Thai Style Management


business travel

If you are dealing with Thai companies or have set up a company in Thailand, do not assume that these companies are run in the same way that they would be back home. In the West people work for a company or organization, and their loyalty is to that organization. In Thailand organizations are not run collectively, as in Japan, but by one person. That person has to be someone able to exercise authority and who can command respect. The older and more important he (or she) is, the more he (or she) will be respected. Thai worker-s are loyal to their boss, provided he does all that is required of him.

However, a manager’s role is not confined to achieving work targets. It spills over into other areas. In Thai society superiors have obligations to the people in their charge. They are expected to treat them kindly, paying attention to their welfare, and covering up their mistakes. A manager is regarded as a patron by his staff, and is expected to empathize with them and assist them in all kinds of ways, from helping their relatives find jobs to presiding over weddings.

This entails performing a balancing act between the exercise of authority (pradet) and patronage (prakun). If you look after your staff well, you will earn their respect and loyalty, and they will be prepared to go that extra mile for you when you need it. But if you fail to develop a deep and trusting relationship with your subordinates, your position is weakened.

In Western companies it is usual practice to fire staff if they are not performing well. Not so in Thai companies, where most employees expect to wend all their lives in the same company. To dismiss someone for incompetence or laziness could cause them to lose face. Besides, they may have powerful contacts. If you need to reprove someone, tread very carefully. Praise is a far more potent motivator than blame.

Some international companies with subsidiaries operating in Thailand have been known to bite the bullet and fire the local manager, but actions like this can have unintended, and unfortunate, consequences.

Establishing Trust

The Thais prefer do to business with someone they know and trust, so your priority must be to establish a good working relationship (nam jai). This inevitably takes time, so patience is essential. Nobody should expect to arrive in Bangkok one day and leave with a contract signed, sealed, and delivered the next.

First impressions are important, which is why you should abide strictly by the dress code, especially in Bangkok. You might imagine that in view of the capital’s hot and sticky climate people would dress down for comfort, but you would be wrong. Thai men dress in smart suits for formal meetings and visits, and they expect visitors to do the same. Thai women look equally smart. Blame this all on the former Thai Prime Minister Phibul Songkhram for insisting that formal Western dress was a mark of civilization, and anything else was not.

To make life bearable you might want to invest at the outset in a custom-made lightweight suit, which a local Indian or Chinese tailor should be able to run up for you in twenty-four hours as you recover from jet lag. Bear in mind, too, that many of the buildings you will be visiting have superefficient air-conditioning.

For informal gatherings outside business hours more casual attire is often worn, provided it looks smart. Brightly colored Thai cotton or silk shirts go over very well on these occasions, but it is wise to check what the dress code will be to avoid embarrassment. It goes without saying that you should be well groomed and, ideally, c1ean- shaven. The Thais distrust people with beards and unkempt hair.

Do not underestimate the importance of social gatherings, as this is one way of gaining trust. Also, while eating your noodles you may well learn useful snippets of information that do not come out during the formal meetings. Thais who are inhibited about voicing their opinions in formal meetings because of their lack of fluency in English are more likely to open up in a more relaxed atmosphere. so be prepared to brush up your social skills and realize that time spent making small talk in good company is often time well spent. However, avoid becoming so relaxed that you forget the rules of etiquette; steer away from taboo subjects, and don’t make jokes that are liable to be lost in translation. Remember that a certain amount of flattery always goes over well.

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