What is the secret to successful Management in China? A rare interview with Ms. Einat Tzur, the Executive Manager of the Israeli Chamber of Commerce in Beijing
“Despite economic prosperity and growth, Confucianism is still one of the most important and fundamental elements of the Chinese culture, and it impacts every aspect of life here – specifically business and management”.
This sentence is one of the few nuances that Einat Tzur, the Executive Manager of the Israeli Chamber of Commerce in Beijing, has learned while dispensing advice for business executives who have attempted to expand their business into China in the past three years and to learn about successful management in China. After taking part in establishing of the Israeli Chamber of Commerce and turning it into an important and a successful tool for many Israeli businesses, Ms. Tzur is returning home. Laowaiblog met with her in an attempt to gain some valuable insight about Management in China.
“Confucianism has been prominent in China for hundreds of years, yet since the beginning of the economic reforms, and especially in the last decade, there is an attempt to diminish the influence of Confucian tradition on society. In the 18th century, China was not economically different from Europe, yet at a certain point, Europe had started the industrial revolution. Since then, China, at certain periods in history, has been questioning its Confucianism heritage. The economic reforms had actually signaled a change in the attitude that China has had towards the western world – Chinese people should learn and adopt certain cultural elements from the west, instead of being suspicious towards them.”
From your own experience, how do cultural differences manifest themselves when managing a business?
“Chinese employees can be different from western ones, specifically in their attitude towards the business for which they work. In the west, employees are raised in a culture of individualism and democracy, so when an employee has to complete a task, he/she is not only thinking about completing the task but also about how does this task relate to other aspects of the business, about the benefits that this task entails, etc. Yet, in China, because the culture does not carry individualistic characteristics and because there are so many people who are in need of jobs, a person is taught to do exactly as he/she is told. This is typical for a Confucian society, in which every individual needs to find his/her own place in society and to perform in that space.”
How do you think this attitude will help China to advance in the near future?
“In the past 20 years, Confucianism has helped China to reach its current status. Recently though, it seems that people are becoming more aware that this attitude is depriving China of progressiveness, because it discourages innovation and creativity. This is a crucial element for the future of China; Policy makers, who understand this situation, are trying to solve this problem, for example by allowing more students to get educated abroad or by creating plans to bring back many citizens who received foreign education. The government hopes to create a new kind of leadership in which some Confucian practices remain strong, yet room can also be created for new, foreign ideas.”
What is the main difference between practices of Management in China and those elsewhere in the world?
“Practices of Management in China educate workers to be obedient and to follow instructions, and workers have the tendency to do exactly as you tell them, no more and no less. Chinese employees are sometimes afraid to do more or even to express personal opinions, because they do not know how it will be received with their superiors. In the west, an employee can often express his/her opinion and will not be frowned upon. With that being said, I was happy to discover when Chinese employees, mostly those who have been abroad, have expressed their opinion about certain issues in the chamber, and pushed the business further than what I had asked of them.”
Chinese companies have recently been buying more shares in foreign companies. What do you think happens to those companies after they are bought? Do management practices change?
“It really depends on the deal. Take JV (Joint Venture) for example: Sometimes the management changes hands, yet often times the Chinese buyer values western management practices – that is exactly the reason why it had bought the company in the first place. There is a difference between changing management practices and between adapting to the Chinese market. The opposite process is also happening, in which many foreign companies realize that if they want to work in China they need a Chinese type of management, because that might be the only way to succeed here. It depends on many factors such as the size of the company, the industry, the position in which the company is, and so forth.”
Are there any guiding rules that one should follow when doing Management in China?
“I usually do not like to give unequivical answers about a nation that is as big as China, not because I am afraid to say definitive things but because in China nothing is definite, and it is hard to say that if one sector or one company behaves in a certain way then the rest should follow. China is not only a big country geographically, but it is also diversed, and business practices change with every company and with every industry. I cannot tell you that there is a basic way to do business here or to manage employees here. Yet, I feel that many foreign companies miss a valuable insight about China: The Chinese culture is a very strong one; A manager cannot occasionally come to China, meet with local management over dinner and see the business succeed. This type of a manager would not manage a company this way in his/her own country, so he/she should obviously not do so in China, where presence and patience are so important for the success of the business.”