“Decision-making style focusing on bottom-up approach” --An interview with the Managing Director of the company specializing in the digital embroidery business in Myanmar
Diamond Class Co., Ltd.
Ms. Nu Yin Htwe (Managing Director)
Many business people from abroad including the emerging countries have participated in HIDA training programs. Positions of the targeted audience vary with the programs, and there are some programs aimed for top executives.
This time, we interviewed with a person who runs a company specializing in the digital embroidery business in Myanmar.
--Please explain your company profile first.
Our main business is in the digital embroidery industry, which is a part of the garment industry, and we make embroidery for logos, corporate uniforms and very intricate embroidery for Myanmar traditional and some modern clothing. When I started the business, I was very keen to use modern technology from Japan; therefore I ordered quality Japanese machinery for embroidery. I started the company three years ago, in 2013, with only 25 staff and only two machines, and now there are over 100 staff with 11 machines in my company. Our objectives are to produce high quality products at a very competitive price. Within 3 to 5 years, we want to diversify our products and be the market leader.
I strongly believe that a manager or director needs to be very decisive. You may know that the Myanmar people can be somewhat non-decisive or they can change direction, with little regard for other people and their situations. As a manager, I endeavor to be empathetic, which means understanding the needs of my employees, suppliers and customers. In this way, I ensure my decision-making process always considers the people I interact with and values the collective idea of our stakeholders.
As a manager, you must make decisions and Myanmar managers are known for their top down approach. For me, the main thing is make decisions through a ‘bottom-up’ approach.
The top-down Myanmar management style is very autocratic and of course, that is one problem in terms of how any information flows in an organization. Moreover, some managers don’t have themselves learn from the expertise of their staff. This impacts on empowering someone not to share their ideas. Because of that style, 90 percent of Myanmar companies have zero feedback coming from the bottom level staff, regardless of the expertise of someone doing his job for 15 years. Moreover, the director hardly visits the shop floor of the factory, yet still this person implements change without speaking to other people in the company who have hands on experience in the day-to-day operations. What is more, the employees, who may see that the business can be harmed, might not feel comfortable to make their opinions heard. This, in my opinion, is a major drawback of pure top-down management in Myanmar.
--Do you think of any challenges that hinder your company business to grow and develop further? What kind of actions do you think need to be taken to address the above-mentioned “challenges”?
With the present conditions in Myanmar, it is difficult to retain employees in one place for more than 2 years. They constantly want to increase their salary, although their skills do not improve. When a management team restricts the quality of human resource development and operational procedures, the production rate declines significantly. On the other hand, when an incentive program, such as a system of performance targets is put in place, the operators may not be able to reach the target, meaning that they cannot reach the target bonus or are required to work overtime.
Another consideration is that the majority of local businesses in Myanmar are family run. Therefore, the employees may not be provided with rules and policies in the workplace. However, when we implemented a system of rules and regulations in the workplace, the employees felt tight and uncomfortable. This occurred despite the fact that these procedures were put in place to mainly protect workers’ rights.
All of these issues, combined with a lack of skillful labor in the market and difficulty in retaining staff, can be a big challenge to growing a business.
Firstly, we focus on broadening their experience and guide them to think of what they really want to be in the future. We offer them various kinds of training internally and bring in external bodies, such as women associations and functional training every other month.
In terms of operations, the top management works under a check and counter-check system to limit the number of errors which might arise. As part of our quality control, we monitor the performance of employees to promote or acknowledge them with “best employees” awards every month.
Moreover, management considers the education of our staff. The majority of employees are from villages and they have minimum education (primary school). On a weekly basis, different managers will encourage the staff and give them updates on the company’s short term objectives, production and sale volumes, and failures during the week. Meanwhile, a training program runs throughout the year to observe and improve their competencies.
--How do you view the current status of your business in the global market?
In terms of the global market, all of our business is in Myanmar, though we hope to one day expand on this. With regard to our relationship with Japan, as a result of our use of leading edge technology in our machinery instead of manpower we are in a great position to stand abreast with major players at the global level. As part of this, we have been implementing Kaizen and 5S Management from the Dispatch Program as taught and demonstrated by the expert through HIDA to improve our shop-floor management. As a result, the quality is getting better and the staff has a higher level of expertise in many things and it has led to an increase in productivity. In comparison to other companies, we can see that the staff retention has gradually improved as well.
--Are you planning to expand your business overseas? What does your company consider important and wish to focus on to lead your business overseas to a success?
As I mentioned earlier, my company is now only dealing in Myanmar but I am planning to extend overseas.
I have to react to demand by being decisive. I have to decide what other products to offer to overseas customers and in what areas to diversify. I am currently considering and looking for potential investors or partners.
As you know Myanmar is in an incredibly unique position and has recently opened up, and even today people don’t know which way things will go and many things in US are still not traded in some areas. But what I am noticing is how small companies like us feel the impact of the incoming massive companies that can affect local businesses.
--Please tell us about the current market environment of your business in your country.
As Myanmar is still changing, its main focus now is on developing sectors such as education, infrastructure, and health sectors. As for SMEs (Small and Medium Enterprises) like us, we are supported with improved access to knowledge, opportunities and ideas by associations like UMFCCI (The Republic of the Union of Myanmar Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry) and training programs that enable me to run the business better than before. Roughly speaking, there are 300 to 500 local companies competing in this industry. At the same time, products from our border countries (e.g., China and Thailand) in the same business field as mine are readily available and have competitive prices. Therefore, I believe that our embroidery market, where technology is a basic factor for mass production and stabilizing the quality, will be in better shape in the future.
Currently, big companies like multi-national companies are engaging in the Myanmar market with strong investment and stability with strong brand power. Therefore, small companies or family businesses are struggling to get qualified staff and compete in this market. In Myanmar, even though a person may understand the market or the preferences of the Myanmar people, if the funding or investment is not made available, they will have difficulties to strengthen or build a strong business.
As I mentioned earlier, traditional management in Myanmar is very much top-down in terms of information distribution.
We are similar to Japan in that employees in Myanmar are very respectful to seniority. However, in terms of advancement and innovation, Myanmar is very much behind Japan. It could also be said that Myanmar, maybe because of our distance as well as recent history, is much more influenced by other countries than Japan. Of course this could be a strength as well as a weakness. Being open to other ideas means a country can develop more quickly, however it may lose its own identity in the process.
--What are the points that you have kept in mind to develop human resources in your company? In other words, how do you wish to improve your engagement with the matter in the future?
Most employees worry about their fundamental needs: shelter, clothing and food. That’s why I try to help my employees move away from their focus on the day to day. At the end of the day, I know that they have only a little amount of money left, but I encourage them to look forward to their future development.
At present, many companies are constantly emerging, especially in the main cities, so that supply and demand is not in balance right now.
Also I want to improve in time stress management for top management and suppliers including myself so as to share in the business with the top management and stakeholders. I want to lift up their skills and commitment to their duties, so that they can work without depending on my management. I found out most of the employees in Myanmar are always following what the senior or manager tells them; they do not solve things by themselves by using their own judgment. This tends to reduce their confidence levels. However, I believe if we have systematic plans to improve and seek the potential opportunities to develop our business or society and implement it wisely, our country and people will get massive prosperity and develop nationwide. Many workers who are working overseas due to the poverty in the country could come back home and live with their families without staying apart.
Another thing is that we do not have sufficient survey data in the country and research for human resource development. If we did have accurate information in terms of market research, human development and their working educational level as a nation, it would be easier to prepare our strategies in human resources and improve their level of health and welfare.
--What is your impression about Japan and Japanese companies? Please share with us an episode or experience that surprised or touched you.
Japan has a rich culture and a unique identity as a nation. The first thing I notice once I arrived in Osaka is the kind greeting from people in Japan no matter whether they know you or not. Also I assume that cleanliness everywhere, and in every way and mutual respect shown to each other are the distinctive features in Japan, not only in public but I also found in Japanese companies.
During the 3-day study tour in other cities, I observed many new things to inspire me from four remarkable factories. Among them, I found one particular automotive manufacturer is quite interesting due to my keenness on automobiles. When we visited its assembly plant as a group, I found the systematic arrangement of order lines without delays and these managed to reduce the waste of time and space in each line yet the procedures are fairly sophisticated.
Moreover, I found that the employees also participate well in Kaizen activities, such as by making their own original trolleys for the tools and materials they use most at work without buying new ones, and also, considering their health and safety, by creating a flexible chair so as not to be harmed while working in a discomforted position, for example, assembling accessories inside the car internal bodies.
The working environment is clean and tidy, and employees tend to be highly efficient in their particular job. At the same time, the production management is well-organized by displaying an assembly monitor which shows the target number of cars that needs to be completed in the present fixed period and also the entire day. In consequence, employees’ work can be reviewed straightaway and this encourages them to do the work in time.