In my previous outsourcing partnerships, I noticed that while there was too much emphasis on processes, methodologies, and product quality, “soft” components of the projects and outsourcing relationships were mostly overlooked, if not completely neglected. This is rather ironic because one of the key points that either break or make outsourcing deals is culture.
Cultural differences affect leadership and management, communication and coordination, change management, and team dynamics, which are essential to the success of a project. Just because one partner has been known as culturally dominant does not mean that outsourcing providers already know what it is like to actually work with them.
The success that the Philippines has been enjoying so far has much to do with cultural ties with the west, particularly to the United States, thanks to half a century of American rule, long-standing political and trading ties, and mass media consumption. It probably helps, too, that Filipinos form one of the biggest Asian minority groups in the US.
Language proficiency and cultural parallelisms make the Philippines one of the top destinations of call center outsourcing. In the last couple of years, these advantages opened doors to other industries, such as application development and maintenance, quality assurance, back-office operations, and digital entertainment.
In a recent survey conducted among CIOs and CEOs, the cultural aspects that they take into consideration include communication style, approaches to completing tasks, attitudes towards conflicts, and differences in decision-making styles. In this regard, allow me to give my two cents’ on the matter and describe briefly how Filipinos do in these areas.
Work around the Filipino communication style
Filipinos are taught the English language as early as pre-school, that by the time they graduate college, their skill in the language are among the most competitive in the world. However, take note of Filipinos indirectness, which is also typical among Asian cultures. Foreign CEOs and expatriates who have been staying in the Philippines note that “Yes” could mean “yes, but…” or “yes, however…” or “maybe.” The best way to identify whether “yes” is actually “yes” is to listen to the intonation. It would help as well to clarify, ask, or entertain questions from Filipino outsourced workers to make sure that “yes” is not merely “okay.”
Emphasize management and leadership roles
The Philippines ranks relatively high on the power-distance index, which explains the emphasis that workers put on hierarchies. Most decisions are deferred to team leaders and managers, and most importantly, to clients. One implication of this working style is the tendency to strictly follow processes or established methodologies and communication line. To make the most out of this cultural quirk, clients should recognize the role that leaders and managers play in working with them and rallying subordinates. Cultures where results are more important than the processes taken to arrive at them will initially find it uncomfortable. However, most successful outsourcing projects are those that have allowed for results, open communication, and escalation of issues at the initial stages of the project.
Take advantage of service orientation and hour delays
Filipinos are service-oriented, therefore there is the emphasis to please clients or customers. Clients can take advantage of this trait by providing feedback as much as they can to their staff and spell out their expectations at pivotal stages of the project. It also pays to emphasize timeliness because of the tendency of Filipinos to hand in their work almost always two hours late. But for clients who are situated 8 to 16 hours later than the Philippines, most fast-track work are handed in while they are still asleep or getting out of bed.
Related article: Success Factors in Outsourcing