As a global technology recruiter, Interfacio has been helping organisations source professional audio/video/control talent in Asia for the past 15 years. It would be presumptuous to say that we totally understand the Asian market. In fact, I have often said “The more I learn about Asia, the more I realize what I need to learn!”
The journey for me started by loving Asian food and Asian technology, but it grew into knowing, respecting and loving Asian people. And isn’t that one of the most important aspects of a successful career – loving what you do and who you do it with?
Over the past 30 or so years of doing business with Asians and then 20 years of doing business in Asia, I have learned some interesting things that I am now applying to recruiting.
A good starting point is that “Asian business culture” isn’t actually a thing – but many overlapping ways of interacting with each other, philosophes, and methods of getting the job done. It is no surprise to anyone that has spent any time in Asia, that the countries and cultures are much more diverse than in most of the West. Therefore, adapting programs, policies and products to accommodate individual ways of doing business is crucial for successful organisations to grow their Asia business. And sourcing candidates for APAC roles requires similar sensitivity and flexibility.
It is certainly true that local business methods are influenced by and adapt to Western best practices, but this is a work in process – and who is to say that as APAC grows in amplitude and breadth that the influence won’t go both ways? I am reminded of the huge influence Japanese car makers had on Western auto brands during the 80s!
Therefore, businesses looking to get past the initial growth stage in Asian markets often find themselves required to adapt, rather than assert, the ways business gets done and even how their own technologies are applied. Local offices of multinational companies have been much more successful when part of their strategy has involved some assimilation.
Having a top brand with high visibility and demand is only a first step in achieving success. Weaving through the different options of distribution and representation, to determine what is the best approach requires cultural sensitivity, a deep contact base and patient due diligence.
Even providing proper technical support requires sensitivity of a different manner compared to that in the Western markets. Asian technological knowledge and the application of such has evolved exponentially. However, this knowledge is not applied in a balanced way across the territory and even some senior local candidates can have gaps in their skill set. But imparting knowledge and best practice, or even another way of solving a technical problem, takes a particular sensitivity to “saving” the “face” of the recipient – particularly in a public setting or in the presence of colleagues.
Below are some considerations to keep in mind:
- Asia is by no means a single market. On the contrary, it is comprised of highly individual markets – with many countries having very dissimilar languages, cultures, customs and moral foundations which are more diverse than typical westerners are used to.
- Ancient networks like the Korean chaebol, or Chinese quanxi may not be as obvious as in previous times, but are still quite influential throughout most of Asia.
- Business etiquette or even regulations like “conflict of interest” don’t seem to carry the same sort of weight or stigma that those practices might in the west. The concept of mutual benefit seems to be a more Asian way of guiding business arrangements.
- Many Asian cultures place a strong emphasis on honour – but that can also mean different things in different locations. But the concept of “face” and “saving face” does seem more universal throughout.
- A forthright or black and white communication manner – a desirable business attribute in the West – can be considered blunt or even rude in Asia. Even though the guy across the table knows you are from away – being too frank can be offensive and counter-productive to achieving your objectives. Negative information is many times shrouded in what, from a Western perspective, can seem purposely murky, but which is often clearly understood by other Asian participants. Even “yes” doesn’t always mean “I agree” – it could mean “I understand what you are saying, however I do not necessarily agree”.
- Sometimes expats can still be regarded as more credible than an equally or even more qualified local person. This kind of “reverse discrimination” is thankfully becoming less prevalent – in part due to the creation of local offices by larger foreign firms. These subsidiaries have been key in hiring, mentoring, training and promoting local professionals. And the acceptance of these personnel across the territory is evidence of the efficacy of these policies. It is a good time to be an Asian doing business across Asia!
- As a result of Asia’s history, there is some lingering cultural animosity which can sometimes turn into challenging business relationships.
Of course, these distinctions vary widely by person and organization, but being aware and having your interactions informed by them is always prudent. A smiling and polite reaction doesn’t always mean the same as that reaction in the West.
Good employees, partners or agents in Asia are ones that are cognisant of and sensitive to the many nuances in thinking and the market conditions, but also able to communicate and implement Western business practices. In short, a key aspect of successful business in Asia is balancing Western expectation with the local ways of getting the job done.
To find out more about how Interfacio can help your organisation find qualified and experienced commercial, technical and management personnel, please contact me on +1 858 231 3648 or email firstname.lastname@example.org