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Vietnamese management style guide

Cross Cultural Management Guide to Vietnam


The cultural insights offered below are for managers who want to learn more about the management style and business practices of Vietnam.

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

Topics include:

  • Role of management
  • Harmony
  • Time and scheduling
  • Communication style
  • Negotiation



Being a Manager in Vietnam

If you are new to Vietnam, or the region generally, then it's essential you pay attention to the culture and the local management style. Approaches and behaviours that might work in your home country, may actually put you at a disadvantage in Vietnam.

Here are some key tips that you should consider:

  • To be a successful manager, it is essential to maintain harmonious relationships and to be cognizant of the need for people to retain face in all transactions.
  • In business, it is important that you treat people with respect and deference at all times as this gives face, both to you and those you are dealing with.
  • Public criticism or displaying anger causes a loss of face and may jeopardize future relationships.
  • The business culture is undergoing a gradual transformation as more Vietnamese companies are becoming far more experienced at working with foreign firms.
  • It is important to note that some Vietnamese business people may seem wary of foreigners. As such, taking the time to build trusting relationships is essential. 
  • This may involve additional face-to-face meetings and socialising as trust is not something that can be built over virtual communication tools. 
  • The government is undertaking a form of privatization, called "equitization" where companies are made public, with the government retaining a minority stake of about 20%.
  • This means that many negotiations with private companies may also entail dealing with a government agency. It is possible that this may introduce additional bureaucracy into your meetings and extend the decision-making process. 
  • It's essential that you are patient and that you don't appear to be trying to rush proceedings as this may lose the trust of your Vietnamese counterparts. 

The Role of a Manager

Organisations in Vietnam are typically hierarchical which impacts the way in which managers and staff relate to each other.

  • If managing in Vietnam, always bear in mind that each person has a very distinct role within the organisation; it's important not to disturb this.
  • The hierarchy and structured contribution of individual roles are considered important as they help to maintain organisational order, stability and harmony.
  • Vietnamese employees typically believe that their supervisors have been chosen because they have more experience and greater knowledge than those they manage.
  • It is often considered, therefore, unnecessary, and even inappropriate for managers to consult with lower-ranking individuals when decision-making.
  • In Vietnam, as in other hierarchical societies, managers may take a somewhat paternalistic attitude toward their employees.

Approach to Change

According to intercultural research, Vietnamese culture has a low tolerance for risk.

  • Implementing change can be difficult as the idea itself 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.
  • If you are keen to promote change, then it's essential you outline the need clearly and highlight the benefits that this will bring to the organisation.
  • Be prepared for lengthy discussions with all relevant stakeholders.
  • Influencing them of the need is likely to take time and a strong management case. 

Time and Priorities

The Vietnamese generally hold a very fluid attitude towards schedules and timelines.

  • Vietnamese prioritise relationships over timescales and are unlikely to be inclined to upset others in order to enforce a deadline.
  • While appointments and schedules need to be set in advance, these should be viewed as flexible.
  • Patience is a necessary attribute of successful managers in Vietnam.
  • Global 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 changing, Vietnam’s ingrained bureaucracy is still evident in government agencies and State-Owned Enterprises (SOEs) which manifests in a number of ways in the Vietnamese workplace.

  • Since this is a hierarchical culture, most decisions are made at the top and then given to the employees to implement.
  • Actual power is generally held in the hands of a few key people at the top of the organization.
  • You may find that some Government or SOE employees are not comfortable taking initiative due to a general risk aversion within Vietnamese business culture.
  • The impact of communist rule has further compounded levels of risk aversion within the business place. 

Boss or Team Player?

We have already mentioned that Vietnam's business culture is fairly hierarchical. This impacts the Boss / Team Player situation in a number of ways.

  • If you are working in Vietnam or managing Vietnamese employees, it is important to remember that face and reputation play an important role.
  • If you would like to encourage participation from your reporting team members, then it is important to first clearly establish a non-threatening work environment and communicate fully that their participation is desired.
  • Avoid putting team members on the spot by challenging their ideas or insisting on a response as this may impact their feelings of face and make people feel uncomfortable about contributing in the future. 
  • When meeting together and moderating ideas, intercultural sensitivity is necessary.
  • It is important to qualify ideas that are raised in a gentle manner, protecting the reputation of those bringing up ideas, so no one is embarrassed.

Communication and Negotiation Styles

Personal relationships are essential for business relationships to grow and become productive:

  • If you jump too quickly into discussions of business, then you risk being perceived as uninterested in the relationship.
  • Instead, you should be prepared for your Vietnamese staff to raise the business subject when they feel it is appropriate to do so.
  • If in Vietnam, to avoid any potential miscommunication, it may be necessary to have all your materials translated and to arrange for an interpreter to be present.
  • The Vietnamese put a higher value on keeping one’s word than on contracts. Never commit yourself verbally unless you are prepared to stand by your word.
  • Negotiations move at a slow pace and patience will be a necessary attribute.
  • It is important to speak to all stakeholders, which often includes government officials.
  • When recommending a proposal, it is a good idea to offer several ways the other party could structure the deal.
  • The Vietnamese like to consider as many options as possible - as such, it may be to your benefit to think through all possible scenarios and outcomes. 
  • Be aware that Vietnamese are generally skilled negotiators.

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