Continuous Improvement in Vietnam: Unique Approaches for a Unique Culture

Phuong Anh Nguyen, Alan G. Robinson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Purpose – This paper aims to enhance the understanding of continuous improvement (CI) practices in Vietnamese organizations.

Design/methodology/approach – The study reported here is based on field research using in-depth case studies to investigate the factors underpinning CI effectiveness in Vietnam. Data were collected from direct observations, internal company documents and interviews in six leading Vietnamese companies, as well as interviews with 50 business leaders, managers, practitioners and academics in Vietnam.

Findings – This paper identifies the cultural conditions that have most shaped, and continue to shape, the management of CI in Vietnam, and suggests ways that practitioners can design effective CI practices in that country. For example, a very strong top-down management approach seems to be necessary to jump-start CI in Vietnamese organizations. Vietnamese organizations can succeed with CI, but they require substantial investment in human capital to give managers and employees at all levels up-to-date CI education and training. Furthermore, contrary to best-practice thinking in many developed countries, Vietnamese organizations may well be unable to motivate employees to participate in CI initiatives without a seemingly heavy-handed system of substantial rewards.

Research limitations/implications – Future research in this area should study a broader selection of case companies across a wider selection of sectors, including more in service, and in other industries and in other regions of Vietnam. It should also aim to capture and analyze other factors that determine CI effectiveness.

Practical implications – To lead organizational change, leaders must first be able and willing to adjust their leadership styles to match the demands of their changing business environments.

Originality/value – While Vietnam is attracting intense interest from the international business community, little research has been done on CI practices there, in part because Vietnamese companies have developed a strong culture of secrecy, and are very wary of granting research access to outsiders. This study offers one of the first “inside views” of Vietnamese management with reliable data focusing particularly on CI.

Original languageAmerican English
JournalJournal of Asia Business Studies
StatePublished - Jan 1 2015


  • Vietnam
  • Continuous improvement
  • Culture


  • Business
  • Economics

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