be found by following this link.

Singapore’s government has stepped up, providing funding, underwriting extensive training and supports the development of organizational change agent capabilities. All of these are good, positive steps to increase productivity, but…

The approach needs to be as complex as the situation meaning that a systemic approach, rather than a collection of pointed and well-intended actions that are unlinked or not inter-connected so as to drive productivity.

Taking a step back to address the overall situation, setting a well-understood context, structuring assets for success and engaging the people will give management and the government a systemic view of the problem and also form the basics of a systemic plan to improve it.

Set Context:

In managing any change or problem executive management must accomplish an analysis of the situation to determine where they are and where or what they want to accomplish. In other words, determine a desired future state and with that as a goal, start building a bridge of activities what will reach it from your present state.

Certainly you will want to get senior management to articulate:

  • How you define productivity and what they want it to be? How will they know when the organization gets there? Metrics?
  • What are the risks of failure and at what cost to the organization and the enterprise?

Structure For Change:

Once you are clear as to where you are and where you want to go, you will need to establish a special structure to work the organization through the productivity improvement processes.

Form follows function so given your “charter” to move to your desired state look at how you will organize to resolve your productivity issues. Select change leaders, project managers/change agents.  Put the right people with the right skills in the right places, and if they do not have the skills, skill them up to enable them to do the job. Also, insure that they are supported with the right tools and technology to enhance efficiencies, make them more productive and to insure success.

Change leaders need to be designated and these are the people who have the political, economic and logistic powers to say “do it!” Without them totally committed to engage in productivity initiatives, as well as providing the people, space, budgets and support to the effort, you will be wasting your time.

Change Agents are the project managers, the ones who actually are doing the work. In the best case scenario, change leaders can step up and perform also as change agents, but generally change agents work FOR AND WITH change leaders as their “agents”, deriving their power from the change leaders. Change agents must understand how change is planned for, implemented and managed. The field of change management has many concepts, tools and techniques that are tailored to project and organization. Without change-savvy change agents, all the good intentions in the world will not change the organization.

Each key change leader should have a change agent and should have a change team or project team to develop their implementation plan and to work the productivity initiatives within their areas of responsibility. Establishing a network of change leaders and change agents throughout the organization helps to insure that resources, focus and efforts are appropriately change-oriented.

There will always be resistance to any change of what is considered “normal” or “status quo.” You must anticipate the resistance, plan for it and engage in resolving it throughout the change processes. Communications, especially upward communications are one of the essential ways to mitigate resistance.

Cultures are everywhere and serve as the environment in which change takes place.  Organizations have different cultures by level, function and geography. And the organizational culture resides within industry, local and national cultures, all of which need to be considered in light of what culture could do to disrupt your change efforts.

Your very best, and smartest, way of dealing with culture is to ensure that the changes are within the cultural values and beliefs. Change agents must be sensitive in their setting of the context of changes so as to make the connection that these changes are OK for us.

Engage all of your people:

Once structured for change, sell the desired state through a multi-faceted communications program and activities. Make the “why” connection with each and every level and functional area within the organization so as to get their attention, but to generate the motivation that “we have to do this.”

Get everyone involved, especially management. Announce the specific names of senior management responsible for success factors along with the names of those change agents/project managers who will be driving the initiatives for management. Invite engagement from the employees and announce incentives and rewards which will be bestowed upon accomplishment of milestones.

Make productivity improvement “worth it” for all.


Look at how you do your work. Have the employees lay out their particular processes…without management present. You don’t want management to be dictating what the process is or will be, so let the employees describe the real way they work. Bring in experienced facilitators or consultants to work these employee teams if your change agents are not skilled up in this area.

Once the “as-is” processes are graphically laid out, streamline them with the goal being to streamline and maximize technology, tools and expertise in all work flows, processes and procedures. Specifically, eliminate redundant activities along with administrative and management delays.

Management then reviews the recommendations.

The re-engineering process will help in identifying candidates for outsourcing.  Outsource those functions to enhance productivity and to lower costs by taking them “outside.”

Rewards and Incentives:

Make productivity improvement a worthwhile activity to everyone, especially all levels of management. “What’s In It For Me (WIIFM) is the name of the game. Make it fun. Have competitions, give spot awards, regularly recognize achievements, and spotlight stellar players and managers who are fully engaged.

Ask the employees what THEY want. You will be surprised and in most cases, if that is what they want, set it up so they can earn it.

And the rewards have to be linked to productivity improvement: People either met the criteria for reward, or did not. Only those that clearly did meet the criteria get the rewards and recognition.  No promotions, rewards or perks for those that did not.

Monitor Progress:

Throughout the organization, management must be consistent, firm and fair. If executive management is not fully engaged, the lower and middle management will hold back so it is critical that they be seen as the change leaders.

Establish by-name responsibilities for productivity improvement and tie those directly into your performance management system. It puts productivity improvement as an official part of their jobs. This is critical and will be the area of most resistance in that managers generally will shy away from “being on the blame line” by name and in writing.

Change Agents:

Call them what you will, like project managers, but skill-up your best people to do the work of the productivity initiatives WITH, not FOR their managers.

The managers are ultimately responsible for success, so hold them to it.

By giving them power house agents, project managers, you are enabling your management to succeed, rather than leave them to figure it out themselves. And, giving managers additional assets echeloned to handle the initiatives allows those managers to focus on their functional areas and keep the business running.

Management must be visibly and directly involved in making productivity THE priority.


And this is just the beginning. So, be clear as to what it is that you want your organization to achieve by articulating the desired state along with the specific metrics that describe success.  Involve everyone. Clean up the organization by structuring your productivity efforts with dedicated, skilled-up change agents and committed management. Take a hard look at how you do your work and who is delivering value. Re-engineer and/or outsource processes and functions.

And have fun doing it.

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