Challenges of Doing Business in Singapore

Matthew MacLachlan

7 Apr 2010

A top destination for business, Singapore is known worldwide as a prosperous, modern and efficient country. Regularly heralded for its thriving economy, high standards of management and ease for doing business, Singapore is rightly seen as an attractive area for investment. In fact, according to the Singapore Economic Development Board, Singapore is the easiest country in the world to do business.

It is clear that doing business in Singapore offers immense benefits for international organisations and it may therefore be easy to assume that doing business in Singapore comes without cultural challenges. However, there are a number of key cultural stumbling blocks that could result in huge costs to the organisation if overlooked.

Cross-cultural awareness training programmes such as Doing Business in Singapore help organisations ensure those working in Singapore understand the cultural challenges and develop a set of strategies for overcoming these differences. The following are five of the key cultural differences international organisations face when setting up or doing business in Singapore.

Relationships – Being heavily influenced by Asian philosophies, Singapore places emphasis on the importance of creating good relationships with others before doing business with them. This is often an unrushed process as Singaporeans are cautious and like to make sure they are doing business with someone they can trust. When doing business in Singapore remember that investing time in creating strong bonds initially is likely to benefit you in the long run. A Doing Business in Singapore cultural awareness programme will help organisations understand how to establish a good and genuine relationship with Singaporean counterparts to demonstrate capabilities and good character.

Harmony – Somewhat tied into Singaporean concepts of relationships, harmony refers to a value promoting the good of the group over that of the individual. At the core of this focus is the family, which is held in high regard in Singapore. Although the concept of harmony is quite a collectivist sentiment, Singapore is quite unique in the fact that it can also be quite individualistic in some ways, for example in its competitive nature.

East meets West – A relatively young country, Singapore draws influences from both East and West and is positioned well to do business equally successfully with both. The most developed country in Southeast Asia, it seamlessly strikes a balance between traditional and modern, Eastern philosophy and Western technology. Similarly, Singapore is quite unique in the way it embodies both collectivist and individualistic sentiments. It is at the same time deeply respectful of ancestors and fiercely competitive, direct in some ways, indirect in others. A Doing Business in Singapore cross cultural programme will help enlighten those unfamiliar with the intercultural influences as to how Singapore manages to maintain seemingly contradictory ideals.

Face – When communicating with Singaporeans, it is wise to pay attention to the protection of “face.” Face is closely linked with personal pride and forms the basis of an individual’s social status and reputation. In order to avoid losing face, Singaporeans control their behaviour and emotions in public and do not criticise directly. When doing business in Singapore, it is wise to remember that damaging face through overt confrontation or criticism can be destructive to hierarchy and disastrous for business relationships.

No common identity – Singapore’s diverse population is one of its strengths. Singaporeans are predominantly of Chinese, Malay or Indian ethnicity and due to an open immigration policy, one in three people living in Singapore have come from abroad. However, to be successful when doing business in Singapore, it is important to fully appreciate and understand the many different customs and traditions which impact Singaporean business culture and etiquette.

Recognising the cultural differences which exist when doing business in Singapore is only the first step. International organisations must also understand the what, why and how behind them to develop effective strategies for appreciating and benefiting from the ethnic and cultural diversity of the Singaporean society. A Doing Business in Singapore programme will help the organisation maximise the immense opportunities of doing business in Singapore and ensure they understand the subtleties of Singaporean business and social culture on all levels. Furthermore, the Doing Business in Singapore programme will also help develop an interculturally competent workforce, giving the organisation a huge advantage in this fiercely competitive global world.

©  Communicaid Group Ltd. 2010



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