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PUBLISHED ARTICLE: "Digital Revolution" Shaping Diverse and Agile Cultures in Asia
March 08,2019 [ by Larry Chao ] 715 Read and 0 Comment

Digital technologies are reshaping work cultures in Asia and that is good news for both workers and businesses. The top down, authoritative “control culture” is being supplanted by agile cultures, which promote diversity, open-mindset and empowerment. These cultures allow organizations to quickly adapt to change and capture valuable opportunities.

“Over the past few years, our senior executive team in Asia has been transformed,” said Lisa Butler, Manulife Insurance’s Chief Talent and Diversity Officer based in Hong Kong. “We did this intentionally because we wanted to create a more diverse workforce open to change and capable of working comfortably with digital technologies.”

Indeed, a glimpse at Manulife’s Hong Kong office today and one can immediately see the difference between the old and new ways of working. Men in dark grey suits, who once dominated management ranks making decisions and telling people what to do, have given way to a more diverse workforce. Open plan office layouts have replaced closed door offices, facilitating greater collaboration and information sharing. There is a more informal work atmosphere and fewer symbols of status and hierarchy.

“Digital gives people information and the freedom to work autonomously,” continued Butler. “They can take the initiative without waiting to be told what to do. This is especially appealing to younger executives, who feel they have more to offer and want to be more involved in decision-making.”

Several years ago, Manulife recognized that fast changing life insurance markets in Asia were punishing stagnant work cultures and plodding bureaucracies. The emergence of digital technologies and diversity hastened the ability of companies to create greater agility, where local teams had the knowledge and capabilities to experiment with new ideas and challenge the status quo. It was all about discovering and implementing solutions here and now, rather than waiting to be told what to do from distant corporate headquarters.

What’s more, Manulife is not the only organization in Asia under pressure to evolve work cultures and deliver better results. Dozens of fast-moving consumer products companies face aggressive local competitors, who are offering consumers more of what they want for less.

“Brand loyalty is dying,” lamented the CEO of one global consumer products company operating here in Thailand. “We cannot live on past successes. Consumers know more and are willing to try new things. We need to come up with better ideas faster or risk being left behind.”

To do this, companies need to use digital technologies to enable agile work cultures that harness diversity and allow people to think and make faster decisions on their own. The goal is to generate more ingenious ideas locally and to give people the leeway to take risks. The alternative is to become stuck in the slow lane and to fall behind.

But to develop agile cultures will not be easy. Old habits die hard and shaping new attitudes takes time. Bold companies like Manulife have been the vanguard for change. It’s not yet ideal, but it is a step in the right direction.


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