30 MARCH 2016

After an engaging Asia Roundtable meeting in Singapore in the first week of March, we share some of the key discussions to come out of this newest addition to The Faculty Roundtable network.

An eclectic group of commercial leaders representing seven organisations gathered at the Fullerton Bay Hotel, including DBS Bank, Rio Tinto, BHP Billiton, AIG, National Healthcare Group, ANZ and Orica. Much of the discussion revolved around cultural differences in regional Procurement teams, an important challenge to master for ex-pat CPOs in particular.

Slow take-up of flexible working arrangements in south-east Asia

In line with their enterprise-level concern with safety, Singapore-based CPOs are working to introduce “emotionally safe environments” into their procurement functions. In essence, this means creating a culture where feedback can be given constructively by managers and team members, and leaders advocate effective and appropriate communication.

Work/life balance is a crucial component of emotionally safe environments, but flexible working arrangements are having surprisingly low levels of take-up amongst team members. Cultural norms in Singapore and across other parts of the region dictate that it’s more respectful to the employer to come to the office every day at the agreed-upon hours, i.e. 9 to 5 or longer. Roundtable CPOs discussed the difficulty they’ve faced in breaking through this cultural conditioning to assure their employees that they will not be thought any less of if they decide to work flexibly.

The group said there was also a tendency for teams to be on-call (checking emails) 24 hours a day, which is not encouraged from the perspective of work/life balance and emotional well-being.

Focus on cost

Each organisation reported an intense focus on cost reduction, mirroring the experience of their Australian Roundtable colleagues. Keith Bird, Managing Director of The Faculty and meeting facilitator in Singapore, says “It’s unsurprising that the focus on cost is at the top of every CPO’s agenda, but the real challenge is to ensure existing programs and initiatives don’t fall off the table in a cost-conscious environment”.

Cultural differences

With so many different cultural groups to work with across the Asia-Pacific region, cultural awareness is an integral part of Asian CPOs’ skill-sets. Attendees at the Singapore Roundtable manage teams across Japan, Korea, Singapore, China, Thailand, Vietnam, Myanmar, PNG and even Fiji, with careful consideration required when communicating with each group. One attendee gave the example of how Japanese culture generally doesn’t allow for much assertiveness when trying to convey an important message. Instructions cannot be conveyed directly, but need to be “put out there for consideration” to enable the recipient to decide, rather than being told what to do.

Key take-away

For Australian organisations, cultural awareness will become increasingly important as CPOs seek to actively develop diversity in their teams. Simply hiring professionals from different cultural backgrounds is no longer enough - leaders need to make the time to understand their team members' backgrounds and how this affects their ability to communicate effectively and work flexibly in an emotionally safe environment. 

The Faculty is looking forward to building upon relationships and ideas at the next Asia Roundtable meeting, scheduled for Thursday 9th June 2016 in Singapore. In the meantime, Roundtable CPOs are encouraged to reach out to their new colleagues to share ideas and continue the conversation. 

The Faculty Roundtable comprises of an influential group of procurement leaders who gather to share their experiences and insights, to achieve greater commercial success for their organisations. Through The Roundtable, members have access to leading-edge thought leadership and commentators, a ready supply of valuable expertise through exclusive market intelligence, as well as networking and professional development opportunities for themselves and their team members.

The Asia-Pacific CPO Forum is the region’s premier procurement event dedicated to accelerating commercial leadership at the highest level. It is a once-a-year opportunity for leading Chief Procurement Officers to engage with peers and like-minded business leaders in an intimate and interactive setting. The Forum is designed for delegates to facilitate the sharing of best practice strategies, develop innovative and responsive procurement approaches, and hear from a compelling speaker line-up of influential thinkers, eminent business leaders and commercially creative minds.

In 2016, The 9th Annual Asia-Pacific CPO Forum will held on 18th and 19th May in Melbourne, Australia. For more information contact Program Manager, Belinda Toohey, on +61 3 9654 4900 or via email.​