A cross-cultural approach to HR management in China

A cross-cultural approach to HR management in China


From our branch IC&Partners Asia

The experience of many foreign companies in China has proved the importance of an intercultural approach to the human resources management. In fact, the western companies that decide to realize an investment in this country must face with people that have a different culture background (based above all on the values of Confucian philosophy) and that have lived and worked in a highly State-controlled context.


First of all, we should consider that while in the western society the individual prevail on the group, in the Confucian tradition it’s more important to promote the collective interest and the people have much more responsibilities towards the family and the society.


This collectivist cultural background can help a managerial style based on team-work but it’s also the cause for the scarce inclination of Chinese employees toward the individual initiative and the taking on personal responsibility: the Chinese sentence “duo zuo duo cuo” (that means “the person that does more, also makes more mistakes”) reflects the work attitude of many Chinese employees in the State-owned enterprises (especially in the past).


Then, it’s not advisable for foreign companies to reproduce in China the flat organization structure that is typical of the western companies, because the reduction of the middle management, and the consequently reduction of supervision on the bottom line, can create a less motivational environment for the employee, that are used to receive directives and checks that do not give them opportunities to manage autonomously their tasks.


Moreover, the Confucian organization is based on a strong hierarchy in which the leader is expected to exert his power in the group’s interest and, in return, he receives great respect. This also involves a paternalistic image of the company that, in fact, especially in the past, often provide benefits such us housing, education and childcare.


In order to guarantee the correct functioning of the organization, it’s important that the management inform the employees about the different roles in the organization, giving clear messages of impartiality and discipline. In fact, in a social background where personal relations are more important than in Western countries, to assert impartial rules in the management of the company will help to avoid that important decisions (like the selection of employees or suppliers) are made by Chinese colleagues on the base of personal or family ties rather than according criteria of efficiency and meritocracy.


Even if the foreign companies often invest  in China because they are attracted by economical advantages, the western manager that will focus their attention on the Chinese culture, not only will have better professional results, but they also will make a great experience of personal development.