What HR model works best in Shanghai? It’s a seemingly simple question – the kind that I do great with on my third beer when someone else is buying. But when someone asks you point-blank what really makes China teams successful, it’s a bit of a challenge. It is always so much easier figuring out what other people have just done wrong…
Well, here are a few ideas that I’ve gleaned from people far more intelligent and far more experienced than I am about managing teams in China effectively.
What DOES work in Shanghai HR?
- Intense, big-picture trainingWhat’s the MISSION? Why is your company doing things this weird, cumbersome way? In general, ex-pat run firms invest more time in each transaction and spend more on infrastructure. You see it as a commitment to quality and long-term value. How do your local staffers see it? Maybe they share your vision – or maybe they think you just don’t get China. Share your vision with them, and keep doing it. Make it part of your orientation policy, your regular training, your performance appraisals and your coaching.
- Highly specific job responsibilities that keep getting biggerYour Chinese team likes structure more than their western counterparts. Be honest – when is the last time YOU looked at a job description for your mid-level, 3 – 5 years-on-the-job managers? ‘Flexible and dynamic’ read well in the promotional literature, but if your manager’s think that they aren’t getting enough guidance then they may feel frustrated and adrift. Everyone likes moving up and making progress – in China you’ll want to make the steps very clear and space them out very regularly.
- Small teams, vested in the future of the companyBeware of STAFF BLOAT – a very big problem in China. Once your team has grown to over 20 people, the dynamic changes drastically. It starts to feel ‘corporate’, which is ok if you have formal plans for career development, performance appraisals and incentive-based compensation plans. If you don’t have those systems in place, large teams can feel chaotic and uncaring. People like family and they like career. If your team has gotten too big to be a family, then you have to make sure that your managers see it as their career.
- Highly engaged managementDon’t send your middle managers off to a team-building weekend while you go play golf. It’s insulting and counterproductive. You may be a numbers-oriented, hard-nosed manager who wants to see results – but if your top managers see you as a cold-hearted interloper who doesn’t care about them or their culture then they will find it very easy to leave. Your managers want you to be more involved. The ball’s in your court.
- Active career managementCoaching, Career Development programs, high-level training, mentoring. This stuff is all expensive in terms of time, money and energy – which means that often is gets pushed down into the “low priority” part of your to-do list. Don’t fall into that trap. In the west, career development is the responsibility of individuals. In China, it is the responsibility of the company.
You’ll notice that while some of these tactics are expensive, big salaries aren’t featured on this list. It’s not that you won’t be paying a lot for good people – it’s just that high-pay is more of a threshold issue than a success strategy. Above average salary will help you get people in the door, and weak salaries may force some people to look elsewhere. But high pay alone isn’t going to turn a distracted, unmotivated worker into a superstar – but some of these other factors just might.
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