For Club China, recruitment expert Floor Nobels discusses persistent misunderstandings about work in China and with the Chinese. This time, the big question is: how much creative and out-of-the-box thinking can one expect from China’s talented candidates? How hard is it to recruit local staff that dares to challenge the boss’ analyses and decisions?
A real situation that occasionally arises in the Worklife Recruitment practice. An international company wants to go fast-forward with the launch, sales and distribution of its product in China. The management is eager to score its first success soon and a local office is opened to make it all happen.
“Many clients tend to think that the local job market in first-tier cities offers the same type of talent as in – say – Paris, Frankfurt or Amsterdam”, says recruiter Floor Nobels. “We often sense some impatience. Clients want us to finds teams with lots of creativity, ready to take charge of roll-out, sales and distribution. A self-steering, agile team of independent thinkers, with an opinion of their own, how hard can it be to put that together in China?”
The need for creativity
“Let’s look at the need for creativity in a team. Many seem to think that creativity among Chinese companies and their employees is hard to find and that copying Western ingenuity all that Chinese manufacturers are capable of. If you look at the innovation and the success of Chinese businesses in several industries, you cannot ignore that there is truth in the new motto of ‘Created in China’ – that goes a lot further than the old ‘Made in China’. Look at what Huawei has achieved, look at the global market position of the advanced drones that DJI invented: there is no lack of creativity in China’s design offices and workshops.”
Look at the boss
“At the same time, there is some truth in the opinion of many that Chinese office workers tend to look to their boss to take all decisions and not to challenge the wisdom of superiors. Few workers in first-tier cities have experienced the open culture at international firms and even less know to handle the freedom of making one’s own decisions. Most are horrified of the idea of disagreeing with the boss (and making him/her lose face) and of the embarrassment of making wrong decisions of their own. The culture of looking upward for help or guidance is still strong – it stems from a school system in which acquiring knowledge is key, where creative solutions to problems are not expected from students and where the professor is omniscient.”
The western attitude
“Finding people who have the western attitude can be hard. In our Chinese recruitment practice we learned to as candidates about the situations they have been in. Have they experienced decision-taking of their own? In what previous jobs have they been challenged and trained to think proactive and always look for the best solution – possibly not the boss’ solution?
In large cities, the candidates that have what it takes tend to know their value. The same goes for Chinese that have been born, raised and educated in the western world. International companies in China that cannot afford to pay top dollar, can do a few things.
- Set up shop wisely. If your company is an advertising or design firm, don't expect to find the right, internationally oriented staff in second and third tier cities. Instead, open your office in a city like Shanghai. Know your facts: you will find hardware experts in Shenzhen, IT specialists in Chengdu and marine engineers in harbour cities like Xiamen. Do your homework!
- Offer time and space. Allow them to learn the new way of working and thinking that is so different from the classic Chinese approach. Offer them the chance to experiment and to make decisions of their own – to align with your culture.
- Train your talents with a clear goal: to acquire the tools and competences of creative thinking and independent problem-solving attitude and skills. Invest time and effort – talk to them, coach them on a daily base and evaluate often. And ask them the same question over and over: how would you solve this problem, what would be your decision?
- If your staff seems to have the talent you are looking for, invest in the cultural fit by sending them over to your home base in Europe or the US – make sure they meet with the other approach and let them experience the way of thinking and working you find valuable.”
- Stay in close contact, even when you are 9,000 kilometres apart. Make daily calls, clear goals and mini goals in small steps ahead that you define together. This may feel like micro managing but you can show that you walk the talk. It certainly beats the practice of giving them an assignment and checking progress after three months – you may find them confused after such a long period radio silence.
Worklife Recruitment China中国, proud member of Club China, specializes in recruiting Chinese staff for Western multinationals and medium sized enterprises active in China. We recruit Chinese professionals who speak English at a decent business level. Our European/Chinese team is based in Shenzhen. With our online network, head hunting skills and social media marketing we cover Mainland China.