Monday, September 17, 2007

China, culture and the "war for talent"

A comment to an earlier post suggests that “The small investment up front to embrace the dynamics of other societies is key to successful global operations”. I appreciate the use of the word “investment” in the context of training and global mindset development. So often “global” initiatives are canned because of the myopic way in which they are presented and perceived as “costs”. Not a bad example of the lack of a global mindset!

Another example comes to mind: the “war for talent”. Despite common misunderstandings, the war for talent is raging in China. How do I attract and retain the best and the brightest in a "group" oriented society which is quite contrary to the Western cultural focus on the "individual"? Will special benefits Western style benefits - like hiring bonuses or increased individual compensation - work in the Chinese cultural context? The generic answer is “no”, or, at least, not as well as in cultures that favor the individual as opposed to the group.

My experience in the China marketplace (mostly Shanghai) suggests the need for more innovative approaches. The Chinese are brought up to expect equal treatment in all aspects of their lives (a cultural expectation reinforced by their experience of Communism). This is less of a factor in hiring the younger generations. Their experience of capitalism, in the big cities, has encouraged them to be more open to career competition and individual rewards. However, because deep culture changes exceedingly slowly, a culturally savvy recruitment program must ensure that the reward systems must be clearly communicated and be perceived as being fair. Otherwise the program will be sabotaged by jealousy and feelings of being treated unjustly between the workforce and the new recruits.

To win the war for talent in China requires an educated global mindset in the corporate leadership. Otherwise, how do they design and promote a culturally effective hiring program? How do they communicate the program elements so that they won’t run in to cultural roadblocks? A relatively small investment in cross-cultural development will yield measurable results on ROI… saving untold avoidable “costs” caused by ethnocentric approaches. And the "war for talent" is just one example...

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