The Rise of Cross Cultural Virtual Teams – and Their Challenges

China Unbound will be hosting a talk on 26 November […]

China Unbound will be hosting a talk on 26 November with intercultural specialist RW-3 Cultural Wizard on ‘How to Succeed in a Cross Culture Workplace’.  In this post, their Director of Learning, Sean Dubberke, shares with us his experience on intercultural challenges working with virtual teams and some tips human resources managers and team leaders can use to get the most out of them:

In March, we conducted our biennial global virtual team survey, drawing on 1,620 executives in major organisations from 90 countries around the world. No less than 88% of respondents agreed virtual teams are critical to daily productivity.

But working in multicultural cross-cultural virtual teams can be painful. Language and time-zone differences are the most obvious hurdles. But some of the most common frustrations voiced by our survey respondents are things like “lack of participation,” “lack of engagement,” “low-context communication,” and “lack of ownership” issues – all of which are open to extreme interpretation based on your personal cultural context.

In spite of these differences, professionals recognise the potential of global virtual teams: 72% of respondents believe diversity has a positive effect on their team’s performance. But how do they ensure they’re making the most of their cross-cultural virtual teams?

1. Provide Cross Cultural Training

No one is born with the skill to understand people from foreign cultures; it must be learned. For cross-cultural virtual teams to achieve their potential, workers must demonstrate mission-critical intercultural communication skills. Fortunately, there’s an easy fix: cross-cultural training. People can learn how to resist the trap we all fall into when we evaluate situations only from our own perspective. By seeing business from the perspective of others, professionals are able to develop strategies to flex their work style and develop deeper intercultural insights – and stronger cross-cultural relationships.

2. Appoint a Clearly Designated Leader or Manager

An effective leader or manager must be able to clearly articulate the team’s goals, scope, decision-making processes, and more. They must be available to engage with team members – and not only through large-scale virtual meetings. I always recommend cross-cultural virtual team leaders advertise “virtual office hours.” These casual chats help foster close relationships that give leaders a better grasp of the different work styles present in their virtual teams.

To get the most out of meetings, leaders should prepare and distribute an agenda in advance, and share brief minutes after the meeting. Most of all, encourage group participation, as professionals from many cultures are often less comfortable at openly expressing their views, particularly disagreement or bad news.

3. Create a Team Charter

A high-performing team needs solid guidelines. Create a team charter that serves to clarify performance expectations. Be sure to provide a literal, explicit framework for success to ensure your whole virtual team is engaged and on the same page regardless of where they are in the world. Be sure to focus not only on the “what’s” but the “how’s.” In the same vein, always promote clear, open, and consistent communication. Honesty and openness can help foster traits like respect, familiarity, comfort, and trust, which help to prevent unnecessary challenges and conflict.

4. Promote an Open Environment

By creating an open environment that leaves rank and egos at the door, everyone can have an equal voice. It’s important for all opinions and questions to be valid – no question is “stupid.” Assumptions lead to misunderstandings, openly sharing information is key. The structure of global virtual teams makes it easy to hide behind a screen, but an effective leader pays attention to those who are quiet, recognizing their work styles and soliciting opinions during calls, meetings or during private conversations.

5. Provide an Internal Communication Site

A well-defined virtual space for teamwork – a shared collaboration platform, for example – can help ensure all team members are always in the loop. Interpersonal relationships are more likely to flourish if you include visual and written profiles of all team members, their roles, responsibilities, and contact info. A shared collaboration page should be a carefully managed asset. By including project details along with the ability to instantly share data and insights across borders and time zones, cross-cultural virtual teams increase their potential contribution to the business.

The strategies described above demand education and training – only a handful of us are born with them, or spend their formative years growing up in more than one country. So, remember, no matter how well our technology develops, people need developing, too!

Want to get the best out of your multicultural team? Don’t miss our 26 November 2018 event on How to succeed in a Cross Cultural workplaceRSVP here to secure your space.

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Differences in Chinese private business compared to State-owned organisations

4 senior members from CRCC Asia, Bank of China, Active Anglo […]

4 senior members from CRCC Asia, Bank of China, Active Anglo Chinese Communications and Davica HR gathered at a recent China Unbound event to discuss how we can build more successful cross-cultural teams and collaborations. Here are highlights of the event!

Q: Is there a difference between privately owned organisation’s in China and State Owned Organisations in terms of the way people behave?

“Yes I feel UK SMEs generally behave more like privately owned organisations in China and UK large corporates are similar to State Owned Enterprises (SOEs) in China.” Yintong Bester, MD of Active Anglo Chinese Comumnications says.

“Having said that, it is important to try to empathise and understand each company’s background that you are working with, and work out what defines success for them.” Edward Pearce, Director of CRCC Asia adds.

Particularly with SOEs, they might have some targets that are not necessarily related to making more money. It may be about keeping people employed or sorting out some other potential future problems.”

“On the other hand, for many small Chinese companies that I met that could potentially list on AIM, it’s the listing process, the successful listing, that is their success. That means either they got a big pay out or they got fleet of cars, or they got their new factory etc. It is not necessarily successfully running this business for 10 years.”

Bester further observes, “It’s not consistent, some companies you find they take a very structured approach, develop their business step by step, and very focused. Then with other companies, they come up with an idea and off they go! Chinese companies I have dealt with can be so different, they are less consistent than the companies in the UK in my experience. I feel it’s a transitional stage in China now.

To see how we can help you build your China business: Survival BUSINESS phrases – Mandarin taster on 25th September 2018 at 19.00.

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An Insider’s view on Engaging Chinese consumers

How do we successfully engage Chinese consumers? I spoke to [...]

How do we successfully engage Chinese consumers? I spoke to a good friend and China veteran Ben McMillan for some tips. Ben spent 10 years in China, photographing China’s explosive growth story and set up his own media production company, Beijing Photospace. BPS went on to become one of the leading production houses in China, supporting clients such as American Vogue, Sony Pictures and Mercedes.

1) Tell us about your fascinating business, journalist and photography background! How do they help you understand how to engage with Chinese consumers?

Well those are different disciplines and experiences, and they’ve given me a very rounded exposure to China. On photography first, a picture speaks a thousand words and to take one for a Chinese advertiser, or commercial client, by definition requires successfully meeting their expectations. But the thing with photography is you don’t get things like a scale drawing, or a precise model for the product you deliver. Instead you have to connect with your client’s vision and understanding of their whole brand and customer base. So it’s a super direct exposure to the world and aesthetic view of the culture from which your client is from. And in my case that helped me learn a great deal about China.

Journalism also had great relevance to photography and business in China because so much of the standard support you get in London – access to locations like a roof top, processes in place to get permits to shoot – just don’t exist there. So you have to draw on other skills. Finding out processes and passing tests and making connections. As for setting up a business in China, again it teaches you an awful lot about a culture and community. And that’s what consumers are! Many expats live in China but most inhabit exclusive, gated compound homes and their office and a bunch of plane and hotel interiors. That’s really different from drawing the story of a culture out of people, from all levels of society, and in all kinds of locations. In their comfort zone not yours … eye to eye.

2) You said it’s important to understand how the UK is perceived in order to engage Chinese consumers successfully, why is that?

National identity really matters in marketing into any community. Think of the Marlboro Man back in the eighties and nineties. The rugged cowboy who smoked Marlboro cigarettes. In one image the product was entirely wrapped up in a range of positive brand messages about the USA that people could immediately understand. Space, bravery, freedom, manliness … conquering the American West and so on. It was aspirational and worked because the audience in the west had grown up watching cowboy movies. So we could connect all those dots ourselves, in a heartbeat.

So with UK, the question is … what dots do Chinese consumers connect about the UK in a heartbeat?

Is there an entry point of cultural understanding you can link your product to that will resonate? And if there isn’t, or if there’s a less desirable association about the culture from which you come, how can you rebalance that? How can you reinvent?

I’ll address this further in the talk but I appreciate a response to that might be, ‘why try to link a product to a national identity at all’? A washing machine is a washing machine, and paint is a paint. Why should it matter to the consumer where products come from? But in many ways I don’t think that’s the case with China.

In China, every interaction with everyone and everything is defined by national identity.

Every taxi driver wants to know where you’re from, and they process that information against how you act, appear and past cases they’ve known. And if they can, every market seller will try and sell a product on the back of where it’s made. And usually … not China!

And up to a macro level, China as a state commissions foreign expertise in every major industrial field in order to learn from them, and nations have been partnered, or not, due to very specific historic frameworks and modes of perception. In the case of the UK, the Chinese business world associates us with good management, law, finance, education and personal investment, especially property.

But Chinese consumers have a hard time putting their finger on what the UK is good at.

They like the premiership football league, for example, but know it’s full of foreign players. Whereas by comparison, Germany is clearly identified with strong leadership and good manufacturing, especially cars. And their football team knows how to win! So it adds up. Equally with the USA … movies communicate so much about technology and a fast-paced, can-do society…buildings are shiny and modern. Whereas Britain, with the royal parades, neo-gothic houses of parliament and movies about butlers and Duchesses … we make the UK look so conservative, while in reality, with pop music, fashion, art, F1, defence, computer gaming … the UK is anything but!

We have so much to offer so it’s worth understanding those domestic perceptions before you spend money trying to tackle them, or in other cases, leverage them.

3) What are the 3 common perceptions, or misconceptions about the China market as you see it from your own experience?

China is much larger than the whole EU and just as diverse, so the first common perception, or misconception, is that China is one market. On the surface it is, in regulatory terms … but even that’s a stretch.

The reality of China is that the provinces are far more autonomous and independent than outsiders appreciate.

The big show meetings of the ruling party in Beijing are a by-product of that. It’s not just a post-Soviet presentational paradigm … but part of a constant effort by the centre to remind the wider country that they’re still there, and ultimately in charge. But in reality deals are done on such a scale across China, Beijing can’t possibly know what’s going on everywhere. Outsiders think China is run with a rod of iron from an all-knowing Beijing centre and it’s just not the case.

So if you want to partner with a company in Guangzhou, it’s the culture and regulations of Guangzhou you need to know about. Not just those of the central Government in Beijing.

And that follows through to the second and the third perception. That China’s economic success in the past 20-30 years is down to inspired central Government leadership when in my view, it was actually more the centre lifting restrictions and just getting out of the way. Which is where a lot of issues come from now. Today the centre is trying to manage a slowing down when it had nothing much to do with the growth that occurred in the first place, and doesn’t understand how it works as a consequence. Not to the extent that we would imagine a Bank of England of US Treasury department would. It was organic in many ways, once the ‘reform and opening up’ program was begun under Deng Xiaoping in the late seventies.

And finally modernisation.

It’s so easy to see sky scrapers and modern buildings in China as proof of a modernised society, in depth.

But that masks the fact that Chinese society is massively diverse in terms of internationalisation and awareness of global business practices. In China, you encounter people from all corners of a far wider economic, educational and cultural landscape than any Western nation.

So the mental world view of a person you are dealing from one meeting to the next can be very different. The fact you may be doing several such meetings in one day in an awe-inspiring 70 story tower has absolutely nothing to do with it. Many other important issues I’d like to talk about at the event on the 21st trickle down from these factors.

4) You lived in China for 10 years without speaking fluent Chinese, how easy is it to get by without speak Chinese?

I don’t speak fluent Mandarin, but of course I do have basic language skills that were essential. But while I was able to get around town and order food, pay bills and so on, yes I wasn’t able to have lengthy discussions. I was also travelling around China by myself, on jobs, like shooting Chongqing for a major feature for The Guardian in around 2006.

And really, looking back, the answer is confidence. Confidence, patience and anticipating where a communication problem might happen and proactively managing that, in advance. For example, printing your hotel address before you travel, so the taxi driver has that. Then from the car you can phone ahead and ask the hotel staff to tell the driver where you are going, to make sure. It’s a lot about logistics on a street level basis, and in terms of meetings and serious conversation, all my clients had English speaking staff.

Speaking Mandarin plays a much more important role in showing respect and commitment, and helps a great deal in relating to people and understanding their culture.

But you will find your clients don’t need to have long, complex conversations in Mandarin to establish that. Showing willingness to absorb Chinese culture at first is most important.

I never spoke perfect Mandarin, but I always did when meeting people for the first time. And I used key words and phrases, selectively, at the right moment to confirm I understood an agreement or a plan from both sides.

An appropriate use of a Mandarin phrase says so much more about what you know about China, than any amount of contractual commitments in written documents.

It shows you’ve taken time. You’ve understood and listened and had the respect to give that time and attention. If you’ve not taken that time, how trustworthy can you be, long-term? And always, always, end by saying thank you in Mandarin.

5) What is the one advice you most want to share with businesses looking to reach Chinese consumers?

Spend time in China. If you’re a decision maker, do a trip and make free time. Even a day if that’s all you can manage. Watch TV. Wander some shopping malls by yourself. Get a meal by yourself. The menu’s all have pictures! Look at advertising on the street. You don’t have to understand Mandarin to see a car ad is a car ad. Or a phone ad is a phone ad. Get a local SIM card and you’ll probably get adverts by SMS and some cold calls. Listen to the tone of delivery, the style of the voice. Is it male or female? Why?

Learn what you’re trying to participate in and break into.

As the oldest continuous history on earth, with the size of its territory, borders, population and history for isolationism … China is a different market from anywhere else.

There are lots of nuances about selling into China … how your product is perceived, if it’s perhaps associated with a country or part of the world.

At least 33.3% of the game is just getting personal affinity not just with reports and focus studies and whatever, but some practical experience.

You need to have some grasp, some reference point, for what you’re being told by staff or clients and partners. And you won’t get that simply by attending meetings and dinners.

You need to let China connect with yourself.

It will make a difference. The point is people in China do not differentiate business practice from the rest of life or their world view. When you get your head around that, it’s unusual, and it’s a big deal.

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How to work effectively with Chinese partners or agents?

4 senior members from CRCC Asia, Bank of China, Active Anglo […]

4 senior members from CRCC Asia, Bank of China, Active Anglo Chinese Communications and Davica HR gathered at a China Unbound event to compare UK and Chinese’s approach to leadership and how we can build more successful cross-cultural teams and fruitful collaborations. Here’s part 2 of 4 of our post-event highlight (UK vs Chinese Leadership)!

Q: If you are working with Chinese partners or agents, how do you get international collaboration?

A: “It is very important to learn what the structure is like in China, and how to work the hierarchy system. Nurture the relationship and show people respect is very important for a long term business.” Yintong Betser, MD, Active Anglo Chinese Communications explains.

You must also make sure that you are talking to the right person. As often there are junior line managers involved in the process – build relationships with them to get things done, but make sure you are talking to the senior managers if you need decisions made.

We should also realise that often the decision isn’t actually made here in the UK. The Chinese companies are massive in China, but they are a smaller operation here, and they don’t necessarily have the autonomy. So helping the managers here to send the right messages back so the right answer comes back is important. Claire Martin, Director of Davica HR adds.

Edward Pearce, Director of CRCC Asia adds: “The role of the government is also very important. Especially if you work with State Owned Enterprises.”

“A lot of UK organisations go into China and expect instant results. But you have to be patient and open minded.” Bester says. “For example, is common sense international? My British colleagues will say, of course! But is it? If your boss is supposed to chair a meeting but they are running late, would you go ahead and start the meeting? To the Chinese, the common sense is not to start. But in the English culture, to be punctual probably is more the common sense. So it is always a different interpretation.”

“Another example is how age is viewed. In the Chinese Culture, older can mean more responsible, more caring, so can be positive sentiments. But in the UK – people can get very upset if you tell them they are old!”

So things can be interpreted from different cultural references in China. Knowing these basics help build stronger relationships and are fundamental to effective business strategies as you cannot sell to someone effectively if you don’t understand the world from their point of view.

 Enjoy this? Read the rest of the series here: Part 1 UK vs Chinese leadership, Part 3 Motivating Chinese employeesPart 4 differences between privately owned vs State Owned Organisations


To see how we can help you build your China business: Survival Business Mandarin in 4 hoursSurvival Business Mandarin in 10 weeks

China Unbound specialise in helping business people do better business with China using two primary drivers – Language and Culture. Their happy clients include professionals from Grant Thornton, Crowe Clark Whitehill and SB Wealth Management.

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Interview with Builtvisible on Effective Online Marketing in China

On 16 June 2015, China Unbound hosted a China marketing talk with […]

On 16 June 2015, China Unbound hosted a China marketing talk with some of UK’s largest and reputable China marketing specialist agencies QuminBuiltvisible and Shi Shi Ishi on China social media, SEO & branding. In this post, I interviewed one of our speakers Owain Lloyd Williams from BuiltVisible. I was curious about his experience in China and any advice he can share with us about marketing to the Chinese online from his time there.

How did you first get into marketing in China?

I suppose the first taste of experience I had with marketing in China was when I was an English teacher for various schools in a city called Liuzhou, in Guangxi Province, and in Beijing. This began as “traditional” marketing such as hopping around town doing demo classes and organising promotional events and extra-curricular activities, and I also had creative control over the website and newsletter of one of the schools I worked for. Once I shifted into the journalism industry in China, it was then that it went 100% online and I was soon marrying up my editorial and writing work with platforms such as Weibo and of course Baidu.

What did you find as the main differences in the online environment compared to the UK?

The staggering rate at which things are evolving, emerging and progressing in various levels of Chinese society is truly reflected in its social media and greater online environment. I think if we look at Twitter over here and then look at Sina Weibo for example, things are certainly cranked up a notch when it comes to the speed at which things go viral, the ever-changing nature of what’s hot and what’s not, and even the user-based and technological capabilities of all these various platforms. WeChat, often referred to as China’s answer to WhatsApp, is also a perfect example of how quickly user functionality is evolving there – I even noticed a new feature on its main interface just the other day that I hadn’t seen just days before!

In plain English, can you explain how Baidu works differently compared to Google?

Baidu, which holds a dominant search engine market share in China, in its essence is similar to Google in terms of its layout and algorithm in which it ranks sites, however there are some key differences that make working with Baidu a largely fresh endeavour. One of these is that typically, when a user enters a query, a large share of the search results is made up of Baidu’s built-in products. It has its own Wikipedia-style site (Baike), a Yahoo! Answers Q&A style platform (Zhidao), and a Google Docs-style site (Wenku) among others. Users are able to search in these platforms independently; however they still appear naturally in the main search result, adding a new slant when it comes to optimising or marketing a client’s product for Baidu. There are several key algorithmical differences which without being too technical I hope to explain to the attendees on the 16th when we have a bit more time.

What are the common mistakes or misconceptions people and businesses have of SEO in China?

I’ve seen it time and time again where you have sites that assume a basic top-level Google SEO-optimised Chinese sub-domain will do the trick with Baidu. Oftentimes the result is that even a nicely laid-out, well-written site simply does not show up on Baidu for even the most relevant (and even branded) search term, as people aren’t aware of some of the simple steps you need to ensure to get your site on Baidu. I’ll be taking a look at some of the things everyone can do to get their business set on the right direction for Baidu exposure on the 16th.

Top tips for getting SEO right in China?

I would say take with you all that you hold true and dear with regards to the SEO mind set used for Google, though remember that we’re dealing with a different beast here and to some extent you do need to start with a fresh outlook of sorts (as contrary as that sounds!) Overall though, as with venturing out into the Chinese market in any business environment in general, just keep an open mind and remember to “ru xiang sui su” (do as the Chinese do) where possible. Oh, and of course keep on top of market trends as best you can – I’ll be running through a list of great China SEO resources during my talk.

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Lessons learnt expanding to China’s Tier 1 cities

China Unbound was very lucky to have Jonathan Pfahl, MD of […]

China Unbound was very lucky to have Jonathan Pfahl, MD of the Chinese-investor- backed London business incubator Rockstar Hubs, shared his experience of making their first step into the Chinese market. His top tips were:

  1. Relationships – it takes time to build relationships and it’s more the case when doing business with Chinese people. Invest time in building the relationships before you expect the return. This means patience and taking a long term view of your business development effort in China.
  2. Learn the language – as a foreigner learning Chinese, it will be a (long) while before I can conduct business in Mandarin, but when you are able to say a few simple words in Chinese, they are very impressed, and it really helps to break the ice. It also shows your respect and commitment to the relationship. It goes a long way.
  3. Put yourself in their shoes, online and offline – China is not short of products. What makes your business special that they would want to partner with, or do business with you? Think about how you can give them something unique that can help them stand out from their competitors.
  4. Likewise, in the online environment, if you are inviting someone to connect on LinkedIn, put yourself in their shoes. Study their LinkedIn profiles. Ask yourself if you are that person and you are the MD of that company, what would the invitation need to say for you the press the ‘Accept’ button? It’s also important to clarify and ask probing questions if you are not sure what they mean in meetings and email communications etc. to avoid misunderstandings.
  5. Celebrity / British brand association or endorsement – Rockstar Hubs has the endorsement of the Mayor of London, and we found that it has helped us tremendously in opening doors with potential partners and customers. Think about if there is a way you can associate your brand with a British brand or celebrity known by the Chinese.
  6. Persistence and timing – We found that early notice goes into the bin when it comes to inviting people to events in China! If you give people 3-4 weeks of notice like we do in the UK, people don’t seem to respond much to it.
  7. Timing, therefore is everything. We found that when we tell them just a few days in advance, magically, the Chinese seems to find time for it!
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How to get your perfect China-related job

There I was, sweaty palms, and sat across from me […]

There I was, sweaty palms, and sat across from me was the hiring manager of a well-known Chinese company just setting up their presence in the UK.

Keen to impress, I wanted to show my desire to learn and progress in the organisation. I leaned forward and asked, “What is the company’s view on training, and do you have any training programs for employees?”

The reaction was a stern face, not quite the effect I was hoping for. “Our company has a strong entrepreneurial culture and we believe in learning on the job. Employees should be driven to find solutions to problems they don’t know answers to,” replied the hiring manager, not impressed.

Well, you can probably guess if I landed the job.

But here’s the problem I realised, I didn’t get the job not because I haven’t got the right skill set (well, not necessarily), but having been educated in the West since high school, I also got caught in a cultural HR gap between the East and the West – Chinese and Western companies have quite different expectations and attitudes towards staff, hence the staff selection and retention strategies are also very different.

Chinese people like working hard, relationships in the workplace are more hierarchical, and we are taught to respect, rather than challenge authority from a young age.

While this mentality has many positives (for one, Chinese kids tend to be more respectful to their teachers), it creates issues for global Chinese companies that are hiring Western or overseas Chinese staff like myself, and for British companies hiring Chinese staff both in the UK and in China.

The different values and expectations between candidates and companies means companies can spend more time and money to attract, and more importantly, to retain the right people, and candidates are potentially missing out on the right job, or end up being disappointed in a job as they have different expectations of the organisation’s culture and what it may offer.

As more Chinese companies are globalising and have a presence in the UK and more UK companies are entering the Chinese market, we need a better understanding of this ‘HR gap’ to help professionals and students with China-related skills to find suitable and fulfilling work, and help companies attract and retain staff with China related skills more effectively.

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What are the differences between UK and Chinese’s approach to leadership?

4 senior members from CRCC Asia, Bank of China, Active Anglo [...]

4 senior members from CRCC Asia, Bank of China, Active Anglo Chinese Communications and Davica HR gathered at a recent China Unbound event to compare UK and Chinese’s approach to leadership and more importantly, how we can build more successful cross-cultural teams and fruitful collaborations. Here are highlights of the event if you missed it (part 1 of 4)!

1) What are the similarities between UK and Chinese’s approach to leadership? 

“SMEs in the UK and SMEs in China have a lot in common. They are goal driven and the leadership generally comes from the boss – a top down management structure. Developing loyalty with your staff is also important as it’s a smaller team.” Says Yintong Betser, MD, Active Anglo Chinese Communications. On the other hand, Betser points out that big corporates in the UK have a lot in common with State Owned Enterprises in China. People are more inclined to look after their own positions, relationship with people is more important and you need to play along with politics in the office more.

Edward Pearce, Director of CRCC Asia says, “For me, the similarity is the concept of it’s not what you know, it’s who you know.

Claire Martin, Director of Davica HR adds, “I find both Chinese and UK companies are quite law-compliant, compared with the American and Russians and other nationalities who tend to push it a bit more.”

Trevor Cessford, Financial Controller of Bank of China International adds, “A common thread across them all I think is employees across the world would like clear guidance from their leaders and also be treated with respect.”

Pearce further comments on that he feels Chinese is just as innovative as the British, but it’s very important to work on them to bring the level of innovation out, and once they come out, you can’t stop them up anymore!

2) How about the differences in Chinese and UK’s approach to leadership?

“One main difference is the attitude to personal time versus work time. The attitude to getting together in groups. I still find it tough.” Pearce explains.

“I’ve seen Chinese colleagues who would love to arrange a whole day of activity for Saturday, that may be badminton or something fun. A lovely team activity but, for our British colleagues, it’s a bit too structured, it might impose on their weekend, that kind of vibe.”

“People are not afraid to get on the phone and contact you during your evening or weekend for something which you consider really is a work matter. Whereas in the UK, even for a small, medium sized business, I feel those things are quite respected. In China, if you didn’t want to be disturbed, you should turn your phone off.”

Cessford adds “I found the Western style of leadership is much more open to suggestion and change, whereas the Chinese style of leadership is much more top down. So they don’t necessarily like the questions as much as the Western style. It’s much more efficient and decisions and things get done more quickly, though changes are more difficult especially if they carry some risk of failure!

3) This is really important – how do we work more effectively with Chinese companies as a result?

Martin says it’s to realise that often the decision isn’t actually made here in the UK. The Chinese companies are massive in China, but they are a smaller operation here, and they don’t necessarily have the autonomy. So helping the managers here to send the right messages back so the right answer comes back is important.

Another tip shared by the audience is that often there is a lack of tender documents coming from China. So it’s important to keep going back to the client, usually via WeChat (as more responsive) in the process of building a tender.

You must also make sure that you are talking to the right person. As often there are junior line managers involved in the process – build relationships with them to get things done, but make sure you are talking to the senior managers if you need decisions made!

To learn more about doing business with China, see our upcoming course: Survival BUSINESS phrases – Mandarin taster on 25th September 2018 at 19.00.

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China: The Super Tank

Written by Sweta Tagliabue, Marketing Executive at China Unbound “You […]

Written by Sweta Tagliabue, Marketing Executive at China Unbound

“You don’t pull a super tank around without any collateral damage. Overall the tank will shift but there will be some side effects”. This is how Jonathan Geldart, author of the book Inside the Middle Kingdom and Executive Director of Greater China, Grant Thornton International defines the implications of the some of the changes the Chinese society is currently going through. In this present article, we will draw some conclusions from what Mr. Geldart shared with us at our most recent event, China’s emerging middle class, morality and money, where he drew on his personal experience to explain how the Chinese society has been changing and how these social and economic changes have affected the policy that the Chinese Government have carried out as well as the national education system.

The rise of Middle class in China

According to a study by consulting firm McKinsey & Company, 76% of China’s urban population will be considered “middle class” by 2022. Moreover, the young generation is expected to account for 53% of total Chinese consumption by 2020. In addition, another element worth noticing, as Jonathan explained, is saving culture: if British people manage to save only 12% of their income, Chinese people save up to 48% of their salaries. This leads to a population that has both time and money, hence their strong power consumption.

“Many of these Chinese children grow up believing that “they can have whatever they want whenever they want it”

This situation is fostered by social phenomena as well, such as the change in the way children are brought up. China’s ageing population together with the only child policy (introduced in the 1980s) meant children find themselves surrounded by two sets of grandparents, on their mothers’ side and on their fathers’ side, and they end up being the precious object of focus of six people. The fact that, as Jonathan stated, “too much attention does not always and necessarily have a positive impact on the child’s growth” is proved by the fact that many of these Chinese children grow up believing that “they can have whatever they want whenever they want it”, now more than before. As Chinese children grow up, this want-it-now, have-it-now culture is further fostered by the Western culture. These young 20-year-old people have cash, they have aspirations, they have access to the Western world through VPN, which makes them believe that everything is available and is just there for them to use it. In fact, just imagine how high the potential consumption power of ambitious 20 year olds, who have aspirations and expectations and more financial resources than their parents have ever had when they were their age, can get.

The downside of the rise of the Chinese middle class

“If people are rewarded and encouraged to cheat, they will keep on cheating”

As Jonathan pointed out, this sudden empowering of the Chinese young generations has led to a slip of moral values. In fact, as the culture seems to encourage people to get rich quickly, rather than well, a similar shift has happened in the education field as well. There are courses offering to teach students how to pass exams, rather than actually teaching them the course in its entirety. Because of its bluntness, Jonathan associated this approach with Deng Xiaoping’s “Cat Theory”: just like it doesn’t matter if a cat is black or white and as long as it catches mice, it’s a good cat. Similarly, it doesn’t matter what you know, provided that you pass the exam and make money, that’s good enough. This new trend goes together with the mantra “Want it now, have it now” and, as there’s no easy way to get everything that we want exactly when we want it, it seems to suggest that cheating is OK. It is this very mindset that triggers what Jonathan defined as the “cheat system”, in which “if people are rewarded and encouraged to cheat, they will keep on cheating”.

Chinese people’s reaction: return to the core of Chinese identity

As Jonathan remarked, the Chinese party and also the older generations are aware of this phenomenon and they’re trying to take action against it. This can be seen in the comeback of the Chinese tea culture and the rise of new tea houses. In a world where everybody’s lives seem to revolve around money and professional success, Chinese people have been rediscovering the importance of personal relationships over professional ambitions. Jonathan also noticed that most recently there has been a change in the education system, which he considers to be a response to the problems raised, to introduce culture as part of the school curriculum, as a means of reinforcing a sense of traditional values and national character.


“You don’t pull a super tank around without any collateral damage. Overall the tank will shift but there will be some side effects”, Jonathan said about the most recent changes in the Chinese society and the side effects that these bring along. China is changing, for good and bad. But, as Jonathan reminds us, the positive is that underneath there is a government that cares and a people that care for it even more.

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How to motivate Chinese employees?

CRCC Asia, Bank of China, Active Anglo Chinese Communications and Davica HR gathered [...]

CRCC Asia, Bank of China, Active Anglo Chinese Communications and Davica HR gathered at a China Unbound event to discuss how we can build more successful cross-cultural teams and collaborations. Here are highlights of the event!

 1. When managing a team with Chinese employees, how do we motivate them?

Understanding Chinese business etiquette and ethics is key to successfully managing and motivating Chinese employees. Face is an important social concept in China. “So things like make people feel proud to work for a company so they are respected by their friends and families are important.” Yintong Betser, MD, Active Anglo Chinese Communications explains.

“Also when someone does something wrong, you don’t tell them at the staff meeting, you have a quiet word with them. 

Also try develop a sense of loyalty with your employees, as the Chinese value the personal relationship a lot.”

Claire Martin, Director of Davica HR adds “Very importantly, when you interview a Chinese person, very often the first thing is they say is I love to learn. So provide plenty of learning opportunities is useful.”

2. What motivates UK employees?

Pearce says, “For all of our workforce, whether it is UK or Chinese, we encourage them to make themselves as indispensable as possible for the organisation. Once they get that, they tend not to want to move on so quickly, and not just look for a pay rise.”

“Also try to understand what each individual is looking for – is it learning opportunities? Is it being able to move around? Is it actually that we can sponsor their visa to visit our Venice office once a year?”

Understanding what make each individual happy is the key.

3. We often get asked this, when is a yes really a yes by the Chinese – what are the signs?

Edward Pearce, Director of CRCC Asia says, “If they are really willing to commit what the next step is in a very firm way. Like setting the next dates for meetings or setting dates for contract that are coming to an end. They can still play along of course, but when the date comes and they haven’t been actioned, then you get on your plane, you don’t change your plan.”

A fallacy that a lot of UK companies have is they assume it’s a yes when it’s conducted in a formal business setting

but actually, a yes delivered in the restroom or KTV is more likely to be a yes. The contract signed often has less weight!

To see how we can help you build your China business: Survival BUSINESS phrases – Mandarin Taster, on 25th September at 19.00

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