The NY Times published an article about President Bill Clinton’s visit to North Korea to meet with Kim Jong-il about releasing the two imprisoned American reporters, Laura Ling and Euna Lee. The result was simple and surprising- they were released! I found this article particularly interesting because it describes not only the result, but the approach that was used to achieve it. The article included the approach that was used for the meeting request and the meeting itself. As I read the article, I saw many parallels with the experiences that I have had when doing business in Asia. This post contains ten tips for doing business in Asia which I gleaned from this article and my experiences, which includes successes and failures.
Doing business in Asia is critical for every industry I can think of, but doing business in Asia is different from doing it in any other part of the world. In order to be effective in your career, you need to be aware of these differences.
For a little bit of background about me, while both of my parents are from Asia, I was born and raised in western NY with American friends who come from multi-generation American families, and English is the only language I speak fluently. In college and grad school some of my friends were Asian-American and Asian. But when I started doing business in Asia I had as much to learn as anybody else. Since then, I’ve had research collaborations and business interactions in Japan, China, Singapore, Korea, and Taiwan and I’ve managed teams in Japan and China. While I bumped heads a lot at the beginning and still manage to bump heads every so often today, I have also built some of my closest working relationships there, and some of these working relationships have evolved into close friendships. But despite all this, I know I still have a lot to learn.
Back to my tips... In my mind, the biggest thing to remember is that being effective at doing business in Asia requires building credibility, building relationships, and building trust. With each interaction you can build this up or tear it down, but if you achieve trust then you will be able to accomplish more than you could ever imagine.
Without further ado, here are my top ten tips for doing business in Asia.
- Plan your meetings carefully with an insider who knows and understands the people, the relationships, and the culture.
- Do not presume that you understand the culture; there are many levels of subtlety and depth that even the most well-studied and experienced foreigner will never understand.
- Plan meetings where you match the levels of the meeting attendees as much as possible. Send the meeting request to/from a well-respected person of the appropriate level.
- Be thoughtful, polite, and respectful at all times. This should be in the tone used in a meeting request, every interaction, the meeting itself, and the follow-up. Respect the people and their situation- there's probably a lot more going on there than you think.
- Be humble and avoid any hint of superiority or righteousness. You might be well-established in your own community, but when you are working in Asia you have to establish yourself in their community.
- Focus on building the relationship as much as achieving the goal.
- Bonus tip: If you achieve trust in your relationship, then you will succeed.
- Read the smallest gestures (e.g., a light invitation, a small comment, or a small request) and reciprocate. This is a sign that things are going well.
- Provide a way for your counterpart to offer alternatives without saying No and without losing face. Conversely, provide a way for the host to end with a good result and save face.
- Do not force him/her into a corner.
- Do not force the conversation to go into other highly substantive or controversial discussions.
- Do not force decisions to be made on the spot. He/she usually needs to consult with others to make decisions.
- Allow your counterpart to prepare for the meeting. Give him/her an opportunity to consult with others on the issue at hand before the meeting.
- Do not presume anything about anyone. The must unassuming-looking person in the room could be the most influential. You will never know.
- Accept that you may need multiple visits to achieve the desired outcome, as it will only come when you build the relationship, credibility, and trust. This may seem inefficient at first, but if you stick with it the result will be a working relationship and friendship that is stronger than you could ever imagine.
One thing I’d like to note is that while this post is called "Top ten tips for doing business in Asia", different Asian countries have very different cultures. For example, Japan and China are as different as France and Germany. But these tips should be universal and I’ll save some of the finer details I learned for later posts.
Finally, I’d like to thank my Asian collaborators from the past and present. You have been very patient with me through my mistakes and you taught me a lot, and we are friends and collaborators for life. Thank you!
What do you think of these tips? Do you have comments fom an Asian or non-Asian perspective? Do you have tips to add?
From Work-Life Balance to Work-Life Bursts and Work-Life Teams
I was reading a colleague’s post on work-life balance, where she was referencing Jack Welch’s statement that there is no such thing.
Those who know me would certainly laugh if they knew I was commenting on work-life balance, but I might have one valuable perspective to offer-- the perspective of a manager of people who strive for success at work AND success in life. Let me talk about a model that I’ve seen work.
As a manager, I need a team that can deliver results and handle the demands of a fast-paced work environment. But, work demands do not understand family demands. Work demands do not understand 40 hour work weeks (or 60 hour work weeks). Work demands do not understand children’s needs. Work demands do not understand unexpected illnesses. In essence, work demands do not understand life demands.
While I don’t know much about work-life balance, I did make one realization about some of my top performers. Basically, there is the mythical 40 hour work week where you work 8 hours a day 5 days a week forever. While this might work for an average or good performer, but I haven’t seen this work for a top performer. I find it more realistic to think of a "bursty" work schedule. There are times when work demands bursts. There are times when life demands bursts. As a manager, I have found that my top performers are able to accommodate “work bursts”. They can spend the extra hours when we’re in a clutch. They go the extra mile to deliver the work that is needed when it needs to be done. I see them do acrobatics in their lives to get the job done when the demands are there. On the other hand, since I know they are doing acrobatics in their lives to accommodate the bursty demands of work, as their manager I feel compelled to do acrobatics to accommodate the bursty demands of their lives. In essence, they have done acrobatics for me, so I do acrobatics for them. Together, we try to achieve success and find balance. So, work gets taken care of when work demands come flying in, and life gets taken care of when life demands come flying in. Win-Win!
Now, the problem comes in when work demands and life demands collide. Let’s face it, this happens all the time. When this collision happens, I find the saving grace to come from the team, in work or in life. I love it when I have teams that work together to deliver their results, and work together to accommodate each other’s life’s demands. From my perspective as a manager, the team has hit their deliverables and deadlines on time with high quality work. But, under the covers the team has done acrobatics to cover for each other so that one person could care for a sick child or an ailing parent. When I see a work team operate this way, I have a big smile inside because I know that this team has bonded in a way that will get them through the toughest demands of work and life.
One thing I should note is that having a team like this at work or in life is not automatic. It takes sustained effort to build the relationships needed for this type of teamwork. It means being helpful, even when it’s not convenient. It means being thoughtful to find out when someone needs help, because people in need seldom come out and say it. I find that people who are helpful and thoughtful even when it’s not convenient in turn get unbounded help from their teammates when they are in their time of need.
In summary, I don’t have an answer on whether work-life balance is achievable, but here’s one approach to try:
Life demands and work demands are bursty… and they don’t know about each other. In order to succeed at work, you must be able to work in bursts. In order to succeed in life, you must be able to live in bursts. In order to succeed in work AND life, you need to build teams around you, in life and in work, that allow you to handle those bursts. In order to build those teams, you must be thoughtful and helpful to those around you.
Work-life balance may be one of those mythical dreams, but it’s still a dream worth trying for. Good luck!
So, do you think this approach can work? Have you seen or experienced situations where this approach has succeeded or failed?
Needless to say, two back-to-back weekends of hockey tournaments creates lots of good teamwork blog material. I'll just start with one for now: Teamwork is about recovering from mistakes.
Let's face it- everybody makes mistakes. In every second of every shift of a hockey game, you can do something brilliant, do something catastrophic, or do something somewhere in between. You will make mistakes. In fact, if you don't make mistakes then you may not be taking enough risks or working to the peak of your ability.
So, the question is what happens when you do make a mistake? Of course, you should get back into things and try to recover (it doesn't help to get down on yourself in the moment!). In addition, this is where teamwork comes in. When you make a mistake, it's not the end of the world. Rather, it's an opportunity for your teammates to shine! If your teammate makes a mistake, then you have an opportunity to shine!
Here's an example: I was playing center. One of my defenders went into the offensive zone to make a play, so I covered back for her. Then there was a turnover. The other team got the puck and their forwards started skating towards our goal. Since I was covering for the defender, I started backing up to cover the play, while thinking hard about being in the right position to cover them. I was feeling pretty good and I was ready for the challenge of breaking up the play on this odd man rush. Then, out of the blue, my skate caught an edge and I fell backwards on the ice. My heart sunk. I thought "Oh $@#%%! They might score!". I turned over and saw the other team skating hard towards the net. Then, all of sudden, I saw a streak of my teammate's jersey. She was backchecking hard at full speed... she caught up to the player with the puck... took the puck away from her... and broke up the play! Yay- they didn't score! Meanwhile I got up and jumped back into the play and the game continued on.
I was really proud of my teammate who totally rocked and saved the team from my mistake! Also, I think that even if my teammate didn't break up the play, there was a really good chance that my goalie would have saved the day since she was also playing a great game! Of course, I'll try to make fewer mistakes and stay on my skates next time , but it's great to know that I can count on my teammates in times of trouble.
This is just one split-second example of a teammate covering for another teammate's mistake. In a fast-paced sports game, mistakes and recoveries happen all the time- even every few seconds. Sometimes it's blatant and sometimes it's subtle. The main thing is that it's all about teamwork- you work to the very best of your ability for your team, and if you or a teammate happen to make a mistake, you get out there to help recover from it and drive forward to create the next great play.
An added bonus is that by knowing that I have great teammates who can recover from mistakes, I know that I can take bigger chances on high-risk, high-reward plays. And, I hope my teammates know that they can do the same since I'll be covering for them.
Another added bonus is that every time the team makes and recovers from a mistake, the team grows stronger! It makes teammates appreciative of each other, trust each other, rely on each other, and gain confidence that they can get through even tougher situations together.
The example that I gave was a very blatant and visible mistake and recovery that happened on the ice. Note that mistakes and recoveries happen off the ice as well- in between shifts, in between games, and in between tournaments. In addition, mistakes and recoveries happen in work and in life, and teamwork can help with the recovery. Do you have any great mistake and recovery stories in sports or at work or in life?
Feel free to leave a URL with your comments.
Warning: This post will meander a bit between a work post and a personal post.
My college freshman roommate, Julie Ask, registered me for the US Half marathon for my birthday. (Hint for identifying bullies: Is that really a birthday gift?!?) She's always been a bully that way, roping me into all sorts of things, so it's hard to tell if she's really a friend. Yet, we've remained "friends" for 21 years. Fortunately, she got me ready for the race. She sent me to the running store to get properly fitted for shoes, and I learned that my shoes were two sizes too small- ouch! She bought me some Gu to keep me energized throughout the race. She bought me some Glide to protect my skin. She got me some hair bands to tie up my hair. She bought me a race belt to hold my number. And, she had a carbo-loading pasta party the evening before the race so that I would eat properly and at the right time. Basically, she exhausted any excuse I could think of to get out of the half marathon. I guess that's what bully friends are for.
Julie wisely said that our goal was not to finish, but to finish healthy. Like the deceitful Saturday morning trail runners, I think she's trying to trick me into running another race some day. So, she set us a modest goal of finishing in 2:15-2:30. We ran with Julie's brother and another friend, and the four of us decided to stay together for the race.
On race day, she picked me up in a cab from my sister's apartment in SF. We got to the starting line early and stretched out. We had our first Gu 15 minutes before the race started. At 7:00, bang, we were off. Out of the gate, lots of people ran past us. Julie wisely said that our strategy was to let people pass us at the beginning, but then to pass them at the end. So, we were patient and kept a comfortable pace.
The sun was shining when the race started. The view of the Golden Gate bridge, Alcatraz, and all of SF was beautiful in the morning sunlight and throughout the race. We started at Aquatic park and had the excitement of the race crowd. We ran across Chrissy field and had a beautiful view of Alcatraz and the Bay. We did a couple loopty loops in Golden Gate park. We ran across the Golden Gate bridge and had beautiful views all around. On the far end of the bridge, we ran down to the ocean and climbed back up the hill to get to the other side of the bridge. We ran back over the Golden Gate bridge and saw boats and their wakes in the water below. Thanks to Julie's experience of knowing where the camera men would be, we struck a hang-loose group pose for the camera man as we passed him on the bridge. We ran back along Chrissy field where Julie's brother's wife met us at mile 10 and handed us the most delicious Twizzlers you ever tasted! Then, we went over the baby hill at Fort Mason and crossed the finish line in Aquatic park. We finished comfortably at 2:19 according to plan. Since this is my first race, I was told I get to call this a personal record.
We walked every water station and we Gu'ed every 45 minutes, i.e., we did whatever Julie told us to. For some reason I kept floating forward and thank goodness Julie kept reeling me back. As a result, we were all pretty comfortable for all 13.1 miles. I usually get sore around mile 9. But, thanks to Julie's pacing, the trail running, and my new shoes, I was pretty comfortable until the last baby hill at Fort Mason. Julie's strategy worked… people passed us at the start but we mostly passed others in the 2nd half of the race. Our loved ones met us at the finish line. We achieved Julie's goal of finishing healthy.
Let me show off about my bully friend a bit more. By day, Julie is a vice president and research director at JupiterResearch. She is their analyst in charge of wireless and mobility and she has a great blog. In addition, she is a Toyota sponsored endurance athlete as part of their viral marketing campaign to push Toyota hybrids, think renewable energy -- environmental-friendly cars -- endurance athletes. She does all sorts of crazy events, like triathalons, half marathons, soccer, ice hockey, and swimming (I'm getting tired typing them!). When she does her races, she wears her Toyota sportswear to represent the brand and she posts a little story about the race. Her bullying certainly pre-dates the Toyota sponsorship, but as you can tell she's a great representative for them. I'm just lucky to have her as a bully friend.
So, why did I write this story on my work blog? Because it shows another example of how teamwork can be used to help individuals stretch and grow to achieve things that they never thought they could. Julie had a plan and I grew as a result. She pushed me hard enough to take me beyond where I would have gone on my own, but she pushed gently enough to make sure I finished healthy so that I'd do it again. Julie achieved her goal of delivering me back to my loved ones in a healthy state. I achieved her goal of completing my first half marathon with a healthy finish. At the end of the race, she gave me permission to run faster next time (actually, she said she would give me a longer leash).
Are you lucky enough to have a bully friend?
Are you a bully friend to someone else?
Have you used the bully method to help someone grow at work? (I also call it the tough love method.)
Please feel free to leave a URL with your comments.
Well, I think trail running with a group is really fun, but I have to admit that pounding my way up a hill by myself is not nearly as fun. So there I was, running up the hill, step by step, slowly making my way to the top. I was hoping to bump into them, but it was quiet and they were nowhere to be seen. I continued uphill for a few more miles and still didn't see them. I took my best guess and went along a route where I thought we might intersect, but I made my way around and I was still alone. I got to a point where I realized we should have passed by now. So, I finally gave up and accepted that I missed them. Oh well!
Since I was at the top of the hill, I decided to make the most of it and run over to another vista point so that I could at least get a great view of the bay. I turned up the trail and pounded along step by step. All of a sudden there were a few runners coming towards me on the trail. We started to gasp hello at each other (as trail runners do when they pass each other) and... SURPRISE... it was them! I was surprised! They were surprised! It was such a spontaneous surprise that we had big smiles and high-fived each other. What a treat! After our happy reunion, we ran the second half of our trail run together and made our way back. (Actually, we had a nice little adventure on our way back, but that would qualify for a personal post).
Well, as you can guess, I'm writing this in my work blog because it got me thinking about analogies to work. Can you think of situations where you are heads down into your work, pounding away on something for hours, days, or weeks. You're working hard, engrossed in a problem or project, just working away. You get so immersed and focused that you start to lose track of what's going on around you. You might even be stuck in a rut and not realize it. Think about the impact of a nice little surprise! Maybe someone brings you a cookie. Maybe someone takes you out for a cup of coffee. Maybe someone simply takes a minute to stop by and and ask how you're doing. Maybe someone finds an excuse to have a little celebration for you. All of a sudden you have a little surprise that pulls you out of a rut and brings a smile to your face. Then, you can get back to what you were doing with a renewed energy and perspective. Wow- the impact of a little surprise!
In my little story, the surprise was serendipitous. But, a little surprise can be just as impactful when someone plans it, especially when it has a personal touch.
I've been the lucky receiver of a few little surprises from friends and colleagues in the last couple weeks. Thank you! I've been the giver of a couple little surprises, too.
Have you had an experience where you had a little surprise- serendipitous or planned- that pulled you out of a rut?
Have you ever given someone a little surprise to help pull them out of a rut?
Here's a little homework assignment for this week: Find someone who might be stuck in a rut, and give them a nice little surprise! Then, come back and tell me about it.
Feel free to leave a URL with your comments.