Sally Burness is a 26-year-old Commerce graduate from a leading Western Australian university. She majored in Management and Human Resources, obtaining impressive grades throughout her three years of university study. Sally graduated at the end of 2005 and shortly thereafter obtained a graduate HR position with a national financial and credit institution, MoneyPenny Investments. Sally gained this position during a period of economic prosperity in Western Australia that occurred as a result of a resources and mining sector boom.
Within two years, Sally had quickly progressed from her graduate role to the position of team leader, attraction and retention. In this role, she was responsible for managing a team of five HR employees. While it was a very different role to the one she was used to, Sally enjoyed the challenges it provided and achieved some good results in a very tight employment market.
MoneyPenny Investments is a national financial investment and credit institution. The company’s head office is based in Perth, Western Australia, and it has branches in other Australian capital cities — Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane. For the past ten years, MoneyPenny Investments has enjoyed unprecedented growth in size and profits, due mainly to the booming resources and mining economy in Western Australia.
In 2005, the company began expanding into South-East Asia; establishing offices in Singapore, Hong Kong and Jakarta. Recently, a new office was set up in Bangkok.
However, it was difficult for the company to attract and retain suitably qualified and experienced staff. MoneyPenny Investments had a fierce and competitive recruitment strategy, which included visiting all universities across the country to encourage final-year students to apply for graduate positions. Graduate recruitment programs were established in each state, with advertising commencing in August or September of each year, and interview programs in October in each year.
Once employed, graduates enjoyed a 12-month program working in various departments around the company. However, retention rates were poor, due to significant movement of young graduates across the industry and increasingly higher salaries offered by the mining and resources sector.
The Bangkok opportunity
With the opening of the new office in Bangkok, there was a need to recruit a large number of customer service staff very quickly. MoneyPenny Investments decided to send an appropriate person from its Perth office to facilitate the recruitment process and to ensure that its successful corporate and customer service culture was maintained. This was the key to the company’s success — both in Australia and overseas — and they wanted to ensure that it was part of the staff ethos in Thailand from the outset.
Staff turnover was an issue with the company, not only among the financial and accounting staff, but also within the HR team. However, it was noted that Sally Burness had been with the company for a couple of years, and that she had quite successfully taken on the role of team leader, attraction and retention, when no other qualified external candidate could be sourced for the role. She was well liked by her team and was respected for her very efficient approach and success in maintaining very tight turnaround times for selection processes. She was particularly good with time management and was well known for her quick, weekly staff meetings. She was also a stickler for sound time management practices within her team.
Sally was offered the assignment to employ the team of customer service officers, 100 in total, for the new office in Bangkok. The assignment was for a period of three months, within which time she was to source, interview and employ the team. A local Thai recruitment agency had been contacted to initially source potential candidates. Upon arrival, Sally was to follow up on the sourcing plan, obtain and assess applications, interview potential candidates, negotiate contracts and induct the new employees. She was also to employ five team leaders to manage the team of customer service officers.
Sally accepted the offer. She was excited about the opportunity, as well as the chance to go to Thailand again. She had travelled there a number of times over the years, primarily to resorts in Phuket and Pattaya, and loved the local culture, food and shopping. She also felt that the project would be great for her career and would look good on her resume.
In early August, Sally arrived in Bangkok. She was greeted at the airport by Annan Boonmee, operations manager, a Thai national who had worked in the financial investment field for the past 15 years. As Sally was only going to be in Bangkok for a relatively short period of time (three months), the company decided that she would stay in a hotel. Sally thought this was great — with no cooking or cleaning for her to do. Sally was initially shocked by how busy and dirty Bangkok was. She had only been to the airport in transit to Phuket and Pattaya and did not realise how big a city it actually was.
Moving to a new city, such as Bangkok, can be a stressful experience. When coupled with work commitments, such a change can have a strong effect on a person’s emotional wellbeing.
During her first few weeks, Sally really enjoyed the challenge. She enjoyed finding local restaurants to eat at and enjoyed making contact with local recruitment agencies to source the staff they needed. She did experience some language problems, but felt that she had made quite clear the competencies she required for the customer service role.
By her fourth week, Sally was becoming homesick. She felt lonely, even though the operations manager had been very kind during her first few weeks away — inviting Sally to dine with his family and showing her around. She did find it difficult eating out by herself, and was conscious of being a single woman in a city like Bangkok. She also found that the initial excitement of living in a hotel room was wearing off. She longed to be back at home with her garden and house to walk around in. She also missed doing simple chores like making her own meals and washing her own clothes. She missed her friends and family, and although she kept in regular contact via telephone and email, it was just not the same.
She was also experiencing problems in hiring staff. The local agency was not adhering to her deadlines and she was being sent batches of applicants who had little customer service skills and little or no English language skills, making it impossible for her to not only assess the applicants, but also to explain the culture that the company was trying achieve. She had had no success in recruiting the five team leaders. She had hoped to fill these positions first, so that she could involve the new team leaders in the selection of the customer service staff. However, none of the applicants shortlisted by the agencies met Sally’s expectations for the role.
By the end of the sixth week, Sally only had half of the customer service staff employed. To make matters worse, they lacked the time management skills she expected, turning up to induction sessions late, and they had ongoing problems with communication. Of the 50 staff she had already employed, ten had failed to report to the office for the second week of induction training. Sally felt she had failed and just wanted to go home.
Drawing on the experiences of Sally who was transferred to Bangkok, discuss the benefits and limitations of using expatriots as a staffing strategy? How may some of the limitations be overcome? (10 marks)
What are some of the cross-cultural communication issues that need to be considered when doing business overseas? Please illustrate your answers with specific examples. (10 marks)
What is considered ethical (and legal) in one culture, may be viewed as unethical (and illegal) in another. Find an example in the media of an ethical dilemma faced by an Australian worker or Australian organisation working/operating in an overseas business environment. Briefly summarise the article and discuss your view on the ethical dilemma. (5 marks)
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