Managing a “change” Project in the Asia Region can be an exciting challenge for a Western Consultant but so often they arrive armed with their Western “linear” type methodologies, tools, and techniques which do not sit comfortably alongside Asian culture which features many nationalities, societies, and ethnic groups as well as many different ancient cultures like Confucianism, Buddhism, Taoism, Hinduism and Islam to name but a few.
All these will all have a big impact on how a Western Consultant should go about their business.
In a “snapshot” survey of 165 individuals from 13 countries across Asia (using a simple 1 to 6 scoring system) three cultural dynamics emerged as clear front-runners that would impact how a Western Consultant goes about their business. They are:
- Hierarchy (bosses in Asia find it harder to let go and empower their staff) … overall score of 2.7 (72% of participants scored this 16% of whom gave this their top score).
- Responsibility (Asian staff finds it difficult to express their opinions until the boss has and then they all agree) … overall score of 2.4 (73% of participants scored this 10% of whom gave this their top score).
- Change Awareness (understanding the need for change is less prevalent in Asia) … overall score of 2.4 (63% of participants scored this 30% of whom gave this their top score).
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Other dynamics (all scoring less than 2) included:
- Cultural Integrity (an understanding of the Asian way of life).
- Education (less creative learning in Asia).
- Consensus (a need to understand, engage and agree at all levels in Asia).
- Indigenous Knowledge (Asia is more focused on the output rather than the process of getting there).
- Reasons for Resistance (different reasons for resistance in Asia.
- Group Focus (Asia is more focused on Groups rather than the individual).
- Religion (central to beliefs and the way of doing things in Asia).
- Families (Asia is heavily focused on the family as a unit).
- Pace of Change (slower in Asia).
- Regulatory Environment (not so strict in Asia).
- Cycles/Times (not so important in Asia).
- Inter-Country Obligations (less prevalent in Asia).
Results also showed that the three top dynamics presented more significant challenges in some countries than in others:
- Hierarchy – Hong Kong (4.3), China (3.5), Thailand (3.4), Singapore (3.4), and India (3.3).
- Responsibility – Hong Kong (3.8), Malaysia (3.6), the Philippines (2.9), and Singapore (2.9).
- Change Awareness – Thailand (3.8), Vietnam (3.7), India (3.5), Taiwan (3.4), and Indonesia (3.2).
- Thailand, Indonesia, and Vietnam concurred on all top 3 dynamics.
- Singapore, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Pakistan, China, India and Taiwan concurred on two of the top 3 dynamics.
- Bangladesh, the Philippines, and Japan concurred on just one of the top 3 dynamics.
Regarding the top 3 dynamics:
- Hierarchy and Responsibility – be aware of these factors when engaging with groups of people because if you have the wrong mix you may not necessarily get the open interaction you would normally get in the West and consequently not get the answers you are looking for.
- Change Awareness – this means going that “extra mile” when communicating with people across an organization to ensure that all impacted individuals and groups are engaged and made aware of the who, why, what, when, where, and how of the impending change but most importantly highlighting the benefits of the change.
There were also some significant country results outside of the top 3 dynamics e.g.
- Indigenous Knowledge – with Bangladesh scoring 3.0, China scoring 2.9, and Pakistan scoring 2.8.
- Group Focus – Japan scored a high 4.0 and Hong Kong scored 2.3.
It would be wise for any Western Consultant to be aware of these cultural dynamics when working in Asia. Failure to do so will, at a minimum, create credibility problems when engaging with individuals, or ultimately could result in outright failure. The main thing to remember is that making a success of working in Asia requires building credibility and relationships but more importantly trust. The more you interact and engage with people this can be built up or torn down. By gaining trust you will be well on your way to achieving a successful assignment.
image by Tommaso Meli