By DARIN WILLIAMS
Editor’s note: This is the third installment in The Globalists, a regular series by global managers discussing international management issues, innovations and solutions. You can see other Globalists posts here.)
Working in Asia for more than 20 years had taken the family and me to Japan, Australia, and Korea, and I had managed workplaces with rigorous processes and been part of several great projects.
The next assignment – Ho Chi Minh City as managing director of a large American research firm – was going to be a new, emerging-market experience.
We lived in a nice house in District 2, which is sort of the “expat ghetto” with international schools, a supermarket with foreign foods and streets lined with Western-style eateries. In past assignments I had avoided the ghettos in favor of a more local experience, but given the environment in Vietnam at the time, we relented and opted to live amongst the expat horde.
It was nice. We had great amenities, including cable TV, which was just becoming available in Vietnam at the time. But the service went down often, about every other week.
The cable guy would again come to our house, resplendent in his bright blue jacket, black-rimmed work glasses, tanned face, an array of tools and wire hanging from his belt, and for some reason, an inordinate amount of tape.
At about the fifth breakdown, he arrived and earnestly dove into the rat’s nest of wiring and contact points located in a box outside the house just next to the garage, and our good man got to the repair.
“It’s fixed!” he beamed after a swift 20 minutes.
“Actually Mr. Pham (we were on a surname basis after a few visits) it seems exactly the same as when you last came over, just with a bit more tape. Are you sure it’s fixed this time?”
“Yes…it’s fixed! Go ahead and try it.”
And the cable service would work until the next time a wire shorted the system or other such mishap occurred, and we would call Mr. Pham for another round of repairs. We would get another short-term, low-quality outcome, because there was no high-quality process in place to facilitate a high quality outcome.
I thought of my earlier years managing in Japan where it was the opposite. Japan is a country with a near-religious focus on process and refinement. At our business we had great processes and rigorous approval systems in place, but how many great new outcomes did we get? Not unlike many other foreign managers in Tokyo, we actually didn’t have that many.
Perfect vs. nimble
So on a process-outcome continuum, on one end of the spectrum, we have Japan, which is highly process-centric, and on the other end an outcome-focused country like Vietnam.
What are the implications here?
Japan is process-focused to such a degree that even a small perceived flaw in process can negate a derived result, even if that result appears to be of high value.
This process orientation is one of the reasons why Japan has struggled to compete outside Japan in the more nimble service industries like financial services and consulting, and in the ever-evolving landscape of consumer electronics.
An overly process-focused environment often leads to a lack of timely outcomes, particularly if the industry is very dynamic.
In contrast to Japan, in Vietnam, the focus in many cases is on achieving an outcome as quickly as possible and by any means possible, and then moving on (you can see this in the service at some bars in Saigon as well!).
There are many reasons for this mindset that we won’t get into here, but the issue for many businesses in Vietnam is how to replicate high-quality outcomes over time.
In an overly process-driven environment one needs to manage such that if teams have 70-80 percent of the information they think they need, don’t try for perfection or continue to refine the process and information. Just go forward and get an outcome (aircraft and other well-being industries excepted, of course).
In an overly outcome-focused environment the management focus should be on building and inculcating sound processes for all operations and client-0servicing activities, and then letting staff run with their amazing energy to outcomes within those systems, thus creating great results that can be replicated over time.
Below is where I’d place a few countries on the Process-Outcome continuum, based on experience.
Do you agree? Where is your country, your business, or your team on this continuum? Are you consistently getting high-quality outcomes in a reasonable time frame?
If not, what is slowing you down or diminishing the consistency or quality of your results?
About the author:
Based in Singapore, Darin Williams is the managing director, Asia, for TubeMogul Inc., a programmatic platform for digital branding that’s now part of Adobe. Previously, Darin worked for LinkedIn and Facebook in Asia.
He’s well-versed in Asia market dynamics and strategy and enjoys working in environments that are driven by disruptive technology.
Darin is also an active investor across several asset classes and markets.