Bartleby

Cultural challenge

A guide for foreign workers at Chinese companies

 




Jun 4th 2020 | WORDS 758

 

 

 

THE CORONAVIRUS pandemic has led to some testy moments in diplomatic relations between China and the democratic world. But in the long run, Chinas economic power is likely to increase and that means more foreigners may end up working for Chinese corporations.

 

In a fascinating and detailed book, Barriers to Entry: Overcoming Challenges and Achieving Breakthroughs in a Chinese Workplace, Paul Ross, an executive who has worked in China, describes some of the difficulties workers face. There is plenty of scope for misunderstandings. A common complaint of foreign employees working for Chinese firms is that they do not always understand what is expected from them nor do they find the guidance they receive from Chinese managers satisfactory.

 

That may be down to differences in corporate culture. Sociological studies show that Chinese culture is more collectivist and displays a greater respect for authority than elsewhere (although a nation of 1.4bn people will not have a uniform mindset). Mr Ross says Chinese workers rely on informal communication for information and guidance, obviating the need for more formal definitions of their duties. As a result, one American who worked for a Chinese group concluded that the ideal Western candidate was someone who was comfortable with uncertainty, rapid and unexpected change, and taking the initiative to find their own direction.

 

Workers cannot count on getting lots of positive feedback either. But Mr Ross counsels that Chinese bosses who come across as too critical may just be struggling to find their footing.

 

The relationship between manager and staff is more hierarchical than Western workers might expect, the author says. Chinese managers occasionally ask staff to run errands or do small, personal jobs. Challenging the boss is not a good idea. Mr Ross says employees should never shoot down a bosss idea directly. If there is a difficulty in implementing the plan, they should blame it on outside factors.

 

Working long hours seems to be a way of expressing group solidarity in Chinese companies even though it is not always the most efficient use of time. Reviews by Western employees on Glassdoor, a website where workers can write about their companies, suggest that a lack of work-life balance is the most negative factor. In particular, employees are expected to attend after-work functions as a way of showing team spirit. Chinese companies spend a lot of money on events that are designed to bring workers together. Mr Ross says that such shindigs are an important way of transmitting the corporate culture to their staff. So recruits need to take part.

 

Even so, foreign workers may struggle to be accepted. One person who worked at the Belgian outpost of ZTE, a telecoms-equipment provider, recalled that the Chinese staff sat in a large open space in the middle of the office while the local staff occupied a small office at the end of the hall. Mr Ross suggests offering to teach colleagues English as a way to establish relationships, leading to collaboration in other areas.

 

Another problem is that foreign employees can find it hard to work their way up the career ladder. One game developer at Tencent concluded that leaving the company for a competitor and then rejoining at a higher level was the best way of getting promoted.

 

A further cultural difference is in the style of presentations. Chinese executives dont reveal anywhere near as many personal details in their speeches as Western CEOs. Presenters dont tend to make eye contact with the audience but read the text off a laptop they bring on stage. Slides tend to be packed with detail as a way of imparting information. Western-style slides with lots of space are seen as lacking useful content.

 

Despite all these differences, the trend for foreign workers to join Chinese companies is likely to continue, even if businesses from the Peoples Republic are barred from making acquisitions abroad. Many foreigners want to work for a Chinese firm because they think it will enable them to develop skills and knowledge that would help their careers.

 

Furthermore, Chinese companies want to employ foreign staff to deal with overseas clients, because of the cultural sensitivity and linguistic ability they bring. A number of Chinese companies now provide onboarding programmes to help overseas recruits adjust. To update Horace Greeleys 19th-century motto, the advice for the future might be Go east, young man.







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Economist | When Western workers meet Chinese bosses

 

  

Bartleby

Cultural challenge

A guide for foreign workers at Chinese companies

 




Jun 4th 2020 | WORDS 758

 

 

 

THE CORONAVIRUS pandemic has led to some testy moments in diplomatic relations between China and the democratic world. But in the long run, Chinas economic power is likely to increase and that means more foreigners may end up working for Chinese corporations.

 

In a fascinating and detailed book, Barriers to Entry: Overcoming Challenges and Achieving Breakthroughs in a Chinese Workplace, Paul Ross, an executive who has worked in China, describes some of the difficulties workers face. There is plenty of scope for misunderstandings. A common complaint of foreign employees working for Chinese firms is that they do not always understand what is expected from them nor do they find the guidance they receive from Chinese managers satisfactory.

 

That may be down to differences in corporate culture. Sociological studies show that Chinese culture is more collectivist and displays a greater respect for authority than elsewhere (although a nation of 1.4bn people will not have a uniform mindset). Mr Ross says Chinese workers rely on informal communication for information and guidance, obviating the need for more formal definitions of their duties. As a result, one American who worked for a Chinese group concluded that the ideal Western candidate was someone who was comfortable with uncertainty, rapid and unexpected change, and taking the initiative to find their own direction.

 

Workers cannot count on getting lots of positive feedback either. But Mr Ross counsels that Chinese bosses who come across as too critical may just be struggling to find their footing.

 

The relationship between manager and staff is more hierarchical than Western workers might expect, the author says. Chinese managers occasionally ask staff to run errands or do small, personal jobs. Challenging the boss is not a good idea. Mr Ross says employees should never shoot down a bosss idea directly. If there is a difficulty in implementing the plan, they should blame it on outside factors.

 

Working long hours seems to be a way of expressing group solidarity in Chinese companies even though it is not always the most efficient use of time. Reviews by Western employees on Glassdoor, a website where workers can write about their companies, suggest that a lack of work-life balance is the most negative factor. In particular, employees are expected to attend after-work functions as a way of showing team spirit. Chinese companies spend a lot of money on events that are designed to bring workers together. Mr Ross says that such shindigs are an important way of transmitting the corporate culture to their staff. So recruits need to take part.

 

Even so, foreign workers may struggle to be accepted. One person who worked at the Belgian outpost of ZTE, a telecoms-equipment provider, recalled that the Chinese staff sat in a large open space in the middle of the office while the local staff occupied a small office at the end of the hall. Mr Ross suggests offering to teach colleagues English as a way to establish relationships, leading to collaboration in other areas.

 

Another problem is that foreign employees can find it hard to work their way up the career ladder. One game developer at Tencent concluded that leaving the company for a competitor and then rejoining at a higher level was the best way of getting promoted.

 

A further cultural difference is in the style of presentations. Chinese executives dont reveal anywhere near as many personal details in their speeches as Western CEOs. Presenters dont tend to make eye contact with the audience but read the text off a laptop they bring on stage. Slides tend to be packed with detail as a way of imparting information. Western-style slides with lots of space are seen as lacking useful content.

 

Despite all these differences, the trend for foreign workers to join Chinese companies is likely to continue, even if businesses from the Peoples Republic are barred from making acquisitions abroad. Many foreigners want to work for a Chinese firm because they think it will enable them to develop skills and knowledge that would help their careers.

 

Furthermore, Chinese companies want to employ foreign staff to deal with overseas clients, because of the cultural sensitivity and linguistic ability they bring. A number of Chinese companies now provide onboarding programmes to help overseas recruits adjust. To update Horace Greeleys 19th-century motto, the advice for the future might be Go east, young man.







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