Marie Ang | Today's Manager Singapore Institute of Management
Published on 01/12/2018

Two-in-three small-and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) will see a risk of failure in the next three-to-five years.

According to an article in The Business Times, innovation is key for Singapore SMEs as the slowing economy, intense competition, tight manpower, and lean resources threaten their ability to innovate.

In short, what every 21st century business should have is NICE. NICE stands for Niche, Integrity, Change, and Equip-essentials for every business.


N for Niche

Issue: Does your business have a niche? In other words, an anchor that describes what your business does and what your people represent and personify. Many businesses just bank on their products and services instead of standing out in terms of their unique selling proposition.

Cause and Effect: TravelersBox enables travellers to deposit coins and bills into their TravelersBox stations situated in airports worldwide. No longer do travellers have to worry about emptying countless coins out of their pocket at every security check or arriving home with various foreign currency. They can drop leftover foreign currencies in their ATM-like box and receive either a deposit directly to a PayPal account, via gift cards, or opt to make a donation.

Solution: Find out what are the pain points of consumers and keep it simple. The more complex and complicated your business model is, the harder it is for people to understand or execute it.


I for Integrity

Issue: Integrity does not just apply to the checks and balances of accounts but is also compromised when lower or inferior quality products and services are offered.

Cause and Effect: With 23 people dead and several injured after defective airbags were found in cars, Takata (the company that produced these explosive airbags) now ceases to exist. Founded in 1933 and despite surviving many upheavals over eight decades, the now defunct company suffered a deadly combination of corporate cover-ups, slow-moving authorities, and car makers’ reluctance to be drawn into a damaging and expensive saga which resulted in the US government stepping in and activating a global recall. 

Solution: People are more inclined to be forgiving than be given excuses. If a wrong had been done, take the time to respond and right the wrong rather than be defensive about it.


C for Change

Issue: Companies spend thousands on marketing and promoting their products and services. Yet, the best form of marketing is via corporate social responsibility (CSR). According to the Harvard Business School, getting involved in a change (be it social, environmental, or charitable) means that your company is activating one of several sustainable business strategies. Not only are you supporting a good cause; but you are gaining a better understanding of the broader landscape including the role of the government, investors, and customers; and being an influencer to drive change. 

Cause and Effect: LEGO is known as one of the top socially-responsible global corporations. It beat numerous other companies based on its ethical and fair conduct of business, transparent operations, environmental consciousness, and support of worthy causes. It’s Build the Change and Sustainable Materials Centre initiatives are in partnership with the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) as part of a push for sustainability.

Solution: Be the change and stand out amongst your competitors. Whilst most companies focus on the bottom-line and profits, having a CSR programme shows how your business can effect change, and becoming a purpose-driven business leader.


E for Equip

Issue: Companies are responsible for creating conducive and empowering working environments for their staff. Hence, good companies will invest time, resources, technological training, and more to upgrade and upskill their employees while ensuring that workplace harassment and bullying (a common social problem) is quickly addressed to prevent businesses from losing talent, efficiency, and productivity.

Cause and Effect: Founder of the Virgin Group, Sir Richard Branson literally makes it his business to get out and about to visit his employees and customers. He also ensures he knows exactly how his businesses are run on each and every level with input from his staff members. Sir Richard would educate himself in certain areas of business for perseverance and success. He believes that the best ambassadors are those that work for Virgin.

Solution: “An exceptional company is the one that gets all the little details right. And the people out on the front line, they know when things are not going right, and they know when things need to be improved. And if you listen to them, you can soon improve all those niggly things which turns an average company into an exceptional company.” - Sir Richard Branson


Mdm Marie Ang is the CEO and founder of a management consulting firm and co-founder of a social enterprise. She is an author, speaker, coach, and mentor and serves on the advisory boards of several businesses in Australia, Hong Kong, and Singapore. She is also an associate trainer with SIM Professional Development. Visit for more information on SIM Professional Development programmes. 

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