What Matters Most?

After arriving in Manila this week I met up with a former colleague from Singapore who is now working here. At one point I asked him, “what was the biggest transition when you moved here last year?” I expected him to say something like “the food,” “the traffic,” “the cost of living,” or something else that would mark a difference between Singapore and Manila.

His answer? “Missing my family.”

My mistake. When I asked him the question I already had potential answers in mind, but I realize now they were based on my own experience of my original move from the US to Singapore back in 2011. Even though I know how important family connections are in Singaporean culture, I was still looking at things through my own American lens.

As your talent pool grows to include the entire world, you will have more and more international employees coming to work for you. With the rise of the ASEAN Economic Community, we will see more talent moving between countries in Southeast Asia. We continue to see talent movement between Hong Kong and mainland China as mergers and acquisitions take place there. Each country in Asia has its own culture and, despite some commonalities, there are always differences. Yours may be the first foreign company for which an employee has worked, or they may be living in a new country for the first time, and it helps if you try to understand what they are going through when they make that jump. The key is to understand what they are going through, not what you would be going through. When you talk to them about their experiences and learn what their needs are, try to put aside your own perspective and really listen.

This is not the first time an American has walked in with the wrong perception about what’s important. I learned something from this Singaporean that I wish I had realized more clearly when I was a professor and had international students of my own. Your employees’ priorities are likely to be different from your priorities, so even though you might not naturally be thinking of things from their point of view, try really hard not to limit yourself to your own perspective. The same goes for employees from your own country, of course, but it’s especially important when working with people from others.

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