Mr. Colin Blackwell, one of the judges at the Vietnam HR Awards 2016, spoke with VET about the significant outcomes for and the differences between foreign and local companies in terms of human resources management.
■ What has been significant for you as a judge of the Vietnam HR Awards 2016?
Seeing that Vietnam has the ability to not just catch up with international standards but to overtake them. I always knew there was significant potential in Vietnam but it is a pleasure to see that local standards have started to become the best in the world.
After years of seeing foreigners teaching Vietnamese international standards it is now starting to become the other way around. Foreigners are now beginning to come to some companies in Vietnam to learn how they perform so well.
■ Among candidates for the awards, what are the significant differences between local and foreign companies in terms of HR management methods?
Foreign companies usually have more detailed and standardized systems and this is to be expected as their international size and experience gives them more resources to develop internal processes. This in most cases is an advantage but is sometimes too rigid and inflexible. Local companies, if they seize the opportunity, can better adapt to local conditions, as they are not restricted by externally imposed rules from a foreign head office.
Implementing complex international systems in Vietnam is already an impressive achievement and we were impressed with how well many companies had done this. But what really sets a few companies apart is where they had specifically identified the strengths of Vietnamese culture and leveraged these to gain outstanding performance. A local company potentially has an advantageous starting point in this regard as they often understand local culture better.
■ Do you see any improvement among candidates - both local and foreign - since the last time the awards were held?
These are still relatively early days for Vietnam’s development so progress is rapid. For many companies we can immediately say “that’s a great improvement on last time” while others are still not quite there yet but are obviously on the right track and we really look forward to hearing how their plans have worked out in a couple of years time.
Most impressive were a few turnarounds we witnessed - companies who had been struggling in the past but had used a focus on people to really improve their overall performance. Companies often say people are their most important asset but only the best actually prove it and really turn around a challenging business situation.
■ Do you think MNCs need to adopt a proper approach in terms of HR management for their entity in Vietnam so as to fully adapt to the local business culture?
Yes, otherwise their companies will not perform to their true potential in Vietnam. MNCs find to their pleasure that Vietnamese staff have a strong sense of conformity and fairness, so will take up international HR systems enthusiastically.
However, international systems often miss the team building initiatives that are so appreciated in Vietnamese culture. To fully realize performance potential, MNCs must not only channel staff performance in the right direction but really lift it up and inspire staff by creating a workplace environment that feels like a real “family”.
■ What advice would you give to senior leaders at local companies and MNCs in terms of HR management?
Get the basics right first in HR - make sure you have international-standard job description, grading, performance, compensation and development policies firmly in place. This sounds obvious, but many companies could easily improve their performance by implementing simple systems that have been common practice for decades globally.
Once this foundation is in place then concentrate on the workplace environment. Do not underestimate the importance of the employee’s emotional well-being and the local culture in a successful business.
Expatriate managers in any country should be able to identify the strengths and weaknesses of their home and host cultures. By understanding both they can use the strengths of both cultures in different circumstances to get the best results. I often find myself winning over a western competitor by using a Vietnamese business tactic or vice-versa.
The top companies in Vietnam can combine the best of international practices and unique local cultural strengths to become truly outstanding.
Initiated by Talentnet in 2014, this is second time the Vietnam HR Awards have been held to honor and recognize organizations with the best HR Strategy and People Investment. The Vietnam HR Awards 2016 were launched in March and the Awards Ceremony will be held at the end of September to announce winning companies and best practices. Winners in 2014 included AIA, Abbott, CSC, Intel, FPT, HSBC, Mobile World, Samsung, and Unilever.