If we explore Singaporean culture through the lens of the 6-D Model© (Singapore is a multi-ethnic society with Chinese around 77%, Indian around 6%, Malay around 15% and expatriates around 2%), we can get a good overview of the deep driving factors of Singaporean culture relative to other world cultures.
This dimension deals with the fact that all individuals in societies are not equal – it expresses the attitude of the culture towards these inequalities amongst us. Power Distance is defined as the extent to which the less powerful members of institutions and organisations within a country expect and accept that power is distributed unequally.
Singapore scores high on this dimension (score of 74). With a Confucian background (the Chinese) they normally have a syncretic approach to religion, which is also the dominant approach in Singapore. One of the key principles of Confucian teaching is the stability of society, which is based on unequal relationships between people. Confucius distinguished five basic relationships: ruler-subject; father-son; older brother-younger brother; husband-wife; and senior friend-junior friend. These relationships are based on mutual and complementary obligations. Here we can see the high PDI as a consequence.
Power is centralized and managers rely on their bosses and on rules. Employees expect to be told what to do. Control is expected and attitude towards managers is formal. Communication is indirect and the information flow is selective. We can see the high PDI also in the government’s defined five “shared values”: 1) Nation before community and society above self.
The fundamental issue addressed by this dimension is the degree of interdependence a society maintains among its members. It has to do with whether people´s self-image is defined in terms of “I” or “We”.
In Individualist societies people are supposed to look after themselves and their direct family only. In Collectivist societies people belong to ‘in groups’ that take care of them in exchange for loyalty.
Singapore, with a score of 20 is a collectivistic society. This means that the “We” is important, people belong to in-groups (families, clans or organisations) who look after each other in exchange for loyalty. Here we can also see the second key principle of the Confucian teaching: The family is the prototype of all social organizations. A person is not primarily an individual; rather, he or she is a member of a family. Children should learn to restrain themselves, to overcome their individuality so as to maintain the harmony in the family. Harmony is found when everybody saves face in the sense of dignity, self-respect, and prestige. Social relations should be conducted in such a way that everybody’s face is saved. Paying respect to someone is called giving face.
Communication is indirect and the harmony of the group has to be maintained, open conflicts are avoided. A “yes” doesn’t necessarily mean “yes”; politeness takes precedence over honest feedback. The relationship has a moral basis and this always has priority over task fulfilment. The face of others has to be respected and especially as a manager calmness and respectability is very important.
A high score (Masculine) on this dimension indicates that the society will be driven by competition, achievement and success, with success being defined by the winner / best in field – a value system that starts in school and continues throughout organisational life.
A low score (Feminine) on the dimension means that the dominant values in society are caring for others and quality of life. A Feminine society is one where quality of life is the sign of success and standing out from the crowd is not admirable. The fundamental issue here is what motivates people, wanting to be the best (Masculine) or liking what you do (Feminine).
Singapore scores 48 and is in the “middle” of the scale but more on the Feminine side. This means that the softer aspects of culture such as leveling with others, consensus, sympathy for the underdog are valued and encouraged. Being modest and humble is seen as very important; thus showing that one knows it all and therefore has come to educate the counterparts is not liked. Conflicts are avoided in private and work life and consensus at the end is important. During discussions being cautious is important, not to being too persistent. We can also see the feminism in the governments defined five “shared values” again: 3) Community support and respect for the individual.
The dimension Uncertainty Avoidance has to do with the way that a society deals with the fact that the future can never be known: should we try to control the future or just let it happen? This ambiguity brings with it anxiety and different cultures have learnt to deal with this anxiety in different ways. The extent to which the members of a culture feel threatened by ambiguous or unknown situations and have created beliefs and institutions that try to avoid these is reflected in the score on Uncertainty Avoidance.
Singapore scores 8 on this dimension and thus scores very low on this dimension. In Singapore people abide to many rules not because they have need for structure but because of high PDI. Singaporeans call their society a “Fine country. You’ll get a fine for everything”.
Long Term Orientation
This dimension describes howevery society has to maintain some links with its own past while dealing with the challenges of the present and future, and societies prioritise these two existential goals differently. Normative societies. which score low on this dimension, for example, prefer to maintain time-honoured traditions and norms while viewing societal change with suspicion. Those with a culture which scores high, on the other hand, take a more pragmatic approach: they encourage thrift and efforts in modern education as a way to prepare for the future.
Singapore scores 72, this high score is refelcted in Singapore which shows cultural qualities supporting long-term investment such as perseverance, sustained efforts, slow results, thrift; being sparse with resources, ordering relationship by status and having a sense of shame (see also again the Confucian teaching). Singapore has also become one of the five dragons with an immense economic success.
Whereas westerners have been looking for the truth, the Singaporeans are emphasizing virtue and the way you do things. They are always keeping their options open as there are many ways to skin a cat. Westerners believe that if A is right, B must be wrong, whereas people from East and Southeast Asian countries see that both A and B combined produce something superior. This mindset allows for a more pragmatic approach to business.
One challenge that confronts humanity, now and in the past, is the degree to which small children are socialized. Without socialization we do not become “human”. This dimension is defined as the extent to which people try to control their desires and impulses, based on the way they were raised. Relatively weak control is called “Indulgence” and relatively strong control is called “Restraint”. Cultures can, therefore, be described as Indulgent or Restrained.
Is it not possible to determine a preference on this dimension because of Singapore’s intermediate score of 46.