Managing Human Resources in Asia – How to Align Your Staff to Your Business Strategy


1. Once Upon a Time … When Selection Is Just The Beginning of The Tale

1.1. The recruitment process has a long way to go before reaching the desired outcome. It leads employers and candidates towards a stressful and time-consuming path, where both are actively looking for the right fit.

The candidate tries his/her best to impress his/her prospective employer. On the other hand, for HR managers, identifying applicants’ real value and attitude is their top concern.

Well, it’s all true – we have indeed spared some of our time highlighting a handful of successful strategies to select the right people in Asia.

However, we believe that the selection is only one of the processes to consider, in Asia as well as in Europe. Maybe the most appealing – who has forgotten his first interview straight after the university?

Yet, it’s neither the key priority for a company, nor the worse challenge for a candidate.

We’re sure that managing people indeed is.

1.2. Let’s put it in this way.

You as a candidate just landed your dream job in multinational company – are you ready to face the pressure? Are you ready to deal with a straightforward American boss? Are you keen to work in team with colleagues coming from any part of the world? To make decision? Take your responsibilities? Are you ready to “fight” with your colleagues in order to make your point? Are you ready to leave your comfort zone and take calculated risks for the sake of your career?

You as an employer just got the perfect hire, a fresh grad top of his/her batch, with impressive resume and willing to make a major impact on your daily operations.

On paper he/she looks just perfect -- education, age, languages and soft skills – but will he/she deliver his/her tasks? How to properly manage your new staff? How to integrate them? How to solve intercultural incomprehension, if any? How to align your people, who have different backgrounds and come from diverse cultures ?How to create the perfect working environment?

In this post, we’ll suggest the best strategy for companies to implement.

Hiring people in Asia is just the first step for your organization to succeed -- most importantly, you should be able to interact with your local professionals, understand their cultural and working principles, and manage them.

Hiring people in Asia is just the first step for your organization to succeed -- most importantly, you should be able to interact with your local professionals, understand their cultural and working principles, and manage them.

Hiring people in Asia is just the first step for your organization to succeed -- most importantly, you should be able to interact with your local professionals, understand their cultural and working principles, and manage them.

2. One Size Does Not Fit All

2.1. In Far East and South-East Asia, many foreign companies have had to shut down their operations for an apparently simple reason – their struggle in successfully managing local staff.

Managing, controlling, motivating, and retaining top-performing local employees is a huge challenge, which several firms fail to accomplish and few succeed in accomplishing

As any business administration book points out, execution is a priority for any organization. It implies the capability to implement the corporate strategy at every level of the organization, from C-suite to interns, and align the workforce towards the goals set by the management.

Aligning people is usually a massive threat, especially in Asia.

Based on our daily experience in South-East Asia, a success case is represented by Japanese firms. Japan is a major investor in Thailand and all across South-East Asia. Japanese ventures have been established in the region since the Seventies.

2.2. Japanese MNCs (multinational companies) have delivered impressive results in the area, being able to align the local workforce to their business strategy and identity, and to execute the strategic goals set by the headquarter in Japan.

While Japanese firms have successfully aligned the local workforce to their business strategy, most of Western companies have failed to do so.

Many European firms have tried their best to maintain their corporate identity in Asia as well. However, they have failed to keep consistency between the headquarter and their Asian subsidiaries, poorly performing also as regards the alignment of the local staff.

In a nutshell, Western firms have surrendered to local working habits. Often, expatriate managers lose the grip on daily operations and aren’t able anymore to keep the processes established and followed in Europe.

Consequently, the qualitative standards drop dramatically and the Asian subsidiaries, instead of being the relay of growth for Western firms, suddenly become a loss-making machine.

Why do Japanese firms not fail? Why does this happen so frequently to Western companies?

It is essentially due to a lack of understanding of local working habits, culture, and business approach.

Western firms’ incompetence and Western expatriates’ lack of education about Asian cultures often leads to a massive failure, both in terms of corporate strategy and its execution. Most of the times, there’s also an inadequate support to expatriates from the headquarter, located overseas and not used to dealing with diverse ways of doing business.

Shortly, when it comes to managing Asian subsidiaries, one size does not fit all.

2.3. Below we list some of the best practices implemented by Japanese MNCs, especially in automotive and manufacturing field.

  1. Crystal clear subdivision of roles and responsibilities.

  2. Well defined structure and hierarchy.

  3. Strong team spirit, starting from the firm motto, which can be found almost everywhere (website, meeting rooms, factory floor, brochure, etc.).

  4. Clear, straightforward, easy explanation of every job mansions.

  5. Continuous employees’ training and continuous improvement on job.

  6. Explanatory videos, pictures, charts and billboards, to instruct (and remind) employees about their duties and responsibilities.

  7. Production flow structured in every detail.

  8. Local middle management educated according to Japanese standards and “transmission belt” between C-suite level and factory workers.

  9. Japanese top management, well integrated in the local organization and able to engage local staff.

  10. Japanese management trained and keen to understand the basic principles of the local culture

A mix of organization, hierarchy, precision, understanding of local culture, forward-thinking, and experience in Asia has lead Japanese companies to establish successful operations all across the APAC region.

This is just a brief example about how to implement your corporate strategy at every single layer of your organization.

Anyway, this is the beginning. It essential as well to engage and motivate your employees, in order for you to retain them within your organization.

Have your organization experienced any of these challenges? We'd love to hear from you in the comments below or by email to the following email addresses.

Carlo Gardella - Managing Partner of AdvisingAsia

Pietro Borsano - Associate of AdvisingAsia


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