Managing China: In the land of the blind, the white guy with one eye is king

For anyone who has lived extensively in China, you will immediately recognize this scenario:

Hanging
out with friends at a bar/coffee shop/restaurant in
Beijing/Shanghai/Guangzhou and you meet a fellow Westerner.  After a
the usual polite chit chat about the food/heat/service, the
conversation turns to “so, what do you do in China?”  For those of us
who’ve been doing “the China thing” for a long time, there is a mix of
fascination/dread/mild anticipation for the answers that come out of
these guys mouths.  OK, so it may sound a bit on the snobbish side, but
25 years in to my Chinese adventure, I often feel that I have
heard/seen it all when it comes to these conversations.

“I’m writing a
book,” the youngish looking Western confidently responds.  “A book?
Really? On what?” I reply knowing full well what the answer is going to
be.  “On China.”  And there you go, another schmuck who’s been in
country for a year, barely speaks the language but feels somehow
confident enough that he has the necessary insights to unveil the
mysteries of Chinese culture and business.  Predictably, these posers
don’t have much to say beyond what’s already been written in the Dummies Guide to Doing Business in China.
Seperately, there is a growing cottage industry of so-called “China
consultants” based in Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong are similarly
ill-equipped to offer practical assistance for the expatriate manager
tasked to actually get something done in one of the most complex
business cultures anywhere on the planet.  I can’t begin to tell you
how many ex-journalists and out of work HR professionals now fill the
ranks of these “China consultants,” none of which, incidentally, have
any real world experience managing a P/L much less operating a
manufacturing operation in China.

My
objective here is not pretend that I, in fact, actually have the
answers.  Instead, this new “Managing China” thread on China Talking
Points is to designed to open a discussion on the critical issues
facing expatriate managers and pointing you in the direction of
practical, actionable information that will hopefully enlighten you
more than the legions of posers who currently fill the space.
Specifically because China is such a confusing cultural landscape, it
allows for pretty much anyone with even a bit of knowledge to pass
themselves off as an expert to the unknowing outsider.  30+ years after
China’s opening to the world, the stakes are now too high for
international companies and executives to rely on mediocre counsel. In China, as elsewhere, a little bit of knowledge can be very dangerous.

Regrettably, the expatriate manager seeking to improve his/her understanding of managing in a Chinese environment is more less isolated. While there are countless books dedicated to managing “the Jack Welch Way” that are all translated into Chinese, there is little to nothing dedicated to managing the “Chinese Way,” specifically targeting the expatriate manager working in a Chinese ecosystem.  To the best of my research, the most competent scholarship on the subject is a mix of academic writing that is unforgivably dry and a smattering of corporate training materials that offer a range of general insights on the subject.   I’ve assembled a few of the better articles onl our Cross Cultural Management page that will serve as a good starting point for this discussion.  Please please please do correct my assumptions if you know of any resources that can enhance this conversation.

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