On 17 April 2021, ASEAN Business Youth Association (ABYA) and Yale-NUS’ Southeast East Asian Society (SEAS) had hosted an esteemed panel of speakers at *SCAPE HubQuarters to share their experiences and insights on pursuing a career in a cross-cultural environment (Safe distancing measures were observed). The session featured the speakers, Mr Brian Liu (Senior Vice-President, People, Lazada Group), Ms Joelle Pang (General Manager, FastJobs Malaysia), and Mr Rahul Daswani (Head of People and Culture of Open Government Products, GovTech Singapore) with Mr Edmund Twohill (Vice-President (Regional Product Delivery), DBS Bank) moderating the panel.
Written by: Chime Ngawang and Ng Yan Ting
Edited by: Isabelle Goh
This event was proudly supported by *SCAPE, a non-profit organization that supports youth, talent and leadership development, as well as Singapore Global Network, an organization that seeks to build meaningful and lasting relationships with family and friends across the globe, with Singapore at the centre.
The past year has, if nothing else, redefined how we work and where we can work. In the throes of the great remote working revolution, such arrangements might be here to stay. With the acceleration of remote working due to the global pandemic, however, it is also ironic that the closing of international flight borders may open up a larger market for borderless careers. The requirement for physical proximity is no longer a factor to some.
What does this mean for the future of work in Southeast Asia? How can youths prepare for and thrive in cross-cultural borderless teams? The panel engaged the audience in a candid sharing of personal experiences, whilst examining the opportunities and challenges with expanding one’s career in an increasingly cross-cultural environment.
Practising Cultural Sensitivities
At present, Edmund works with several teams in India in his portfolio, with the Regional Product Delivery team in DBS. From his experience, he realized the importance of understanding the different working arrangements of a multinational team. One key realization from managing a team operating in different countries, is that meetings should always be planned with the time zone difference in mind. Additionally, it is important to be mindful of the various holidays that countries have, which makes planning ahead important, for deadlines to be met.
Joelle had shared that when she had made the transition from her corporate job to a start-up, it was her involvement in the ASEAN markets was the most exciting period for her. She now manages FastJobs’s operations in Malaysia, as the local General Manager. With the different cultural norms that she has experienced, she realized that these real-life encounters go beyond what someone would know about in work and interpersonal matters, without experiencing it for themselves.
Similarly, Rahul had shared his experiences from the time that he was working in Jakarta, Indonesia, as a consultant with McKinsey & Company. During his time there, he realized the importance of resisting the temptation of staying in one’s ‘social bubble’ with his fellow other expatriates. He encourages youths to likewise make the effort to engage the locals there, such as through learning their language, Bahasa Indonesia, to truly connect with and understand the cultures there.
Pursuing Opportunities in Different Forms
As Edmund looked back on his career, he felt that working in another country was an option that he regretted not exploring. Despite now understanding the cross-cultural knowledge that such an experience would have provided, age and the “liabilities” that have come with it has made it a difficult endeavour to pursue in the later years of one’s career. Rahul echoed this point, emphasizing the importance of constant self-reflection on one’s values – so that one may pursue the opportunities that most aligns with his or her vision without regret. For him, such a mindset took him from unconventional roles in developing countries like Papua New Guinea and Ethiopia at a stage when he prioritized the maximization of impact, to later returning home to the public sector, given the shift in focus – to his family. Given this, it was a clear decision for him to shift back home, Singapore, to join the public sector – where he could still deliver impact and make time for his family.
For Brian, it has always been clear to him that his interest lies in navigating cross-cultural environments. Thus, even if he were offered a high position and well-paying Singapore-only role versus a regional role, he would still choose the latter. Brian has recommended a book called “The Culture Map” by Erin Meyer, which he uses for foundational coaching and training, and managing cross-cultural teams.
Leading By Example
On the topic of gaining trust in a multicultural team, Rahul shared the importance for individuals to set their own boundaries. For instance, teams can have the discussion on how they would best work with each other. Having such reviews with managers on expectations, such as their tolerance for flexibility, is something very important for Rahul. With such autonomy, demonstrating competency in meeting these expectations set, would also build up trust. In essence, “the more you can manage yourself, the less your boss has to manage you”.
For Joelle, trust within her team can be understood and developed through the framework of ‘Why, What and How’. As the leader in her team, it is her responsibility to align her team with the vision of the company (the WHY), as well as defining the business goals, expectations and the values (the WHAT) within the team. Additionally, she also employs an open-door policy for feedback, such that it would be a collective effort in discussing how the team can get there together (the HOW). Moreover, trustworthy relationships are also built through an understanding of one’s team members on a more personal level. This was especially the case in countries such as the Philippines, where she had found it to be a cultural norm that colleagues will have 4-hour dinners to bond together over food.
Building Trust as a Fundamental Concept
Reiterating that trust is the basis for relationships, Brian had noted that trust also manifests differently in different places. In countries such as Canada and Australia, task-based trust is more prevalent, while countries in Asia lean more towards relationship-based trust. For relationship-based trust, one needs to spend more time to get to know people and exchanging personal stories. By setting the tone and openness in sharing with one’s team, he or she would thus be able to encourage reciprocation of such openness from others. For further learning, Brian has recommended another book, “Speed of Trust”, by Stephen M. R. Covey.
Another way of building trust is in strengthening one’s tacit knowledge and practising of cultural values and behaviours. When presented the opportunity to either join Lazada or Facebook, Brian had instead pursued his interest in working with a culture unfamiliar to him. This was given that his choice to join Lazada would make it the first Chinese company he would be working with. Through this experience, he is thus able to advise that in Chinese cultures, ‘face’ is important. In such scenarios, one should not overtly challenge others during public meetings, but speak in private to share about your different views.
To end the session, the participants were welcomed to enter breakout sessions with the panellists, to engage in a more intimate dialogue on personal curiosities and career aspirations.
Overall, ABYA is humbled to hear both from the speakers and youths, on the perceived and actual challenges, along with the differing aspirations in pursuing career development with a cross-cultural element.
This session had been ABYA’s first physical event since the start of the global pandemic, with safety measures regulating against physical gatherings for over a year. ABYA is thus very appreciative for all the support received thus far, from its partner organizations and youth participants.
*SCAPE Co. Ltd is a non-profit organization with its mission and vision rooted in support of youth, talent and leadership development. *SCAPE aims to facilitate youth-oriented programmes in the areas of Creative Arts, Media and Entertainment as well as Entrepreneurship and Careers to inspire and empower the youths to DREAM IT AND LIVE IT at *SCAPE.
If you are keen to know more about *SCAPE and the programmes curated for youth, visit scape.sg