5 Unique Filipino Challenges to Digital Transformation

Filipinos, by nature, are a nice people. While that’s a good thing for tourism, it’s not necessarily an advantage in business or the workplace. Being “too nice” fosters a conflict-averse and patriarchal work culture which can greatly slow down digital and business transformation.

In my talk at the DIGICON 2017, the premiere digital industry event organized by the Internet and Mobile Marketing Association of the Philippines (IMMAP), I focused on 5 key Filipino cultural habits that were barriers for PH businesses in going digital. Will briefly touch on all 5 points in this post and you can also view the deck that I used for the presentation embedded at the end via Slideshare.

1. Passive-Aggressive

This is probably the reason why a lot of Silicon Valley consultants and expats aren’t successful in turning around Filipino companies. Pinoys, by nature, are averse to conflict. This is definitely an issue because you can easily offend people when you are genuinely just being direct and professional. It’s not ideal but it’s the reality of a lot of companies, especially big ones.

To overcome this, you need to learn the principle of “relational incubation”. Simply put, you need to spend time building relationships and alliances before you make big moves and propose drastic transformative ideas. Change is personal because you are uprooting people from how they’ve been doing things for the longest time. Acceptance needs rationale, purpose, and time.

Again let me stress that ideally you can just be straightforward to get things done. In the instances that you can, go for it. But if you hit resistance, try the method mentioned above.

2. Pulitika

The single biggest mistake you can commit is to deliver a major presentation in the boardroom and the key stakeholders there will see your ideas for the first time. If you want to be able to reduce boardroom politics, you need to learn how to play the game yourself. What you should do is have smaller pre-meetings with key stakeholders who will be in that boardroom so when the big presentation happens you already have them on your side. This is called different names, with the most common one being “to socialize ideas”. I love how Paolo Mercado, SVP for Innovation and Marketing of Nestle PH calls it — “Nemawashi”. It’s the Japanese way of attending to the roots before you transfer a tree.

3. Pwede na Yan

This is the mentality that keeps a lot of companies at Business-as-Usual mode. One quick way to supplant this is to change your annual planning process. Instead of just coming up with ideas that deliver incremental gains (+10%), have a track or session in your planning that will focus on 10x ideas. These are moonshot type of projects, campaigns, or products that can potentially catapult your business.

You can read more about this in the slides that I’ve embedded below.

4. Manu-Matic

Another critical problem that Filipino companies face is legacy systems. It’s hard to convince owners and bosses to invest in business technology if you can’t talk their language. That language is MONEY. You need to be able to clearly explain how your investment in tech will deliver either incremental revenue or cost savings and efficiencies. It’s not enough that the tech is innovative. It needs to make business sense and you need to be able to justify that.

5. Mema

Last, but definitely not the least, is the Mema epidemic (mema sabi lang). There are two ways to counter this. First is the Nemawashi principle which we already talked about earlier in “Pulitika”. Pre-alignment dramatically reduces Mema in the boardroom. If ever they do go Mema, they will probably defend you or support your idea (which obviously isn’t a bad thing).

The second way is to hire the right people. Mema is a symptom of people who don’t know what they’re doing. This means that they lack the competence to be able to give value in discussions. Parang “fake news” lang yan. If you have a lot of Mema in your office, start weeding them out or putting them in development programs.

And that’s a quick summary of the talk! The slides used in the presentation can be seen below via SlideShare. Hope you guys learned something! 🙂

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Carlo Ople

Author Carlo Ople

Founder and writer of Unlocked.ph and for full disclosure I'm also the Vice-President for Digital Marketing Strategy of PLDT/Smart, the largest telco in the Philippines. Prior to this I co-founded a digital advertising agency (DM9 Digit) which we sold to Dentsu, the largest single branded agency in the world. I also co-founded one of the biggest tech websites in the country, Unbox (unbox.ph). Views do not represent PLDT/Smart and are purely my own.

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