The Changing Culture of Business in Asia – Part 1

Asia is home to some of the most dynamic and diverse economies in the world, with a population of over 4.6 billion people and a combined GDP of over $30 trillion. As the region continues to grow and innovate, its business culture is also undergoing significant changes, driven by various factors such as technology, globalization, social movements, and generational shifts. In a special two-part series we will explore how companies in Asia are becoming less bureaucratic, more creative-focused, and more inclusive of women in senior roles, and how these changes are improving the lives of Gen Z workers.

Less Bureaucracy, More Agility

One of the major trends that is transforming the business culture in Asia is the move away from rigid hierarchies and formalities, and towards more agile and flexible ways of working. This is partly influenced by the rapid adoption of technology, especially digital platforms and tools that enable collaboration, communication, and innovation across borders and time zones. According to a survey by McKinsey, 86% of Asian companies have accelerated their digitalization efforts since the COVID-19 pandemic, compared to 55% globally.

Another factor that is driving this change is the rise of entrepreneurship and innovation in Asia, especially among the younger generations. Many Asian start-ups and unicorns have emerged in recent years, challenging the established players and disrupting the traditional industries. These new entrants often adopt a lean and customer-centric approach, experimenting with new ideas and solutions, and iterating based on feedback and data. They also tend to have a flatter and more meritocratic organizational structure, where employees are empowered to make decisions and take risks.

One example of such a company is Grab, a Singapore-based super app that offers services such as ride-hailing, food delivery, payments, e-commerce, and more. Grab has grown from a small start-up in 2012 to a regional leader with over 200 million users across eight countries. The company attributes its success to its agile and innovative culture, where employees are encouraged to think big, act fast, and learn constantly. Grab also fosters a collaborative and diverse environment, where people from different backgrounds and functions work together to solve problems and create value for customers.

More Creativity, Less Conformity

Another trend that is shaping the business culture in Asia is the increasing emphasis on creativity and originality, rather than conformity and imitation. This is partly driven by the changing consumer preferences and behaviors in Asia, especially among the Gen Z cohort, who are more discerning, demanding, and expressive than their predecessors. According to a report by McKinsey, Gen Zers in Asia value brands that show their personality and uniqueness, but that are also well-known enough to be recognized. They also prefer brands that connect with their cultural identity and social causes.

To cater to these consumers, companies in Asia need to differentiate themselves from their competitors by offering innovative products and services that meet their needs and aspirations. They also need to engage with them through authentic and relevant content that showcases their brand story and values. For example, Li-Ning, a Chinese sportswear brand founded by Olympic gymnast Li Ning, has reinvented itself as a global fashion icon by combining its heritage with contemporary design elements. The brand has collaborated with celebrities and influencers such as Dwyane Wade and Jackie Chan to create buzz-worthy collections that appeal to both local and international audiences.

To foster a creative culture within their organizations, companies in Asia also need to invest in developing the skills and talents of their employees. This includes providing them with opportunities for learning and growth, as well as creating a supportive and inclusive environment where they can express their ideas freely. According to a survey by Korn Ferry, Gen Z workers in Asia are more optimistic and motivated than millennials, but they also expect more from their employers in terms of career development, feedback, recognition, and purpose. Companies that can meet these expectations will be able to attract and retain the best talent in the market.

More Inclusion, Less Exclusion

A third trend that is influencing the business culture in Asia is the growing awareness and action on diversity and inclusion issues, especially gender equality. While Asia still lags behind other regions in terms of female representation in leadership positions, there are signs of progress and improvement in recent years. More women are entering the workforce and pursuing higher education in Asia than ever before, creating a large pool of potential talent for companies to tap into. Moreover, more women are breaking the glass ceiling and reaching senior roles in various sectors and industries.

One example of such a woman is Shobana Kamineni, the executive vice-chairperson of Apollo Hospitals Enterprise Limited (AHEL), India’s largest healthcare provider. Kamineni joined AHEL in 1989 as a management trainee and rose through the ranks to become one of the most influential business leaders in India. She has been instrumental in expanding AHEL’s portfolio of services beyond hospitals to include pharmacies, clinics, diagnostics, telemedicine, and health insurance. She has also been a vocal advocate for women’s empowerment and health in India and globally.

To promote gender equality and inclusion in their organizations, companies in Asia need to adopt policies and practices that support the advancement and development of women. This includes providing them with equal opportunities for career progression, mentoring, networking, and training. It also involves addressing the barriers and biases that women face in the workplace, such as discrimination, harassment, stereotypes, and work-life balance issues. According to McKinsey, advancing women’s equality in Asia could add $4.5 trillion to the region’s collective annual GDP by 2025, a 12% increase over the business-as-usual trajectory.

Part two of this series looks at specific examples of how these changes in work culture and business values are impacting Gen Z workers.