It is a constant challenge for me as an entrepreneur who hires from the local community to resolve the disparity in values between management and our employees. Every weekend, I help my parents run their sustainable heritage destination in San Pablo, Laguna, and every weekend, I am faced with the many human resource issues that confront our business.
When we opened in 2004, recruitment was always a challenge because of the location of the restaurant. Situated in Barangay Santa Cruz “Putol” (population: 2365, as of May 2010), we are several kilometers from San Pablo City proper. We realized early on that acquiring experienced personnel from the immediate area would not be an option, and proceeded to develop necessary skills in our new hires by following these HR objectives: 1) To professionalize service operations by incorporating the positive Filipino values of hospitality, courtesy, and respect for family and tradition into international service standards. 2) To create an inspiring and empowering work environment for our employees for the purpose of improving their quality of life, with the aspiration of achieving goal congruence within the organization.
Easier said than done
As part of the hospitality and tourism industry, we endeavor to foster a solid customer service culture, and in doing so, we count on the cooperation of our team to uphold our quality definition. But even after a decade of operations, my parents and I still deal with recurring HR issues. Despite having tried various interventions such as leadership training and teambuilding programs, motivational talks with experts, and regular bull sessions, it seems that we cannot change the values of some of our employees. We then assumed that the decline of the Filipino value system in the shared environment is the root cause of our HR problems.
I decided to turn to the late great anthropologist and guru on Filipino values, F. Landa Jocano, for guidance. The problem, he says, is that Filipinos have a tendency to hate their own kind, which is typically caused by colonial mentality. We tend to see our indigenous traits as negative, corrupt, uncouth and irrational, all of which embody a conventional belief system as seen from the perspective of foreigners. This self-loathing only causes us to further lose touch with our true nature, which is, in fact, rife with positive Filipino values.
In his seminal work, Filipino Value System: A Cultural Definition (1997), Landa Jocano defined values as: “standards of excellence; ideas of the desirable, characteristics of the individual or the group, which people use to make decisions and guide their actions, and; ideals people want to achieve” (page 19). In fact, he firmly asserted that we must endeavor to re-understand our values through romancing our culture, and we can do this in two ways:
Going back to basics
Landa Jocano recommends that we re-evaluate the vital features of our traditional values within the context of real-life experiences. For instance, we can focus on asal or the standard for proper behavior as a value concept to be relearned. “Asal, as a standard, refers to the dominant and commonly shared values and norms which Filipinos use as points of reference in expressing themselves, interpreting the actions of others, and in regulating interpersonal and group relations. Such standards consist of assumptions and premises which underlie local preferences and choices concerning what is desirable, true, good, and beautiful.”
He goes on to point out that these norms are intrinsic in Filipinos in that as we grow up, we learn them in our homes from our elders, and in our community from various reference groups. Therefore, these values lie deep in our subconscious, and can be used to discern right from wrong behavior in the work place by differentiating magandang asal (good behavior) from masamang asal (bad behavior), respectively.
As it turned out, it was wrong for us to generalize that our HR problems were caused by the degradation of Filipino values. Now, we recognize that it is important to become more acquainted with our team members so that we can truly engage them in designing an appropriate HR program that will celebrate our similarities. Admittedly, we took it for granted that everyone had the very same standard in the application of these values in a hospitality setting, seeing as Filipinos are generally warm and friendly, anyway. It was not enough to merely state that this was an HR objective we wanted to meet, rather it is crucial to further dissect these attributes, and state expected outcomes in a manner that is easily accepted and understood by our local workforce.
When hiring from the surrounding community, one must become more sensitive to our indigenous values. The new challenge is to relearn these values so that these can be properly applied in the customer service culture of the business. At the end of the day, Landa Jocano asks why in the first place would we desire to practice values that we know would not be true, good, and beautiful? “Desirability is culture-bound. It is one of the mechanisms by which society enables its members to share common standards so that they can interact without much conflict—so that they can order their lives within the realm of personal and community experiences.”
Paz Esperanza Tesoro-Poblador is a faculty member of the Marketing Management Department of De La Salle University’s Ramon V. del Rosario College of Business. She is currently taking her Doctorate in Business Administration. Her fields of interest are sustainable development, entrepreneurship, and digital marketing. The views expressed above are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official position of DLSU, its faculty, and its administrators.