You’ve toiled away in a banking job focused on the local market in Hong Kong for years – but now you’ve finally landed a promotion into a bigger and better role covering countries across Asia.
After the initial excitement of your promotion dies down, you may find yourself wondering how you’ll cope with your new regional responsibilities – in particular, how you’ll go about managing people based in different Asian markets.
The first month for any new regional manager will be tough, as I know from my time at Standard Chartered here in Hong Kong. Here’s how I think you can get through it and win the confidence of your multi-national team.
Take a broad perspective
The single biggest difference between a regional Asian and local role is obviously the scope of your responsibilities. Many successful managers at country level struggle after being promoted because they fail to adopt a broad enough regional ‘perspective’. By this I mean: the ability to be comfortable with more uncertainty and ‘fuzziness’ (you will be faced with more opinions and more cultural perspectives); the ability to identify and engage a much wider range of stakeholders; and the ability to think about the regional impact of your decisions. The best regional leaders can work across functional and geographical boundaries in order to bring people together to create solutions for their bank.
In a regional role you may well be tasked with restructuring the way your team functions, but don’t be too eager to start changing things right away. Instead spend your initial weeks on the job identifying the people most important to your success – create a detailed stakeholder ‘map’ then talk to everyone on it. Don’t only use your new network to achieve your own objectives, try to help others – reciprocity is important when networking as a regional manager in Asian banking. Make the most of any face-to-face opportunities you have to talk to stakeholders in other Asian offices, even if this means staying an extra day on business trips to meet people for lunch or coffee.
Use influence, not authority
The more regional you are, the higher up the hierarchy you are, the less likely you are to have direct line-management power over some of the more junior people who will actually be critical to your success. Other regional managers at the same level as you will also impact your performance. This all means you’ll need to influence a lot of people without having authority over the them. When trying to influence them and make sure your ideas are taken seriously, I recommend building consensus on core issues but allowing some give-and-take on less important matters.
Show your ‘cultural flexibility’
This is a very important personal characteristic that involves a fine balance between pursuing your own ideas and integrating ideas from people from different cultures. Success in your new job lies in knowing what’s important to people across Asia and knowing how to engage with them. Understanding when to push your own opinions and when to allow for cultural differences will require a constant focus on the cultural implications of every decision you make. Don’t just accept cultural stereotypes. Travel and get to know people in your team from across the region – learn from them. Having a few trusted ‘local’ friends/colleagues in each of your countries will be very useful for sounding out ideas and getting initial insights into the potential cultural barriers you may face when launching a new project.
Become a video-conference, phone, instant-messaging and email Jedi Master. Face-to-face meetings, while important, are actually getting less and less common, so use the virtual facilities at your disposal. Make sure you are able to connect to people through multiple channels and that you actively use each one. Different people respond to different forms of communication, so be sensitive and flexible in this regard. And don’t only use virtual communication for formal purposes – having a virtual coffee meeting could be a very ‘personal’ way to get to know a colleague in a remote location. And in all virtual meetings some casual chatting and personal introductions can create trust and build participation. Time spent on these seemingly ‘soft’ activities will always provide a ROI in the long term.
Henry Chamberlain is a Hong Kong-based industrial psychologist and executive coach, and a former head of selection at Standard Chartered.
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