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International management in Vietnam

Officience attended a seminar organised by CCIFV in partnership with AFD(French Development Agency) entitled: “Acquiring international management methods in the Vietnamese sociocultural context”. At the event Professor Jean-Pierre Segal delivered the results from research he has been carrying out over the last two years.

The aim of the event was doubly interesting for those Officiencestaff who were present and who are already experienced in this area. Firstly, because it confirmed and formalised their knowledge and understanding of the work environment that has developed over the years and also because Officiencehad contributed to the study when Professor Segal came to Vietnam.

International businesses: successful integration…

One thing is certain, international businesses have an excellent reputation in Vietnam. They offer a more modern, transparent and efficient environment, controlled by the employees.

Local managers also discussed employees’ optimism (see article: When Vietnamese Optimism Comes Up Against French Pessimism) and were very pragmatic. For them, success is achieved by careful development, using proven strategies,the necessity of winning over their staff and above all by a close, loyal team, convinced of the company’s values.

… but also some disillusionment

For expatriates, the situation is more nuanced. The language barrier still exists and some practices such as poor reporting of problems or dependence on authority make adaptation quite tricky.

International businesses attract young graduates who see an opportunity to continue their development. The employee rate of replacement, an indicator of the dynamism of an economy and the employment market, is a real problem for managers. It can be explained by the following factors, among others: a lack of qualified and experienced workers, which leads to fierce competition to recruit the best. Employees are also quick to take on second jobs in the evenings or weekends, reducing the link with their main employer. Lastly, even if international businesses are managedby employees, some discomfort with the management style can lead to resignations.

Besides turnover, the relative youth of the workforce is another difficult factor to manage. The education system is struggling to transform itself and continues to offer training far removed from the reality of life –few traineeships, highly theory-based and with little student participation, it doesn’t prepare young graduates for working in business.

Which management model?

Although it is very training-oriented, the French model, defined as ‘an association of autonomous people who do their work, led by a competent and open manager’ does appear to have certain limits. Unclear delegation and significant autonomy are the current areas of debate.

On the other hand, the regional model (Asian countries, particularly Japan and Korea) is built around strict management with compulsory and controlled rituals and is encouraged by Vietnamese managers as they feel it is the most appropriate for them.

Finally the anglo-saxon contractual model, with negotiated objectives and agreed performance indicators, seems to be appreciated by young employees thanks to its transparency and the freedom it gives. But here again, managers collide with a lack of individual autonomy and team culture and the difficulty of applying the principal of differentiation between employees.

These open observations concluded Jean-Pierre Segal’s presentation and opened the debate to the audience, visibly involved in these issues.

Yes to the team but what about the individual?

It is clear that, on a day-to-day basis, the art of management is still poorly understood and implemented. Often legitimised by age or experience within the company, ‘managers’ in Vietnam adopt a consensual and short-term style, aiming to manage daily activities and ensure team cohesion: abandoning their role as  leaders, they turn into baby sitters.

If we believe the questions raised during the discussion, the issue is far from being resolved. You could feel the frustration from the managers present, and the discussion kept returning to the issues of taking responsibility and turnover.

Creating a close-knit team oriented towards a common goal seems to be an initial response, but this leads to other challenges: how to avoid group departures? How to pull an individual out of this ‘microcosm’…?

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