World View: Focus on Republic of Singapore

Singaporeans do not like to lose—be it face or money.

By Jessie Lee Mills

Formerly part of Malaysia, the Republic of Singapore was founded on August 9, 1965. Its strategic location on major sea lanes and its industrious population have given the country an economic importance in Southeast Asia disproportionate to its small size. As a country without any natural resources or agriculture, it relies solely on the skills of its people. Singapore believes in providing the best basic and higher education to supply and maintain the required skills needed by the economy in order to develop continuously and improve its economic competitiveness. To that end, the Singaporean economy grew a staggering 14.5 percent in 2010, the second-highest rate in the world that year.

The government encourages training for the workforce; companies can claim a percentage of their training expenditure from a government agency.

To conduct effective cross-cultural training in Singapore, there are a few points to remember:

  • Training venue and dress code: Singaporeans are capable multitaskers; thus, it will be more productive for the trainer and participants if the training can be conducted off site. If this is not possible, then gently but firmly lay down some ground rules when it will be convenient for participants to make or return phone calls and check e-mail. Dress appropriately for the business culture; e.g., business attire for offices and smart casual for factories or working with a group of young technical participants.
  • Cultural sensitivity: Participants will come from a diverse and multicultural workforce. Do your homework, make sure you know about the company they are from, and learn their culture in order not to offend and lose their respect, which, in turn, will make you lose face.
  • Materials and schedule: Make sure you have printed materials for the participants, and try and keep to the time line you set on the agenda. Food plays an important part in Singaporeans’ daily life. Make sure there are appropriate breaks with refreshments, and whatever you do, make sure there is a reasonable break for lunch. You can organize topics of discussion for the lunch break, whereby the participants can sit at a topic table they like. Confer with your contact at the company to check on the timing for lunch.
  • Recognition: Outline and highlight the benefits of the training, and make sure participants receive a certificate for the training.
  • Team participation: It is helpful to start a session with an icebreaker that will involve the whole group. Coming from a collective culture, Singaporeans tend to hold back on their opinions; therefore, encourage them to speak up and participate. At the same time, do not to force the issue, so they do not lose face.

Other Tips

  • Coming from a multicultural and diverse population, some Singaporeans may resist or resent the idea of cross-cultural training.
  • An impressive resume demonstrating your qualifications and experiences as a training professional is a must.
  • As usual, politics and religion are taboo subjects

Jessie Lee Mills is a senior associate with Global Dynamics, Mills was born and educated in Malaysia and Singapore and has more than two decades of professional experience working in Europe, Asia, and the U.S. in the areas of sales, market research, and cross-cultural leadership development and cross-cultural competence training. She is GDI’s leading U.S.-based Singapore expert. She can be reached at 305.682.7883 or

Lorri Freifeld
Lorri Freifeld is the editor/publisher of Training magazine. She writes on a number of topics, including talent management, training technology, and leadership development. She spearheads two awards programs: the Training APEX Awards and Emerging Training Leaders. A writer/editor for the last 30 years, she has held editing positions at a variety of publications and holds a Master’s degree in journalism from New York University.