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4 steps to help you succeed in a developing market

4 steps to help you succeed in a developing market

Working in a developing and growing market usually means working at full capacity and being inundated with business every single day. While this might sound like an attractive proposition for an individual or organisation, the reality is often more challenging you might think.

Between 2004 and 2008, I experienced this for myself. At the time, I was based in Russia and worked for another recruitment company. The economy in Russia was strong and there was a perception that achieving good results was not difficult due to the lack of competition – how wrong that perception proved to be.


The grass isn’t always greener

Myself and my colleagues continually found that winning projects from clients was easy; however, finding good candidates was tough. This was mainly because Russia was still a growing economy with many young, inexperienced job seekers. As a consequence, potential candidates for a role were often far from our clients’ expectations.


Finding quality candidates for a client and ensuring they go through the whole interview process without an offer coming in from a competitor was always a real challenge – we’d often have to wrestle with another three competitors over the same candidate.

During my time at this organization, I also saw whole teams of recruiters leave within the same week, while the workflow only got greater – an unfortunate consequence of this was that many people found themselves in positions they were unsuitable for, simply because the business needed to have a structure in place to sustain growth.


4 steps to help you succeed in a developing market

The truth is that being successful during busy periods can often be just as much of a challenge as staying afloat during slow periods. With that in mind, here’s my advice for succeeding in this sort of environment:


  • Soft skills beat hard skills

Communication is important everywhere, but never more so than in a developing market. In your home country you’re less likely to worry about how you communicate with people, as you feel more confident expressing yourself in your native tongue, in your native country. In a foreign and developing market, communication suddenly becomes a very delicate affair – careful not to offend anyone or leave yourself open to misinterpretation in a foreign language, you’ll soon put even more resource into all your communications.

My experience in Russia was that having a democratic style of management was not always the most efficient way to operate; sometimes because people expect you to tell them what to do, often because they have too many ideas themselves.

I am now based in China, and here I have found that people usually do exactly what you tell them, no more and no less. Communicating is also much more difficult here: unless you are working with somebody who has been exposed to western culture, you will not win the hearts and minds of your team until you understand the importance of back-channels or the art of indirect communication.

Mastering communication in these developing economies (the so-called “intercultural-skills”, coupled with emotional intelligence) can take years; while the time you invest in developing these skills can stunt your professional growth in other areas.


  • Stay focused on your goals


Growing economies mean lots of new business coming in all the time, and also many fresh opportunities. A common mistake people make in developing markets is chasing every new opportunity that appears: starting a new product line because a client called and is ready to pay a lot of money for a product nobody else can deliver, creating a new department because your competitors already did it and you cannot be left behind, or starting a new business unit because one of your competitor’s star manager just called and said they are ready to join your company.

I quickly came to realise that this is a foolhardy approach. Every business should have a strategy which should be implemented, no matter what. If an opportunity arises it should be taken only when it fits into your overall strategy, and can be done without a huge strain on your resources or without disrupting the whole organization. Everything else will simply distract you from your annual goals or confuse your employees as to what the company is really after.

Should you focus your efforts on developing a market-leading organization or constantly chasing quick wins? The first option will see you develop slower, but steadier, while the second will leave you vulnerable to any unannounced crises.

While working at one of my previous employers, we faced this situation at the end of 2008, when the global financial crisis started hitting Russia – within a few months we had to reduce the workforce by more than 40 per cent. What saved our company at the time was not really the structure or processes (we had “forgotten” about them while being busy growing the business by 20 per cent every year), but the management team we had put in place over the years. These people were experienced, dedicated to the company, with a good network of clients, and they took to the company through the hard times. Our task would have been made a lot easier had we just stuck to the plan.


  • Quality over quantity

This is a similar point to the one above, only applied to processes and not strategy. It can be tempting to grow your business (team and turnover) by 20 per cent every year. However, will you manage to keep your clients happy? Again, a common mistake in developing countries is to become so excited by this constant flow of new business that you forget your existing and often loyal clients, until the next recession comes and the new clients suddenly disappear, and you are left alone because your “old” clients have moved to another provider.

Building long-term relationships with clients will always pay off in the long-term, and keep you afloat in difficult times. It is sometimes wiser to turn down one or two new clients in order to spend this additional time and energy on your existing ones. Even in a growing market, a satisfied client will bring you more business than two half-satisfied ones!


  • Manage your resources carefully


In an environment where everything is growing quickly it is easy to ask more and more from your teams – and yourself – and to forget that employees are all human, with a limited amount of energy: ‘burnout’ is just as likely in developing markets as it is in mature ones. Easing the pressure on your staff a bit, having them take breaks and – for expatriates – taking time to leave your new country and see the “world outside” can not only give you a second breath, it can also give you ideas on how to grow and manage your organization.


Making hay while the sun shines

So, if there’s a lesson to be learnt here, then it’s to not take periods of rapid growth for granted: you aren’t guaranteed success. There are many challenges to working in an emerging market that make it just as difficult a task as operating in a mature one.

In order to profit from periods of high demand it’s important that you don’t neglect the essential processes. You and the business are most vulnerable when operating at full speed. Sharpen your soft skills, make sure all your staff are on the same page so that the business is growing in the right direction, while also being smart about allocating your resource and following the book – get all of this right and you’re sure to prosper!