Can Local Filipino Managers Make the Grade?

Conducting business in the Philippines often comes back to the trade off between quality and costs. The Philippines has a winning formula for balancing the two compared to other countries in the region, and is at the heart of what has made the Philippines workforce such a successful resource for companies based all around the world.

Managing this resource comes with various levels of expat involvement. The expense involved here erodes that cost benefit, but does that expense result in a worthwhile increase in quality?

If you are in the startup phase then heavier expat involvement is essential. You cannot build a business without people that know the business, and this goes without saying. As you get more established, you may have the option to phase out some expat involvement if you have locals that are up to the task. This may or may not be a realistic expectation depending on the type of business you are in, but for the purpose of this article we will look at the people management side of things.

Coming back to the quality and costs trade off for a second, the overwhelming evidence would suggest that local managers do satisfy this test in many cases. An easy conclusion to reach based purely from the fact that many do hold such positions where they may be looking after 100+ staff.

I would hesitate to reach any conclusions based on the position that someone holds though, or how many people they manage. I have come across a number of locals who have held positions such as Operations Manager, Site Manager, Assistant Operations Manager etc. who would struggle to answer a question that is not as back & white as 1 + 1 = 2. However, in a business that is highly systemized, and the OM just keeps the system running then perhaps there is no room for their independent thought anyway. Maybe well suited to them personally, or maybe you could put a monkey in the same position and get a comparable result. Tracking more names in a spreadsheet does not make you a competent people manager.

What about a position where you were managing people, and had room to make decisions about people and the strategic direction of the department you were charged with? Let’s throw the title out the window for a minute. Not all Ops Managers positions are created equal.

You would need someone technically strong in their field, plus an ambitious and results focused attitude, who was also great with people and able to balance the needs of their staff and the business to maintain an engaged environment. I will stop before this sounds like a job ad, but to sum it up a well rounded individual with a lot of common sense!! Without this they will not be able to solve the problems in front of them on a daily basis. Could they answer a question where 1 + 1 = 3?

You will be hard pressed to find local talent that will cope when there is not a black and white answer to a question in front of them. The heavily scripted, and process driven nature of so many jobs here leaves little room for independent thought and discretion. So do these people even exist? The answer is a resounding YES!!! You just have to look hard for them. Damn hard!

If you are a relatively small business then finding an individual like this would be like winning the lottery. As you grow in size you would likely have a level of staff turnover that will make it more realistic to strike gold in your search for a future star. However, if your turnover is too high then they may slip through your fingers before you know you are there.

It will not be obvious at first who this future staff is. More often than not, people who wow you at interview stage are just good showman, and used to doing a lot of interviews. All talk no substance. These are not who you are looking for, and probably wouldn’t last a month in your organization anyway. You will only identify your potential stars by paying attention to their development over time in your organization.

People may surprise you with what they are capable of, and in many cases they will surprise themselves when tested in ways they have not been before. A good manager will have an eye for talent that may be going under the radar, and will be able to gradually bring this person out of their comfort zone and build their confidence.

We will assume that anyone you are looking at as a future star already ticks off all the basics that would get your attention; hard worker, good English, high performer etc. you want to observe behaviours over time.

  • Do they hold themselves to a high standard of work when no one is looking?
  • Are they rational and measured in their responses rather than emotional?
  • Can they make a complex issue sound simple when explaining to a co-worker?
  • Are they a long term thinker, or only concerned with the here and now?
  • Do they remain humble in the face of great achievement?
  • Do they have the respect of their colleagues?
  • Have they shown exceptional resilience? They will need it if they are to become a manager!!

If you cannot answer these questions, or others more relevant to your business, then find a way to test them. There will be a pattern of behaviour that will tell you if this person is what you are looking for or not.

There are risks that come with placing local talent in key positions. The employment market can be somewhat fickle at times and if you do not consistently invest in the relationship you may find a well liked manager could leave and take a large number of staff with them to a competitor. This could set the development of your business back considerably. This could also be a significant advantage as you have an individual who will be tuned in to the needs of the staff, and if you have chosen well they will be able to filter out a lot of the noise and identify the key staff issues.

It would be unrealistic for a business to expect an expat presence of zero. It is an off shore business after all, and not something to turn your back on. However, there is local talent who will do a job as good, if not better, than your expat staff. They are just hard to find. When looking at your quality relative to cost trade off, having a local manager who can match it with an expat are gold. Remember they should be treated as such. If you find them, look after them.

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