For Singapore’s semiconductor industry to not just adapt to but thrive through the fourth industrial revolution (aka Industry 4.0), organisations need to think beyond how to best operationalise innovation (its “hardware” and “software”) to facilitating the necessary cultural redesign (“heart ware”) required for sustainable change. To create workplaces where the collective behaviours of its people model those that are congruent with a growth mindset – adaptable, resilient, purpose driven and empowered to express their ideas, take calculated risks and innovate.  

“Culture eats strategy for breakfast” – Peter Drucker 

 Results from a survey by Bain & Company showed that 68% of leaders acknowledge that culture is the cornerstone of its competitive edge, 9 out of 10 CEOs believe it’s the most critical factor after business strategy, 3 in 4 say culture is changeable and they need to change it and yet only 10% succeed in doing so. In this article, we will share four key strategies that you should consider in planning and facilitating your cultural redesign initiatives to optimise buy-in, minimise resistance and effect lasting and meaningful change. 

Strategy #1 – Start From The Top 

“People may doubt what you say, but they will always believe what you do”– Lewis Case  

When managers who are tasked with the challenge to improve quality, innovate and elevate productivity face a wall of resistance from their people, there is too often a tendency to point their fingers at their people. Common laments include “people here don’t speak up enough”, “they just walked past the (quality) warning signs”, “the old guard are resistant to change”, and “they don’t follow SOPs”. And yet, the most common feedback from their staff attending the cultural transformation workshops is “all our managers need to attend this”.

Start your cultural redesign initiative by aligning your most senior leaders on the urgency for change, why the status quo is unacceptable, what the present and desired state of culture is and how the future state will benefit staff, customers and the organisation. Get their buy-in to be models of open-ness and humility and to share with their team “the change starts with me, hold me accountable, I welcome your feedback”. Whilst culture takes time to shift, when managers are inspired to lead by example, the change in the way they lead and interact with their people is immediately felt. This fosters a level of healthy open-mindedness that will help you with your rollouts.

Follow up awareness sessions with training on what it takes to be a transformational leader, one skilled in helping inspire, engage, influence and promote innovation in their people. Much like driving, such skills are learned behaviours. Industry 4.0 and the quest to create the “perfect, autonomously automated factory” will challenge every organisation to lift their people’s productivity levels and for them to do significantly more with considerably less. Given the finite number of hours to the day, the real opportunity lies in upskilling your managers and to turn them into leaders capable of turning dissatisfied and “satisfied” employees into “engaged” and “inspired” champions of your cause. Research by Bain & Company (Source: “Engaging your employees is good. But don’t stop there”, E. Garton & M.Mankins, Harvard Business Review, Dec.2015) shows it takes two-and-a-quarter satisfied employees to produce at the same level as an inspired one!

Strategy #2 – Resource This Initiative The Way You Would For Your Most Important Project

Culture transformation is a marathon, not a sprint. It will typically take three to five years for a new set of core values and behaviours to be firmly entrenched and institutionalised. Just as you do with other significant initiatives, it needs to be treated like a project, with specific outcomes and deliverables, a project organisational structure with clearly defined roles and responsibilities, budget, milestones, timelines and resourced with talent who have a great combination of IQ and EQ. This says to your people that culture is a priority and that leaders care about how their people feel about coming to work and are committed to the journey.

Create a powerful change coalition comprising a group of passionate and trusted change champions who are empowered to plan and drive the transformation with the direction, support and joint sponsorship of the senior operations and HR leader and a steering committee comprising senior stakeholders from cross-functional groups.

Empower these change champions with the skills to model the behaviours reflective of the desired culture and to plan and implement an effective communications strategy that will take people through the four stages of behavioural change – awareness, interest, desire and habit. Given these change champions will typically come from your cohort of top talent, doing this has the added benefit of recognising and equipping them as the future leaders of your organisation.

Engage the services of a competent, experienced external change facilitator who shares your passion for culture change. Firstly, you stand to get an unbiased, unemotional, third-party view of how things actually are. Secondly, your staff will often accept the ideas of a credible external expert even more than those internally who they view as being “part of the problem we’re looking to address”.

Strategy #3 – Communicate To Create Focus And Move Hearts And Minds

“What you focus on expands”.

If all people are seeing and hearing are tasks, shipment targets, deadlines, issues and excursions, they’re not focusing on what’s most important – the way they do what they do – the desired behaviours, best practice, vision and mission that will lead to a Quality and Innovation first culture.  Supplement inspirational, result-oriented town hall presentations and workshops with a consistent stream of creative messaging – innovation fiestas, attention-grabbing posters, quizzes, audio visual presentations and interactive social media-type platforms that stimulate conversations, staff recognition and ideas. Share success stories of how staff’s ideas have been implemented and how this has made a difference. Showcase how your products are making a difference to the lives of the end-consumers and other internal stakeholders in the supply chain.

Break through “sacred cows” – if you are looking at creating a flatter, less hierarchical and more empowered workforce, ditch the “war room” setup that features the boardroom table reserved for senior managers with engineers and specialists sitting in the outer circle for a circle of chairs or cluster of tables. Get rid of that restroom that’s reserved only for the SVP.

Empower your managers and change champions with effective public speaking, facilitation and story-telling skills. To facilitate behaviour change, you must first move hearts, then minds, a learned art. You want to have leaders who are skilled with the art of communicating in a way that “puts feelings first”.

Strategy #4 – Plan And Celebrate Short-term Wins

Not many organisations and people have actually been through a culture transformation journey let alone a successful one. To strengthen belief, your initial awareness sessions should outline a clear call-to-action that includes small daily and weekly actions that staff can take to realise the desired culture.

“A journey of a thousand miles starts with that first step.” – Lao Tzu

To create a more “empowering, innovative” culture, for instance, your call-to-action could be for each staff member to take 10 minutes once a week to raise a suggestion on what could be done to improve quality, yield or staff engagement. And another 10 minutes to recognise a colleague for behaviours that are aligned with your desired culture. Just as importantly, these rituals create the mind-set you seek (“I can make a difference through exercising my voice and being proactive), builds discipline and over time turns desired behaviours into habits. Research shows it takes between 21 and 66 days to turn a new practice into a habit.

A clear, specific, actionable plan helps the team get started. A simple yet powerful reward and recognition system that is regularly refreshed is what will accelerate and sustain positive momentum.

“People will naturally do more of what they associate great pleasure with”.

Most organisations have a recognition system of one kind or another. The key is to design it in a way that delivers a memorable, positive experience for the receiver. A timely, unexpected and sincere pat in the back done publicly is much more memorable than a $50 award deposited into one’s bank account. This requires both a mindset and skill-set change. The mentality of managers to focus on and celebrate what’s working well and rather than dwell on disempowering faultfinding and the blame game. Warning letters and public rebukes, so often a feature of transactional “Industry 2.0” manufacturing management is often at the root of slow, passive and reactive cultures. The “5 Whys”, designed to facilitate learning and continuous improvement has, through implementation that is incongruent with the intent of the principle only resulted in fear and learned helplessness. This fear of failure and the deep psychological wound that comes from the fear of rejection from “not being good enough” can be overcome with the help of empathetic servant leaders skilled with the art of coaching and giving feedback in a way that empowers the recipient to “fail and learn fast” and who willingly want to do what’s right even more.

For Singapore to be a truly global powerhouse in semiconductor innovation and manufacturing, its leaders need to recognise that the “genius with a thousand followers” model of leaderships incompatible with the accelerated pace of change demanded by Industry 4.0. The mind-set and human operating system that took us where we are today will not take us to where we seek to be. The cultural redesign required for Industry 4.0 presents a significant opportunity to dramatically elevate innovation, big picture thinking, customer centricity and quality. But the greatest benefit we stand to gain by creating organisations with “a thousand leaders” lies with the consequent elevation of human consciousness, personal well-being and happiness at work – true nation building. The journey may be driven by the pragmatic need to stay relevant, and will be long and challenging, and from experience, possibly the most fulfilling, profound and meaningful of endeavours you and your team will undergo in your career.


Dominic Siow

Dominic Siow is the co-founder and principal consultant of EQ Strategist. Since 2006, he and his team have helped transform culture, develop leaders and deepen collaboration n in over 136 organisations across the Asia Pacific region. This includes multi-year projects with semiconductor foundries to create a Quality-first and Innovation mindset and integrate diverse cultures. Born and bred in Malaysia, he has lived in Sydney, Australia since 1983. Prior to his present vocation, he worked in the IT industry for 19 years and held senior roles at IBM and grapevine Technologies. He is the author of the book “What’s GREAT about this? How to be Resilient and Thrive through disruption and change”.