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Mastering Business in Asia: Human Resource Management





Book: 'Mastering Business in Asia: Human Resource Management'

Author: Hugh Bucknall and Reiji Ohtaki

Publisher: John Wiley & Sons (Asia) Pte Ltd, 2005


Leader Values

Leaders always insist that people are their most precious asset. If their buildings burned down today, they could build new ones tomorrow. But if all their staff left today, the company would be in deep trouble. Despite that knowledge, many companies have surprisingly under-developed Human Resource Management systems and policies.

Human resource professionals use HRM as a convenient short-hand for Human Resource Management, but you can easily think of other amusingly appropriate interpretations for the abbreviation. New companies struggling for survival and growth might think of HRM as “Hardly Rates a Mention”. By contrast, established companies trying to retain their key staff may think it stands for “How to Retain Manpower”. And workers in rapidly developing regions, with their improving standards of living and career aspirations, might view it as “How to Remain Mobile”.

Human Resource Management is part of the new Mastering Business in Asia book series, with its playful twist on the normal meaning of MBA. This book fills an important gap in the literature on doing business in Asia, by tackling the key HR issues facing the region. Authors Hugh Bucknall and Reiji Ohtaki work for Mercer Human Resource Consulting in Asia. They wrote the introduction and several chapters in the book, while other chapters were contributed by Mercer staff across the region. That approach brings a number of pluses, and a few minuses.

On the plus side, the book draws confidently on the knowledge and experience of experts on specific countries (including China and India) and topics (like the thorny problems of compensation and globalization). And since the authors all work for Mercer, there is a greater coherence in viewpoint than you normally find in a multi-author compilation. The main minus is that most of the companies discussed in case studies are simply described as “our client” or “a beverage company in Guangzhou”. That’s obviously important for maintaining client confidentiality, but it tends to make the examples feel slightly ethereal.

Bucknall and Ohtaki comment that “HRM is still a concept short of maturity in most parts of Asia”. That is especially true in China, and the chapter on “Getting HRM Ready for China” makes particularly interesting reading. It gives an admirably clear explanation of the typical HRM systems used in local private enterprise companies, multinational corporations and state-owned enterprises. These three types of company have come from different historical backgrounds and are currently facing different HRM challenges. But they are all competing for the same skilled and increasingly job-mobile workforce. It’s no surprise that multinational companies in China often feel that they train their staff and then lose them to local competitors.

If you broaden your perspective to take in all of Asia, the questions become even more complex. What exactly is an Asian anyway? Can you apply the same HR policies and compensation systems to workers in Beijing, Osaka and Manila? Can global companies have local HR procedures? Where do ex-pats fit into the HR puzzle? Human Resource Management highlights the key HR challenges facing leaders in Asia today, and suggests appropriate ways of dealing with them. Whatever else HRM might stand for, this is definitely Helpful Reading Matter.

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