Back by popular demand: “ChinaSolved’s least wanted list.”
Earlier this month we ran a column called “10 China Management Risks You Can Eliminate by Training.” The response was enthusiastic – so we are going to revisit selected items in a bit more depth.
Management behaviors you need to eliminate # 1. Flying blind.
If you don’t have time to plan for China, you don’t have time to succeed in China. You need to figure out how to build your own independent channels of business intelligence and market data. It’s great to get expert opinion on how to plan your China business, but if you rely on others for your basic operating strategy you are starting off with a very high risk profile.
There was a time when the number one obstacle to doing business in China was a lack of good business information. Nowadays one of your biggest challenges is TOO MUCH news, information and data about the China market. True, a lot of the basic statistics the Chinese government churns out are still highly suspect, but there are mountains of advice, information and news being produced from private sources. While much of it should be approached with caution – the same could be said of any market. Your familiarity with the China market is now under your control — there are information sources to suit every need and budget. Cutting corners and failing to do adequate due diligence has proven to be very expensive for many companies.
Remedy to Flying Blind: You need to treat China business intelligence as a process — not the product of an hour or two of research. You want to have a feel for China’s big trends, and that doesn’t come quick. Like any exercise program, you are better off with a little focused effort in a regular routine than with a last-minute marathon workout.
Step 1: Business Intelligence. Set up a newsreader with a few reliable sites that focus on business and management — not macro headlines or current events. I use “Feedly“, but there are plenty of options. Know the difference between business intelligence and headline news so that you can hone in on your industry and market. Politics and international relations are fascinating, but they really don’t have as much impact on your day-to-day business as you might imagine. ChinaSolved’s twitter feed covers the business headlines every morning, and our LinkedIn group clips market-moving articles and discussion with industry specialists regularly. We’ve also set up a series of Pinterest boards that attempt to organize important sources and economic reports pertaining to important areas of China business.
Devote 30 minutes a day to scanning headlines and LinkedIn newsgroups. China Solved, China Business Guide, ChinaLawBlog, etc. If your specialty is manufacturing, marketing, luxury, tourism or negotiation, there are groups designed just for you.
Step 2: Delegation. If you are in a position to delegate this function, just make sure that the process is making your company “smarter” and more competitive. Many American managers make the mistake of hiring someone with a Chinese sounding name (or designating someone who already works for them) to be their China Expert. There’s nothing wrong with this – as long as the information and research is being integrated into the rest of the organization in a sensible manner. If China is going to be strategic to your company as a market, recruiting center or production source – you need to know enough about the economic fundamentals to ask the right questions — and judge the answers.
Step 3: Strategy and Planning. If China is going to be strategic to your firm, you have to know enough to make your own plans. Western managers who allow partners or key staff to develop their strategies usually end up in trouble. There are two ways this mistake unfolds. Many MBA-types who think that they are delegating a specialty function by having a country-head or key staffer customize their global plan for China are actually training their competition to steal their resources and market share. Of course you should bring in the right people – but delegation doesn’t mean abandoning your responsibilities. When you task key managers with building your China plan, you now have 2 priorities – you are responsible for managing an ambitious China strategy AND for managing your ambitious Chinese strategists. You have to manage the HR component of your China operation much more carefully than you would in the US or Europe.
The second big way of losing control of you China plan is to let your partners, suppliers and customers gradually shape your policy and strategy to suit their own needs. Yes – relationships are important and you should listen carefully to the advice your new connections are offering. If you have built up the right business intelligence and knowledge, you can take self-serving advice as a jumping-off point for building solid plans. If you are flying blind with insufficient knowledge and preparation, however, you will end up putting the fox in charge of the hen-house.
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