Reciprocal Role Modelling
One of our philosophies at Yempo is to have sufficient Western managers to act as role models for Western business etiquette. We believe this is important in ensuring our predominantly Western clients have a familiar experience working with us and our Filipino team. We estimate the ideal balance to be 50%, which also enables our local staff to grow into management positions. Recently, this philosophy drew a question from a former colleague – what can we learn from our Filipino staff? Are they also role models for a different and complementary style of working? This got me thinking about the elements of Filipino culture that I appreciate and would like to ensure are fostered in my business.
I admire the adaptability and flexibility of Filipinos, likely a result of colonisation by the Spanish, Japanese and Americans. I believe however that the most harmonious relationships occur when there is a “meet in the middle” approach, rather than expecting a Filipino employee to completely adapt to the working style of another culture. In my former corporate life, I was delighted to learn that we had accidentally gotten off on the right foot. “Filipino Cultural Training” was rolled out to key staff members in Sydney almost six months before I boarded my plane to Manila, and it took me another year to implement “Aussie Cultural Training” for the Filipino workforce. Without realising it, the implementation of cultural awareness training in Sydney well ahead of rolling out the equivalent in Manila set the tone that the Aussies were expected to adapt and appreciate the differences. Many companies train the Filipinos only – never training staff in the “home” country which sets a completely different and less balanced tone.
What have I learned from my Filipino staff? What I thought to be excessive courtesy when I first arrived in the Philippines is extremely effective! My favourite is “Hoping for your kind consideration” at the close of a letter or email. While I would chuckle at this when I first arrived, I’ve learned it is actually a powerful closing statement that acts like a magic wand when asking for a favour or courtesy. As is a smile. A smile opens a million doors in the Philippines – without it, we foreigners just look too scary.
The patience of Filipinos is commendable, particularly in the context of the overwhelming traffic in their cities. The 12km journey from Manila airport to the CBD of Makati at peak hour is more than 3 hours. Long enough to run out of water, develop a raging hunger, and have the batteries on all electronic devices run flat. It is faster to walk, were it not for the heat, the pollution, the rain and accompanying luggage. And while I complain from the air-conditioned comfort of my car, many of my Filipino compatriots will be wedged into a public utility vehicle, hot, cramped and unsafe, for longer periods and more frequently than I could ever tolerate. Many Filipinos suffer a commute of multiple hours per day, and worse – it can be unpredictable whether their daily journey will be 20 minutes or 2 hours, a concept unfathomable to those of us from big cities with mature public transport systems. Consequently, many have developed the amazing ability to sleep anywhere, anytime – something I am immensely envious of.
Filipinos are remarkably resilient, as evidenced by their response to the environmental challenges thrown at them each year. When typhoon season strikes, the many heartbreaking stories of devastating loss are balanced by joy during adversity. There are many wonderful images of Filipinos smiling through the challenges, dancing in the rain, laughing as the floodwaters rise. In the workplace, this resilience can be easily overlooked; as conflict-averse people, they will retreat from a hostile or difficult situation even if it means hardship for their families.
But by far, what I have learned from my Filipino friends is their dedication to community. In my article The Concept of Community, I compared my experience of community back in Australia with what it now means to me here in the Philippines. Community is one of our core values at Yempo – we harness the innate sense of generosity into a collaborative, supportive culture. In doing so, how we operate immediately resonates with new starters as a workplace congruent with their own culture and national pride.
So, in response to the question – are my Filipino staff also role models in my business? I say “Yes”! I know they are more than role models, they are the foundation of Yempo, the lifeblood of my business. Our 50% Western Management philosophy is not intended to re-train or overpower the Filipino culture, but to provide a balance and complementary style to the strong, positive behaviours my local team offers.