The final episode of ITviec’s Webinar series [IT Success] tackled the topic of enhancing “Productivity” and “Engagement” in Multicultural Working Environments. Let’s take a visit back at the insightful discussions led by our esteemed leaders!

In-depth Discussion – Introduction

Mr. Rakesh Dayal:

Now if you just take a look back and look at where the IT industry, in Vietnam is and IT sector. It is becoming a hub, a global hub where most of the IT entrepreneurs are setting up their base in Vietnam. And there are lots of startups in Vietnam servicing clients across the globe. And the best thing for what this all brings is the growth. We are seeing a growth year on year of almost 10% in the IT industry. This is a great time for all IT professionals and mostly all our audience today, I am assuming that most of you are from the IT sector.

I’m really excited for this whole session today. So as we start the session, we will focus on the first 1 hour of our discussion on really getting some pieces of advice from our esteemed panelists: Mr. An and Mr. Minh, both of them have rich experience in the IT sector, especially in managing the different cultures. I’m really excited about that. And then we’ll keep the last 30 minutes, maybe from 8 to 8:30 on answering questions, which you might have. So please keep your questions ready and keep sending them as ITviec team will keep collecting and then at the end, we will start answering questions as much as possible.

In-depth Discussion – Why multicultural is important

Mr. Rakesh Dayal:

Now let’s talk about multicultural. What does it mean and how is it really linked to building up engagement or productivity? If you look at the advantages of multicultural just to understand what is multicultural, simple like it is you have people working with different cultural backgrounds – in a very simple language.

So how do we work with people, in the team, not just Vietnamese, because, we know as the culture in Vietnam, we know the differences between Hanoi and Saigon and Central. But then when we have a team, which is now with us, maybe face to face or in a hybrid situation or virtual, where somebody from our team is sitting somewhere in South Africa or in the Philippines or in any country in Europe. 

It’s about Understanding these different cultures, and that is what we call multicultural. With this multicultural environment, how do we ensure that we continue with a good engagement, same as if you were working in one culture. How do we manage that and how does it actually link to the productivity of the entire team and hence the company? That is what we will focus on today. What I understand is if you look at the advantages of a multicultural team, number one, is really looking at it from different angles. You look at the ideas that are coming from different cultures like different upbringings, completely different environments, so that is where you get good ideas.

You also get to understand, for example I am based in Vietnam but we are servicing a client which is based in South Africa. Now, if we have someone from South Africa in our team, we know actually how to interact with the customers there or the clients there. Right? That is understanding the market if you have a team with different cultures. When I say culture, it is not just the nationality, but how they behave. It’s not just about English. Speaking English is just one part. You might think that okay if I am not speaking English. Maybe if I had better English or if I was a native English speaker then I would have managed any country. It’s not a fact. People from the UK and the US, where both are native English speakers but their cultures are different, the way they interact is different. 

So that is what the topic today is and what we understand it certainly is something which we will explore. Now let me just start by asking a few questions to our esteemed panel. Mr. An Le, if you just talk about your team of NFQ.

How is your team structured when we talk about a multicultural team?

Mr. An Le:

So, thanks a lot for the question. I’m sorry, but I think I need to spend a little bit of time explaining what we do first because then you understand why we have a structure of what we do.

So in NFQ, what we do is we help the business to scale, what it means is that most of the time we have startups from Germany or from all over the world to scale either the operation or when they want to expand into a new market. In order to do that, we believe in the diversity of the team because let’s say, if you want to go to Asia and you want to sell your solution to Asia but you have no Asian in your team, it doesn’t make any sense. Or if you are developing a payment feature for Vietnam and you have no Vietnamese engineers in the team or product owners in the team, again, it doesn’t make any sense. So that’s why, by nature, our team is really diversified.

For example, in Vietnam, I think we have a team of 250 people up to 300 people, give or take, and we have more than 12 nationalities. So a very typical team that we have is engineers from Poland or Lithuania working, very closely with other engineers from Egypt, or other engineers from Vietnam, and all together they are managed by 2 Scrum masters from all over the world and a Project manager somewhere close to the client. So that is the setting that we are having in the company.

Mr. Rakesh Dayal:

And my apologies, I did not ask you to talk about the company. But since we are talking about your company, Mr. An, what is the core service that you provide the to the customers or your clients?

Mr. An Le:

So you know, 20 years ago, when the company first started, the business model was very simple. You had startups in Germany that needed engineers and then you had engineers from not in Germany and then they tried to provide engineers into the team. So we started the business. In Lithuania, at the time it was a very decent country with very reasonable engineers and then, eventually, 20 years later, and now we are talking about Vietnam, we talk about Thailand, we talk about Egypt.

But at the same time, in the last 4 years, we are moving forward to a new kind of service. So we do consulting for big corporations, we do the central data platform for them. And then we have to provide big companies with the solution from startup work. So we are like the interim and we do a system integration. It’s kind of like we do everything when it comes to technology.

Mr. Rakesh Dayal:

Excellent. So it’s like a One-stop shop, is it? When it comes to the requirement of IT.

Mr. An Le:

Yes, exactly. One-stop shop.

Mr. Rakesh Dayal:

Thank you. That’s good. And, Mr. Minh, would you like to just share a bit about TymeX and also about the structure of your team?

Mr. Minh Le:

Sure. Hello everyone. My name is Minh. I am the GM of TymeX Vietnam. So a little bit about how we are structured. We are a part of a digital banking group called Tyme Group, based in Singapore. We launched a digital bank – Tyme bank in South Africa about 5 years ago, purely on a digital model. And we’re at about 9 million customers there. About a year and a half ago, we launched our second deployment in the Philippines, our second digital bank in the Philippines and, we’ve grown to, now about 3 million customers there. Vietnam is, what we would call the technology hub. It’s where in terms of what we do is basically building the banking platforms. So we say that we build and run the banking platforms.

Currently, we have about 350 engineers or so serving in both countries. And yeah I think, we’re quite diverse. So, primarily, you know, we leverage Vietnamese talents, a lot of very young, talented Vietnamese engineers here. In addition, we also have people from England, South Africa, Ukraine, the Philippines, and Indonesia. So it’s a unique diverse working culture. Even though most of them come from abroad, we try to bring them to Vietnam so they can again work closely to build that relationship and have a better understanding of each other. Again, because we’re also in multi-country environments and the common language is English.

It’s imperative that we have people from different perspectives, different cultures, and viewpoints to actually reel everything in because ultimately we’re an organization. You wanna speak, you wanna be on the same wavelength, in terms of a common language, a common way of work. And then ultimately you want to try and achieve the same goals, right? So I think everything at the same point where the multi-country is important because it brings diversity and actually at the end of the day ties you back into trying to achieve your organizational goals.

Mr. Rakesh Dayal:

Right. And, just, to continue on that, Mr. Minh, how was the reporting line? Is it like people based in Vietnam are reporting to somewhere in somebody based in South Africa, or the Philippines, or do you have a team that is based here, but again, reporting line to a manager who is not Vietnamese? And how does that work?

Mr. Minh Le:

No, so I mean like the way that we structure because we’re the technology enablement team. So everything from banking services to cloud ops, and everything else falls underneath our view. So from a direct reporting line, everything is under TymeX and we have everybody in Vietnam also there are other members who are outside of Vietnam that as part of this technology group. 

But the way that we interact and communicate with the banks is there’s actually no direct reporting line there. It’s more of a collaboration.

Because we’re the engineering, product, and enablement piece, and there is a business piece. So we match our product and technology with what fits their needs in their market. So, there’s no direct reporting line from that standpoint, but there is a big collaboration, basically a relationship between the banks and us.

Mr. Rakesh Dayal:

And how about you, Mr. An?

Mr. An Le:

When we have a client at work with us, usually our team reports directly to the client. So from their side, they will have a product owner. Sometimes it can be a product manager or even the Chief Product Officer. We’re talking about several teams reporting to them. And then at the same time, we also have a CTO. So the engineering, leaders in the team will report directly to the CTO as well.

But eventually, I really liked what Mr. Minh just shared. It’s very important that for the team you have a Line Goal and then you have one person in charge for that team. Usually, the model we have is we have one person in charge from our side which we call the head of the business unit, and then from the client side, they also need to give us a 1 person-in-charge and that person needs to make sure that the team is working well. If they are not working well then they need to have an escalation discussion among the 2 peers from the 2 organizations.

Mr. Rakesh Dayal:

Interesting. And we will just park at that, if something is not working, I’ll come back to that. But before that, Mr. An, Can I just ask you: What are the advantages of having a multicultural team? Based on your experience.

Mr. An Le:

I used to work in a different industry where I needed to rely on so few people. I had a team of 10 people and that was perfect. Then I chose the tech industry. From then I have a very complicated team and a lot of people involved. In terms of collaboration and interaction among the people, I would say a technology company is actually very complicated because when it comes to technologies, people usually think about AI, automation but eventually right now you’d still need people to talk to each other, clarify the future, build up the accepted criteria, so on and so on.

So in that sense, honestly, I don’t see any advantage of having so many people from different backgrounds. If there is one, I would say that if you’re a fast-moving startup that needs to have many ideas and your team is comfortable disagreeing with each other in a respectful way, then that is the advantage of having a multicultural team. Because when you have people with different backgrounds and contexts, they will see the same thing from different perspectives. And then if all together your team agrees and looks forward to the same allied goals, then you will have a really perfect way, to go to the success.

Mr. Rakesh Dayal:

Excellent. So what I get from here is you’re talking about if there is something that is like an advantage, then it is about getting a different context. While we are specifically for the startups where we really want to have something interesting, some new ideas for product development or so yeah. Your perspective, Mr. Minh?

Mr. Minh Le:

I did stress on the point of like “Is it reinforcing?”. Bringing everyone together to basically be on the same page and strive towards a common goal. And what I see and it’s partly a reflection of myself and then some of the other folks who come in and help out is basically it’s filling in the gaps, where there may not be a clear understanding.

In terms of communication, right, in terms of cultural taboos. If you’re working with a South African, how different is that from working with a Filipino? I mean, obviously, even though both of them speak English. The way that they speak and the way that they interact is different. So I think little things that at the end of the day add up. We already touched on a lot of idea sharing and contributions. But, like I said, it’s the little things that actually bring the organization closer and tighter together, and then be on the same page. At the end of the day, it helps, like if you have people who understand differences in culture. They’re much more tolerant. 

There are a lot of times I see that when there’s a misunderstanding, it’s not that somebody’s trying to be purposely disrespectful, right? It’s just more that there’s just a misunderstanding in terms of cultural differences. There are people who take it the wrong way, but in reality, when you have people from different backgrounds who understand and have experienced these things, they’re more tolerant and open to these types of interactions. 

Mr. An Le:

I want to add a very important thing. I was born in Saigon, and I have been in the country for 30-plus years, so I mean, I’m a Saigon-ee, but I see the city changing so much in the last 10 years. Just last month, I was at a birthday party in Thao Dien and I saw so many Vietnamese people, but none of them spoke Vietnamese to me because they just came back from the US and the UK and some of them were actually the 1st time back in Vietnam.

So I think, to be honest, we’re living in a super flat world right down. 

And it’s the same thing I’ve observed, even in China. I was in China. I was in Japan. And people are getting more and more inclusive. So this is the new world we are living in and I think whether you like it or not, the multicultural environment is gonna be the new working environment for you. So yeah. Advantages or disadvantages, the question is more like how we can cope with it and how we can make it work for your team and your company.

In-depth Discussion – Best practices

Mr. Rakesh Dayal:

Exactly. And what do you see as a barrier when it comes to working in a multicultural organization?

Mr. An Le:

I think definitely the number one thing is gonna be English. And if you want to work in Japan, it’s gonna be Japanese. If you work in Korea, it’s gonna be Korean. Language is also about culture.

I was in Japan. It’s very interesting. I was in Japan with my friend and then he told me, okay, you’re not allowed to shake people’s hands like it’s in Europe. I work along with people from Europe but then it’s wrong considering to Japanese. You have to bow and do a lot of stuff. I think language is the 1st door, but then what is very important is that you need to understand what is not allowed in the outer culture.

When it comes to “Do” or “Don’t”, it’s more about the “Don’t”.

If you do that, people will think that you’re disrespectful to their culture or themselves. I think if I can choose only one thing, I think it’s gonna be a language.

Mr. Rakesh Dayal:

Got it. And Mr. Minh?

Mr. Minh Le:

So it’s funny that you mentioned Japan because previous to Vietnam, I was in Japan for 10 plus years and I worked there for a bit. I came back to Vietnam from working with a Japanese company and also my wife’s Japanese. So it’s funny that you raised that point. But yeah, I think in general, there are companies and there was also a comment in the chat box, the type of companies that you work for, right? If you’re working for a Japanese company, or you’re working for a German company, or you working for a Korean company? Usually, those tend to be stronger. They want to highlight and emphasize that culture is part of their strength.

It’s not necessarily towards focusing on diversity as much as being one and aligned with their culture that you know is more important.

So I’ll touch on Japan because I spent a lot of time there. So a lot of it is, do you understand Japanese culture and you understand the detailedness of a Japanese individual, especially with respect to quality, and how detailed they are and how deep they go? And because you understand that aspect of their culture, then you can work much better alongside that. 

It’s almost a little bit like when you’re in that ask when you’re working for those types of companies, I’m not saying it’s a bad thing, a part of it is understanding and a part of it is what I would call like a little bit of indoctrination. You have to understand you have to almost be a part of them before you perform. So like I’m using this one more of the context of bridging gaps. And gaps, whether it be communication gaps or as you mentioned don’t shake hands with somebody right in Japan, that’s a taboo, right? Just basically clarifying the “Don’t”. And making sure that, you know, what you’re doing is, like I said, in terms of being open and respectful. I think those things are, again, one of the same but in different ways. But it’s just different aspects of how companies work and how countries including Vietnam operate, how companies that are representing different countries in Vietnam operate.

Mr. Rakesh Dayal:

Yep, thanks. And just because we are talking about Japan and I had this very interesting incident, let me just share the story. So, it was about one of our clients, a Japanese client. We were just presenting and after the presentation, I asked if there were any questions or any feedback. Everybody was quiet in the room. And then I asked the main person with whom we normally interact. Then he stood up and he was Japanese, he looked at me and said: “Hey, do you guys have any questions?” – “Yes. Of course, I have questions.”

So I was like after the session I asked: “What is the difference? I asked the same question: “Do you have any questions” and then when you asked the same question, they said yes that they had questions.” So of course, we answered but then I was informed that: “You have to actually look at people. And say: “Mam, do you have any questions?” So it’s not just saying people will not raise their hand and say I have a question. 

So yes, what I understand from both of you, is that communication becomes a big barrier, especially when we are not familiar. I would say of course language is the basic, but not just language, but we should also be aware of the norms of each culture, and each country to make us be easier to interact and understand different people.

Now that brings us to the next question, do you have, any specific policies around people, especially when you’re working from Vietnam, but recruiting, people, say other nationalities, either working from that country offshore or an expert or a foreigner working in Vietnam? Do you have any public, like a people policy, which ensures that you have training onboarding?

Mr. Minh Le:

So yes, I’ll touch up on that in a bit, but basically, for anybody joining our company, usually there’s a 2-month probation period. And what we do is we have a series of different types of onboarding training which is what we built ourselves. And we have a learning management system that helps support it, called the Tyme academy. So it’s basically about a month’s worth of training, where it’s not only just technical, but you get to understand what our history is, who the leadership is, and not only just in Vietnam but outside of Vietnam, how our goals and how we’re trying to achieve our goals work in terms of OKRs, roadmap, so on and so forth. That’s what we’re doing now.

What we do in the next couple of months, we’re pretty heavily invested in AWS, where a cloud digital bank and we’re AWS’s first digital bank. So we had a survey of the last cohort of people who’ve been in our company for under a year. Our question to them was very simple and it was actually very eye-opening: “In your first year, did you feel that you had the skill sets that you need in AWS particularly, to be able to do your work effectively?” And it was on a scale of 1 to 10, the scale and the score was an average of 5. That was a little bit shocking to me and so, now we’re actually working very closely with AWS, they’re gonna customize a program for us. The goal from there is from day one until at least their 1st month or 2nd months of probation, you’re basically gonna get 4 AWS trainings. 

And then for our portfolio, we break our teams into portfolios an area, for example, lending would be a portfolio, and they would then go deep into their tech stack using AWS. So, it’s something that, we strive to achieve and we’re a feedback-oriented culture. So obviously one is coming in and building training and understanding of our culture from day one, but then also additionally technical training afterward. So I think we’re gonna be very excited to, launch that program. I guess a long way to add to your question is like, we do have a lot of training as part of, you know, people coming into our company.

Mr. Rakesh Dayal:

Thank you. And let’s just shift the gear and then look at how we resolve the conflicts. Mr. An, if there is any conflict, especially with the conflict comes when there are different nationalities or different cultures involved. How do we intervene? And resolve those.

Mr. An Le:

So, before answering that, I want to explain one thing first. When you talk about multicultural, we are making a stereotype of a guy from Asia, different from a guy from I know in Germany. Most of the time is true, right? But at the same time, if you have a guy who was in Germany, but spent 6 years or 7 years studying in the US, that’s a different kind of guy. At the same time, the age of people also affects a lot to the trade like how they integrate things, how they interact with other people, and how they deal with conflict. 

So, in our company, we have the company values applied for 800 people all over the world, wherever offices you are in. Then we have the values of the country where you decided to base. And then we think about the country you have offices in because we have all 4 offices in Vietnam, so each office will have a different kind of flavor as well. And then inside the team, they also have their own core values. So at the beginning of any project for the team kick-off, most of the team will do the team’s canvas, and it is a way for them to clarify the do’s and don’t and the goals and the command objective to the team and how they resolve conflicts if they have any.

But most of the time, it all comes down to leadership. In our company, the leader or the manager of the team is the one who needs to resolve the conflicts based on the preference of the team and also based on the level of the seriousness of the conflict. If you are talking about like just, Vietnamese people aged from 25 up to 40, the best way for them to solve a conflict is to ask them out for drinking or karaoke and then they will be very happy and tomorrow everything will be solved. If you’re talking about, German colleagues, the best way for them is to sit in the office and then talk very directly like: “I don’t like this and that”, and most of the time they will be like: “Mmm, okay, got it” because they are super not sensitive at all sometimes.

So, we don’t have a very clear guideline of how to solve the conflict, but we rely on our managers and the team because we hope that our values are strong enough that they believe when they come to this company, everyone has each other back and we’re not here to play any political stupid.

Mr. Rakesh Dayal:

Yeah, thank you. I think you touched upon a very interesting point which was about communication. Sometimes, depending on the culture, I completely agree and understand this stereotyping, which we do, which we should not do because, if you see someone from a particular country or nationality, we will label them: “Oh, this is how they will behave”. But actually, as you said, the upbringing might be different, they might be coming completely from a different place or they might already have an experience of working abroad with multi different cultures. 

So I think that’s one thing I would say a takeout from this session is that: Don’t stereotype someone. Because it will be a barrier for us and that person, me and that person during the interaction. And you also touched upon one interesting point, which was about the communication style. They’re like some of the rest and as you said German for example, if I have to give feedback, it could be direct and then the person says, got it. And that’s it. But you can’t really use the same technique and language, or way of communication with people, especially in Asia, right? Then it has to be indirect. And as you said, you take them out for a drink but still share the feedback they’re fine and that’s okay. So these are nuances that are required and to be aware of when it comes to multicultural.

In-depth Discussion – Stress level and Engagement at work

Mr. Rakesh Dayal:

Now moving on to the topic of stress. The reason why we wanted to bring up this topic is there is a report from Gallup. It’s a very interesting point that I read: In the US, when there is a lot of stress, productivity increases. Surprise! Whereas if you look at countries like Europe and Asia, it goes completely opposite.

If I work under stress, I won’t perform. My productivity really goes down. But it is just the opposite and as per that Gallup report 2023, it says that: They look for such an environment where they can perform much more effectively and much more upcoming better. What’s your view, Mr. Minh? You come from the US.

Mr. Minh Le:

Yeah, you know, I think I would agree with that statement where I think, at least in the working culture in the US, there’s a lot of pressure, in terms of performance, in terms of measuring performance, and to some degree that resonates with a lot of people. But I think, here in Vietnam, and especially in technology, I don’t think that’s the way to motivate somebody to say: “Hey, you’ve got to hit your numbers here.” Especially within teams, or “You’ve got to deliver this at this date.”, which is a scary word for everyone, right? 

The way that I try to think through things and at least, put the team in perspective, it’s really the team. It’s not, you’re just not on an island by yourself. And what you do, you win together, you lose together, right? And you do things together, there’s a supporting cast around you to help enable you to achieve your goals. I think at the end of the day if you’re able to do it then A – you’re doing it with others and then you can celebrate together. And B – if you’re not able to accomplish it, then you’ve got a support net that can help you.

So I think that’s how I look at it. And I think it’s just that mentality really resonates more in the US than in any other places I’ve seen.

Mr. Rakesh Dayal:

Absolutely. Yeah, so that was actually a shocking point I read and I thought I would bring it up, especially asking you because you come from the US. 

Mr. An, the next point is all about when I or somebody who works in a company, it’s always looking for psychological safety. “Yes, I will perform my best if everything is all taken care of”, but ultimately, it is all about how I feel when I go to the office. Do I feel valued? Like fairly that’s the point that links to our multicultural. So irrespective of what culture or nationality I am or when I enter the office of NFQ, I feel at home. Irrespective of whatever defenses we have. 

How do you ensure that psychological safety? Especially when I assume you have around 10% of your staff who are, say expats working in Vietnam? Or, sometimes you also have stuff working in Egypt, for example. How do you engage with them and ensure that psychological safety is taken care of?

Mr. An Le:

Yeah, so, The number one thing is, I want every employee when coming to NFQ feel like they are in high school rather than feeling at home because I want them to go to the real home with their parents, the wife or husband, and the kids. Life is too short to be a workaholic. That’s my personal belief.

So in the NFQ, we really care about the people’s feelings because eventually as a tech company, we don’t owe any solution yet. What we do here is we provide the best talents through the company that needs the best talent, that’s what we do, so people are our most important concern. So every week, we send our posts and survey. It’s very short, only 5 questions like “How are you this week, Is your manager taking care of you, Are you happy with your team, Are you happy, in general?” And then some other funny questions about, I think the last question we asked is: “How many days do you think is the best for you to come to the office?” Something like that.

And, as the CEO of the company, I read all of the comments every week to make sure they are all listened to and that there is no escalation in the company that I am not aware of. It doesn’t mean that I need to intervene because if I intervene, I have no time for other things, but I need people to understand that if they have a concern, someone will be there and listen to it.

So I think, from my own experiences in this company, when you do something different when you grow you will feel stressed because learning means that you have a very high chance of failing. If you make a mistake then you start learning and then next time hopefully you will not make the same mistake, but then you will make another new mistake because then that’s how you learn the new thing. To be honest, I think stress is inevitable, especially in, such a VUCA environment like tech that we are operating in, but transparency is how you can make people feel safe.

Transparency means that if we do a policy, if we ask people to come to the office, we need to explain to people why we decided to do that. If I’m not gonna organize a company trip and need to explain, what I plan to use the money for, for example, going to Japan or Korea to attend a conference. So when you explain to people and that you give them more information, it makes them feel onboard, it makes them feel trusted, listened and then that’s how you give them the safety in terms of psychology.

Mr. Rakesh Dayal:

Very interesting. Okay. So quite a lot of interesting points. Thanks, Mr. An and Mr. Minh.

In-depth Discussion – What do you plan to improve further in the future?

Mr. Rakesh Dayal:

Let’s move on and really look at: What are the areas especially, not specifically for your organization, but IT as an industry overall? What do you think we should be really training or improving in terms of communication? Because I remember, during my individual chats, I think it was Mr. Minh who said that in some of the meetings, there were some ex-pats or our team in Vietnam would not even raise their hand to ask a question.

So it is just about English or is it about confidence in communicating their point of view because IT is where people are mostly ingenious with the geeks who really are more focused on the work and they are delivering good results. But then when it comes to working with different teams, what are the areas when it especially comes to communication? What should be our focus as an IT industry, Mr. Minh?

Mr. Minh Le:

Yeah, it’s really raised that point because I think somebody just a few minutes ago, commented that on the group chat. So, I think one of the common things I hear, and call it a stereotype or whatever is that in general our colleagues from South Africa and the Philippines when they interact with our teams, especially with the engineers, there’s little feedback. And, obviously, one thing is for most of these engineers that the English level while we do qualify a lot of them and they do have a strong foundation. They’re just very reserved, right? And they don’t want to express their mind and their opinions. Because they feel that they may sound unintelligent, they may sound unprepared, which is not the case but I think it’s just more of a psychological factor that comes into play and so they don’t want to speak their mind.

So what happens is at the end of the day, instead of turning less into a 2-way feedback conversation, it turns more into one way, like “It’s okay, I’m telling you what to do because you’re not giving me any feedback and do you understand, yes or no?”. If you don’t say anything, if there’s no comment then silence means consent and understanding.

So you know, you get into this basically psychological trap in a way that one entity who’s stronger in English will then speak down like it’s not intentional, but it’s just what happens, just the nature of the conversation and because it’s in English. One entity speaks better than the other, right? Here in Vietnam, people are the experts in technology. You own the technology. You’re accountable for the technology, right?

And you need to be able to represent it in terms of when you’re asked for it. You know when people are seeking advice from you.

So what we try to do, and it doesn’t always work is that we try to make the group smaller with fewer participants so that they have to speak and they’re the only ones in that room who are accountable for that aspect of the domain. There’s no way to get around it, right? Because if you’re the only one in the room and you’re the best, the most qualified person to speak on technology or speak on AWS or to speak on the platform. Either way, you have to talk. Yeah, there’s no way going around it, right? So make it small.

The other thing is to enable them with the skills obviously we offer and I think most technology companies here these days offer English training. It comes with a package. Hopefully, you can build that relationship between the entities early. So if there are people from South Africa and most of the conversation is online, but at the end of the day, we say: Hey, either we have to send you guys over, you spend a lot of time building bridges, building these relationships, and then the conversation becomes easier, right?

But again, it also comes back to who you hire and how you qualify. Because culturally you need to qualify to say: Hey, You’re an engineer, but in the day, one of our core values is actually going into speaking up and being able to represent yourselves, right?

Mr. Rakesh Dayal:

Great. This is very interesting because ultimately it is like communication and I would like to just slightly slip it by saying, for example, I am from the Philippines, from your team and I am talking to my Vietnamese colleague who is an expert in IT. They know the technology, and they know the product the best. 

But instead of me just using English as my communication skill as overpowering, how do we train them to actually see that there is a value in getting closer and giving them time, understanding them, and how can they speak?

So again, it will be both ways, right Mr. Minh? I’m just looking from their sides

Mr. Minh Le:

Exactly. Yeah.

Mr. Rakesh Dayal:

So it has to be both ways. It cannot be just like: “Okay, we are from Vietnam. We have to improve our communication skills. We have to improve our English. Yes, as a country, and as a culture, we are doing that.” I think it has to be both ways. 

Mr. An, coming to the second point on the one that if we have to really improve especially on the multicultural aspect which links to our productivity and better engagement, how do you think that technology is going to help us bridge the gap?

Mr. An Le:

So before I answer this question, I want to go back to your comment about the Vietnamese engineers’ need to improve their communication. So my honest respect as a Vietnamese person is we are doing service. And if you are doing service and you want to get the money from other people, we need to deliver a very good service. In that sense, I also agree with Mr. Minh that actually, even in our company where we are making sure that our engineers can talk more. 

For example, in the past, I organized a tech talk concept where they had to speak for about half an hour and then 40 minutes of giving examples, and then there was a Q&A where everyone was so scared of talking to me because they didn’t want to be invited as the speaker for the tech talk. So this year, what we do is building a new concept called “Lightning speak”. “Lightning speak” is where you just speak for 5 minutes. So that they cannot complain like: “Oh, I don’t know what to talk about and blah, blah, blah.”

For now, every month, I have 3 engineers speaking to a group of 20 people, and I believe that in the future there will be more engineers speaking on stage because we can do one thing that is important, but explaining what you do in our tech is also very important. It’s like you write a code but you don’t command and then you expect that 20 months later someone will go in and check your code and view something, on top of it. So I’m a huge fan of more communication.

Mr. Rakesh Dayal:

Absolutely, absolutely. I was thinking that we certainly dignify communication, but I think when we are talking about multicultural, we should also get the other side, also be sensitive to the culture of Vietnam about how we get The Vietnamese team to speak up. So, that was the point. 

In-depth Discussion – What is your advice to the community?

Mr. Rakesh Dayal:

Before we move on to the Q&A, I would like to just ask you: What would be your advice to our listeners and audience today?

Well, I’m assuming most of them are our IT professionals. So what would be your advice to this community, especially in the aspect of working in a multicultural environment? To both IT professionals and also to the support like the corporate functions of HR., supporting the whole industry.

Mr. Minh Le:

I think just general advice for most people. I think this pertains to Tech specifically because I think the growth of the tech sector in Vietnam in the last 20 years is probably 4 or 5 fold at least. The growth is a bit just enormous. And there’s never been to what I’ve seen a true recession like it’s always been on the trajectory, they may have flattened a little bit but it’s always on the upside right? What I’ve seen is everyone expects a double-digit salary raise every year and if they don’t get it, there’s an opportunity to jump. 

What usually happens is if you end up jumping too much, you actually don’t get the skill set you would have if you stayed and you would have been able to learn a little bit more, grow yourself a little bit more, be part of something that’s just not short term. And so that’s kind of, not everyone, but a lot of people in tech, I see that is still the mentality today: If I don’t get paid tomorrow,  there’s a new opportunity next door. And because tech is so hot and very easy for me to get that opportunity.

Then at the end of the day, what happens is 10 years, 15 years later, tech changes. What are you gonna do? The foundation needs to be strong. I think that being one, I think, be good at your craft and the opportunities will come. I think that’s the 1st tenant. 

The second one is obviously when you get older, especially in technology, things change. For example, people who were doing cobalt 20 years ago, and there are probably still few jobs there, but that’s not the case anymore. I mean, you gotta diversify your skill set. And whether that be in management or learning in terms of communication and being able to lead, that’s something that doesn’t come naturally to people, but that’s definitely a way to, expand and then continue to grow yourself. And then at the end of the day, that’s how you actually make more money because it comes along with that.

It’s really the long game is actually what I want to say. And for the other folks, I think it’s pretty much the same. The only thing that I’ve seen that has been very unique is basically the growth of just what’s happening in AI.

And how we’re leveraging that. In HR, in marketing, in our branding aspect to really get exponentially better. Because now people aren’t used to being good at writing, but very good using chat GPT and they’re much more efficient.

So we’re able to get things out much faster. I think for those types of industries or segments, I think definitely you need to be on top of what’s out there in terms of technology, in terms of AI as well.

Mr. Rakesh Dayal:

Great, thanks for your input, Mr. Minh. How about you, Mr. An?

Mr. An Le:

When it comes to how to work efficiently in a multicultural environment, I have 3 classic advice. 

Number one is you need to read books. Not so many people like to read books, I mean you don’t even need to. The thing is if you read a book and you don’t like the book, just stop reading and then move on to another book. But books opened a lot of horizons to me personally and also gave me lots of different perspectives on things. So when it comes to multicultural, you don’t know what you don’t know. So it’s very important that if you learn a lot of new things about this work, then eventually, you are very flexible and adaptable in any environment.

The second piece of advice is you should travel a lot. I think, my 1st time when I was out of the country was when I was 17 years old in China and then I was in Singapore. Before I was 20 years old, I traveled to a few countries in the region and I think it really opened my mind. It shocked me in the beginning how people behaved, how people talked, how the building looked like, and then eventually it became me as a person. So, travel more frequently if you can. Now traveling is very cheap. Just go with Vietjet or if you have more money, just go with Vietnam Airlines. Travel more often. 

Finally, I think you should have, and I hope that I don’t have any Facebook friends at the conference today, that you should have people on your Facebook who you don’t like. Because most of the time we like to hang out and catch up with people with the same opinion as yours in life. Recently there was a monk in Vietnam who became famous and then eventually the Facebook feed showed me all of the people talking about him. What I did is I chose to follow the people who like him and the people also don’t like him. I mean, I cannot tell you my personal opinion because it’s dangerous in public, but I follow everyone because I believe that when people give you a different perspective in life, you can learn a lot. So, yeah, I guess, 70% of people in my Facebook friend list, I don’t really like them or want to have a beer with them.

Mr. Rakesh Dayal:

Wow, that’s an interesting insight and all the 3 are really relevant. Thank you so much. Mr. Minh and Mr. An. 


Question 1

Suppose you are the CEO of a branch company in Vietnam whose mother company is located abroad. Your mother company requires all brand companies to apply the Corporation’s policy, which states that some items are unsuitable, such as the holiday leave policy. Instead of using local holiday leaves, they require branch companies to apply a holiday leave policy like the mother company in which employees must work during the Tet holiday. What do you think about this? What would you do in this situation?

Mr. An Le:

So I want to confirm that, the public holiday is legal. So my answer to the group is: I’m Sorry, this is legal. And if you want people to work, during that holiday, usually they will have a 3X salary, which means that they have to pay 3 times the salary and I’m pretty sure my team will be like: “Yeah, please, I don’t need to go home with my mom, and that’s an issue because I went to work with engineers most of the time, I have to kick their asses home. They just like to code and beat bugs, create new work, and stay in the office. That’s my answer. 

Question 2

If you are managing 2-3 teams working remotely/hybrid but based in different countries, how would you effectively measure and track the productivity and engagement in your teams?

Mr. Minh Le:

I mean, good question. I think really just depends on the type of work too. For example, if I’m working with a designer who’s doing branding or logo and her deliverable is basically giving me that output that I would want in a certain amount of time. That’s very quantifiable. That’s easy, right? Again, engineering to some degree, is relatively straightforward, especially if you’re a smaller team. I think where it gets a bit more gray is when there’s a lot of dependency on people.

Right, and so the more dependencies you have, the more interactions you need, and the more conversations you need in between. That’s 1 it’s better to have face-to-face conversations or at least a minimum hybrid so that you can at least get in and converse and make sure that you can see eye-to-eye on things.

But if it’s just so over small teams where now today, we have plenty of engagement tools like Zoom and so on. We’re doing a webinar now, so I think also if you’re doing full remote, and you have the budget, I think at a minimum should spend at least once a quarter to do a meet-up of some sort, right? If it’s close enough, obviously. But you cannot overvalue the face-to-face interaction. It’s quite important.

Question 3

How to get Vietnamese software developers to talk more at the meeting with their colleagues from India, Indonesia, and the Philippines?

Mr. An Le:

I think Mr. Minh covered about 90% of what was needed already. Honestly, the one thing you should know from my old personal experiences working with engineers from India, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Vietnam is that engineers talk a lot, right? So it’s not an issue that they talk. The issue is that most of the time again is because of the language barrier and the communication style that they cannot talk with each other. My recommendation is you have a host or a facilitator of the discussion where they say: “Now you speak” and they will speak. I used it many times in the past and it’s very useful.

Mr. Rakesh Dayal:

Right, interesting. I can certainly understand it because in Ipsos, in my team, I have a person from an IT background and he’s a gem when it comes to you know working on developing, he’s super. But when it comes to communicating, I need somebody who can help him understand what I really expect from him. So yeah, you’re right. If you have someone that can be a good idea. 

Live Q&A

Question 1

What is your opinion on the view that “In a multicultural environment, in certain circumstances, stereotypes about colleagues/bosses from other countries can be a motivation for an employee to work more effectively and productively”?

Example: “When working with German colleagues, I will automatically pay more attention to detail and always be on time for meetings.”

Mr. Minh Le:

I’ll go back to my Japanese roots, right? I think before, I was a US-based startup, and then prior to that was a Japanese company. It’s funny to see the type of people who apply for Japanese companies versus Western companies. They’re almost a different demographic. Even though they’re engineers. And so you see the tendency for people who apply and usually stay long at Japanese companies is that they gravitate to the culture. You know, gravitate to the strictness of the discipline and the attention to detail, right?

Whereas engineers who apply from Western companies usually are more fast-paced. They want to learn a lot. They want to do a lot of things and they want to do it quickly and try to grow their skill set as quickly as possible and from kind of companies to companies. The opportunities are more abundant because there are more of those types of companies. Yeah, I mean, I would agree with that statement. I think some of the people, especially the ones who stay long Japanese companies just really appreciate that.

Question 2

Employees working in a multicultural company do not only have cultural differences but also differences in work thinking, working methods, etc. So, if the company only evaluates the capacity of employees using the performance scale of the home-based country, for instance, Vietnam, is it going to be fair for everyone?

Mr. An Le:

Wow, fairness is a very big topic. Fairness is, honestly, because fairness is also one of our company’s core values, we have so many discussions about it. Fairness can be very subjective as well. Like, my definition of fairness sometimes cannot be your definition of fairness because of our differences. So, in this circumstance, I assume that the person who asked this question is talking about: “Hey, you know, you pay me less than the guy in Germany or a guy from America, and why do you expect me to deliver the same values?”

We have an answer for this. So in NFQ, we hire only the top people in the market. I’m pretty sure everyone will say the same because right now tech is very competitive and you need the best guys in your team. So when you hire the best guys on the team, he has a lot of choices. He can join our company, or he can go to another company in Vietnam. He can go and work freelance for the US. All of the options will have the pros and cons.

When you choose a company, you are not only choosing the salary that the company offers, you choose opportunities to learn something that in 2 years you can ask for to detect salary somewhere else. You are also, choosing the lifestyle that the company can offer. I have a friend who is working freelance for a US startup. He almost turned crazy after 2 years. Because as you imagine you wake up at 4 pm and then you work until I don’t know when, like 7 am or 8 am or something, and then you go to sleep where everybody else in the city wakes up. So he has no girlfriend and he has no personal life.

If you like something like that, then good luck. But if you move to the US or Europe and then stay and work, the 1st above is the tax is unbelievably high, right? Second, the living standard is also very high. It costs me this bottle of water in Vietnam less than 1$ for example. If you go to Switzerland is gonna cost you €10, so imagine that. I think that now, like I said, the work is getting very flat. And the competition is very global. You should not expect that the level of expectation from other people will get less. But you should grow yourself to be really up to the global level.

Question 3

What are global training or best practices to train foreign experts to understand more about Vietnamese IT communication and culture?

Mr. Minh Le:

I mean, to be honest, I’m one of those guys who just like to get my feet wet. And for anybody who wants experience, I think the best thing to do is just to go work for the company and then work with engineers, right?

And I think that’s where you actually learn the most. I’ve never, at least personally come from Japan and all the US coming over here, I just started immediately working with people. That’s how I get into the new culture.

Mr. Rakesh Dayal:

But I think, one of the three points that Mr. An mentioned was travel. So my suggestion would be to travel to the country where you are planning to go. So that could be one. I took that advice from Mr. An. Mr. An you were raising your hand. Do you want to share something on this point?

Mr. An Le:

No, I just want to say exactly what you just said, right? If you want to learn about the culture, just be here. It is actually my recommendation that if they work with us every 6 months they have to be here at least for a week or 2.

Question 4

Hi anh An, I like your sharing about lightning speech, I have a question as each engineer has 5 minutes, how do you make their sharing valuable to the listeners?

Mr. An Le:

So what I first started is writing because half of my job is like if I ask my team to talk more, I also need to talk more, and believe it or not I’m very introverted. It really paid for me when I 1st started writing things and speaking. Because 1st of all, it’s not something that I was born with.

So I struggled to write only like 100 words. Then, I speak for 5 minutes and then later on I can speak for 20 minutes, up to a certain time when I was the facilitator for a panel in front of 5,000 people. And it took me, I think 5 or 6 years. 

So the lightning speech, first of all is the interaction practice so that the people feel comfortable to be on stage, get the stage frightened, and then talk to the people. For the rest of the audience, you get to ask him the questions. And then the Q&A is absolutely the most valuable part of the lightning speech, not the sharing itself. The sharing is only a way to start a conversation and then they can start talking to each other.

So to answer the question, honestly, the sharing itself is not very, very valuable, but the conversation, the communication, and the time, yes, is what it counts.

Mr. Rakesh Dayal:

Excellent. Interesting and thank you so much for explaining that because I feel it is not just about you giving a platform where people can just come fearlessly, not just speak. Right, I think that will help them to come out of that fear of speaking. So thank you very much, Mr. An and Mr. Minh.

Closing Remarks

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