Editorial Issue 5

Date Posted

31 Oct 2008


Issue 5, 14 Nov 2008

This thematic issue of Ethos continues the important conversations raised at the inaugural Singapore Human Capital Summit, held in October 2008. It examines more closely some of the many issues that face leaders, developers and observers of human capital today.

These are surely tumultuous times for the world economy. It is also a period of global transition and generational shifts, as a young, ambitious, mobile and capable Asian workforce takes its place at the forefront of the global talent pool. They bring with them attitudes, lifestyle preferences, work ethics and cultural contexts that depart significantly from those of the baby boomer generation that has dominated organisational strategy and management thinking for half a century. The rules of the game will have to be re-written in the wake of the financial meltdown, but the star players in the new economic order will also change places and faces. Business as usual is over.

Organisations, cities and even nations, recognising that the ingenuity of people—and not the promise of technology—is the real long-term driver of economic growth, are engaged in an international talent grab that will only accelerate in the years to come. Sound talent management and effective leadership will become ever more precious commodities in the current economic climate, where there is much less room for error, incompetence or slack. Researchers from Hewitt Associates put forth the notion that a fundamental re-thinking of human resource strategy is necessary as organisations scramble for the critical talent they need to survive and thrive in a period of knife-edge competition.

Four distinguished Summit participants discuss contemporary challenges and opportunities in managing talent in Asia, highlighting the dramatic changes that have taken place in the nature of the new workforce. We also have the privilege of hearing from GE Chairman and CEO Jeffrey Immelt, who re-affirms the importance of sound leadership and core values in times of bewildering change. The key traits that define the successful leader of the future—including integrity, strong communication skills, and a knack for working across diverse groups—appear to cut across industries and cultures.

Different findings also imply that the way to groom tomorrow’s leaders, whether in the private (“Accelerating the Growth of the Asian Leader”) or public sectors (“Leadership Development in the Singapore Public Service”) may come not from the formal classroom but from real life, on-the-job experiences. If this holds true, then the present crisis may prove a formidable crucible for a more rugged, new generation of leaders to come.

This issue of ETHOS also features reviews of two new books of interest to business leaders and policymakers: Summit speaker Peter Capelli’s Talent on Demand is a discussion of strategies that attempt to balance conflicting organisational needs in the face of ever-shifting demand and supply of human capital, while Richard Florida’s Who’s Your City examines the concept of urban centres as hubs of talent and creative activity. His research suggests that cities (and companies) that have earned a reputation for being attractive to talent are much more likely to be successful in drawing similar talent in future.

Florida’s book cites Singapore as a “spike”, that is, one of the exceptionally successful and creative cities in the world. Indeed, Singapore aspires to be at the forefront of human capital practice and thereby, demonstrate itself as a location of choice in which to live, work and play. But perhaps results alone no longer speak loudly enough. Ng Siew Kiang from Contact Singapore argues that more could be done to present a holistic, coherent and attractive image of Singapore to the world. Teresa Lim, drawing from her experience as IBM Singapore’s Managing Director, suggests ways in which Singapore could become even more attuned to the emerging workforce that will shape the economy of tomorrow.

In conversation, leading author and advisor John Kao puts forward the idea of a national innovation strategy that could change the way nations approach the challenge of becoming magnets for creative energy. Also, Lynda Gratton from the London Business School suggests ways in which organisations can also generate productive hotspots of creative activity.

I wish you a productive and enjoyable read.

Alvin Pang


Back to Ethos homepage