Jul 17, 2024

“Soft skills”, which consist of communication and management abilities, are important in North American organizations. Photo by Lennon Ying-Dah Wong via Visual Hunt / CC BY-NC-ND.

Canadian Filipinos raised in the Philippines may need to approach things differently if they want to succeed as managers in a Canadian workplace.

 Why? The typical Canadian workplace, particularly in urban centres, is culturally diverse. Employees and their managers come from different cultures. In the workplace, a major factor in employee/manager relations is whether they come from a hierarchical culture or an egalitarian culture.


In a global study by the Dutch Interculturalist Geert Hofstede scoring 57 countries on how hierarchical they are, the Philippines ranked the 5th highest, and Canada ranked the 15th lowest. (quoted in Lionel Laroche and Don Rutherford, “Recruiting, Retaining and Promoting Culturally Different Employees”. Elsevier. London. 2007, p.168).

What’s the difference? According to Laroche and Rutherford (same source as above, pp.164-165), “In hierarchical societies, the dependence of subordinates on superiors is accepted as the norm on both sides. Roles are clearly defined and distinct…clear delineation of expectations of subordinate and superior…Individuals are unlikely to question the boss’ decisions….recognized as a more traditional authoritarian…model…

“In … egalitarian societies, a consultative style, equality of status, and interdependence between different layers of power are considered desirable. Subordinates…are expected to question, even disagree with those in more senior positions. People from less hierarchical societies tend to focus on business objectives first…Employees initiate new projects, make independent decisions, and consult with (other people)…without necessarily informing the boss.”


Here are some tips on how the hierarchical type Filipino might advance to management and succeed as a manager in the more egalitarian Canadian workplace:

1. To be considered for advancement, be prepared to take on higher responsibilities without the title or the money. Show that you can do the job in order to get a promotion to that level.

Laroche and Rutherford advise that “in hierarchical countries, people are promoted by focusing on their current responsibilities. Once they demonstrate they can do the job without a glitch, they are likely to be offered a position at the next level when one becomes available…In egalitarian countries, the promotion process is fairly gradual… employees free themselves to take on tasks at the next level (by delegating to other staff who are also interested in being promoted) to demonstrate that they can do the job; only then are they likely to be offered a position at the next level.” (Laroche et al, pp 256/7)

My experience proves this. In the City of Surrey, I was a long-time planner, until I indicated to my supervisors that I was interested in becoming a manager. I accepted different and higher-level assignments which were needed - such as preparing a comprehensive guide to develop in Surrey, steering a social planning task force to develop a social planning framework for the city, reviewing suburban lands to develop urban growth strategies. When an Associate Director planning position came up, I applied for it and got the job.


2. Learn and improve your soft skills, the ‘North American way’.

Soft skills, in contrast to technical (‘hard’) skills, consist of communication skills such as making presentations, and management skills like decision-making and delegating. “The relative weight placed on technical skills in hierarchical organizations is much higher than the relative weight placed on them in egalitarian cultures. In North American organizations, the relative weight of soft skills increases as one moves up the organization” (Laroche et al, p.261). Here are some specific tips on developing soft skills in the North American way.


3. On Communication –When making presentations have a brief and succinct executive summary showing the impact of the project on the audience (ie, “what’s in it for the audience”) rather than details of the project. Laroche and Rutherford state that “people from hierarchical cultures find it difficult to do brief executive summaries because hierarchical and risk-averse senior managers expect to be given all the details so that they can ensure the employees have collected the right data…”(Laroche et al, p. 265).

In my work as a city planner, I certainly found this rule useful when making reports to City Council. With piles of reports to go through, Councils appreciated brief summaries that, in a nutshell, described complex policies and their impact on key issues such as the tax-dollar and community infrastructure. I inculcated in my staff the discipline of one-to-two-page reports, aware that if they couldn’t put it in one or two pages, then they still haven’t captured their main message.


4. On decision-making - Adjust your decision-making style in accordance with the culture of your team. Discuss and specify expectations with a hierarchical team if your organization has an overall egalitarian culture. Or vice versa.

“Command and control” may work for teams with most members coming from hierarchical cultures (most Asian cultures, Latin American, Russia and some European cultures), but will not work for teams with members raised in Canada, USA, and Northern European cultures.

After my stint in Surrey, I worked as a policy manager with the City of Richmond. Looking back, my team in Surrey was more hierarchical in culture, while my team in Richmond was more egalitarian in culture. My mostly Canadian team in Richmond perceived me as being “command and control”. While this approach successfully delivered a major town centre plan within a tight deadline (receiving an award as well), it caused team revolt. With the help of a human resource facilitator, we created a team “code of ethics”, a process that built in staff consultation in key areas, and resulted in a more harmonious team.

5. On Delegating – Adjust your style to the culture of your team. Hierarchical employees like to have more details in the instructions of tasks, whereas egalitarian employees prefer open-ended assignments where they can initiate their own approach.

President/CEO and Director, MBNS
Eleanor Guerrero-Campbell is a city planner, community champion, and writer. She came to Canada in 1977 with a degree in English and Comparative Literature, and a Masters Degree in Urban and Regional Planning, both from the University of the Philippines. She went on to work as a planner manager in Edmonton in Alberta, and Surrey, Richmond and Vancouver in British Columbia. Guerrero-Campbell co-founded the Multicultural Helping House Society, where, as executive director, she established programs to assist newcomers in Canada. As chief executive of the Minerva Foundation for B.C. Women, she managed leadership programs for women in various stages of their careers. She currently co-convenes the City of Vancouver's Immigrant Partnership Program Committee on Access to Services. Her first novel Stumbling Through Paradise: A Feast of Mercy for Manuel del Mundo depicts the struggles of a Filipino family's immigrant journey in Canada through three generations. Eleanor is a recipient of many awards including the Vancouver Civic Merit Award (the only Canadian Filipino to receive this award thus far) and the Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Medal for community service.

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