Thursday, April 28, 2005

Management Accountability: Difference between Japanese and Singaporeans

One thing I admire about Japanese managers is their sense of responsibilty and ownership.

In yesterday’s report about the train accident in Osaka, we read that the top management of the Japanese railway company immediately submitted their resignations to bear responsibility for the tragedy. In today's BBC News website you can see a picture of the company chairman bowing and apologising to the public.

Some years ago, when a Japanese airliner crashed in Japan, the CEO of the airline also went to the crash site to apologise to the relatives of the casualties. It was reported that he received a mouthful from the grieving relatives.

Sad to say, we do not see this type of sense of responsibility and shame when things go wrong in Singapore. Consider the case of the national serviceman who was literally tortured to death during combat survival training in 2003, or the collision involving the RSS Courageous with the ANL Indonesia in 2003, or the Nicoll Highway collapse last year. In each case, did we see the top management apologize? Were they taken to task? Sadly, no. Only those directly involved were charged and punished.

On the other hand, whenever the top guns at these organizations, such as the ministers and deputy ministers, or permanent secretaries resign or retire, the newspapers will publish a long list of the achievements that took place during their term of office as if they were the ones who deserved all the credit.

And we wonder why Singaporean workers are so “disloyal”? And the HR managers accuse Singapore workers of changing jobs for just a few extra dollars.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

The Secret of Effective Government

An old couple who had been married for decades were asked what was their secret to a successful marriage.

The secret is compromise, the old man replied. Whenever my wife and I have a disagreement, we compromise. We will each present our arguments and then we compromise and do it her way.

The Singapore government is widely recognized as one of the most effective governments in the world. Numerous experts and surveys, like Beri have rated our government highly.

And their secret? They listen to the people.

After one full year of listening to ordinary citizens, religious leaders, civic organizations and even parliamentarians, plus an unprecedented petition carrying 30,000 signatures argue against the idea of building a casino in Singapore, they announced last week to build not one but two casinos.

The surprising thing is that nobody was surprised.

Paul Simon was right. After changes upon changes, we are more or less the same.

Friday, April 22, 2005

Who Is A Winner?

I read about two types of winners in yesterday’s newspapers.

In the Straits Times, there was a commentary on a new book, Winning by ex-GE boss Jack Welch. Like his other books, this one was described as a “runaway hit”. As I read the article, I cannot help thinking that this man, whose motto is, “winning is great”, is a real winner; that was until I came to the part which mentioned that the co-writer was his ex-mistress and wife number three.

Can a person with two failed marriages be called a winner? (I am assuming that the previous two marriages ended in divorce; my apologies if I am mistaken). Not if you ask the next writer, James Dobson of Focus on the Family.

In the Today, James Dobson narrated about a man who gave up hopes, dreams, and bank account for family. Here is what he wrote:

In 1985, Tim Burke saw his boyhood dream come true the day he signed on to pitch for the Montreal Expos. After four years in the minors, he was finally going to get a chance to play in the big leagues. And he quickly proved to be worth his salt, setting an all-time record for most relief appearances by a rookie player. But along the way, Tim and his wife, Christine, had adopted four children with very special needs – two daughters from South Korea, a handicapped son from Guatemala, and another son from Vietnam. All of the children were born with very serious illness or defects. Neither Tim nor Christine were prepared for the tremendous demands such a family would bring. And with the grueling schedule of major-league baseball, Tim was seldom around to help. So in 1993, only three months after signing a $600,000 contract with the Cincinnati Reds, he decided to retire. When pressed by reporters to explain this unbelievable decision, he simply said, “Baseball is going to do just fine without me. But I’m the only father my children have.”

Heroes are in short supply these days, but I’m happy to say that I’ve met one of them.

Saturday, April 09, 2005

A Dung By Any Other Name

Shakespeare wrote that a rose by any other name smells as sweet.

The opposite is true. Many people try to cover ugliness with euphemisms. Yesterday’s news about how the Japanese government tries to whitewash history by glorifying her wartime past and glossing over the atrocities committed by the Japanese military in the last war is a good example.

In a newly approved history textbook written by the Japanese Society for Textbook Reform, the Nanjing Massacre of 1937, where hundreds of thousands of civilians were murdered was referred to as The Nanjing Incident. Thousands of women who were raped, tortured and forced to become sex slaves to satisfy the lust of Japanese soldiers were called “comfort women”.

Other less offensive examples are aplenty in our newspapers. The other day, a reader wrote to the forum complaining that numerous karaoke lounges and massage parlours have opened recently in his neighbourhood. Everybody knows, he said, what really goes on behind the closed doors of these places.

Next week, our government will announce its decision on whether or not to build a casino in Singapore. I wish they will stop referring to it as an ‘integrated resort’; as if it is a good, wholesome place to bring our kids.

A dung by any other name stinks.