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Cross Cultural Management Guide for the Philippines

The guidance offered below is for managers who want to learn more about the management style and business culture of the Philippines.

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

Topics include:

  • Hierarchy
  • Leadership style
  • Time and scheduling
  • Communication style
  • Negotiation

Being a Manager in the Philippines

The business set-up in the Philippines is hierarchical. Foreign managers need to take into account the need to maintain a formal manner and pay strict attention to titles, positions, and hierarchical relationships.

  • Expect to find many gatekeepers whose job is to protect the schedule of and limit access to the ultimate decision maker.
  • In this relationship-driven culture, you will find it easier to make the proper contacts if a third party who already has a relationship with the decision-maker makes the introduction.
  • Filipinos avoid behaviours that would make either party lose face.
  • This leads to an indirect communication style, so carefully watch facial expressions and body language.
  • This is a country where a smile may mean many different things, not all of them positive.

Role of a Manager

When working in the Philippines, it is important to bear in mind that each person has a very distinct role within the organization and management would not be expected to consult with lower-ranking individuals when decision-making.

  • In the Philippines, as in other hierarchical societies, managers may take a somewhat paternalistic attitude toward their employees.
  • They may demonstrate a concern for employees that goes beyond the workplace and strictly professional concerns.

Approach to Change

The Philippines’ cultural appetite for change is apparent but because tradition is valued, change is not readily embraced simply because it is new.

  • As such, it will be necessary for you to make a clear case for change if needed and make efforts to speak to all stakeholders and gain their buy in. 

Approach to Time and Priorities

Deadlines and timescales are fluid in the Philippines. As such, patience will play an essential part in successful management.

  • While timescales and deadlines need to be set well in advance and reiterated carefully, it should be understood that these will be viewed as flexible.
  • Global online working means that some managers may have a greater appreciation of the need to enforce timescales and as such, agreed deadlines are more likely to be met.

Decision Making

Although many businesses retain hierarchical structures, decisions are often made after reaching a consensus among the stakeholders. Few individuals have full authority to make binding decisions concerning anything but mundane matters.

  • Teamwork is becoming increasingly important in most organizations.
  • The best ideas and solutions often come from having many people meet to discuss an issue.
  • Filipino managers will praise employees, although not generally in public.
  • Subordinates expect their efforts to be recognized and rewarded.
  • Most Filipinos are suspicious if praise is excessive or undeserved.

Boss or Team Player?

This is a hierarchical culture where rank has its privileges. Decisions are reached at the top of the company, although a great deal of time is spent building consensus prior to reaching the decision.

  • Managers are expected to provide their subordinates with detailed instructions that cover any eventuality.
  • Since they do not want to lose face (or have shame), many Filipinos are hesitant to ask for clarification if they are uncertain about a task.
  • Therefore, it is a good idea to use written instructions to supplement verbal communication whenever possible.
  • Managers adopt a paternalistic role towards their subordinates and guide them in both their business and personal lives.
  • Subordinates expect to be praised for a job well done, and public praise is extremely important as it heightens their self-respect.
  • Criticism, however, must always be done in private and must be handled diplomatically, being careful not to make the subordinate lose face so some cultural sensitivity will be necessary.

Communication and Negotiation Styles

The communication style in the Philippines is generally indirect and polite, with a strong emphasis on respect for authority and hierarchy. People tend to use euphemisms or vague language to avoid causing offense or confrontation, and nonverbal cues such as facial expressions and body language are also important in conveying meaning. There is also a preference for building personal relationships and establishing rapport before getting down to business.

  • You may never actually meet with the decision maker or it may take several visits to do so.
  • Decisions are made at the top of the company.
  • Filipinos avoid confrontation if at all possible.
  • It is difficult for them to say "no".
  • Likewise, their "yes" may merely mean "perhaps".
  • At each stage of the negotiation, try to get agreements in writing to avoid confusion or misinterpretation.
  • Decisions are often reached on the basis of feelings rather than facts, which is why it is imperative to develop a broad network of personal relationships.

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