Invest in Vietnam, how and why?

Despite the attractive potential Vietnam carries, people need to take into consideration the cultural differences between their own and the Vietnamese that can impact their ability to succeed to invest in Vietnam. We talk to Vanessa Doan, a business culture consultant at OML Consulting, about the reasons why people should consider investing in Vietnam and certain cultural and business etiquette that people should be equipped with when doing business in Vietnam.

Could you share a little bit about who you are and what you do here at OML Consulting?

Vanessa: My name is Vanessa Doan and I’m a business culture consultant at OML Consulting, covering the Vietnamese market. My job leans more towards the business development side. Part of my role includes outsourcing for contacts, helping Vietnamese companies in Vietnam to get funding from the Singapore government, mergers and acquisition, and helping to export PPE products from Vietnam to international markets. I am also teaching Vietnamese in corporate settings to help my clients with business opportunities and to better understand the culture.

Why do you think companies should invest in Vietnam instead of other countries in the region?

Vanessa: The Vietnamese economy is rapidly growing, especially right now due to the good management of the COVID-19 pandemic there. As the COVID-19 situation in Vietnam is well under control, it presents an opportunity for other countries to look into Vietnam. Vietnam also has a relatively low labour cost and provides attractive tax incentives, so these factors encourage foreigners to invest in Vietnam. Moreover, Vietnam has a young population that is also hardworking and intelligent, making it an attractive place to do business and invest in.

What is one mistake that people make when investing in Vietnam? How can they alleviate the consequences of that?

Vanessa: Coming from my perspective as a culture consultant, I find that people don’t understand the Vietnamese culture well. This is because the Vietnamese culture is different from the cultures of other countries; it’s more focused on relationship building. 

You must know the culture well, and know a little bit of Vietnamese so that you will be included. There are a lot of cultural etiquette expectations, especially in business settings, that foreign investors need to pay close attention to when intending on doing business in Vietnam.

What are some resources that you would recommend to help people understand the culture a bit better?

Vanessa: There is a website called Vietnam Insider that shares news about Vietnam and gives people an insider view of the country. People can also look into a few law firms that specialise in investments. They usually have great resources for foreign investors. Moreover, some of these law companies will offer some basic Vietnamese language, culture, and social etiquette lessons to help investors be more prepared.


Could you share some common business etiquette that people should take note of when doing business in Vietnam?

Vanessa: The Northern Vietnamese lean more towards the white-collar culture, meaning that they are more formal. So when you go to a business meeting in the North of Vietnam, especially during the winter months, it will be better for you to wear a white shirt, together with a tie, and coat. For the Southern Vietnamese, it is more relaxed but still advisable for you to wear a long-sleeved shirt. 

When you present your name card, you should hold it with both hands and give it to the most senior person in the meeting room first. When your Vietnamese counterpart gives you their business card, you should take the time to read through their business card first rather than tucking it into your pocket immediately. While having a business conversation, you should stay engaged by listening actively, nodding your head and smiling. Moreover, you should be humble as showing humility is very important when doing business in Vietnam.

Do you have any last words to share?

Vanessa: I would like to end off by saying that Vietnam’s economy has grown tremendously so it is time for you to invest in Vietnam before it gets too late. I have been observing that more and more people are interested in doing business in Vietnam. When I teach Vietnamese, I do see a strong interest in the language. This is the case for people seeking employment as well as Vietnam is striving to be another Silicon Valley in South East Asia. That is why many engineers are picking up Vietnamese so that they can stand a higher chance to work in Vietnam as an IT engineer. 

Some people are also picking the language up to help run a business in Vietnam. For some entrepreneurs based in Singapore, they are able to take advantage of the government’s grant for business expansion. Therefore, many companies in Singapore are looking to expand their business in Vietnam, because of its close proximity to Singapore in terms of geographical location and culture.

About Vanessa

Vanessa Doan is a partner at OML Consulting and cross culture business consultant, providing assistance to form connections among businesses in Singapore, Vietnam, and Europe.  As a native Vietnamese, she assisted Kiên Giang and Phú Yên province with access to Singapore government bodies and other associations in Singapore related to seafood export and tourism development.

How Organisations can Benefit from Emotional Intelligence Solutions

How Emotional Intelligence solutions can improve your employees’ productivity levels.

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The rules for work are clearly changing as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to create numerous challenges on both professional and personal levels. To navigate the future of work, organisational leaders must focus on their most valuable asset: their people. But how can managers keep up with the constant change around them and continue to add value to their business, teams, and own role? One such way is through leveraging the benefits of Emotional Intelligence.

A research study by the Adecco group (2020) among 8,000 leaders and workers from eight countries found the need for managers to focus more on employee wellbeing through a leadership style of empathy and support. 

Emotional Intelligence is about making intelligent responses to negative feelings and using specific skills to generate positive emotions in yourself and others through being present, empathetic, genuine, resilient and empowering in our behaviour as often as possible. This means that it does not only come down to how smart we are or how much expertise we have, but also to how well we handle ourselves and others.  

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Organisations can benefit from Emotional Intelligence solutions in many ways. Ask yourself whether you are focusing on at least one of the following objectives:

• Increasing employee engagement?

• Improving teamwork, productivity or profitability?

• Managing multi-generational workforces more effectively?

• Increasing sales performance?

• Improving customer service?

• Enhancing job satisfaction?

• Creating a positive environment for a major change programme?

However, as important as these soft skills have become, 54% of managers indicated that they need support in navigating these new expectations. Therefore, a valuable resource to learn more about Emotional Intelligence at work is the book ‘Emotional Intelligence in the Workplace’ by Mark Craemer. It includes actionable ways to communicate effectively across teams, influence others, resolve conflict and manage our own mood and emotions, time and behaviour. In return, these practical strategies will help to build and maintain strong professional relationships, and create new (career) opportunities. 

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To help leverage on the benefits of Emotional Intelligence on your business and employees, generation of Genos development reports is recommended. Genos International is, for the 4th year in a row, among the Training Industry’s top 20 assessment and evaluation companies in 2020. Therefore, as a certified Genos practitioner, I help teams and individuals improve their impact, resilience and leadership. This can be done through Genos development reports, including self-assessment, 180° assessment and/or 360° assessment.

The Genos assessment is not an ability assessment that measures the probability that someone will turn up in an emotionally intelligent way. It actually measures how emotionally intelligent this person behaves on a day-to-day basis around the people they work with. 

In addition, there are also three game-changing Genos enhancement programs on offer. These solutions are designed to help participants develop key skills in the areas of Emotional Intelligence, engagement and resilience. Each program can be run in a one-on-one coaching session or with a group to develop core Emotional Intelligence skills. 

About the Author:

Miriam van der Horst is a partner of OML consulting with 15 years’ experience across Asia Pacific, primarily focusing on leadership development and cross-cultural learning. She helps her clients, ranging from first-time managers to business executives of multinational companies and government departments, get better at dealing with change and being flexible enough to adapt with knowledge and sensitivity. Having lived and worked in the Netherlands, Switzerland, the UK, Vietnam, Australia, China, Singapore, and now Hong Kong, Miriam works comfortably, respectfully and effectively with people at different organisational levels and from diverse backgrounds.

Why Training and Development are Essential for Employees

Could you share a little bit about who you are and what you do here at OML Consulting?

Oky: After receiving my Bachelor’s in Hospitality Management, I started working in the Front Office. During this time, I came to realize that along with my passion for serving others, I also thoroughly enjoyed designing and delivering training to my colleagues. I then had the opportunity to become a lecturer and instructor at a vocational hospitality school, crafting my instructional design, teaching, and training skills. Plus, working primarily with young people aged 16–25 improved my patience and audience reading skills. After moving back to Indonesia, I was able to use my experience in hospitality, training, and education to lead a team of trainers for Indonesia’s largest hospitality and lifestyle brands. My passion for guiding people in their development has recently led me to obtain my Associate Certified Coach credential from the International Coaching Federation. I firmly believe that coaching is an essential tool for development and globally, more people are reaping the benefits from it. At OML, my primary focus are projects which involve training, coaching, and learning and development.

Why are training and development so important for employees and their employers?

Oky: We can look at a couple of statistics which can support this fact. According to the survey by ClearCompany in 2019, 68% of employees say that training and development is the most important policy a company has. This shows that employees are keen to know that their employer is willing to invest in their development.

Another research by The Learning Wave shows that 74% of employees believe that they are not reaching their full potential. That’s overwhelming and such an untapped amount of potential! Can you imagine ¾ of your employees feeling like they are unable to get the best out of themselves? That surely affects their performance.

Another statistic shows that 85% of employees feel that they are disengaged at work. They are unable to deliver their best work, and a lack of training and support is part of this.

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Another one by go2HR, 40% of employees with poor training will leave the company in the first year. That’s staggering. That’s almost half of your first years’. What does that mean? Not only are you losing talent that you have already invested in, but you have to spend even more resources recruiting new employees. People often think that training only costs them money. However, training and development are imperative because you need to continuously develop your employees so that they can help you grow your business. As the statistics show, it also makes your employees more engaged and loyal. All in all, people generally enjoy becoming better versions of themself, even more so when it allows them to progress in their career.

What do you think are some important skills that everyone should acquire if they have the resources to do so? Why?

Oky: This is a very good question, especially now in this time where most of the world has been working remotely. I think that if you have the resources, you should develop the following skills:

I think the first one is learnability. The world is changing at an even faster pace, so you need the skills and mindset to want to continuously learn. Meanwhile, you also need to unlearn and accept that certain thoughts and competencies you have are no longer useful and need to be let go.

Resilience is a skill that, especially this year, has shown to be of tremendous value. Many people have learned a lot about themselves and may have gone through periods of stress and concern, having to adapt to working from home. Some people may have thought that working from home at the beginning is what they have always wanted, and then they are suddenly faced with day-to-day challenges, like running a household with kids who are now also at home learning and needing your attention. To be able to bounce back, remain positive, and tell yourself that as long as you try your best, there is hope. Resilience is definitely important.

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One more quality that I think it’s imperative and a lot of us overlook is self-care. To have awareness and a clear vision of who you are and what you need to give yourself in order to give others the best. There’s a saying that you “cannot pour from an empty cup”. I hear about it all the time, also from my clients, that people now are overwhelmed with what’s happening in the world and they are trying to adjust, but there’s a feeling of uncertainty and anxiety. You have to stay positive and look forward to the future. Having a clear self-care plan which includes simple and achievable daily self-care practices is the foundation. It is more than getting enough sleep, eating regular meals, and exercising. It involves looking at your mental, physical, social, and spiritual needs. If this is unknown territory for you, a coach can guide you in this journey.

Another definite skill to have is collaboration. Most work involves working with others and that synergy is still important. Especially now with remote working, where you do not have the daily face to face interaction, the collaboration will be of an even higher need.

Another skill would be creativity, which is also related to technology. Certain skills such as being able to build a website, having some understanding of social media, and writing a fitting text that supports exposure are important. Of course, there are specialists out there that can do that, but having the understanding to do that would also help.

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One skill that will always remain, I believe, is empathy. Being able to understand what others are going through and putting yourself in their position, that is a skill that will definitely stay. Problem-solving as well. Being able to look at things critically that you would want to approach and try to solve it yourself first. In a remote environment, that might also be stimulated because you are kind of on your own first. Of course, teams can get together and try to solve it after someone has taken a look at the problem, but that is still an important skill to cultivate.

Another skill is leadership and people management, although that is especially applicable to those who have the ambition to lead and manage a team of people. Last but not least, negotiation skills. Even though people believe this is a skill for someone who works in sales, negotiating is something that we all do on a daily basis. Some examples include discussing a timeline with your team, a training need you to have with your manager, or negotiating a fee or salary.

What is the most interesting project that you’ve ever worked on?

Oky: That would have to be one which was a tailor-made training and then delivered company-wide. I would like to point out the Brand Values training that I was fortunate to work on with an international Spanish hotel chain across five of their properties in Southeast Asia. Besides enjoying their excellent hospitality in beautiful locations, what made this experience unique was that the training groups were a blend of all positions from the general manager, the director, the supervisor, the housekeeper, to the receptionist.

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Being able to work with people from different positions and seeing how they were committed to wanting to learn and collaborate was amazing and gave a great sense of fulfilment.

About the Author:

Oky Ceelen is a founding partner of OML Consulting. He has a Bachelor’s in Hospitality Management from Hotelschool The Hague, is an experienced trainer and certified Transformative Coach with hospitality and vocational education background. His passion is to guide individuals and teams in their learning and development.

Entering a New Market: Its Challenges and How to Alleviate Them

Could you share a little bit about who you are and what you do here at OML Consulting?

Paul: I’m a management consultant with 15 years’ experience in management consulting. My time in consulting includes a stint with the Boston Consulting Group in Australia, and with A.T. Kearney in Australia and South East Asia.

For the last seven years or so, I’ve been working with Liang Tan, the CEO of OML Consulting, on various projects prior to OML Consulting’s launch, and now with OML Consulting. I am primarily involved in strategy which includes business strategy for corporate clients, as well as mergers and acquisitions (M&A) projects for private equity and corporate clients. I also assist OML Consulting in a range of ways, including proposals, internal strategy and policy, and providing input for decisions on key topics.

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I got my start in management consulting in Australia in 1994. Between then and now, I went to the Melbourne Business School, worked with Boston Consulting Group and A.T. Kearney, spent some time working in the entertainment industry, moved to Singapore about 10 years ago, and after about a year and a half there, moved to Thailand. I’ve been here for quite a while now and represent OML Consulting in Thailand. However, I contribute to projects outside of Thailand as well.

What are the two most interesting projects that you have worked on?

Paul: That’s quite a hard question because I’ve done a lot of projects and that’s like saying: “What are your two most interesting children?”, or “Which child do you love the most?”, which is quite a difficult question to answer. But I can give you a couple of examples of interesting projects.

One of them was a large project for a university in Australia. That was an organisational transformation and included process reengineering, headcount reduction, and procurement optimisation. We had a fairly large team — I managed a team of about 10 consultants, plus 3 additional team members contributed by the client. It covered a broad range of non-academic departments and their associated headcount in the university. So you’re looking at things like finance, IT, maintenance, procurement, and some other functions.

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Another category of projects I do a lot of work in is strategy projects. One that was very interesting was a strategy project for a satellite company that spans most of Asia and Australia. We did strategy work for them, looking at 11 markets, and doing a deep dive into certain markets to really understand the details for those key markets. That took me to three different countries travelling on that project, and there were also other team members travelling to other countries that were in scope. So that one was a full strategy piece in the sense that we did the market assessment, the competitive analysis, gained an understanding of the company’s capabilities and situation, and then developed the strategy for the company to enter new markets and to grow within the markets they were already in.

That project was actually a fairly long one compared to the relatively short projects that I’ve worked on like the M&A due diligence projects that I’ve led for private equity firms. Those ones are typically tight, intense, three-week projects where you do a lot of the same work that is in a typical strategy project. However, the main focus is to assess the acquisition target and to determine whether there are any red flags or issues that the potential acquirer should know about, which could lead to them calling off the transaction or could change the valuation that they offer to the seller to acquire the company.

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The similarities with major strategy projects are that you look at the market and competitive situation, and you understand the target. The main difference is that you don’t really have to develop a full strategy for entering a new market or growing the business. You might think of high-level ideas or initiatives that might be implemented post-acquisition, but primarily, you’re looking at understanding the target or asset to help recommend whether the potential acquirer should continue with its acquisition process.

What is one mistake that organisations make when trying to enter a new market? How can they alleviate the consequences of that?

Paul: I think a lot of organisations don’t really want to budget adequate market assessment, market analysis, and competitive landscape research before they go into the market. It appears that many companies want to hit the ground running and start selling. What happens is that they may actually spend a lot of money to put resources on the ground, hire people, maybe put an office there, because they are excited about the market. But they haven’t really analysed it in-depth to fully see what they can and should do, whether it’s an attractive market to enter in the first place, or how it compares to other markets they can spend their money on.

So if you look at investments, a company always has a broad range of potential investments that they could consider. Some of them can be new market entry, but some of them can be other things that compete for that investment money like new product development, marketing, investing more within its existing markets such as potentially acquiring a company within existing markets, or moving into adjacent segments or industries. These are just some examples of where investment dollars can be utilised that would compete with putting the money into entering new markets. It’s difficult to analyse the universe of potential options but I think it’s prudent for a company to look at those options and weigh up new market entry versus other potential investments they could make.

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You might narrow it down and say: “We have a separate budget for market entry, and a separate budget for product and R&D. We won’t have a mixed investment pool which will have R&D projects competing with new market projects”.

But even if you were to split it off, there are multiple initiatives within the revenue growth category that could be considered, like growing in your existing markets, inorganic growth via acquiring targets, or organic growth into new markets.

If you’re looking at new markets, then you should weigh up which markets you should be investing in and how much in each one. Broadly speaking, you should at least consider a detailed analysis of the market you have a primary interest in, to determine if it is a market that you should enter, and how it compares with other options.

It may sound a little self-serving from a consulting firm’s point of view to say that corporations should hire consultants to help them do this. We’re not saying they must do this in every case. Certainly, some corporations have plenty of internal resources that can be applied to the problem of analysing and selecting the most attractive markets to enter. But if they are stretched for resources, then consulting firms are one option they can look at to assist them with analysing those markets.

Some of the other advantages of consulting firms can be that perhaps they have greater local knowledge. They may have people based on the ground in those countries, whereas the potential client doesn’t — or the consulting firm may have good access to local information that can shore up data gaps.

Could you share some advice to companies looking at entering a new market?

Paul: We would be pleased to have complimentary free discussions with interested parties.We can assist with thinking about investment options, comparing the target market you’re looking at entering to other potential markets that you can enter, and how to allocate adequate internal or external resources to the issue.

About the Author:

Paul Tan has 20 years of professional experience, including over 15 in management consulting. He has previously led numerous engagements for private equity and fund management clients, providing leadership for due diligence and transaction advisory engagements, on both the buy- and sell-side of acquisitions. He has also led a wide range of market entry and growth strategy engagements, market assessments, and organizational transformation projects for major corporates and government-owned entities.

Paul’s experience spans most of Asia and Australia, working with multicultural and cross-functional teams. He has delivered substantial impact for his clients, interacting with senior leadership and key stakeholders, developing valuable knowledge and capabilities over the past two decades of his consulting career.

How to Leverage on Cultural Intelligence in the Workplace

Could you share a little bit about who you are and what you do here at OML Consulting?

Miriam: My name is Miriam van der Horst, a partner of OML Consulting, based in Hong Kong.

I am a global learning expert with 15 years of experience across Asia Pacific, primarily focused on leadership development, with a strong emphasis on Emotional Intelligence and Cultural Intelligence. In the OML spirit of ‘never stop learning’, I prepare clients for the future of work — how can they keep up with the constant change around them and continue to add value to their business, their teams, and their own role?

What is Cultural Intelligence and why is it important?

Miriam: To really understand the power of cultural intelligence you have to ask yourself the question; how does culture impact the way we see ourselves and the world around us? We are strongly influenced by our own cultural groups that are made up of individuals with similar understandings and behaviours. These groups shape our expectations on how to interact with each other, how to manage work together, and how to think about problems and come up with solutions.

Surely it will come as no surprise that, these days, most companies operate in a truly global environment where team members have daily interactions with individuals from other cultures, with values, norms, practices and expectations different to their own. This reinforces the need to think and function with a global mindset, and feel comfortable doing so.

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It is impossible for us to be an expert on every single culture represented by individuals with whom we interact. However, a step in the right direction is to first become aware of cross-cultural differences in working methods and behaviour, and then be able to overcome these differences by knowing how and when to adapt.

Individuals who possess a high level of cultural intelligence are very good at getting along with people from other cultures and build positive interpersonal connections. Their collaborative mindset encourages qualities such as tolerance, trust, respect and teamwork.

In any industry, the combination of all of these helps an organisation gain a competitive edge through increased productivity, innovation, inclusion, talent retention and team member happiness.

How can companies better leverage on Cultural Intelligence in the workplace?

Miriam: Apart from formal cultural intelligence training and coaching sessions, there are other practical ways to support team members in building their cross-cultural competence. One way is to facilitate regular discussions to allow employees to share their experiences that may have shaped their values, beliefs and ideas. Culturally intelligent leaders should also maintain clear standards of accountability around inter-cultural behaviour to ensure team members are involved and move in the same direction.

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What is a resource that you would recommend for an individual seeking to know more about Cultural Intelligence?

Miriam: A valuable resource to learn more about how to navigate cultural differences and get things done across cultures is the book “The Culture Map” by Erin Meyer. It provides a model for decoding how cultural differences impact international business, backed-up with engaging, real-life stories around global teamwork and international collaboration.

About the Author:

Miriam van der Horst is a partner of OML consulting with 15 years’ experience across Asia Pacific, primarily focusing on leadership development and cross-cultural learning. She helps her clients, ranging from first-time managers to business executives of multinational companies and government departments, get better at dealing with change and being flexible enough to adapt with knowledge and sensitivity. Having lived and worked in the Netherlands, Switzerland, the UK, Vietnam, Australia, China, Singapore, and now Hong Kong, Miriam works comfortably, respectfully and effectively with people at different organisational levels and from diverse backgrounds.

How have the Hospitality and Meeting Industries Changed due to COVID-19 and what lies ahead?

Could you share a little bit about who you are and what you do here at OML Consulting?

Nigel: My name is Nigel Brown and I’m now based in Singapore for almost ten years. My background is in hospitality and business events. I started off my career as a chef in fine-dining kitchens and then moved on to hospitality management and business events. I started off in Singapore at the Singapore EXPO, working on trade and consumer exhibitions conferences. I then moved on to consultancy, working for an Australian firm who are specialising in destination marketing, so advising convention bureaus and convention centres. Five years ago, I set up my own business here in Singapore and through that, started also as a founding partner at OML Consulting.

How have the meetings and hospitality industries changed due to the COVID-19 pandemic?

Nigel: I think the industry has changed in many aspects. The meetings and hospitality industry, I would say, are one of the hardest-hit sectors. Obviously, with travel restrictions and with restrictions on groups of people coming together, there’s been a huge impact on both the hospitality and business events industry. In terms of the hospitality sector, there’s been lots of change in terms of hygiene standards, making sure that properties are safe, staff members are safe, and guests are safe. Obviously, they have been hit hard with occupancy rates because nobody is travelling, so they have to come up with new ways to keep things running. Some examples of that in Singapore are that some of the hotels here have been offering rooms or the common areas within the hotel for people to be able to work. People can rent a space in the lobby, for example, or one of their guest rooms for the day. You can see the hotels having to shift their focus to keep the doors open. Another area that you’ll see them focus on is using this opportunity to train their staff members.

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In terms of the meeting industry, with restrictions on crowd sizes and people gathering, organisers have had to go digital. Meeting planners have already been doing that in some shape or form but now it has forced everyone to go digital. For many, it’s been a very steep learning curve, as people are still not very comfortable with technology and its capabilities. It has sort of been a kick start of the digital space in the meetings industry coming into the forefront and forcing everyone to adapt. Another major effect of all these digital meetings has been on destinations. Now that face-to-face meetings are not taking place it has a major impact on the local economy with no hotel beds being filled, no money being spent in local businesses and a missed opportunity for local knowledge transfer. Destinations will have to look at other ways they can still support digital meetings whilst still getting an ROI for their local stakeholders.

Do you think that organisations will continue having virtual events and webinars even post-COVID?

Nigel: A lot of organisations have been forced to look at the digital space to deliver their meetings and I think this has been a tough time for people to learn all these new technologies and learn what platforms are out there in the marketplace. However, once they have shifted to that, I think many have realised that there is merit to keep on producing online events even after things have relatively gone back to normal. I think they are seeing that a number of the events that were traditionally organised face-to-face could be done online. For example, a board meeting for an international trade association where you’ll have various board members flying in from different locations across the world, to have a meeting. Is this really necessary? Can we not do this online? Organisations will be asking themselves those questions and we will be shifting more meetings online so they can focus all their efforts to those meetings that merit a face-to-face component. I do think people are feeling fed up with virtual meetings and are feeling ‘Zoom fatigue’. They can’t wait to get back to face-to-face because digital can’t replace networking during a coffee break at a conference, for example. However, I feel that organisations will be looking to justify going face-to-face or online for every meeting they organise so this is a shift.

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There are certain elements which can be done virtually and would be saving time, money, and effort, on the part of the organisers but also from a sustainability perspective, it is also a good thing because there would be less travel. I think people are jumping to get back into face-to-face meetings but I do think that there’s a space for virtual components in events. So what you’ll see is hybrid events coming to the forefront where you will have a live face-to-face meeting but then you also have an online audience that can’t travel or are not willing to travel, joining the meeting remotely. In that sense, it sort of extends the life of that particular event, but adding a hybrid component does require additional planning and technology solutions to make sure the live and online worlds coexist and intertwine.

One other thing that is an advantage of virtual events is obviously all the data that can be collected. If you have a 5,000-person conference tuning into an online event, you’re going to be generating a huge amount of data that you probably won’t be generating if you were meeting face-to-face. That data can be used to further develop your programme for future events because you can really get into the nitty-gritty of how your delegates are behaving with your sessions, content, speakers. So that’s definitely another big plus.

What is one advice that you would like to share to companies looking at hosting events and webinars online?

Nigel: Be open-minded. I think there are a lot of technophobes out there. Technology is your friend in these times with an abundance of great and easy to use tools, which would allow you to produce professional-looking events and webinars. The pandemic has fast-tracked the development of tools to run virtual meetings and make them more engaging.

Take the time to look at the options out there, consider working with people that are knowledgeable in that area to see what’s going on, and take it with baby steps. It is a learning process but again, it’s all about going back to what you are trying to achieve with your event or webinar, and then looking at where you can use technology to maximise the outcome of that meeting.

About the Author

Nigel Brown is a founding partner of OML Consulting. He has close to 20 years experience in the international business events industry organising events ranging from 10–1,000 delegates on all continents. Most recently, Nigel obtained his certification as a certified virtual meeting planner for the EventsAir OnAir virtual meeting platform.

What Does it Take to Future-Proof Your Business?

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, businesses, more than ever, are seeing the need to future-proof their companies, in order to stay on top of current trends and generate more revenue despite challenging times. However, what exactly is future-proofing and how can your organization implement future-proofing methods for your daily operations? We talk to Michel Mol, a strategic futurist and consultant at OML Consulting, who shares his insights and experiences with us.

To get things started, can you tell us a little bit about yourself and what you do?

Michel: Yes, I’m Michel Mol, and I have started out in financial software, but later moved on to advertising, running an interactive agency. After which, I became a boardroom consultant at McKinsey & Company. Following that, I wanted to do a more hands-on implementation of innovation, so I worked at the national broadcaster here in the Netherlands and was the Director of Innovation there, where I ran the incubator for innovation for 10 years. That is also where I launched, in the early 2000s, the first Video-on-demand service in the Netherlands, which was even before YouTube and Netflix had launched. I had that role until 2010.

Afterwards, I started working on my own as a consultant in various collaboration formats. Currently, I’m doing a lot of work for multinationals, to paint a picture of their near-term future, as well as doing some pro-bono work for various institutions. I also love to teach, so I am teaching students of investigative journalism on their online marketing, branding, and how to produce content.

You call yourself a strategic futurist. What does that actually entail?

Michel: Well you see, there are many people who call themselves futurists, but what they often do, is they have these predictions which seem to come from their gut feeling or a crystal-ball type approach. But what I do is, I approach describing the future more like a researcher and have an academic approach. I don’t have a crystal ball, but I construct images of a company’s future by painting plausible scenarios that will most likely play out when certain preconditions are met.

So it has a lot more to do with distinguishing short-term trends from long-term trends, by analysis, deduction, learning what happens in an industry that may be ahead, and from that, seeing how the new wave will hit another industry shortly. A big part of that is, separating the marketing hype that can be short-lived fads from the long-term impactful trends that will either never go away or that have not arrived yet because there’s a threshold, a barrier for that trend to fully develop. As soon as some technology, economic, or supply issues are solved, then it is logical that the usage of that particular service or trend will be broadly adopted. To that end, I don’t know of course what’s going to happen but build a logical roadmap with specified junctions based on today’s insights and developments.

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To get to the valuable insights on today’s developments, I interview experts that are working on the cutting edge of a specific field. From these interviews, I combine their insights with each other, with extensive desk research done by dedicated business analysts and with developments in other industries. Typically after a project, the experts love to hear back from me because they can learn what all their colleagues in the field who are doing the most advanced research, and have the newest insights. So I aggregate, extrapolate, and draw parallels, so my core skill is lateral thinking, to connect the dots that most people don’t realize are even in the same domain today or tomorrow.

You’ve mentioned this a little bit just now, but what are some kinds of projects that you work on as a strategic futurist?

Michel: So it’s multinational firms across many industries as well as the big 4 consultancies. For instance, I’ve worked for Microsoft, Samsung, Pepsi, Coca-Cola, also banks, telecoms, and industrial manufacturers. The type of work I embark in differs. It can be very strategic, focusing on future direction. So for instance, I was asked the question, “What will banking look like in 2030?”. However, that global bank then said, “You cannot talk to bankers because we all think within our current framework.” So I interviewed cryptocurrency experts, behavioral psychologists, science fiction authors, people who are working on social media currency at the social media networks, to try to paint a picture of how people will be paying, saving, growing their wealth, and managing their funds in the future, based on things that are happening today, and that are likely to become much larger in the future, so that’s very strategic and gave rich insights on which to focus the banking client’s core competencies for the years ahead.

On the other hand, I do very tactical work as well for them. I got the questions, “What will a customer support function look like? What is the best practice today? How can we implement that within our organization? How many people will be contacting us by phone and how many by email? Will we be chatting? Why is there a resurgence of voice response systems asking customers to press one, press two, press three? What will the next generation of that look like?” For that, I studied, for instance, what Amazon considers a best practice in customer support. What are they doing differently? What’s the philosophy behind their way of working?

I compare Amazon as an eCommerce organization with digital operations, to companies like Hilton, where of course, in the tourism and hospitality industry, they are dealing with a lot of face-to-face interaction on top of their online interaction.

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There are also the operational projects where, for instance, one of the big four consultancy firms who often use me as an extension to their own capabilities, ask “What digital metrics are used in the sales and marketing function across five industries?” So we looked at pharmaceuticals, oil and gas, and consumer electronics. We found out how far these B2C and B2B operations adopted metrics to measure how successful their online marketing and sales campaigns are. The results were staggering. To give you one example, B2B, of course, is lagging in the use of digital metrics and digital sales marketing operations. If you call them, they don’t pick up the phone or their colleague will call you back sometime this week to give you a price offer. These are non-commoditized products with non-streamlined processes. So what I do is to help them learn from the best B2C companies that are working in a very efficient and customer-friendly way, and explain how we can implement that in B2B marketing and sales operations.

So, that’s three very different types of projects that I wanted to mention.

Hearing that, what is the most unique project that you’ve worked on?

Michel: Well, two come to mind. One is in the Industrial Internet of Things, called IIoT or Industry 4.0. What this means is that all the machinery in a manufacturing environment will be connected, as in the internet of things, to each other. But also to the crew running around, the maintenance crew with the screwdriver that needs to be directed towards which Boeing aeroplane needs to be repaired. Then the screwdriver would know what pressure to put on the screw, and the system in the backend would register that this part of the plane had been checked.

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There is a lot of automation, a lot of intelligence, and then connecting all of that also in a production environment to your outside systems, such as to the cloud, to do analytics and predictive maintenance. This is important because when the machines in factories are down, the downtime is tremendously costly, so we want to prevent that. We also want to see that this machine needs maintenance in a short while before it breaks down. The interesting thing about this project is that through talking to everybody in the frontline, in these factories, manufacturers, and the consultancies that work on these projects, that this was all a hype. Everyone said, “It’s marketing talk. The software that we’re selling doesn’t work. We don’t understand how to build this ecosystem that we’re promoting.” And that’s from every company in the industry.

Still today, it’s being marketed and the customers are getting into loads of trouble because basically technology and process-wise, we’re not ready yet to fulfil this great ambition, so there was really this big let down. I didn’t know that going in and my client didn’t either, that it was in such a bad state of development, very nascent, totally immature, and not ready yet for the massive deployment that the press releases promised, any time soon.

Another one is where an economic intelligence firm in the US asked to form a team that we had to assemble on the spot. We had to find the best experts to do this. For instance, a macroeconomic expert that we pulled on board. They wanted to create mindmaps at first, and then connected systems related to that, for the oil price, the gold price, the dollar price, and the Euro price. With triggers that were not only related to the demand and supply of, for instance, crude oil and the gold reserves, but also related to psychological effects, geopolitics such as the US-China trade war, and how those all impacted each other. So we had to develop different macroeconomic models of gold, oil, euros, and dollars, which was the mapping of geopolitics in these commodities to assess and predict value creation for investors and governments.

What happens if the US sanctions towards Iran intensify? What happens if the Venezuelan oil supply increases? What happens if OPEC reacts to something in a particular way? What happens if North Korea threatens et cetera. They’re now building a product around that and in those scenarios, there will be a lot of AI-based advisory solutions towards both the traders and private investment clients, so that was very ambitious.

So that’s just two very much out there examples.

Thanks for sharing. Now we’re moving on to talk about future-proofing. Based on your knowledge and experience, how would you define future-proofing?

Michel: Future-proofing is basically the concept of getting your organization, a business unit, or the competencies in an organization, ready for what’s going to happen next. Often, you don’t know explicitly what will occur, but working with plausible scenarios, as in it might go this way, or it might go that way, and it will depend specifically on these breakthroughs occurring.

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For instance, I share with banks that they better look at Amazon because they are a potential financier and lender. These banks often don’t know this. How do we demonstrate that? I show them that Amazon had tons of job openings for people coming from banking, with lending experience, to small and medium-sized businesses. I show them that Amazon is approaching the vendors on their platform saying, “Hey, you are a small company, you’re selling 10,000 pairs of sunglasses a month. You’ve got good customer ratings. You’ve been on our platform for years. You have a track record. Your ratings are great. How about we, as Amazon, finance your next round of manufacturing for you?” This was not widely known because they get approached selectively. Amazon, of course, doesn’t have a banking license, so they say, “This is not a loan. We’re just giving you an advance against your future revenue”.

This, of course, has regulatory implications. But these big tech giants move first and have the legal discussions later. And often, regulatory changes are made by authorities to partially accommodate this type of innovation. What happens there is that you see companies, the traditional banks, needing to adapt in some way to be ready for, you could say, any type of future, but that’s just too broad. However, a certain capability may be required for a certain number of scenarios, like these new entrants coming and financing all eCommerce operations in the geography where this bank is operating.

For the public broadcaster, future-proofing was moving from a TV, a radio, and an internet operation, to an operation that produced audio and video content that was ready for distribution on any platform. What that means is that you don’t only create a TV show that lasts for 40 minutes anymore, but you create the 40-minute version, the podcast, and a longer version of the interview with a duration of three hours published online for the real fans. But you also create the four-minute version of the show for somebody who wants to watch it on YouTube and doesn’t want to spend an hour on your topic.

That translates to new business models because normally, you would pay creative talent for the one-off broadcast. Now, you have to pay them for Video-on-demand as well. Are you going to pay them more? Probably depends on the impact and the viewing numbers of each platform. So the whole system needs to be turned around. In the end, you may still see the same or repurposed TV show, but the company’s business model, processes, distribution, and success metrics have been future-proofed. It’s ready with that base content and the copyrights that they acquired to do multiple things and to move fluently with the trends their audience is embracing.

You’ve mentioned a little bit about this also, but why is future-proofing important for organizations of all different fields and industries?

Michel: It’s basically for them not to be surprised by new entrants into their market or by their competitors opening up. For instance, in the hospitality business, the trend over the past few years has been for hotels to sell off their properties. After Airbnb came to the world, hotels started to realize that Airbnb is, what you call, “asset-light”. They don’t have millions or trillions invested in bricks. They use people’s homes, but they are actually doing the same business and having the same kind of margins as hotels or even better. So the hotels are selling off their real estate and they say, “We are not owners of these buildings. That’s not our core business. Our core business is that we are great revenue managers and specialized in hospitality, we know how to make people feel welcomed, and we know how to accommodate their needs very well.”

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That’s why traditional retailers are looking at how online eCommerce parties such as Alibaba, JD, Tmall, and in India, Flipkart, are doing so well that they can perhaps replicate their success. You can’t beat them, but how can you join them with not too unfavorable conditions? That’s why we’re focusing a lot of work on eCommerce in the channel landscape, for instance, and trying to see how companies from Europe and the US can enter in a smart way. We replicate how the local companies are operating in their alliances with JD and Alibaba, but we also look at what this means for markets across the globe.

So how can organizations kick-start their future-proofing process?

Michel: Well, we used to have, back in the ’90s, strategic units and strategic planners, at McKinsey. We used to make strategic plans for many years ahead about what we are going to do, where we will end up. It was a very deterministic approach. Nowadays, we look a lot more at the likelihood of scenarios. Are there, in the three scenarios that we see for your bank or for your retailer, maybe a couple of common capabilities that you can start to build in any case, which would then be beneficial for your company? If any of these three scenarios materializes in the near future, say two to three years, you’re ready for it.

We used to have these big strategic plans, but what’s much more useful today is to get these snippets of knowledge insights, and that’s what we provide on a daily and weekly basis to clients. They engage with us and they ask us, “Can you give us within three weeks, a view of what our competitors are doing in specific markets, or geographical specific services?”

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We go out there and quickly engage with the best experts that we can find who are doing cutting edge work in that field. We then aggregate, summarize the insights, and bring those back to our clients to give them a head-start on any type of trends, developing, or relevant capacities that they would need to build in the short-term. So we feed into their strategic decision-making, and that also happens on an operational basis.

Could you go a little more in-depth with regards to your last answer? How did you produce that for your client?

Michel: We searched for the best experts through secondary research, so that’s a lot of desk research. I read tremendously quickly and have business analysts assisting me. I’m quite good, I must say, at separating all the marketing talk from what’s actually going on.

For instance, lately, there’s been a lot of talk about solid-state batteries being developed for electronic vehicles, and that may, at some point, also come to consumer electronics, to the laptop, smartphones, what have you. And there’s often speculation. It might be good for our environment, it might be good for the consumers because you’ll only need to charge your phone once a week, et cetera.

However, once I started talking to the engineers that are actually working on this, for electric vehicles, for instance, they expressed the challenges they are facing today, and the timeline they are expecting to resolve that. This gives you a lot more of an accurate picture of where this is going and when and with which dependencies. After aggregating these insights and interviewing people at battery development labs, in the electric car industry, at consumer electronics on battery development, on a global scale, you get a good sense combined with the secondary research of what’s real, what is marketing talk, and what course of action to recommend to your client.

The collection of those insights that we summarize, we present to the end client in a couple of interactive rounds where we adjust hypotheses and questions and preliminary insights. We sometimes go back to the experts to clarify, and also to solve, if possible, any inconsistencies. There will always be inconsistencies because we’re asking for those experts’ assessments and they have different perspectives which we aim to combine into a consistent point of view which can include multiple scenarios.

How do you see businesses and organizations functioning in a post-COVID era, and are there other specific things that we should think more of now?

Michel: During the last couple of projects, which were centred on how companies are setting up their cooperation between team members, we, of course, saw that many companies now work with a lot of distance-working, remotely connected teams, et cetera. What we are seeing is that many companies are experiencing that they have become much more efficient in various areas. Of course, many people do not have to commute to their work, and people are learning to use these online tools very quickly and effectively.

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So what we’re seeing is that many companies are learning that post-COVID, they want to maintain a lot of what they have currently put in place. However, this is not applicable everywhere. For instance, companies with engineers in the US that were doing a lot of research in the connected speaker space said, “Our engineers are used to finishing each other’s sentences. They work on six core projects or maybe 12 hobby projects at the same time. Now that they’re remote, we see that the innovation level is going down.” They explained that the first three months for these engineers were not a problem. They would still feel and know what the others were thinking when they worked together. However, they’re now becoming more isolated. So it really depends on the type of function and how often you can still meet in real life to get that fire going while you’re away from each other. Therefore, a lot of those remote working insights are now, of course, emerging across the globe, and we are at the centre of collecting and assessing those.

Many of the offline retailers, who’ve seen this major negative impact of COVID on their sales, are moving quickly to online eCommerce and these are the type of domains where we help them. We have all these global insights on Alibaba, TMall, JD, Amazon, Flipkart, and help them optimize their strategy and operations in this space, so the clients don’t need to learn by doing, and can rather tap into all that existing knowledge.

That’s interesting to hear. Have future-proofing strategies changed since the COVID-19 pandemic and how have they changed?

Michel: You need to more than ever be critical of what people’s views and opinions are based on fixed beliefs, actual underlying trend data, to weed out the core market dynamics from opinions, which everyone has and are becoming vocalized more and more, often with limited substantiation.

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Future-proofing in the near term may very well become different in the sense that we may, post-COVID specifically, not be able to rely much on cases that we see from the pre-COVID era. So an even more rigorous fundamental analysis needs to be put into place. For instance, I saw predictions last week from a renowned futurist with lots of sensible outcomes, who stated that many countries that now see a decrease in tourism and should look at long-term plans to find new revenue streams post-COVID. But in the meantime, I’m seeing that the planes are being loaded up fully, even disregarding potential health risks, and that economic concerns are stronger in the current political dynamics than health concerns. This determines the long term picture.

So I have strong doubts about that futurist’s predictions about the tourism sector needing to be replaced. Based on both current trends and actual actions of governments and companies, I see that tourism will be at regular levels within a few years, post-COVID and of course, all other things being equal: it is really important to make clear, what are your assumptions? What are the trends that are long-term and short-term, and what are the different scenarios that can play out? I think companies can rely less on what’s been working in the past because this is such a totally different dynamic.

Okay, the final question, what advice do you have for businesses and organizations who are currently trying to ride out the storm? Because we’ve seen huge companies they’re actually going bankrupt or are closing down many, many stores. So what can the other companies do better?

Michel: Well, I think they can get competitive insights and knowledge much quicker and in a less expensive way than in the past. When the world engages big consultancy firms for strategy projects, the processes are too slow and they’re too costly. The process is also flawed in the sense that it’s like this big production. Like I teach my journalism students now, don’t make this 90-minute documentary, but start putting out their pieces of content right away. You get feedback from your potential audience. Corporations that do smaller strategy efforts with us, for instance, are getting quick intelligence from their customers, from the markets, from other industries are so much better informed at very low cost, so that immediately saves them money. In a couple of months, rather than investing millions in a strategy that should pay off in years, there are more introductory short-term focuses and bite-sized nuggets of intelligence, which is something that I would recommend.

That’s all the questions we have. Is there something we haven’t touched upon that you would like to add?

Michel: As I’ve worked for all these multinationals for the tens of years, I was starting to be worried about how this output is actually being used, from AI to facial recognition to bionics and models around economics and geopolitics. Friends said to me, “Well, can’t you just stimulate societal change from the inside, from inside of big corporates.” And I thought, “No, that’s so naïve.” But then I tried it anyway, starting a few years ago and with great results.

For instance, with experts in the connected city space, who told me how projects in cities across the globe are being set up, where energy feeds back into the community and the community actually decides how to put that excess energy to use. They funded schools and cultural institutions. When I highlighted this in my output towards the client, they were really interested in deploying this model. So, that’s one example.

Another example is that recently in the learning and development space, we learned that some companies are focusing on not only educating their own staff but also on educating, for instance, the unemployed and getting them to be digitally literate. It’s not only because they need this Corporate Social Responsibility thing in their yearly reports, but they’re actually living a new culture of being more connected with society at a broader level.

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What I love is that, lately, I’ve been able to add more of these components that normally I’d just do in my pro bono work. I’ve been able to connect that with working for a big industry. And it works, because what we’re seeing is that there are actually business cases being developed around being socially impactful and responsible.

About the Author:

Michel Mol is a consultant and strategic futurist who paints reliable pictures of near-term futures for organizations and advises these enterprises on preparing for these future scenarios. He previously worked as the Director of Innovation at the Netherlands Public Broadcasting where he ran their incubator for innovation for a decade, worked at McKinsey and Company as a boardroom consultant and at Grey Advertising in online communications. Fuelled by his passion for teaching, Michel is also teaching investigative journalists online marketing, branding, and business modelling.

Leading Through Cultural Differences in Remote Teams

  •  Understanding the dimensions of culture and its impact on work
  • Developing a global mindset
  • Leading remote teams effectively across cultures

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed work life as we used to know it. A recent survey by IBM found that prior to the COVID-19 lockdown, only 10% of individuals indicated they were working from home. By July 2020, this had quadrupled to nearly 45%.

The IBM survey further found that of those currently working remotely, 80% indicate they would like to continue to work away from the office at least occasionally, while 58% would like this to be their primary way of working.

What does this mean for international business leaders?

Many organisations around the world plan to make working from home the ‘New Normal’.

However, a more remote workforce challenges the way we successfully lead, particularly so as different perceptions can enlarge the intercultural differences amongst team members. In fact, GLOBE, a study across 62 countries on ‘Global Leadership and Organizational Behaviour Effectiveness’ (2004), discovered that national cultures have an impact on how people within that culture consider leadership styles to be acceptable and effective.

It is impossible for leaders to be experts on every culture represented by individuals on their teams. However, it is important to become aware of cross-cultural differences and be able to bridge these distances efficiently and effectively. This starts with an understanding of the impact of national culture on the way we see ourselves and the world around us.

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First things first: in simple terms, national culture is the set of norms, beliefs, behaviours, values, attitudes, customs shared by a certain population. The national culture of a country is highly dominant and shapes organisational cultures in the form of expectations on how to interact with each other, how to manage work together, and how to think about problems and present solutions.

There are a number of frequently cited theoretical frameworks of cultural competency, all with their own strengths and limitations. To start making sense of how we can manage the impact of the COVID-19 crisis on the way we work and lead across cultures, we will focus in this article on Geert Hofstede’s original model in which national cultures are analysed according to four Cultural Dimensions.

Before exploring these cultural dimensions, it is necessary to be aware that although Hofstede’s framework helps us to assess a given culture and thus better guide our decision-making, we cannot predict individual behaviours. Another point to consider refers to the context when assessing a culture’s effectiveness. No cultural dimension is better than another; they are simply different. Each one has its own pros and cons in different circumstances.

Hofstede’s original framework includes the following four Dimensions of Culture:

Power Distance

In cultures with relatively flat hierarchies, we typically see democratic power relations where people are viewed as equals. Western cultures tend to be low in their power distance belief. The ‘New Normal’ gives team members more control over their own work schedules, emphasising their preferences for independence and trying something new.

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As leaders, it is imperative to consult with your remote team members about decisions related to their own job scopes and ensuring that they can continue to work independently without much supervision. Being open, friendly, and approachable, are valuable leadership qualities to support the remote work transition.

Low Power Distance example countries: Austria, Denmark, New Zealand.

In contrast, Asian countries are considered high power distance cultures; there is great respect for authority and inequality is a fact of life. In cultures with steep hierarchies, leaders are expected to clearly guide and direct team members in completing tasks and working towards deadlines.

Remote team leadership requires daily check-ins, explaining requirements, and expressing faith in the team’s ability to make decisions and act on them, whenever appropriate. Team members tend to respond best to an accessible, experienced, and strong leader who nurtures them to greatness.

High Power Distance example countries: Malaysia, the Philippines, Mexico.

Individualism versus Collectivism

In countries that emphasise individualism, team members expect specific and challenging tasks that come with a clear definition of roles and responsibilities. Employees from individualistic cultures typically like to feel involved, valued, and rewarded accordingly.

As there is a natural preference for independence amongst team members, remote leaders must stay away from micro-management to avoid feelings of distrust. Instead, leaders should actively manage expectations and outcomes whilst ensuring accomplishments are recognised, both at individual and group level.

Individualistic country examples: USA, Australia, Canada.

Collective societies value loyalty where individuals look after each other under a decisive and supportive leadership. In these cultures, team members tend to feel uncomfortable making decisions by themselves (as things can go wrong). They typically rely on leaders to set the direction and provide clear instructions.

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In a remote work environment, team leaders must focus on explaining the tasks and deadlines in simple but explicit terms; what is required by when? To ensure team members are on the right track, leaders should regularly check-in to monitor targets and timelines without coming across as too intrusive.

Collective country examples: Central America, China, Indonesia.

Masculinity versus Femininity

The Masculinity versus Femininity Dimension is about expected emotional gender roles, not about individuals. Both men and women can score highly for exhibiting masculine or feminine values and behaviours.

Masculine societies stand for ambition, decisiveness, clear role distinctions, rewards and the ‘live to work’ mentality. Workers are typically motivated by competition and a strong drive for excellence, which translates into working long and hard hours.

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In the ‘New Normal’, team members may feel as though they have to prove themselves even more as there is no leader around to observe what is happening. Leaders must make a point of demonstrating trust in their teams whilst focusing on progress and productivity, not necessarily the time period it is happening in.

Masculine country examples: Japan, Hungary, Austria.

Whilst masculine cultures are considered ‘tough’, feminine cultures are often described as ‘tender’. At work, people focus on interpersonal aspects such as managing through discussion, consensus, compromise, and negotiation. A strong belief is that life does not revolve solely around work, which makes achieving a work-life balance an important aspect of a healthy work environment.

When leading a remote team, a coaching leadership style is most effective to ensure people feel nurtured and cared for. This includes providing team members with a certain freedom to make decisions and manage their own work schedules.

Feminine country examples: Sweden, the Netherlands, Chile.

Uncertainty Avoidance

A high level of Uncertainty Avoidance is associated with a general feeling of being uncomfortable with change. In a work environment, risk avoidance is typically achieved through the implementation of policies, procedures and processes.

The rapid shift to remote work may take a hit on team members’ health and well-being through feelings of anxiety, stress and frustration. Remote leaders can support their employees by creating a lot of structure and predictability. This includes clear goals and expectations, regular check-ins on team members, and opportunities to share successes and safety for potential failures.

High Uncertainty Avoidance country examples: Greece, Portugal, Russia.

On the flip side is a low level of Uncertainty Avoidance where curious individuals enjoy new events and initiatives. Team members tend to be pragmatic in their thinking and accept change as a way of life, as they are used to revisions without much notice.

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Remote team effectiveness can benefit from this ability by engaging employees to move forward. Team leaders must also focus on getting everyone on the same page by establishing ‘rules of engagement’ to guide the remote work process, not to overly control it.

Low Uncertainty Avoidance country examples: Singapore, the Nordics.

As for working effectively across cultures, this article only touches briefly on Hofstede’s Cultural Dimensions Theory. It does, however, show that cross-cultural leadership requires, first and foremost, an understanding and awareness of different cultures. The next step is to decide on appropriate adaptations to relate and work most effectively with people from various cultural backgrounds. There is no single approach right for every individual.

How should organisations go about leading through cultural differences in remote teams?

Currently, I am working with a group of business executives from a world-leading multinational corporation on bridging cultural distances. Through the coaching sessions, we establish ways to make collaboration, decision making and problem-solving more effective in remote teams. Starting with discovering their own cultural lens and that of the people they work with, clients quickly move forward by identifying how they can switch their leadership styles to ensure the long-term performance of their teams.

If you believe that you and your organisation can benefit from understanding and learning more about the various cultural differences and how to successfully lead intercultural teams, our coaching sessions might just be the right solution for you. Drop me an email at [email protected] and I will get back to you as soon as possible.

About the author

Miriam van der Horst is a partner of OML consulting with 15 years’ experience across Asia Pacific, primarily focusing on leadership development and cross-cultural learning. She helps her clients, ranging from first-time managers to business executives of multinational companies and government departments, get better at dealing with change and being flexible enough to adapt with knowledge and sensitivity. Having lived and worked in the Netherlands, Switzerland, the UK, Vietnam, Australia, China, Singapore, and now Hong Kong, Miriam works comfortably, respectfully and effectively with people at different organisational levels and from diverse backgrounds.

Why your company needs data science now: Strategies to make your business future proof

  • It is about people: Data scientists love science, research, critical thinking, and getting the job done. There is an urgent need for dialogue between business and marketing professionals and data scientists — particularly when it comes to managing expectations, setting boundaries, and alignment when tackling a business challenge.
  • Embrace data science: Most of those businesses were not paying attention and are now in the post Covid19 world having to find way, and budgets to quickly get up to speed in terms of digitizing every aspect of their business.
  • Adapt or die: The business that fails to adapt quickly to the changing environment and impact of technology will not just raise the risk of complete failure the next time a global crisis occurs; it will effectively ensure its own competitive failure and, in a very short time, its inability to operate at all.
  • Data driven: Every organization is already data driven, the question is what is practical and what makes common sense?
  • Data science, if not now, then when? Irrespective of the industry you are in, digitization is no longer a ‘nice-to-have,’ it is an imperative. And it must happen now.

More data, more information

Business owners, managers, and decision makers are faced every day with more complex problems and more variables that need to be considered. In the current business environment, there is never a moment you will have less information — you will always have more.

More and more organizations these days use data as a decision support tool. The collection of knowledge and skills required by organizations to support these functions has been grouped under the term “data science.”

As the world becomes more and more data-driven, analytical skills are in high demand and data-driven is a hype. Organizations across the world want to work data-driven, want to manage their organizations in a data-driven manner, and want to develop their organizations effectiveness based on data. What does data-driven mean? And how can you establish a data-driven development in your organization? How can you, as a manager, decide on which data-driven initiatives are feasible for your organization?

Data from Insight Analytics.

What is data science?

When you look up Wikipedia, it says: “Data science is an inter-disciplinary field that uses scientific methods, processes, algorithms and systems to extract knowledge and insights from many structural and unstructured data. Data science is related to data mining, deep learning and big data.” For most people, this is still too complicated and confusing.

Data science consists of two words, “data” and “science.” Data relates to information; this can be structured data (for example sales data in a spreadsheet or rain precipitation data) or it can be unstructured data (for example Twitter feeds or news articles). Science indicates it requires a systematic approach towards gaining knowledge and insights through study or practice. It is at the intersection of mathematics, computer science, and domain expertise. Practitioners are called data scientists.

Graphic from House of Bots.

Data scientists develop algorithms that model and predict for example customer behavior, identify patterns, and trends based on collected data. What is interesting is to understand what can be done with the collected data, what can we learn from it. and how can we utilize it for our organization.

Data science and your organization

There is almost no organization that operates without any data, without legacy systems. The most basic companies have accounting, marketing, operational, technical, HR, and sales information, among other data.

As technology has advanced at warp speed, it has become common to use different information systems, which often are not interconnected. And it is the cross-section of the different department and domains that makes data science interesting. What could you do if you can use your internal data but connect it with external data?

A simple example would be an ice-cream business, which has sales data, inventory / stock data, but wants to predict which periods are the top periods to sell ice cream. Would it be useful to have meteorological data that can be included? What about doing a Facebook campaign if you want to target families with certain sets of demographics? And what if you want to do an ad campaign with Google Adwords? These are all examples of the application of data science. With data science, we want to put different information sources to work, so we may receive answers and accurate predictions to solve business challenges.

7 steps for discovery of data science

1. Understanding what data science is
2. Learning about your core data
3. Aligning company strategy and business objectives
4. Work towards a comprehensive DS roadmap
5. Define critical information to achieve business objectives
6. Select the right tools to support your roadmap
7. Integrate DS in your operational workflow

What we recently have done with success is to help our client’s management team understand the fundamentals of data science. This is to ensure that everyone is on the same page. Based on in-house workshops, we helped them get through the different concepts of data science. Once the understanding was established, we went through a process of understanding what kind of data is core for their business, what kind of information is kept, where, and how?

The next step is to understand the overall strategy of the company and the main business objectives. In the next phase, we start looking at how to develop a road map, where data science now becomes an integral part of business operations and helps to align application of data science with its business objectives.

Beyond plotting out the strategic road map, we helped with selecting the right tools for their organization, as well as advised them on how to incorporate different aspects of the data science workflow. Based on the requirements assessment, business strategy, and road map, we advised the client whether to look at standard off the shelf solutions or whether a tailor made solution was required. Predictive data analysis helped the business leaders to make better and more adequate decisions. We mention “predictive” as we expect that the algorithms provide us with a forward looking indicator based on the underlying data and patterns. The purpose is to make data science empower people and help business leaders make informed decisions backed by data.

Find below an example of a dashboard for an Indonesian wholesale business, which allows the sales executives to focus on their most profitable clients, taking into account the order frequencies, their order amounts, and ranking among the total field of company clients.

Graphic received from Datanest.

OML your trusted partner

Are you looking to make your first steps in data analytics, data science and need to transform your organization in embracing and increasingly competitive business environment? Are you looking for a professional advisor to accompany you on your data science journey? Please contact us TODAY for a free consultation and we will be happy to assist you. You can book your appointment by emailing [email protected].

About the author

Liang Tan is the founder of OML Consulting and has worked in the hospitality and technology management consulting industries for about two decades. He has provided consulting services to a variety of clients in different industries, ranging from technology start-ups to government institutions. He was a senior consultant for Cap Gemini Consulting. He is currently completing a Modular Masters in data science at the Singapore University of Technology and Design.

Want to improve your customer service — Here are some tips to provide a 5 star hospitality experience

  • What is 5 star hospitality service?
  • Offer supreme service to show your professionalism
  • Show genuine interest to understand your customer better
  • Exceed expectations to add value to your business
  • How to build service excellence and consistency

What is 5 star hospitality service?

If there is one industry where customer service is of utmost importance, it is the hospitality industry. You may have heard of the phrase ‘5 star hospitality service’; but what makes a hospitality destination 5 star? This may surprise you, but there are actually no international standards. One rating which is internationally known and respected is the rating outlined in the annual Forbes Travel Guide. Anonymous and independent inspectors travel around the world reviewing luxury hospitality destinations; testing them rigorously against 900 standards. The final score is based 75% on the hotel’s service and 25% on the quality of its facilities.

Last February Forbes Travel Guide announced their Star Award Winners and 265 hotels received their prestigious Forbes Travel Guide 5 Star. What makes these hotels the elite of the elite? As quoted by Forbes Travel Guide CEO Filip Boyen, “Each deserving recipient excels at enriching people’s lives through the power of exceptional service.” Three specific criteria which measured exceptional service were ‘supreme service,’ ‘genuine interest’ and ‘exceeding expectations.’ Let’s take a closer look at these three.

Offer supreme service

“When asking consumers what impacts their level of trust with a company, offering excellent customer service is ranked number one.” — Zendesk 2019

Offering supreme service gives your customers the feeling you are highly professional and give attention to detail. You must possess great product knowledge and communication skills. For the former this means being able to inform, advise, or take action competently — be that on the spot or within a respectable time frame. For the latter it involves a positive attitude which combines great listening skills, as well as speaking to your customers in a pleasant and certainly respectful manner at all times. Your goal is to connect and engage with your customers and avoid situations that may lead to complaints and confrontations. However, when confronted with a complaint, supreme customer service will usually be able to turn this negative into a positive; therefore, preserving the relationship you have. When you notice that your guest has shoes that need polishing, leaving them a note offering to do so, illustrates a level of offering supreme service.

Show genuine interest

Image provided by Patrick Tomasso

“Feeling unappreciated is the #1 reason customers switch away from products and services.” —

Human beings are social creatures; as such we are often deeply touched when someone shows genuine interest. The best way to do so is by showing empathy. Empathy is being able to place yourself in someone else’s position, and therefore have a better understanding of their needs and wants. Essentially, when you combine this with great communication skills, it allows you to optimally serve your customers. “What makes your customers buy your products and/or services, what challenges do they encounter, what recommendations do they have?” Showing genuine interest ultimately makes your customers feel heard and appreciated, which is a major factor of retention and referrals. Furthermore, their feedback provides valuable information to exceed their expectations and improve your products and services (which is imperative for any business, but that’s for another topic). An example would be to remember the preferred room temperature of a returning guest, and setting the ac to this prior to their next arrival.

Exceed expectations

Image provided by Patrick Tomasso

“54% of customers have higher expectations for customer service today compared to one year ago. This percentage jumps to 66% for consumers aged from 18 to 34 years old.” — Microsoft 2019

Customers are becoming more demanding, so the best way to differentiate yourself is by exceeding their expectations. This of course is easier said than done. First of all you cannot exceed expectations without successfully offering supreme service and showing genuine interest. Then, using all the information you already know about your customers, you can provide products and services that will positively surprise them. These deeply personalized gestures are usually complimentary. However, the memorable emotional experience you created greatly outweighs any investments. A fantastic example is when a hotel surprises a returning guests traveling by themselves with a handwritten card, chocolates, flowers and champagne to congratulate their wedding anniversary.

Build service excellence and consistency

“Increasing customer retention rates by 5% increases profits anywhere from 25% to 95%.” — Bain & Company

“Investing in new customers is between 5 and 25 times more expensive than retaining existing ones.” — Invesp 2019

Implementing 5 star hospitality service requires planning, commitment, and consistency. For the first two, a clear vision and standards must be set and communicated to every individual in your team. The process of owning these standards requires time, whilst providing product knowledge, excellence service and empowerment training are key (to name a few). Finally, consistency is threefold; firstly, monitor your team, secondly analyze any feedback and then use the former and latter to improve your standards and performances. The third step is ongoing personalized training for your team; this is often lacking or not done at all by businesses.

My previous experiences with regard to improving customer service include service excellence design, evaluating service standards and delivering service excellence training. Most recently I delivered a service excellence and brand values training for Melia Hotels & Resorts amongst 1,000 of its staff (general manager to rank and file) across five hotels in Southeast Asia. The main objective was to introduce new brand values, which all focus on creating a sense of belonging and memorable experiences for both guests and staff. Spread over two half day hands-on workshops, participants were encouraged to think creatively and team activities were implemented to discuss and practice excellent service techniques.

Are you in need of designing a service excellence culture or looking for ways to boost your customer service? Book a complimentary 30 minutes chat with me by emailing [email protected], where I can offer you insights and advice.

About the author

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Oky Ceelen is a founding partner of OML Consulting. He is an experienced trainer and certified Transformative Coach with a hospitality and vocational education background. His passion is to guide individuals and teams in their learning and development.