Indonesia is an emerging Asian market which is attracting increasing investment from Australian and other western companies. Indonesia and its business environment can be confusing, daunting and challenging, but in many cases this is due to a lack of understanding of the Indonesian management behaviours that influence business relationships. If Australian companies want to succeed in this emerging Asian market, then they will need to develop knowledge and awareness of the Indonesian business culture, much the same way as Australian companies have succeeded in China now that there is a growing understanding of the Chinese business culture and etiquette. The latest research from UniSA has identified the use of third party agents as one of the important Indonesian management practices that influence business. These third party agents are referred to in Javanese (an Indonesian dialect commonly used amongst the business and government elite) as Parantara or ‘the bridge’, and acts as a conduit between the negotiating parties behind face to face negotiations, where issues of conflict can be raised without disrupting the harmony of the negotiation.
Maintenance of harmonious relationships between negotiation parties is critical to successful business engagements in Indonesia, and is grounded in the Javanese court traditions established prior to Dutch colonial rule. In Indonesia today, there is a renewed focus upon an independent, national identity, free from the western influence of Dutch colonialism. This nationalistic identification has seen many of the Javanese cultural behaviours re-emerge in the postcolonial period in Indonesia, and this has been driven by the political, governmental, and business elites which in many cases identify themselves with the Javanese culture.
The Parantara is characteristic of a postcolonial Indonesia that has re-discovered the cultural norms of the pre-colonial Javanese court structure that favoured relationships, networks, and a system of favours and rewards. Utilising agents to further business relationships and aid negotiations is not a uniquely Indonesian experience, as it is common experience in other parts of Asia, in particular China with the use of the Zhongjian Ren or the Intermediary. However, there are distinctive differences between the Zhongjian Ren and the Parantara in their level of involvement in the negotiated deal. The Zhongjian Ren will often be a part of the deal, as a partner, stakeholder or direct benefactor of any business agreement. Whereas the Parantara is bounded by the cultural traditions of the Javanese court system that places importance upon the network. As a consequence the Parantara is more of a broker, who operates in the background, for the betterment of both parties and who is rewarded for success.
Understanding Indonesian management behaviours is vital if Australian companies are to develop successful Indonesian investments in the coming years. So if your company is looking to invest in the Indonesian market, then you would be best advised to find a good agent who can help navigate a harmonious relationship and build a strong deal. Fore without a good agent, you may find yourself in a sea of conflict, and on the path to investment failure.