Many people ask us for advice on what they can do to improve their
careers and become more valuable to employers. It is a noble
objective and important for all societies that people desire to
improve their situation.
Most management people are hard-working and smart but often
don t have well defined strategies for their own career
progress. They seem to put all their faith in their
organizations to provide the right experience, guide them on
training and promote them regularly. In Asia over the past
couple decades this strategy has worked for many people. Fast
economic growth has lifted millions of people farther and faster
than at any time in history. However, counting on being in the
right place at the right time is not a sustainable strategy for
long-term career success.
The key for ambitious managers is to think how to differentiate
themselves from the crowd of other qualified people most of
whom are also smart and hard-working. Since virtually all people
are promoted or hired into positions after being compared with
other options, this only makes sense. Decision-makers always
keep their eye out for who stands out.
If you happen to have remarkable skills in something important
like sales, leading people or innovation, then your strategy is
clear continue developing these skills to be the best in your
industry and you will stand out. But most of us have to be
content with being only a bit above average in some things and
perhaps a bit below average in others. It is for this vast
majority of people that the strategies below are written.
Here are some of the main tactics that will differentiate you
from the crowd of other candidates whether you are trying to be
promoted in your own organization or move to another.
Most people would agree that top
people tend to be well known in their industries and business
communities. This is not an accident. They need to know people
so they can get things done. Successful people have close contacts with
suppliers, customers, government and even competitors so they
can get contracts signed, disputes resolved and know where to
hire the best people.
If you desire to be a senior executive, you need to build the
same relationships with people who could support you and rely on
you in return. It is not enough to be a good Sales Leader or
Plant Manager. Relationships magnify your abilities many-fold
and especially so in Asia where almost anything can get done if
you know the right people.
In addition, senior management positions are positions of trust
and people naturally trust those who they know or are familiar
with. This fact is true anywhere but more so in Asia for various
cultural and other reasons.
Therefore is it any wonder that when deciding on who to promote
or hire from a group of similarly skilled people, the person who
is better known will more often get the job. Not only are they
more useful to the organization because of their relationships
but people trust them more.
Too many Asians seem to believe that developing relationships is
something that can only be done by having attended the right schools
or being born into certain families. Gladly these beliefs are
changing with the younger generation.
There are various methods to build relationships with
like-minded people. We counsel up-and-coming young executives to
schedule themselves to attend 1 or 2 business-related functions
per week. The obvious ones are industry related events but also try
to diversify into general business functions such as various
chambers of commerce, Rotary Club, and so on.
Expert In Your Field
The old saying that
leaders are learners continues to be true. People who proactively advance their
skills by completing relevant courses or certifications are
always considered highly. Become an expert in your industry and
your chosen profession without waiting for your boss or HR
department to tell you to do so.
Many people are promoted quickly in the early stages of their
careers because of natural ability or
charisma and seem to think it will continue. Later,
however, they are overtaken by those who studied and persevered, and
eventually became recognized
as authorities in areas important for their organization.
Hard-working nerds will always leave behind those who rely only
on personality and genetic gifts.
Acquire New Skills
Sometimes a manager cannot easily
differentiate themselves through the expert-in-your-field
strategy above. Certainly all managers need to be very
knowledgeable of their chosen fields but senior managers also
need to be well-rounded. A sales manager or software
development head who completes an MBA is an obvious example of
this well-roundedness concept. Other examples are accounting
managers who become experts with IT systems or HR managers
who acquire law degrees. Such people will always stand out over
the crowd of people with skills in one area.
An interesting trend that makes this 2-for-the-price-of-1
strategy particularly compelling
is called position bundling. Many companies are
combining 2 or more functions with one manager. People who can
take on such responsibilities are always more valuable. As well, such people become candidates for top management because they are naturally
more useful to organizations.
Many talented young managers have
destroyed their careers by changing employers too often. During
the past decade of fast economic growth in Asia, job-hoppers
have thought themselves clever by jumping from one employer to
the next to get increases in compensation often 10-15% per
jump. Employers will play this game while they are desperate to
find anyone who can manage anything. When normal rates of growth
return, job-hoppers will discover that they are priced higher
than others in the market. They will be out the door after the
first restructuring and will have difficulty finding other
employers interested to pay above market rates for below market
Senior management positions, more than any other, are high-trust
positions. It is impossible to trust someone to manage a key
business unit who has had 3 jobs in the past 4 years. Senior
management positions also require long periods to learn how to
deal with complex business issues. Senior managers are generally
stable in their careers and loyal to their employers, customers
and people reporting to them.
We have noticed that people who take
an effort to become known as experts in their field are usually
actually experts in their field. Many start off writing articles
for industry journals or association websites and later write
columns in newspapers or magazines. Others host radio programs
for people to call in for business, financial or career advice.
Another strategy is to get involved in your industry association
or other volunteer organizations that are of interest. Start by
joining one of the committees and progress to lead it. As your
reputation grows, run for a place on the board of directors. It
is important to make a positive contribution to the organization
and not just a show of it. Key activities of such organizations
to consider becoming involved with are: attracting new members
and sponsors, newsletter and website production, events
management, administering training programs and regulatory affairs.
In the near future, it will be
difficult to imagine an executive being called senior who
doesn t have international experience (or very strong
international exposure). The globalisation of multinational
companies is already well underway. Within Southeast Asia,
extensive regulatory integration is scheduled for 2014 and the
impact will be profound over the next 5 to 7 years. People with
proven ability to lead people across different countries will be
valuable. Conspire to gain any international experience or
exposure you can.
Small Companies, Big Experience
We see many highly talented managers
become stuck in middle management positions of large
organizations as they wait for promotions to senior management.
Top executives, however, often delay retirement and when the
positions finally become open, second line executives who waited
years for their chance find they are passed over for younger
It can be beneficial for middle managers to leave the comfort
(and higher salary) of large organizations to work for smaller
ones if they are given broader management responsibility. In so
doing, executives become more valuable because they bring ideas
about managing both large and small companies.
Small Countries, Big Experience
Related to the above, another more
adventurous idea that we have seen work is to relocate to a
newly emerging country like Myanmar, Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos
as long as it is for a more senior position. In these countries,
people with experience in more advanced countries like Malaysia,
Philippines and Thailand can bring
valuable skills and ideas. This option is best for single people
"Boss" Stamp of Approval
A concept to understand for people
who aspire to move up in their careers is that each time a
manager is promoted to a higher role, he or she seldom moves
back down again unless something drastic happens like a serious
failure on the job or general economic turmoil. Psychologists
and marketing people call the phenomenon mental imprinting .
Once a person obtains the post of CEO, CFO, CIO or similar top
management role, he or she will forever be thought of as that.
It will usually be more difficult to move back down than it will
to move up.
It is for this reason that it is important to gain the senior
post you desire (and are qualified for) sooner rather than
In the past, most international
managers and many talented Asian managers would not consider
working for local companies. They were convinced that such
organizations would be managed in stereotypical third-world
manners: overly centralized decision-making, promotions based on
loyalty not performance, poorly qualified friends and family of
patriarch in key positions, etc. There are still many Asian
companies that are run in traditional styles but more and more
they are changing.
In particular, Asian multinationals often have a younger
generation of family members in key positions. Most of these
people have been educated abroad and many have worked abroad or
for international companies. They often bring the best of both
worlds into their businesses. These keen managers are updating
systems, empowering their people, and pushing hard on
non-performing groups. They also know how to run businesses cost
effectively (unlike many multinationals) and take better
advantage of home country knowledge.
At a time when many international companies are cutting back or
being timid about expansion, Asian multinationals are gushing
with cash and expanding aggressively. It is time for both
expatriates and Asians to start judging organizations by what
they can offer rather than being snooty about their local label.
In most emerging countries in Asia
it used to be that managers managed and workers worked. It was
considered improper and even undignified for senior managers to
get their hands dirty working beside junior managers and
individual contributors. Asian managers without international
experience tend to follow this practice more than others.
While it is certainly true that senior managers are supposed to
delegate to others rather than doing the work themselves, a
hands-off management style often doesn t achieve the best
results. Workforces in Asia tend to be younger than in other
regions and need much more support and coaching to accomplish
tasks. Being an active part of projects to encourage and
motivate team members is critical to success in Asia. Managers
who get their hands dirty generally accomplish far more than
those who keep them clean.
Be First In
In emerging countries, people tend
to be late starters. They often arrive to the office in a tardy
manner and justify themselves by claiming to be more productive
later in the day. Whether or not, they actually are more
productive is an open question. However, perceptions are what is
most important in this situation and, in this globalized world,
international partners, clients, suppliers and bosses tend to
believe that people are more productive when starting the day at
the stated time. And, like everyone else, managers should
be on-site as an example to others.
Therefore, managers who are reliably early to work tend to be
perceived as most productive, trustworthy and disciplined, and
their future prospects will be bright.
Say and Do What is Required
In Asian society, it is often
thought rude for junior managers to speak their minds in the
presence of more senior people. While it is true that forcefully
arguing your opinions with traditional Asian managers is not a
good idea, most younger Asian managers, returnees and
expatriates crave input and ideas from their people. An easy way
to stand out is to speak up when there are issues to be
discussed and actively participate in debates.
Similarly, too many Asian managers have been conditioned to wait
to be told what to do rather than do what they know needs to be
done. The current generation of senior business leaders are
impressed by personal initiative and responsibility to take
proactive action. Mistakes made by doing too much are easy to
forgive. Mistakes made by doing too little are another matter.
More Difficult Times to Come
Asia has experienced outrageously high growth rates over the
past decade or so as most everyone would agree. The result in
many countries has been a large expansion in the number of
managers and management levels in organizations that are well
above what would be acceptable in other regions. It seems
reasonable that when more normal rates of growth return,
restructurings to severely reduce the number of middle and
senior managers will be inevitable.
The best time to improve your odds of employability is when
times are good.
this e-book to learn all you need to know to
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A global manager's failsafe
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CEO Forum presented by PLDT ALPHA Enterprise is the largest
regular business event in Philippines and considered one of the
most important in the Southeast Asia region. The forum serves as a
hub for the spreading of ideas that help executive managers
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Attendees are both expatriate and Asian management personnel
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engaged in momentous pursuits of significance to the entire
CEO Forum is operated as a CSR (Corporate Social
Responsibility) activity of Chalre Associates, one of Southeast
Asia's most prominent senior management executive search firms, to
promote Philippines as a premier business destination in the Asia
Here to go to Asia
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CEO Awards presented by Aseana City represents the
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largest events of its kind in the Asia Pacific region, it is
considered a must-attend occasion for business leaders active in
The star-studded Board of Judges of Asia CEO Awards give
away 10 awards to many of the most accomplished leadership teams
and individuals currently operating in Philippines and the region.
The awards recognize extraordinary leaders who have demonstrated
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As one of the fastest growing nations on the planet, the world's
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throughout the world call upon the Principals of Chalre Associates for thought leadership.
Below are some examples of published material written by our
consultants or international journalists who refer to them. For a complete list of published work,
Getting Ready For The
Deluge: Outsourcing in Philippines
Chalre Associates senior staff
Economist Intelligence Unit of the Economist magazine
asked Chalre Associates' Chairman, Richard Mills,
to write a chapter about the Philippine outsourcing sector
in its annual Business Guide Book. The material
provides a Executive Briefing on the progress and major
issues facing this industry that is certainly one of most
significant growth stories in the world.
Asia Pacific Mining
Conference 2007 - Report
Chalre Associates senior staff
The 7th Asia Pacific Mining Conference put on by the Asean
Federation of Mining Associations was perhaps the largest
such event in the region. Richard Mills, Chairman of Chalre Associates
gave this report on what was said by the prominent mining
people who presented.
State of BPO in Philippines: Dan Reyes Speaks
Chalre Associates senior staff
Mills, Chairman of Chalre Associates,
interviewed Dan Reyes of Sitel for ComputerWorld (US) recently to get
his views on the state of the BPO industry in Philippines. Dan
presented US readers with compelling information to support his view
that Philippines is currently seen as the "Number 1" option by global
companies sending BPO work to offshore destinations.
Dan Reyes is easily one of most experienced Business Process
Outsourcing (BPO) managers in the Asia Pacific region and the world. He
is head of the extremely successful Philippine operations of Sitel, the
world's largest call center organization. Among other things, he is a
founder and former president of the Business Processing Association of
the Philippines. more