How NOT to Localize your China Team

ChinaSolved is proud to publish the work of China-based experts and thought leaders. This month Jerel Bonner, a highly sought-after executive coach in Nanjing with over 7 years of experience in China, shares his views on how to accelerate your localization plans.

It is time for management and HR to create a true localization program so that companies spend less money relocating expatriates to and from China. If your localization strategy is based on a team of expatriates training your Chinese staff, why do you still need the expatriates?

In Q4 of ’08 the busiest companies in China were the global relocation companies. As multinational scrambled to race to the bottom of cost cutting, expatriates were repatriated until the impact of the crisis on China was know. When it was apparent that China would not be drastically influenced, the expatriates slowly returned.

Fast-forward to Q4 of ’10: the China economy is heating up and the central government is trying hard to manage inflation. Your finance managers are beginning to look for cost cuts to maintain profit margins. Is your team good enough so that you can repatriate your expats? Probably not, or they would have not returned in ‘09.

The reality is that it takes too long to get the right combination of job and communication skills transferred to your Chinese team. To date companies have tried three methods to localize their business. They are:

    1. OJT (on the job training) led by expatriates
    2. MBA programs
    3. English class for improving their communication skills.

Let’s look at the weaknesses of each of these methods.

    Expat led OTJ
    The first drawback is that expatriate stays in China are expensive. When an expatriate arrives, it usually takes them 3-5 months to adjust to the environment. Expatriates’ main skills are delivering on business objectives and directly managing the team. Coaching and delegating skills are usually not the strengths of the expatriate selected for duty in China. Finally, do these individuals really understand the difference between western and Chinese communication techniques?

    MBA Programs
    Some employers choose the route of sending their top talent to MBA programs. This too has high costs, and takes a long time. Additionally the employee may be overwhelmed from the workload and course work.

    English Lessons
    Many companies believe that if their employees improve their English skills, overall communication will be better. There is nothing further from the truth! If your employee can’t speak and write English after 10 years of English learning in school what special tricks do you think an English teacher can deliver in 3 months of after-hours English classes? Results are hard to measure, and the employees see them as 4 hours a week of unpaid overtime with an English teacher drilling him with boring material from the same old books they had in high school.

A new trend is growing in China and that is coaching. Can coaching accelerate your company’s localization plan? With the right coach there is no doubt it will.

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Jerel Bonner , an executive coach in Nanjing with over 7 years of experience in China, shares with us a new way to accelerate localization. For two years, Jerel has been in the trenches with a major MNC creating a coaching program that delivered real result with KPIs that were identified for his client.

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