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Talent Management in Indonesia

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Thu May 17 2012

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(From Forbes) -- Population 245 million. 86% Muslim. World’s third largest democracy.

Regularly overshadowed by its elephantine regional neighbors China and India, the world’s largest archipelago, Indonesia, is emerging with the quiet stealth and power of a tiger. Together, the ASEAN-5 (Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam and Philippines), often referred to as the tiger economies, represent some of the world’s best economic opportunities of the next decade.

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Yet as we see elsewhere in the emerging world, the endogenous talent pool is inadequate for the requirements of many 21st century jobs, and the local education system can’t pump out skilled graduates fast enough. To be fair, they’re working on it, but the backlog is enormous and the forward orders are daunting. So talent management is fast getting elevated to critical business issue status.

If you’re a multinational corporation riding on that country’s 6% per annum average GDP growth and expanding your Indonesian operations, some of the local idiosyncrasies you will encounter in this market include the following.

A deeply religious culture

Most multinational corporations originate from the western world. Much of the western world subscribes to one of a variety of Christian faiths. Almost 9 out of every 10 Indonesians you meet will be Muslim. Is that a problem? No. But you will need to accommodate some of the different religious practices that come with Islam. Like the formal requirement to pray five times per day, the general abstinence from alcohol, and Ramadan, a month of fasting and religious celebration. Indonesians are generally tolerant of other religions but find atheism incomprehensible and uncomfortable.

A strictly hierarchical structure

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Like many collectivist cultures, a very formal hierarchy prevails in Indonesia. You get it with age, seniority and/or social status. Those at the top of the hierarchy are known as Bapak (or Ibu if you’re female), and can be assured of deference and obedience from everyone else. You don’t have to be Indonesian to gain this status – if you’re the boss or most senior manager, you hold the Bapak card. There is a price tag for this respect and unquestioning obedience: you are expected to know what you are doing, make decisions and give direction, and importantly, maintain a paternalistic vigilance over your flock that may feel far more personal than professional to the average western manager.

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