Essentials of Doing Business in Vietnam

For American clients who are interested in investing or doing business in Vietnam, I’ve assembled the following list of essentials that are likely to make life a bit easier:

  1. Honor Confucian and Buddhist values:  strong family orientation; strict hierarchies; top-down decision making; obedience to authority, seniority and age; need for balance and harmony.  Dress and behave conservatively. 
  2. Be patient.  Transactions are usually affected by politics, procedures, infrastructure, and personal relationships.  Avoid making assumptions about attitudes and behaviors; they usually have cultural explanations. 
  3. Expect change and contradictions.  Vietnam is a dynamic, fast-changing country learning the ways of international business.  Business culture changes rapidly, and modern Vietnamese often are conflicted between family and career, communism and capitalism, and Eastern and Western values.
  4. Show deep respect and humility.  What you first experience in one of the world’s oldest civilizations is the outer layer of a large onion.  Ask questions.  Vietnamese people usually are honored to be asked about their culture.
  5. Teach teamwork and skills.  The education system emphasizes individual competition and does not yet focus on collaboration, innovation, or the techniques of modern industry.
  6. Negotiate.  Vietnam is a bargaining culture.  Be joyful when negotiating and clear about the outcome. 
  7. Be explicit about expectations.  Vietnamese workers are accustomed to following instructions and obeying the boss; if you want feedback, suggestions, self-reliance, collaboration, or innovation, say it, write it — and show you mean it. 
  8. Treat partners and workers with dignity.  Be clear about rewards and punishment, and keep your promises.  Avoid singling out individuals for criticism or praise or causing embarrassment. 
  9. Cultivate local relationships. Share your personal life: family, hobbies, opinions, aspirations.  Join associations that will help maintain relationships with authorities. Hire local talent — financial, investment, legal, and business professionals.  Use modest gifts to express respect, appreciation and gratitude and to establish a boundary between gift-giving and bribery.
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