Risk-taking in S’pore: Progress made, but rethink may be needed

By Natalie Turner, Author, Yes You Can Innovate

So what is on the mind of the Singaporean manager? Plenty, shows the Singaporean Management Agenda survey of 600 organisations on a range of business topics. The results, published by Roffey Park and Management Development Institute, provide fresh insight on the pulse of Singaporean business managers.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the No 1 preoccupation of the respondents was talent management, more specifically, recruiting the right staff. More interestingly, increasing productivity and encouraging innovation were among the top five human resource challenges listed by the managers. When I dug a bit deeper into the data, some surprises piqued my interest.


First, it is the small and medium-sized companies that lead the way in developing innovative places to work. A high proportion of managers in organisations with fewer than 250 people state that their work culture is accepting of mistakes and that they have leaders who support creativity and innovation.

Second, in comparison with managers in the United Kingdom — who were asked the same questions in a parallel study involving 865 companies — Singapore managers are far more open to risk-taking. Nearly half of the 635 Singaporean managers agreed that their organisational culture encouraged risk-taking and innovation, compared with under 20 per cent of the UK respondents.

The percentage of respondents in Singapore who believe their leaders support creativity and innovation is almost double that of their UK counterparts. There are many reasons for this, including British austerity measures that may have dampened investments in innovation.

Nonetheless, with all the talk about risk aversion in Singapore, this is an interesting piece of data. Those promoting innovation and leadership will be heartened by the results that suggest that the innovation push is bearing fruit.


The survey results also underscore the importance of how we define our identity, both individually and collectively. Is it fair for Singaporeans to be generally perceived as risk-averse compared with those from the UK, where risk-taking is seen to be a stronger part of the cultural identity? With the survey results indicating otherwise, could it be time for a rethink?

Reframing is an important skill in being innovative, as it opens up our perception and forces us to look differently at a problem or challenge. It helps us see new possibilities and re-examine assumptions and beliefs that might hold us back from growing or changing.

We know that if we tell ourselves enough times that we cannot do something, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

A reframe can shift our mindset and help us to start weaving a new narrative.

So, if we go back to the results of the Management Agenda, what practical strategies can Singapore firms adopt to support this changing paradigm to be more innovative and open to risk-taking?

Three strategies linked to innovation capacity building become apparent: Developing leaders, developing a learning culture and having training in innovation and creativity.

Leaders play a critical role in encouraging innovation as they set the pace and are looked upon as role models.

Training is also critical and it is interesting to note that Singaporean managers rate this nearly two-and-a-half times as important as UK managers.

The three strategies are important as they reinforce one another. Not only will they have a positive effect on organisational life, they will also change how managers perceive themselves and their workplaces.

Maybe the reverse is true, too. In the UK, where learning and development budgets have been cut, there is a negative knock-on effect on managers’ beliefs about their organisational innovation culture.

 So is there a change in Singapore companies’ perception towards risk-taking? Perhaps. But we need to dig deeper and build on these findings so that organisations large and small become more effective, more productive and more innovative places to work.

It will be interesting to see if there is an upward trend in innovation a year from now in Roffey Park’s second Singapore Management Agenda.


This article was written by Natalie Turner and originally published in Today Online on March 26th, 2014