Singapore CFOs say motivation more important than innovation in raising productivity

26 November 2014

Singapore finance leaders the least likely to outsource or reform business processes

Singapore’s top finance leaders believe better motivation of their staff is the key to raising the productivity of their teams.

This is the key finding of new research by specialist recruitment firm Robert Half and the Institute of Singapore Charted Accountants (ISCA). The survey was conducted across four markets - Singapore, Hong Kong, Japan and Shanghai, with more than 550 CFOs and finance directors participating - including 150 from Singapore.

When asked about their future priorities, 54 per cent of Singapore CFOs rate trying to motivate their staff as being either “very important” or “important”, making this their most common productivity strategy. The next most popular initiative is to improve staff evaluation (49 per cent) followed by better training for employees (40 per cent).

Only 22 per cent will undertake structural changes such as streamlining the company’s business processes to become more efficient, while just 25 per cent will adopt the use of better technology.

Compared to their regional counterparts in Hong Kong, Japan and Shanghai, Singapore CFOs are among the most likely to choose motivation and the least likely to choose innovation in order to raise productivity.

Table 1: Main initiatives to improve productivity in the next 12 months1



Hong Kong



Motivating employees





Improving staff's performance evaluation





Improving training and development of employees





Better adoption of technology





Streamlining of business processes





Outsourcing of business functions





1The percentages in the table represent the proportion of respondents who rated each listed initiative as being either “very important” or “important” to improving productivity in the next 12 months.

Mr Lee Fook Chiew, Chief Executive Officer of ISCA, said, “While technology adoption is acknowledged to be a key productivity driver, the findings also reflect finance leaders’ beliefs that a highly motivated and well-trained workforce go hand in hand with digital tools and streamlined processes in improving productivity. Based on the findings, ISCA will develop programmes to support CFOs in these areas.”

Ms Stella Tang, Managing Director of Robert Half Singapore said CFOs see unlocking the potential of their employees as the key to improved performance.

“Singapore finance leaders have a preference for motivation over innovation. That’s why the top three productivity strategies of Singapore CFOs are all about people management. Motivation, evaluation and training of employees will be the focus of finance leaders in 2015.”

“While a motivated team is essential for improving performance, Singapore CFOs must not lose sight of the importance of other innovative reforms. Singapore finance and accounting teams risk falling behind their regional counterparts if they do not improve their processes, embrace technology and explore outsourcing,” Ms Tang said.

“For example, a CFO in Shanghai is three times more likely to be engaged in business process reform than a Singapore CFO, and more than twice as likely to be engaged in building their team’s skills through training,” Ms Tang added.

Shanghai CFOs appear the most focussed on productivity improvements with effort being placed into nearly every option available to them.

While much of this effort is required to catch up to the levels of productivity found in other more developed markets, the Chinese finance and accounting sector seems determined to make up the lost ground as quickly as possible.

The top choice for Shanghai CFOs is to invest in employee training and development (72 per cent), followed by improving their staff evaluation performance (65 per cent). Shanghai CFOs are significantly more likely to pursue structural reforms than their Singapore counterparts, including streamlining processes (62 per cent versus 22 per cent) and outsourcing (60 per cent versus 22 per cent).

Click here to view the Productivity Initiatives Report


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Gabrielle Nagy 
Public Relations Manager, Asia Pacific
P: +61 2 8028 7751
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