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Cross Cultural Management Guide for Cambodia

The tips offered below are for managers who want to learn more about the management style and business culture of Cambodia.

It provides some useful information for managers who are relocating to the country for employment as well as those who may have Cambodian employees in their global or multicultural teams.

Topics include:

  • Hierarchy
  • Teamwork
  • Leadership
  • Approach to Time
  • Communication style
  • Negotiation

Being a Manager in Cambodia

The management style in Cambodia is influenced by various complex cultural, historical, and socioeconomic factors. It can be summarised as being hierarchical, with decisions being made at the top and passed down to subordinates. Managers are expected to be authoritative, and employees are expected to follow orders and not question their superiors.

  • The Cambodian culture places a great deal of emphasis on protocol.
  • Cultural sensitivity is essential and it is important that you are polite and exercise restraint and self-discipline in your business dealings.
  • When managing, bear in mind that each person has a distinct role within the organization.
  • People believe that their supervisors have been chosen because they have more experience than those they manage, and it is not appropriate to consult subordinates in the decision-making process.
  • Networking with Cambodian government officials and business people can assist you in making connections that will facilitate your business dealings.
  • Who you know and how well you know them can open important doors.

The Role of a Manager

Cambodia is a fairly hierarchical society, and as such, the role of a manager features a broader power distance than in less hierarchical societies. This may manifest in the work place in the following ways.

  • In hierarchical set ups of this nature, expatriate managers should be aware that employees may not take initiative within their roles.
  • If employees haven’t been asked to do something, or if they haven't been authorised to do something, then it would be considered presumptuous or inappropriate for them to go ahead and do it.
  • For this reason, managers will find that there is far more micro-management involved in their role, as employees can’t be expected to work independently and to make decisions without having received express authority which enables them to do so.
  • Managers are typically responsible for giving direction and making decisions.
  • In Cambodia, as in other hierarchical societies, managers may take a somewhat paternalistic attitude to their employees. 
  • This means that Cambodian managers may advise employees on events taking place outside of the work place.

Approach to Change

When it comes to change, the Cambodian approach is often cautious and slow, as there is a preference for stability and continuity. This can be attributed to Cambodia's traumatic history which has left a lasting impact on the country. As a result, Cambodians tend to be risk-averse, and change is often approached with caution and scepticism.

  • Change is difficult to bring about and the idea of it is not received with enthusiasm.
  • In order for change to take hold, the idea needs to be perceived as good for the group and be accepted by the group.
  • It's important that a clear business case is given, outlining the value of the change and its overall benefits to the organisation

Approach to Time and Priorities

Cambodia is very relaxed with its attitude towards schedules and timelines and individuals typically prioritise the importance of relationships over deadlines.  You are likely to find that:

  • Cambodians will not upset others in order to force meeting a deadline as the relationship is more important than the deadline.
  • While appointments and schedules need to be set in advance, these should be viewed as flexible.
  • Patience is a necessary attribute to successful cross cultural managers in Cambodia.
  • Global working means that you may find that some employees and managers have developed a greater appreciation of the need to enforce timescales and as such, agreed deadlines are more likely to be met.

Decision Making

Since Cambodia is a hierarchical culture, most decisions are made at the top of the company without seeking consensus from the employees who are simply told what has been decided and what they are to do. This cultural preference is likely to manifest in the following ways in the organisation:

  • There may be informal networking among employees or between managers and subordinates, although actual power is generally held in the hands of a few key people at the top of the organization.
  • To ensure successful cross cultural management, you will need to bear in mind that because of the hierarchical culture, young employees often have difficulty delegating work to someone who is older than they are, even if their own position is superior.
  • Most Cambodians are risk averse and will, therefore, follow directions explicitly, and do no more and no less than asked.

Team Work

The principles of management in Cambodia are similar to those in other countries, such as maintaining good communication, promoting teamwork, and encouraging employees to take initiative. However, there is a greater emphasis on loyalty to one's superiors, respect for authority, and maintaining harmony within the workplace.

  • If you are working in Cambodia, it is important to recognise that face and reputation play an important role.
  • People place a great deal of value on their reputation and how they are perceived.
  • If you would like to encourage participation it is important first to clearly establish a non-threatening work environment and communicate fully that their participation is desired.
  • When meeting together and moderating ideas, cultural sensitivity is necessary; it is important to qualify ideas that are raised gently, protecting the reputation of those bringing up ideas, so no one is shamed.
  • The management style in Cambodia is hierarchical and authoritative, with decisions being made at the top and passed down to subordinates.
  • The approach to change is cautious and slow, with a preference for stability and continuity.
  • The principles of management in Cambodia prioritize loyalty to one's superiors, respect for authority, and maintaining harmony within the workplace.

Communication and Negotiation Styles

Cross-cultural management will be more effective if you understand the importance Cambodians place on personal relationships. The communication style in Cambodia generally reflects the value placed on relationships as people tend to be fairly indirect in the way they communicate. This helps to protect relationships and avoid conflict.

  • Negotiations will be slow while they take the time to get to know you. It is worth being patient as any display of impatience could jeopardize the deal.
  • If proposing a large contract, it is advisable to first seek government approval.
  • Remember that Cambodians are non-confrontational.
  • They do not like saying "no" overtly. If they say "no problem" there may well be a problem and you will need to dig a little deeper to identify and manage it.
  • Strive to maintain your composure at all times. Displaying anger or irritation could negatively impact negotiations.
  • You may find that, due to Cambodia being a relatively poor country, that price is often a determining factor in business decisions.

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