Training Your Teams for China

A lot of companies that think they have a China management problem actually have a NY management problem.

International managers have two views on China. Some see China as so exceptional and unique that standard operating procedures have to be thrown out and replaced with a Chinese set of rules. Others view China as just another business unit. While it is a challenging business culture that requires a certain amount of accommodation, it nonetheless will ultimately be integrated into the global operation.

Two China Views. Who is right?

There are elements of truth to both views — and it’s up to senior management to reconcile them. Many international organizations are improvising an ad-hoc model: specialists learn on the job (usually within the first few months of being posted in Shanghai or Beijing) while the support staff back home does their best to stick to standard operating procedure. This method works great when it works — but tends to crash spectacularly for seemingly insignificant causes. A little planning goes a long way, and senior managers will find it worthwhile to assert some control over the China management process from their own home base.

Gotta Recognize

Your operation needs China specialists and China-competent generalists. You’ll prep your specialists to operate in China with Chinese colleagues, stakeholders and customers and act as a source of business intelligence for the rest of the organization (as opposed to the old days when they were just mouth-pieces for management). But you also have to prep your support and oversight teams for dealing with China – or you run the chance of being blindsided or undermined by events that you should have seen coming.

China Specialists are in the Unique China camp

China Specialist training has two goals — train your managers, leaders and supervisors to understand Chinese culture – particularly as it applies to your business. First they must know how to deal with your internal China organization and network. It is important that the people with direct loyalty to your home office take a major role in driving your company’s networking and relationship-building efforts. This might take some finesse since the local team — who usually don’t feel the slightest allegiance to the home office — will feel that HQ has no business sending anyone to China. The second business culture your China specialists must gain proficiency in is your customers, clients, or end-users. It’s important that someone from your own home office understands the situation on the ground as it applies to your entire supply chain and distribution network.

Operational Support in HQ sees China as a business.

These are the people back home that are supervising, overseeing or supporting your China operation. Their main training goal is to understand how the China business integrates with your larger global operation. In the past, many international HQs have been viewed by the China office as an obstacle to success — and that opinion is frequently shared by the “Old China Hands” that you hand-picked to protect your interests. The 21st Century China operation requires two-way dialogues and exchanges of information — and it will require that your support and oversight people in HQ have greater understandings of the realities on the ground. The Western business community is suspicious of their Chinese counterparts and colleagues — and not without good reason! But that mistrust and suspicion has to be the beginning of a business relationship, not the end. China specialists posted in China have to worry about building cordial relationships and establishing trust — the people at home have to be knowledgeable about laws, rules, regulations, holiday schedules, taxes, HR procedures and expenses. It’s their job to communicate regularly with not only the China specialist but also with their counterparts in the China office (to the best of their ability).

Don’t Try to Outsource China Competence

China is strategic to your business, so it is your responsibility to gather appropriate business intelligence China competence isn’t just for specialists anymore — nowadays we all have to be China Hands. 

If you plan on outsourcing your China competence to an overseas PRC staff that doesn’t know you, can’t communicate with you and has no loyalty to you, then you are setting the stage for major problems.

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