Hong Tu – China Business Services – How to Manage Chinese Workers. Managing Chinese workers can be difficult. Companies vary approaches from hiring China savvy expatriates to hiring locals or a mix of the two strategies. Both strategies have pros and cons. The right strategy for your company depends on a number of materials. Learn about Chinese business culture. Do not try to import American/western business culture when relating to Chinese workers. Be intentional in how you interact and be aware of the cultural differences.
Also, you should understand that because you are not Chinese, you will be judged differently. A Chinese boss might be rude or demanding and get away with it, but if you do this, you will become the rude foreigner. This is also true for managers from Taiwan despite the fact that they are Chinese. Your best bet is to strive for an image of the benevolent foreigner who treats people well, strives for excellence and expects the same from everyone at the office.
Family is Important
My wife and I moved to Colorado from Taiwan. This has been a good move for our family. We have access to schools that teach our children the way we want them taught. The air is clean. We have had the opportunity to open this business. At the same time, it is hard to overstate how difficult the move has been for my wife because she has been separated from her family. During Chinese New Year, when most Chinese people visit their family, Skype is just not enough.
Families play a central and important role in the life of most Chinese people. When possible avoid asking your staff to miss time with their family. This is particularly true during Chinese New Year or other important holidays. If you must ask them to miss a holiday or visit with their family, you need to understand that this is a big deal and at the very least thank them.
Hierarchy and Harmony
Chinese culture is more hierarchical and values harmony and positive relations. Leaders should lead and employees should follow, which should lead to harmony. This can be quite different than the collaborative nature of working relationships in the United States, where conflict and difference of opinion is expected to lead to innovation. If you expect your Chinese staff to express differences of opinions, you will initially be disappointed. It will take time and effort to build a company culture that supports this approach to innovation.
Harmony and hierarchy will both go out the window if you decide to lay off your staff and move operations outside of China. Changes like this are not “just business” in China. You are ending the relationship and your staff no longer has an incentive to maintain harmony. Plan moves like this well in advance. Consider making the announcement from abroad after you have moved any applicable IP and operations out of the country.
China is a High Context Environment
Chinese people rely on the context around them. Workers watch those around them for hints about what is happening in the company. They will respond to the nonverbal cues you send throughout the office on a daily basis. They will even internally question direct communication if it does not match their interpretation of the non verbal cues.
America is a low context environment. We say what is on our mind. Chinese culture is a high context environment and people communicate through hints. Direct communication can easily backfire. People may assume the exact opposite. I remember sitting with a staff member and discussing a plan he had developed to solve a problem. The plan had some strengths, but it also had some obvious weaknesses. I used American communication technique of sandwiching the negative between two positives. I praised the plan and then probably said something about not liking the weakness. My staff member interpreted this to mean that I didn’t like him. I would have been better off praising the positive parts of the plan and then asking the staff member if he had considered the impact of one of the weaknesses. From this context, the employee would have known that I thought this was a weakness and that I’d like it fixed.
Managing Face in China
If you want to manage people in China, you will have to learn how to manage face. Remember that face is a much deeper concept than simply “losing face” during embarrassing situations. How you praise and interact with people impacts their “face” and your relationship with them. You can do irreparable harm to your relationship before you even realize there is a problem. This typically results in the employee leaving with no notice just after bonuses are handed out at Chinese New Year.
In the United States, there is some debate around delivering negative feedback in front of others. The idea is that by delivering negative feedback publicly, you set group norms, increase accountability and use teachable moments at the cost of creating some awkward and embarrassing moments. This might work in the United States. It would be a disaster in China or Taiwan. You may see Chinese managers get away with this, but as a foreigner managing in China, you should avoid this at all costs. Again, in China the rules for you are different than they are for Chinese.