Region

China

Past, Present & Future

By Dr ArLyne Diamond

We must consider the world as our business community. Not only are we living in a global economy, we’re working with people from several generations and many cultures who hold a variety of beliefs.

I’ve selected China as my example below because I’ve been there and because of the rapid changes that are happening in that country. You could substitute India, Brazil, or any number of other countries and see similar rapid changes.

CHINA YESTERDAY

In the mid-1980s, I visited China and consulted to a US company setting up one of the first joint ventures with the Chinese government. The firm had been contracted to build a manufacturing facility in China, and its representatives were in Beijing to interview potential employees.

After the first day, the general manager came to me and said the resumes all looked alike and the candidates’ answers during interviews were remarkably similar to one another. There was a translator – at least in theory– but we learned that rather than translating the candidates’ answers, the man had provided the correct ones himself, since he was the expert in the field.

Our solution: We created a nonverbal assessment measure that gave the GM a sense of how well candidates followed instructions, how quickly they executed them, how effectual their hand-eye coordination was, and a few other variables. The assessment was hardly perfect, but it served as a starting place to differentiate one man (they were all men) from another.

During that same visit, I learned that employees of a Chinese company couldn’t leave one job for a better one unless their current employer gave them permission to do so.

I also discovered that private citizens were not allowed to own or drive cars.

We found that all decisions were based on political power, rather than corporate authority. For example, in a hospital that we visited, we saw the chief of oncology (a nationally famous man) kowtow to a nursing administrator higher up in the Communist Party than he was. As an American who had been a consultant in hospitals, I thought the sight of a doctor deferring to a nurse quite strange.

CHINA TODAY

Business is booming. The number of people who speak English in China now surpasses the total population of some other countries. Jobs are plentiful in the big cities, and employees are free to select those they prefer. The market is competitive, although still somewhat restrictive for foreign investors.

Joint ventures abound. The challenge for an American firm is to ally with the right Chinese company, because once the relationship is established (and even before the deal is made), it’s hard to change it.

China produces some of the best-trained engineers and software designers in the world, and may become more competitive than India. This is partially because the Chinese government subsidises education more than India does, and because it keeps salaries artificially low.

I must add, though, that China’s companies are doing so well that employee salaries have increased and, as a consequence, so has the cost of doing business there. Because the country has grown its middle class, we can start competing against it for the first time in years. China, too, is now starting to outsource to other countries with even lower manufacturing costs.

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CHINA TOMORROW

China is growing into one of the most vibrant industrialised countries in the world. Not only has it spawned a fast-growing middle class, many of its citizens have grown wealthy from real estate investments, both there and here. In addition, the United States has borrowed billions of dollars from the Chinese and has become quite beholden to them.

I predict China will subtly alter its political system, becoming more capitalistic (at least, I hope so) while retaining large elements of its totalitarian style.

In the next few years, I expect that China, India, and many other nations will have thriving, economically sound environments, and that countries, including the United States, will trade freely with one another.

Just as we delegate within our own organisations, we are entering an age of delegating to different countries. This means, of course, they get to do the more routine tasks, like manufacturing products that we create, and we get to be more creative. (At least, that’s my dream.)

We live in a society that’s also in a huge state of flux. We are now global, learning daily about other cultures, working with people who differ from us, who have dissimilar values and beliefs. Social change is occurring rapidly as well.

For most of us, our comfort zone is living the way we lived in the past. For some, it is easier to focus exclusively on the present, on the “here and now” of Gestalt psychology. Few people think about the future. Yet, I believe we need to incorporate knowledge and ideas learned from the past and present into our future. This is particularly important in how we treat people in the workplace.

It means being able to change rapidly as the world around us shifts. Yet in doing so, we must be careful not to reject those elements that have stood the test of time in the social, political, and business spheres.

Remember and learn from yesterday, live in and savour today, but look forward to a tomorrow filled with new and exciting ideas, social and cultural shifts, and, of course, technology we can’t even imagine today.

It is important to recognise that we work within a broader context that includes the political and global climate in which we live and work

I believe we should learn from the past, live in the present, and create for the future. I caution us all not to throw away the past, but to incorporate what’s great about it with what’s needed for the new and improved global economy.

We must combine the best we can learn from other people, other cultures, and other ways of doing business.

ArLyne Diamond Ph.D. is an Organisational Development and Human Resource Consultant with over 30 years experience. The above is an excerpt from her book “Leading and Managing a Global Workforce”. She can be reached at ArLyne@DiamondAssociates.net

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