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Business Success amid Cultural Diversity

Business Success amid Cultural Diversity
As much as we like to package the Asia-Pacific countries in one box, they are all amazingly different – different languages, different currencies and different cultures. These differences is what often stands in the way of companies' success in this part of the world. Here are some aspects you need to look out for when doing business in the region.
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Business Success amid Cultural Diversity

Vish Iyer
Vice-President, Architectures, APJ

September 04, 2017
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  • People and Culture

We live in a hyper-competitive business world, marked by increased disruption and an explosion of digital devices that we are all hooked to. Everybody is constantly glancing at their multiple devices in an out of meetings, travelling and struggling to keep up with the business demands of our times. We are busy 24/7, 365 days a year, and I wonder if this busyness is slowly becoming one of our greatest barriers to success.

That is why that as I start a new role, more than ever before, I ask myself and my team: are we busy with the right or the wrong things? Are we taking the time to assess what works and what doesn’t? These are critical questions. I’m a true believer that to go faster, you must go slower and take the time to evaluate priorities and how we go-to-market with our most valuable resource – our people!

Are they equipped with the knowledge and tools to succeed before they hit the ground running? Do they have visibility into where the company is headed and what’s expected of them? It is only when the direction is made clear that teams are better positioned to pick up the pace – with effectiveness and positive impact on customers.

There’s no shortcut to creating a culture of execution. Every manager and business leader must make the time for such assessments, even more so in a such diverse market as Asia-Pacific. One particularly challenging aspect driven by this diversity is how roles, scope of work and metrics can be perceived so differently across this region. It’s not uncommon to see people in the same role in different countries have a very different understanding of their responsibilities. This is the biggest disconnect I see in most companies operating in APJ, leading to inconsistent results.

Make no mistake: as much as we like to package the Asia-Pacific countries in one box, they are all amazingly different – different languages, different currencies and different cultures. At the same time, as a group, they form the fastest growing economy in the world, not to mention that its population is also the fastest adopter of new technology. These characteristics help explain why the pace of business is faster in Asia than in any other part of the world. It is also the reason why it is so important to take a step back and assess the execution strategy.

When you do that, there are several aspects that you need to look at, and there are three I find particularly important to thrive in this part of the world:

Language and culture diversity

Asia-Pacific’s diversity can affect every aspect of doing business in the region – from talent management to how you market your products. Language, for example, still constitutes a major impediment to penetrating markets like Japan, Korea and many in South-East Asia (e.g., Thailand), where the local language is preferred over English. Same goes for culture, which is very heterogeneous and often leads to discrepancy between what the business wants and what is appropriate for each market. To succeed, businesses must make sure that their global and regional plans are mindful of the local differences and that expectations – from both sides – are clear, accepted and ready to be executed on.

Clarity on roles and expectations

Respecting language and cultural diversity leads to the importance of privileging local talent in local markets – simply because they will know best. However, as mentioned before, when a business spreads across various countries, misunderstandings do happen and the same role may be executed inconsistently. As markets are different, some variation is natural, but that’s only until underperformances start to occur. A clear communication of goals, roles and expectations goes a long way in solving such inconsistencies and possible frustrations. And that should be done every step of the way. For example, at Cisco, when we look at hiring folks our first priority is to define a clear scope of work and it’s up to the manager’s to work with the employee on a egular basis to review his or her contribution and success metrics. This is so there’s a mutual understanding of expectations and, ultimately, collective success. 

Country and region-relevant products and solutions

One size does not fit all. It’s no different for multinational companies, no matter in which industry they’re in. Having worked with global and regional teams, I’ve had a front row seat in watching how this process happens. The perception of value and experience of certain solutions vary enormously across Asia, due to the differences in purchasing power parity across the countries. For example, customers in Japan will happily pay for superior quality, while customers in emerging markets will value affordability over quality. So, we need to right size and right price the products and solutions to cater the mass market requirements in different geographies.

When companies and leaders take the time to look at these variables (and others), they may realise what’s been lacking all along– clarity and regard for all kinds of diversity that co-exist in Asia. And that’s the first right step for amazing things to happen.

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