Saving Face

Week three of G-Lab in the books! We gave our final presentation on Friday, said our goodbyes to the folks at CX Technology, and headed off for one last weekend in sunny Vietnam before heading back to snowy Boston.

The last week on-site gave some interesting insights into the way business is done in Asia and the concept of “saving face”. As we had previously mentioned, one of our biggest findings during our time here was that there was a disconnect between the way the scheduling process was supposed to happen and the way that it was actually being used on the factory floor. After spending a day in the factory talking to people in each shop, it was clear that the formal schedule is used as guidance at best and that it most cases the work is scheduled and prioritized based on the required ship date and a separate informal daily report. This finding not only reinforced the importance of “going to the gemba”, but it also led us to make a series of recommendations on how to improve the current process to make it more in-line with what the factory “customer” requires. However, when we tried to share these findings and recommendations we encountered much more resistance than we expected.

As soon as we discovered the disconnect, we had a meeting with the plant manager to discuss what we had found. At the time he expressed gratitude for us discovering the issue, and gave action items to his production supervisors to address it (though his instructions were in Chinese so we’re not entirely sure what was said). Fast forward a week and we had a chance to meet with the Chairman of the larger umbrella corporation that owns CX. He was down from Taiwan for a few days and carved out time to talk to us about the broader corporation and the large Phu My Hung development effort that they have been undertaking for the last 20 years. After his presentation to us, we gave our presentation about what we had learned during our first two weeks at CX. After a tense opening few minutes (during which we started to question if we were even addressing the right issues on the project), we dug into our findings and recommendations. The issue of the scheduling disconnect came up about halfway through and we talked through what we had found. This again led to a conversation in Chinese, this time between the Chairman, Plant Manager, and Production Manager (the later two were in the room but had not been actively participating in the meeting). Afterwards, we had a nice lunch with the Chairman and the plant leadership and nothing more was said about the findings.

Fast forward another two days, when we had the awkward lunch described by Vrajesh. While it was a surprise at the time, in hindsight it was an important lesson about the concept of “saving face”. Even though the Plant Manager accepted our recommendations and appears to be taking steps to implement some of them, he still does not accept our observations that led us to make the recommendations. By doing so he would have to admit that his factory had not been following the policies that were implemented by him nearly a year ago. While this baffled me for a while, I now realize that is just a different way of thinking that what we are accustomed to in the US. The concept of “face” is deeply engrained in the Asian culture and it’s important to realize that what is said in a group setting or meeting is very different than what is said in private and what actually ends up happening. Our most productive meetings of the whole trip were the ones with the Plant Manager individually. This was the only time when he was able to be open and candid with us. Going forward, it will be important to remember that the real business in Asia happens in these private settings, not in a large meeting or group.

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