Saturday, September 11, 2010

Asian invasion

Been a very long time since I posted - turns out keeping up with a blog can be hard work! Lots of things have happened - South Africa have hosted an awesome soccer World Cup, followed by a protracted public servant strike - guess we can't have it all. I've also completed another year of MBA studies and the end goal is very much in sight.

I've also been fortunate enough to be included from the beginning in my company's plans to expand into Asia. Talk about assumptions and cultural differences! I'm still learning and know I won't be the first or the last. Currently I'm working from South Africa (my home, born and bred), liaising somewhat with our UK head office while trying to coordinate people in Singapore and Hong Kong from our sister companies to buy into and even support and service they've never even heard of! Most of this is done over email and phone calls, to boot. I'm trying to figure out how to not have my Asian colleague 'lose face' while still getting something done and with any luck, get a decision made!

Here's what I have learnt - it is virtually impossible to get a decision made in Hong Kong. Even if the big boss says to do it and you take any effort away so all someone has to do is arrange a meeting and make some introductions, you STILL have no guarantee of getting anywhere. I can't be my South African direct self - that just doesn't work so I have to navigate the lines between the lines.  After doing my homework and realising that subtlety is what's required, imagine my shock at being cast as the villain with another Singaporean colleague claiming (I did no such thing, btw) that I promised no charge for services delivered (who will pay I wonder?!) as part of goodwill to get our relationship started!! Navigating that gauntlet took some doing but UK 'parent' agreed to some subsidy for an initial pilot - phew!

Still, with no money out of pocket and no effort required, 6 months later, I am no nearer to launching a pilot service. Why? To be honest I am rather baffled but the current party line is a concern about 'finding the right match' of client to offer the pilot to. The service? Employee Assistance or counselling and general life advice (including how to manage finances or legal concerns), offered to employees free of charge and proven, PROVEN for goodness sake, to increase productivity and overall employee engagement. This is not selling man-sized corsets and heels - what company would not want to improve their employees' lives (for free in this particular example) and improve their productivity? Hence my baffled state.

The situation is not helped by the UK head office (mostly white English men) thinking nothing of acting colonial in their approach and 'decreeing' that this will happen. Can you imagine how a South African and Asian respectively, bristle at that particular attitude? The struggle continues still but the Asian invasion is a very long way off and unless its an open invitation to move in, I don't see how it can work. How on earth have so many other companies done this successfully?

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