International study trip to Vietname
In March 2017, I attended the International Consultancy Week in Hanoi, Vietnam, as part of my Modular Executive MBA programme at Cass. It’s been an amazing experience, both in terms of MBA and professional learning as well as from a personal perspective. All 42 cohort members were grouped in small teams according to the business project we chose to deliver for a particular local company. A key objective of the Consultancy Week was to apply the learning from the first part of the MBA programme in a real business context but in a foreign setting.
For most of us, it was also an unfamiliar setting as we soon realised that the business norms and culture in Asia were different, something we needed to adapt to and learn. Prior to the project, our team considered it would be good to touch base with the client to allow us to plan ahead. What we also thought would be good was to obtain a briefing from British University Vietnam which is Cass’s in-country partner for that programme. We soon realised that there is a lot of emphasis and importance given to relationship and trust in doing business in Vietnam, something most of us perhaps usually take for granted. Knowing this helped us adapt our approach when engaging with the client: offering to have lunch together to get to know each other; not expecting internal information to be readily provided to us on request; or appreciating hierarchy and formality when engaging with stakeholders.
We were four in the team and we were tasked with examining the marketing case for a prospective new baby product line for a leading local fashion brand. Interestingly, apart from one colleague in the team who had young children, none of us knew much about babies, fashion, or marketing! Of course, we had all learned about the principles of marketing and strategies for marketing during the first year of the MBA programme, so it was very much our starting point. Once we had worked with the client to ensure that the scope of work was manageable and that we could deliver effectively in just four days, we approached the problem as we were taught at Cass, starting from the marketing 4 Ps (price, promotion, product, place). Together, as a team, we then designed the structure for our project and each of us led a key delivery of the project: customer survey, focus group, competitor store visits, and desktop market research.
From a team and collaboration perspective, we generally worked well together but, admittedly, did go through the four stages of team transitions – forming, storming, norming, performing. The storming part was rather uncomfortable but somehow, with our MBA hats on, we knew it was to be expected – we had even shared with each other our leadership styles prior to flying to Vietnam. As such, we quickly resolved our conflicts to ensure that they did not get in the way of the project. After all, we had a client to satisfy and we were determined to deliver work in a professional manner and to a high standard. That said, there were several moments of “I am not sure what I am doing” and “Aarrgghh!!”, especially when we had a focus group planned for 10.00am and at 09.55am, we were still briefing each other and our interpreter on how we will facilitate the workshop. None of us had facilitated a marketing focus group before, so no pressure there… We did a good job though, and our clients, who were observing us in action, commended us on our work and effort. It truly felt like an episode from The Apprentice!
We were not all alone – we had three academics accompanying the cohort to guide us and a debrief was available every evening to cover team dynamic issues or discuss any other operational or delivery problems. We even had someone from the course office who made sure our programme went smoothly. Indeed, the Consultancy Week was not just about the business project, but also about networking and having a good time (but shhh!). We had the opportunity to obtain a country briefing from the Vietnam Chamber of Commerce and to network with British Business Group Vietnam at an evening reception hosted by the British Ambassador to Vietnam. I felt that we were well looked after and that the programme was well paced.
On a personal level, my experience in Vietnam reminded me that I had to be continually mindful of my leadership and management style to adapt to cultural differences and changing team dynamics. I kept an open mind, willing to explore how things were done locally. I made local friends and tried local food, including the famous Pho soup from a roadside stall. It was my first time in Vietnam and in many ways it was a humbling experience: I learned how hard the Vietnamese people work, having only come out of war conflict not too long ago. I learned that the country was ambitious and was eager to grow as fast as it could. I remember walking around the iconic Hoàn Kiếm Lake with a fellow colleague and randomly being approached by this six-year old Vietnamese girl who wanted to converse with us. Her parents then explained that they bring their two children from their surrounding town to Hanoi to give them a chance to practise their English. It felt like a real testimony of how much the country wanted to progress and adapt to international standards. All in all, it’s been an amazing experience and certainly one I will cherish!