Five tips to write an effective job advertisement in Vietnam

In the previous post, job advertisement on such recruitment websites as Vietnamworks can be considered as the most popular and effective recruitment channel in Vietnam. As a result, it is very important to have an effective job advertisement since it usually lead to effective recruitment. By “effective”, I mean the job advertisement is able to attract the “right” candidates, the ones that are desired by the company in terms of their professional skills, mindset and culture fit, to read and apply. In this post, I will share some tips from my own experience that can help to write an effective job advertisement. Even though most of the examples given in post focus on the IT industry, I’m pretty sure that the tips can also be applied in other industries as well.

Tip 1: Appealing title – To click or not to click…

to_click_or_not_to_click
When being posted on a job website, our job advertisement is actually competing with hundreds or thousands of others out there. As a result, it is very critical to be able to have an appealing title (the title of the job advertisement, not the title of the role we are hiring) that can help to differentiate our job advertisement from the rest in the list, catch the attention of the candidates and encourage them to click on it. This is essential due to the simple fact that if candidates do not click on your job advertisement, they will definitely not gonna apply to it. There are several ways to make a title more appealing but the principal rule is to make it longer with more attractive information. For example:
  • Instead of just a plain title “.NET Software Engineer”, use something that is more interesting and creative such as “Rockstar .NET Software Engineer Wanted!” or “Talented .NET Software Engineer In Need!”.
  • If the fact that our company is a Silicon Valley based company can be considered as an advantage then we can also put that into the title.
  • If we have no problem revealing the salary range and we think that it is attractive then it can also be included in the tile.

So, if you are a candidate, which of the following job advertisement’s title is more appealing to you:
“.NET Software Engineer”
or
“Talented .NET Software Engineer Wanted! (Silicon Valley based company, net salary up to 2000 USD/month)”.
Which one will catch your eyes and encourage you to click on?

Again, the rule here is very simple: if the candidates don’t click on our job advertisement, they will definitely not gonna apply to it. So clicking on the job advertisement is the first essential step to get the candidates and this depends mainly on the title of our job advertisement.

Tip 2: Creative introduction – Do you see yourself here?

self_reflection

Having the candidates to click on and open the job advertisement is just the first step to effective recruitment. It is also very important to create a good impression in the introduction of the job advertisement to encourage the candidates to scroll down and read the whole ads. In our case, in order to find employee who are creative and can think out of the box, we need to show that we are also creative and think out of the box too. So instead of a normal introduction starting with some description about the company, we can ask our candidates a series of questions:

“- Do you want to work in an amazing office with professional working environment?
– Do you speak English very well?
– Do you like to gain more experience in cutting-edge .NET technologies?
– Do you like to work with co-workers who can be more talented than you?
– Do you want to see kangaroo and koala bear in real life?
If you answer Yes to those questions then <our company> may be the right place for you.”

This will be more likely to catch the interest of the candidates and if they can see themselves in those questions, it is also very likely that they will read the rest of the job advertisement and apply.

Tip 3: Informative job description – Let us tell you a story about a typical working day here.

once_upon_a_time

In terms of a boring list of bullet points, it is more interesting and also more creative for job description to be in a form of a story describing a typical working day of an employee in the hiring role. For example:

“Long Nguyen, a .NET Software Engineer, starts his working day at 8:00 AM by checking his emails. It is now noon in New Zealand so the Product Owner and the Application Architect, who are located in the Wellington office, have had enough time to send to the team several emails regarding to the new requirements and the solutions that the team just proposed yesterday. After replying to some of the emails, Long uses Lync from his workstation to join the daily Scrum meeting with other Vietnamese and Thai team members. After the 10 minutes daily meeting, Long opens Visual Studio and continues working on his current user story: there are several unit tests that have not been implemented yet. It takes him nearly 2 hours to fully complete the user story with all of the automation tests and does the code review for another team member. Feeling accomplished, Long goes to the pantry room, has a cup of coffee and chit chat with his co-workers in English. At 11:00 AM, Long and his team members go to the video conference room for the Backlog Refinement meeting with others in Wellington and Bangkok offices….”

Tip 4: Highlighted benefits – Why we are better than the others.

big_benefits

This is where we “sell” our company to the candidates by listing out the things that can be considered to be better in our company comparing to others. The longer the list is, the better. The tip here is that there can be a lot of things that can be listed as “benefits” so some brainstorming activities may be required to identify all of them. Here are some examples that can be considered:

  • Flexible working hours
  • “Work from home” policy
  • No working overtime
  • Office is conveniently located in district 1 (Yes, that’s right, office location can also be considered as a “benefit” that we can put into the job advertisement)
  • Entertainment in the office: mini bar, table tennis, pool table, mini golf, table football, games (Play Station, Wii, Xbox, etc…)
  • English speaking environment (From my own experience, it is very interesting that many candidates consider an English only environment as one significant attraction of one company).- Travel opportunity to work onsite overseas
  • Overseas company trip
  • Good working equipments: MacbookPro, Macbook Air, etc…
  • Good vacation policy: 20 days of annual leave and 10 days of sick leave per year
  • Attractive incentive system: year end bonus, project bonus
  • Salary adjustment twice per year
  • Team building activities, sport clubs
  • Training programs

Tip 5: A picture is worth a thousand words. A video is worth a million words.

a_picture_is_worth_a_thousand_words

The best way to show our working environment and organizational culture to the candidates is via photos or videos that capture the teams, the office, working activities and company events. A link to a web page that provides such photos or videos will definitely add significant value into the job advertisement. Such job website as Vietnamworks now also supports embedding photos and videos into the job advertisement. So, we should make use of this feature whenever we can.

Generally speaking, these 5 tips can help our job advertisement to differentiate and stand out from the crowd. However, an effective job advertisement is just the first step to effective recruitment, which includes many other factors. It is also noted that the tips are usually more helpful for company that doesn’t have a strong employer branding. Google, for example, doesn’t need these tips to attract talented candidates to read their job advertisement and apply.

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Recruitment channels in Vietnam

As mentioned in the previous post, we are now in the middle of the recruitment season in Vietnam. But how does the recruitment in Vietnam happen? Which channels are available? In this post, an overview of the available recruitment channels in Vietnam will be given, with comments regarding to their popularity, effectiveness, cost and recommended usage scenarios.

Generally speaking, there are six main channels of recruitment in Vietnam:

Recruitment channels in Vietnam

Recruitment channels in Vietnam

Job advertisement: This is the most popular and may also be the most effective recruitment channel in Vietnam. When using this channel, Vietnamworks should be the first one to consider due to its popularity. Other job advertisement websites that can be listed here includes CareerBuilder, CareerLink, Tim Viec Nhanh or Aphabe. In terms of pricing, a job advertisement that stays one month on Vietnamworks costs around 100-150 USD, depending on the options. Generally speaking, this recruitment channel is suitable for most common jobs when the employers have certain knowledge and experience in the labor market as well as know how to do recruitment in Vietnam.

CV search: A more proactive way to approach the candidates is to buy access to candidates database of such job websites as Vietnamworks, CareerBuilder or CareerLink. With approximately 150 USD, employers can search for and have contacts of 60 candidates from Vietnamworks’ database. From my experience, this channel is less effective than job advertisement due to the fact that many CVs are outdated and candidates may no longer look for a new job when being contacted. This should be used as a supporting channel together with the job advertisement or in the case employers know very well about the labor market and want to be more proactive in their recruitment.

Head hunting services: If the employers are quite new to the local labor market, they can also seek help from other firms specialized in HR services. Basically all of the job websites listed above also provide head hunting services, plus many smaller firms such as Tri Tri, Manpower or Anh Duong Talent. Commission fee for these services can vary between different service providers, with an average of 20% of the annual income of the candidate. The effectiveness can also vary depending on the HR partners that are selected. This channel can also be considered for high level positions or for mass recruitment in a short period of time.

Employee referral: Not every company in Vietnam takes advantage of this recruitment channel. Whereas the quality of the candidates are more reliable than from other channels, it may not be suitable for mass recruitment. Referral bonus is usually given to the employee after the nominated candidate passes his or her probation. The amount can vary from company to company, but a few hundreds of dollars is a common number.

Job fairs: This channel is quite low in terms of both popularity and effectiveness. Job fairs can be more helpful for mass recruitment of low-skilled employees or fresh graduates. Besides joining the job fairs that are organized by the government, companies with high reputation can also organize their own job fairs.

Internship program: Among the six channels that are presented here, this is the least popular one that focuses only on fresh graduates. The effectiveness of this channels depends on the affiliation between the employers and universities or training centers that offer internship program. With proper implementation, this can be a very good approach to attract young talents into the organization.

Generally speaking, job advertisement can be considered as the most popular and effective recruitment channels in Vietnam. With the rising demand for high quality employees, the usage of head hunting services is also increasing significantly. However, an effective recruitment strategy may need to combine and utilize all of the six channels that are available in Vietnam.

Are you ready for the recruitment season in Vietnam?

Starting in late February, at peak in March to April and last until May is what so-called the “recruitment season” in Vietnam, applicable in most industries. During this 3-months period, the job market is booming significantly and is extremely dynamic. This can be illustrated by comparing the number of job posted on Vietnamworks, the biggest job website in Vietnam, in February and in April last year:

Number of jobs  in February vs. in April

Number of jobs in February vs. in April

It is clear that there is a significant increase in the number of job opportunities in all categories during this recruitment season, ranging from 30% in Software and Administrative to 50% in Sales or even 63% in Marketing. That is on the labor demand side. On the labor supply side, a similar trend is also observed. From my experience, job application rate is appropriately 50% higher during the recruitment season.

job_demand_and_supply

So what are the reasons behind this recruitment season? Here are some in my opinion:
  • In Vietnam, the fiscal year is the same as the calendar year. February is the time when the new fiscal year budgets are finalized and coming open, which may lead to the new demand of recruitment.
  • February and March are also the graduation time of many universities in Vietnam, pushing a whole bunch of fresh graduates into the labor market.
  • February is the time of Tet, the start of the lunar new year when employees re-evaluate their current work and life situation and plan for the future. In Vietnamese culture, the start of the lunar new year is also a good time to start new career plan and objectives.
  • Tet in February is also bonus payout time (the 13th month salary). Once employees receive their year-end bonus, they know that they can’t get another bonus for a full year. This payout reduces their incentive to stay at their current firm.
  • Tet holiday in February also provides employees with a lot of networking opportunities which may lead to new job opportunities.
  • Most companies in Vietnam implement their performance appraisal and salary adjustment in January. Employees who are disappointed with their salary adjustment will start looking for new jobs in February.
  • The last but not least reason is the fact that the increase in job hopping also increase the number of job opportunities since companies need to fill up the empty vacancies, which in turn, may encourage more job hopping.

The person jumps on puzzles

So how companies deal with this recruitment season in Vietnam? Here are some suggestions to considered:
  • Understand the nature of this recruitment season and be prepared for it in terms of budget planning, project planning and resource planning.
  • HR and managers should pay more attention to staff’s motivation and morale during this time.
  • Have some kinds of counter-offer policy to keep key employees in case they receive job offer from other companies.
  • Keep employees busy with their work during this time. Employees who have a lot of free time are more likely to look around for other job opportunities.
  • Schedule the performance appraisal and salary adjustment in June or July, when the recruitment season is over.

Alright, so are you now ready for the upcoming recruitment season in Vietnam?

Why should you send your HR staff to a marketing course?

Simply because there are so many things in common between a recruitment strategy and a marketing one:
  • They are both created to promote the organization: the marketing plan promotes products or services whereas the recruitment plan promotes organizational culture and working environment.
  • Both of them have targeted audience: potential customers for the marketing plan and potential employees for the recruitment plan.
  • Both are very critical to the organization: customers are the main source of revenue while employees are the most valuable assets of the organization.
  • And last but not least: Most of the strategies that can be applied in marketing can also be used in recruitment. This will also be the main focus of this post.

So let’s look at how each step in a marketing strategy can be applied in a recruitment strategy:

Market segmentation
In order to reach the potential employees effectively, the labor market should be categorized into different segmentation using different bases:
  • Demographic bases: age, gender, education background, ect…
  • Geographic bases: country, city, etc…
  • Behavioral bases: programming language, mindset, working attitude, interests, etc…

Market targeting
After categorizing the labor market into different segments, the company should identify its targeted segment basing on those demographic, geographic and behavioral bases. By identifying the targeted segment, organization can focus its resources in order to reach out to its potential candidates more effectively.

For example, a software company can identify its potential candidates for the .NET Developer position as the followings:
  • Demographic: 22-30 years old, college or university degree
  • Geographic: Ho Chi Minh city, Vietnam
  • Behavioral bases: .NET programming language, open mindset, proactive, critical thinking, interested in high tech

With such targeted segment in mind, we can know exactly which job ads websites or forums should be used to reach the candidates as well as how to communicate with them (such as how to write the job ads that is interesting to candidates who are proactive and have critical thinking)

Market positioning
This is how the organization is perceived (or how it wants to be perceived) by the labor market and potential employees. Determining the market positioning can help organization to decide what and how it should present itself to the potential employees. Market positioning can be identified by selecting important attributes of the organization in terms of culture, environment, benefits, policies, ect… and determine its position basing on those attributes.
For example, here is where a company is positioned basing on two attributes: culture and benefits. Other attributes can also be used and additional attributes can also be added to form n-dimensional map.

market_positioning

It will be much more helpful if organization can have preference map of the labor market associated with the selected attributes. This can help organization to predict the ease of recruitment: the bigger the overlap between its market position and the preference map of the labor market, the easier then recruitment will be. Organization may also adjust its market position to make recruitment easier. Here is an example:

preference_map

Promotion mix
Basing on the previous steps (market segmentation, market targeting and market positioning), it is now the time to decide the channels that can be used to promote the organization to the labor market. Interestingly, all of the channels in marketing can also be used in recruitment:

promotion_mix

  • Advertising: Job ads on job search website such as jobstreet (international) or Vietnamworks (Vietnam)
  • Public relations: Sponsor community events (such as Barcamp Saigon, Agile Vietnam, Agile Tour, Mobile Camp, etc…) or organize our own events (hackathon and other programming contests)
  • Personal selling: CV search and head hunting performed by internal HR
  • Sales promotion: referral bonus program or using external head hunting agencies
  • Direct marketing: blog, website, social networking pages (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn), forums, etc…

Branding
Branding is also very important in recruitment. By promoting the company’s brand name, organization can attract new talents easily whenever it has a hiring demand. For recruitment purpose, company’s branding should be supported by public relation and other CSR programs. In the software industry where I am currently working in, organization’s brand can be built by sponsoring such community events as Barcamp Saigon, Mobile Camp, Agile Tour or organizing our own events such as hackathon and other programming contest.

So now we can see how marketing strategy can be applied to recruitment. Should we send our HR staff to a marketing course?

How “inappropriate” organizational culture may contribute to the failure of a startup

After nearly 3 years of operating , the startup software company that I had been working for was shut down in January 2013. The main reasons were that our product failed to get users and we couldn’t make any money while millions of dollars had been spent on the company of which size might be too large for a startup. In my opinion, the root causes of our company’s failure were not that straight forward, instead they were the combination of many factors: the people, the business model, the management, the absent of lean startup approach and also the organizational culture. In this post, the impact of organizational culture to the failure of a startup may be revealed via the analysis that I sent to the founder of the company and my boss, the VP just a few days before it was shut down. For the reason of anonymity, real names will not be used in this post (they are in the original version of my analysis). The company will be mentioned here as SK and people name will be changed to something like A, J or K.

So here it is:

An organizational culture analysis for SK

1. Purpose and Scope
Starting from May 2011, I have been working for SK for nearly two years. Being a project manager also gives me an advantage: having opportunity to work directly with all delivery teams as well as with all levels of staff, ranging from Executive to middle managers and down to team members. With those experiences and the knowledge in organizational behavior, I have realized that SK currently have some issues with its organizational culture. Trying to be responsible, I feel an obligation to reflect those issues via this analysis. It is very important to understand that this analysis is not meant to be offensive to SK as well as to any of its employees. Names are mentioned just because they can provide detailed and specific examples. This analysis is presented purely for contributing and constructive purpose: to help SK to identify and analyze its problems in order to become a better, healthier and more effective organization.

In terms of scope, since I work mostly within the tech teams, this analysis will focus mainly on the tech teams. However, this is still valuable due to the fact that tech teams represent a significant majority of SK. In addition, the solutions suggested in this analysis may not cover all of the issues.

2. SK: Still a startup
First of all, it is very important to confirm whether SK is still a startup or not because appropriate strategic plan, organizational culture and structure of a startup are significantly different from a big cooperate. With more than 3 years old and over 100 employees, SK, in my opinion, is still a startup for the following reasons:
  • Its products and services have not been officially released yet.
  • It does not have a large number of users or customers.
  • And most importantly, it is still searching for a repeatable and scalable business model. As long as the organization is still figuring out how to make money, it is a startup by the most common definition of startup.
3. A first glance at SK’s seven key dimension of organizational culture
Organizational culture is something people talk about all the time and so do us at SK. Unfortunately, not everyone can understand clearly what exactly organizational culture is and especially how to identify, measure or characterize it. By definition, organizational culture is a set of basic beliefs and assumptions that are shared by members of an organization, showing them what are appropriate and inappropriate behaviors. In other words, organizational culture is basically “how we do things around here”. There are several approach to identify and “measure” organizational culture and the one that is used here is called the “seven key dimensions of organizational culture”, which are:
  • Individual autonomy: the level of responsibility, independence and empowerment that an individual has in the organization.
  • Structure: the number of rules and regulations, the number of hierarchical levels in the organizational structure.
  • Support: the degree of assistance provided by managers to their subordinates.
  • Identification: the level of pride that members have to be part of the organization.
  • Performance reward: the degree to which reward allocations (promotions, salary increases, bonus…) are based on performance criteria.
  • Conflict tolerance: the level of conflict exists in the relationships between members of the organization.
  • Risk tolerance: the degree to which employees are encouraged to be aggressive, innovative, and risk seeking.

So now we agree that SK is still a startup despite of its age and size, let’s have a quick look at the high level of its organizational culture to see if the culture is appropriate for a software startup company or not:

Individual Autonomy
  • Expected: High
  • Actual: Low to Medium
  • Details: Low level of individual autonomy is demonstrated by the presence of micromanagement, centralized decision making and lack of empowerment. One possible reason for this is the lack of trust between managers and staff, which will be discussed in details later.
Structure
  • Expected: Low
  • Actual: Medium and increasing
  • Details: The company does not have a lot of rules and policies comparing to big cooperate and this is good for a startup. However, the organizational structure may not be flat any more due to the fact that we have 5 levels of hierarchy from the CEO to a developer and very narrow span of control (a lot of managers/leaders manage just a few subordinates). In addition, decision-making is usually centralized and the number of rules and policies are increasing. Generally speaking, the Structure dimension is now medium but it now has the tendency to increase to High, which make us become more and more bureaucratic and that is definitely not healthy for a startup.
Support
  • Expected: High
  • Actual: Low to Medium, varied from managers to managers
  • Details: Staffs rarely seek help from managers and hence, managers also rarely help staffs. One possible reason for this is the lack of trust between managers and staff, which will be discussed in details later.
Identification
  • Expected: High
  • Actual: Low
  • Details: This used to be high in the past but it has dropped significantly. Nowadays, fewer and fewer employees are proud of being part of SK. This can be explained by two reasons:
    • We haven’t had successful products for a very long time
    • Our environments (including organizational culture) become less and less healthy and attractive.
Performance Reward
  • Expected: High
  • Actual: High
  • Details: We are definitely performance oriented. A lot to extrinsic motivations are offered such as salary raise, month bonus and stock options. However, we should also consider offering more intrinsic motivations to the staff. In addition, we should also review our performance appraisal system to make sure that it is accurate, fair and actually motivate the employees in the way that we want them to.
Conflict Tolerance
  • Expected: Moderately High
  • Actual: Uncontrollably High
  • Details: Conflicts are healthy when they are related to work, encourage creativity and are not personal conflicts. However, I would say that we are failing to control and moderate this dimension of the organizational culture. Conflicts at SK become more and more personal and they start to have negative impacts to the company. More details about this will be discussed later.
Risk Tolerance
  • Expected: High
  • Actual: Medium and decreasing
  • Details: As a startup software company, we should have a high level of risk tolerance to and try and find our repeatable and scalable business model. However, it seems to me that we are becoming more and more risk-averse. We start to think more like a big cooperate that is reluctant to changes and looks for stability. In my opinions, having too many development environments, too many deployment policies and not trying feature-teams as well as not trying Kanban for DFS team are some examples of risk-averse.

4. A closer look at organizational culture issues at SK: The top three critical ones
So those are the seven key dimensions of SK’s organizational culture at the high level. In this section, I would like to look at specific issues that we have at SK in more details. Here are the top three that are the most critical ones in my opinion:

Lack of trust:
In my opinion, this is the most critical issue that we have at the moment and it is the root cause of many other issues. At SK, we can these signs of the absence of trust:
  • People usually try to show that they are better than the others. They rarely, or never, share about their weaknesses.
  • People avoid admitting the mistakes that they make.
  • People hesitate to offer help outside their own areas of responsibility or provide constructive feedback to others.
  • People doubt other’s skills and commitment.
  • People avoid meetings or spending to work on an issue together, thinking that is a waste of time.
  • People jump to conclusions about the intentions and aptitudes of others without attempting to clarify them.
  • People are reluctant, or refuse, to share performance goals with others.
  • Micromanagement is popular.
As we can see, lack of trust occurs in every interaction between and within teams. Examples can be found everywhere:
  • S. doesn’t trust the developers in terms of their skills, productivity and commitment.
  • Server team doubts Q.’s skills and understandings about the product.
  • A. doesn’t think that K.’s design is good.
  • A is concerned about J.’s skills and working attitude.
  • Server team doesn’t want to have meetings or work together, thinking that is a waste of time.
  • J. and Server team refuse to share team goals together.
  • …. and many more

No one should be blamed in these cases. It’s not S.’s fault to not to trust the Server developers and vice versa. But why does this happen? What are the root causes of the lack of trust at SK?

There is actually a model for trust, which says that trust between two parties is influenced by ten factors. Using this model for trust, here are some of the reasons that can explain the lack of trust at SK, listed from the most to the less important ones:
  • Lack of capability: People only trust those who are capable to fulfill the expectation of the trust. You cannot trust a person if he does not have the capability, no matter how many similarities, aligned interests and benevolent concern that he has. At SK, lack of capability is the explanation for most of the absence of trust. In most case, one party doesn’t *think* that the other have enough skills and commitment to fulfill the expectation of the trust. Please note that the lack of capability of the “trustee” is just the *assumption* of the “truster”. Whether the “trustee” is lack of capability or not is another issue. This is related to the second reason, which is:
  • Lack of communication: This can also lead to the absence of trust in many cases, especially between different teams or between people that have different native languages.    Lack of communication also leads to wrong assumption about other’s capability and attitude. Lack of communication also prevents the truster and trustee from acknowledging the similarities between them.
  • Lack of similarities: Lack of similarities in terms of working style, working attitude, norms and expectations can also sometimes explain the absence of trust, especially between employees of different ethnic groups.
  • Lack of benevolent concern: Our recruitment criteria is to hire only the “A players”. Whether all of our employees are the “A players” or not is another issue but there is a fact that most of them have quite big ego. As long as people are not willing to sacrifice their benefits or put themselves at risk for the others, it is very less likely for them to be able to gain trust from the others.
Lack of trust can have more critical impacts than we think. Lack of trust can be the root cause of other issues:
  • More micromanagement and lack of empowerment, which in turn leads to the failure of creating self-managed and self-organized teams. This is caused by the lack of trust that managers have to their subordinates.
  • Bureaucratic structure and decision-making.
  • Low level of support. This is caused by the lack of trust that subordinates have to their managers.
  • Unhealthy conflicts and personal conflicts
  • Stressful working environment
  • Demotivation
  • People become more risk-averse
Conflicts are not controlled and moderated:
Conflict itself is not a bad thing. Conflict is healthy for an organization when it is work-related conflict that can lead to new ideas, stimulate creativity and motivate changes. However, conflicts need to be moderated and controlled so that they do not become personal and cause negative consequences:
  • Increase stress and anxiety among individuals, which decreases productivity and satisfaction
  • Lack of trust between team members
  • Increase hostility and aggressive behaviors
  • Increase turnover
Unfortunately, conflicts at SK are not controlled and moderated properly. Some of them became personal and had some of the negative consequences as listed above. Here are some examples of conflicts at SK:
  • The conflict between N. and T., which led to the fight that made both of them fired.
  • The conflict between A. and J.
  • The conflict between J. and Server team
  • The conflict between A. and Server team. This was resolved when A. left the Server team
  • The conflict between me and J. regarding to API deployment
  • The conflict between M. and T., which led to T. leaving SK
  • The conflict between M. and new iOS developers in HCMC office, which led to M. resigning
  • The developing conflict between A. and K.
  • … and there can be more
So what are the root causes of those conflicts? There can be many but here are the top three in my opinion:
  • Lack of trust: Again, there is a correlation between conflicts and the absence of trust.
  • Unresolved conflicts in the past: This reason can be seen in all cases when the consequence of the conflicts is extreme (people get fired, people resign). N. and T. wouldn’t fought each other if their existing conflicts had been resolved earlier. Same thing could happen to M. and T.
  • Differences in personalities, culture, working style, working attitude and expectations.

What I am more concerned about is the fact that we do not pay enough attention to moderating and controlling conflicts, giving them the freedom to become personal conflicts that lead to negative consequences for the organization.

Organizational culture is not officially defined and shared:
At SK, we usually talk about organizational culture but the fact is that it is not officially defined by the company and shared transparently to all employees. The company is lack of rules, policies or guidelines to enforce organizational culture. As a result, different employees and different teams have different understanding and beliefs in terms of which behaviors are appropriate and which are not. Here are some examples:
  • D. and A. think that going to the office at noon is totally fine while some of the others (including me) don’t think so.
  • H. thinks that having a 1.5 hours lunch, playing foosball and enjoying massage at this time (preparing for SXSW) is inappropriate whereas many others think it is totally fine.
  • For A., being aggressive and interrupting people in meeting is normal but this can be offensive to some people.
Not having an officially defined and united organizational culture also lead to the following issues:
  • Our culture is weak due to the fact that different parts of the company have different beliefs and shared values.
  • New recruited employees are fit into only part of the culture and they may amplify culture fragmentation.
  • The company is reluctant to removing people who are not culture fit due to the fact that no official and united culture is defined.
5. Other less significant issues
So those are the top three critical ones. There are also other issues that are less significant but they may be worthy to be mentioned briefly here:
  • One of our top recruitment criteria is to hire only the “A players” but we may not be sure about:
    • Are they actually the A players?
    • Can they work together?
  • Most of our employees are smart. Unfortunately, smartness usually comes with arrogance and big ego. From what I observe, our culture is lack of “learning from others” attitude, which is quite important for a startup that want to grow.
  • Since I started at SK, there have been consistent joke (within the Vietnamese staff) saying that it is very normal in our culture to bragging but not actually doing and those who can talk big (about solutions, planning, achievements, etc…) are usually highly evaluated. It is just a joke but it is worthy to consider.
  • It seems to me that we don’t have a culture that encourages taking responsibility or accountability when things go wrong, partially because some roles may have unclear or overlapped responsibilities. A culture that avoids blaming can be good in some cases but I think it is more professional to encourage taking responsibility or accountability when things go wrong, especially when it is well defined.

6. Some suggestions to make things better
Basically, in most cases, the solutions are kinds of embedded inside the issues themselves: Do what we should do, stop doing what we shouldn’t and fulfill what we are lack of. Here are some suggested solutions for the issues that we have at SK, focusing on the top three critical ones:

To build trust among team members:
  • Encourage team lunch or one-on-one lunch for team members to communicate and know more about the others. Such events will help team members to share about themselves and learn from the others in many topics: background, family, education, hobbies, strengths and weaknesses. From there they can realize their similarities and the capabilities of the others, which can increase the likeliness of trust, as discussed in Hurley’s model for trust. From my experience, one-on-one lunch is more effective than team lunch for this purpose. People tend to share more about themselves when they are one on one with another, but not in a big group.
  • Setup funny quizzes that reveal team members’ individual information (such as hobbies, skills, education, past experience, strengths and weaknesses…) and have rewards for the winner. This encourages team members to know more about each other and people tend to trust others who they know more about.
  • Organize team building activities that encourage trust and collaboration between team members such as:
    • Paintball: Make sure that the trusters and trustees are in the same team
    • Rock climbing: One team member relay for another and vice versa. Make sure that team members know how to relay and follow all safety instructions.
  • Schedule days when team members work together in pair to know more about others’ strengths and weaknesses. Moreover, working in pair also helps team members to experience the feeling of “achieving something together”, which make it easier to build trust between them.
  • Consider the last option: If there is no way that we can trust the existing people then replace them with those who we can trust.
To solve the issues of unhealthy conflicts:
  • Build up trust within the company
  • Make it clear to all employees that personal conflicts are not normal within the organization and it is unacceptable to keep those conflicts unresolved.
  • Managers should identify personal and unhealthy conflicts as soon as they arise and try to address them immediately.
  • Encourage using communication to solve conflicts.
  • Relocate people is also a possible solution.
  • Removing people from the team/company can also be considered as one of the last options. The key here is to come to this decision actively and early, before the conflicts cause more damages to the organization.
To have a strong organizational culture:
  • Define an organizational culture that is aligned with our strategic plan and make it transparent to all employees.
  • Build up policies, rules or guidelines that enforce organizational culture.
  • Train the employees about our expected organizational culture and make it transparent in terms of which behaviors are appropriate and which are not by using examples.
  • Have a consistent process and criteria for evaluating culture fit of our job candidates.
  • Willing to get rid of people who do not fit into the expected culture. The longer we keep them, the more damage they cause to our culture.
Some others:
Build an organizational culture that encourages:
  • Empowerment
  • Risk tolerance to experience new solutions and processes
  • Learn from others
  • Walk the talk
  • Take responsibility and accountability when things go wrong
7. Conclusion
In conclusion, this analysis shows that some parts of the existing organizational culture at SK are not appropriate for a startup software company, which is the current state of SK. The analysis also suggests three issues that need to be addressed immediately in order to create a healthy culture:
  • Lack of trust
  • Conflicts are not controlled and moderated
  • Organizational culture is not officially defined and shared
It should also be noted that the analysis itself also has some limitations:
  • It may be subjective due to the fact that it is reflected from my point of view only.
  • It focuses mainly on the issues rather than the solutions.
  • It does not address the other good parts of SK’s organizational culture.

Despite those limitations, this analysis can also be served as a good starting point to systematically identify the organizational culture issues that SK currently has, which is the first and important step to find the appropriate solutions. While a healthy culture may not be vital for some companies to be functional, it is, however, quite essential for SK, a startup that wants to be a big success. Sometimes, great product can only be built by a great organization.

Understanding leadership

1. Introduction
Leadership can be defined as the act of influencing others to work toward a common goal. Leadership is different from management: management is about coping with complexity whereas leadership is about coping with change. Another big difference is that management requires formal power and authority to exercise where as leadership does not.

Similarly, a leader may or may not have any formal authority and this is one of the differences between a leader and a manager. It is very important to note that leaders do not rely on the use of force to influence people. Instead, people willingly adopt the leader’s goal as their own goal. In other words, the influence comes from leadership always have voluntary response. If a person is relying on force and punishment, the person is a dictator, not a leader.

Leadership

2. Leadership in organizations
In organizations, leadership is more than the personal characteristics: it includes setting a strategy, developing influential relationships with followers, designing organizations as well as managing change within the organization and with followers to achieve desired outcomes. Here are what leaders usually do in organizations:
  • Leaders relentlessly upgrade their team, using every encounter as an opportunity to evaluate, coach, and build self-confidence.
  • Leaders make sure people not only see the vision, they live and breath it.
  • Leaders get into everyone’s skin, exuding positive energy and optimism.
  • Leaders establish trust with candor, transparency, and credit.
  • Leaders have the courage to make unpopular decisions and gut calls.
  • Leaders probe and push with a curiosity that borders on skepticism, making sure their questions are answered with action.
  • Leaders inspire risk taking and learning by setting the example.
  • Leaders celebrate.
Generally speaking, leaders in organizations have three main roles:
  • Path finding: Having a compelling vision and mission that ties the value system and vision to the needs of customers and stakeholders through a strategic plan.
  • Aligning: Having the structure, systems, and processes contribute to achieving the mission and vision.
  • Empowering: Allowing people to bring their talent, ingenuity, intelligence, creativity and energy to the cause.
3. Six keys to effective leadership
According to Giuliani (2003), the six keys to effective leadership are:
  • You must know what you believe
  • You must be an optimist
  • You must have courage
  • You must practice relentless preparation
  • You must understand the value of other people
  • You must communicate effectively
4. Quotes on leadership
  • Leadership is influence.” – John C. Maxwell
  • Leadership is the capacity to translate vision into reality.” – Warren Bennis
  • Leadership is the art of accomplishing more than the science of management says is possible.” – Colin Powell
  • If a leader will take care of the people – provide support, motivation, discipline, and communication – the people will take care of the mission.” – Robert D. Gaylor
  • As we look ahead into the next century, leaders will be those who empower others.” –  Bill Gates
  • Leadership is solving problems. The day soldiers stop bringing you their problems is the day you have stopped leading them. They have either lost confidence that you can help or concluded you do not care. Either case is a failure of leadership.” – Colin Powell

Leadership

References:
Bauer, T. and Erdogan, B., 2009. Organizational Behavior. 1st ed. Flat World Knowledge, Inc.
Bess, D., 2012. Leadership, BUS 626 Organizational Behavior. University of Hawaii at Manoa, unpublished.
Forbes, 2012. 100 Best Quotes on Leadership, [online] Available at:<http://www.forbes.com/sites/kevinkruse/2012/10/16/quotes-on-leadership/> [Accessed 5 January 2013].

Empowerment in organizations

1. Introduction
In organizations, empowerment means granting employees the autonomy to assume a more active and responsible role. This is accomplished by strengthening their sense of effectiveness as well as by sharing power, information and the responsibility to manage their own work as much as possible. In terms of organizational culture, empowerment is related to the Individual Autonomy dimension.

2. The pros and cons of empowerment
But why should we empower our employees? Here are some benefits that empowerment may bring to organizations:
  • Improves communication and decision making
  • Improves morale, motivation and commitment
  • Creates “ownership” of the job
  • Increases job satisfaction
  • Increases risk-taking and innovation
  • Improves relationships with customers and suppliers
  • Reduces layers of management
On the other hand, empowerment may also have some negative effects:
  • Not everyone wants to be empowered
  • We can not just empower staff and assume that they will assume the empowerment
  • Empowerment may not be appropriate for some organizations
  • Empowerment actually requires more management effort
  • Empowerment  means changes and constant changes may keep things unsettled
  • There is a risk that empowerment efforts may fail

3. Barriers to empowerment
Here are some barriers that may prevent empowerment to be implemented:

From the aspect of organization:
  • Lack of trust between manager and staff
  • No clear definition and policy about accountability
  • Empowered staff do not receive enough training to be able to handle the empowerment
  • No differentiation between staff
  • Lack of communication
  • Unclear vision
From the aspect of manager:
  • Unwillingness to give up control
  • Reluctance to change management style
  • Fear of losing position
  • Cling to old accountability
From the aspect of staff:
  • Do not want to be accountable
  • Do not realize their values and potentials
  • Fear of losing position due to new accountability
  • Lack of training

4. Implementing empowerment
By understanding possible barriers to empowerment, here are how empowerment can be implemented in organizations:

At company level:
  • Develop a clear mission and communicate it clearly to all employees
  • Build trust within the organization at all levels
  • Build an organizational culture that encourage innovation and risk taking
  • Provide adequate training so that staff can handle the empowerment
  • Replace hierarchical structure with self-managed teams
  • Set clear boundaries for authority and accountability
At team level:
  • Get staff to involve in selecting their work assignments and the methods for accomplishing tasks
  • Create and environment of cooperation, information sharing, discussion, and shared ownership of goals
  • Encourage staff to take initiative, make decision, and use their knowledge
  • When problems arise, find out what staff think and let them help design the solutions
  • Stay out of the way, give staff the freedom to put their ideas and solutions into practice
  • Maintain high morale and confidence by recognizing successes and encouraging high performance

Empowerment

5. Empowerment in startup
In my opinion, empowerment should be compulsory in startup company and become part of its organizational culture for the following reasons:
  • In terms of organizational culture, startup company should have high level of Individual Autonomy dimension and this can only be achieved via empowerment.
  • Employees in startup company are usually the “A players” and they are likely  to have the ability to handle empowerment.
  • Startup company is there to grow fast and so are its employees. Empowerment will prepare and help them to grow.
  • For startup software company, such Agile methodologies as Scrum or Extreme Programming requires self-managed teams and this can only be achieved via the implementation of empowerment.

Reference:
Bess, D., 2012. Power, BUS 626 Organizational Behavior. University of Hawaii at Manoa, unpublished.