RPO & StaffingTalent Acquisition

Developing Teams in China

Understanding and responding to today’s empowered employees in the world’s most populous nation doesn’t come cheap.

by Rachael Pogson

With all eyes on China, organizations entering the market for the first time or devising their plans for expansion are clamoring to understand the implications of the cultural transformations that have accompanied the swift economic and political reforms of the past two to three decades.

Top business leaders and HR directors around the world seek insights into the nuances behind the behavioral changes of employees to better attract and keep the “best of the lot,” thus ensuring their competitive advantage over the long term. As a result, in a market in which executives 45 and older still cling to a communist, state-owned organization mentality while managers in their mid- and late-thirties think globally, it is important to become familiar with the attitudes and desires of the up-and-coming generation of managers and develop talent strategies that specifically respond to them. In this way, it is
easier to align plans with reality and manage expectations accordingly.

Many HR professionals have examined the impact having a “career” has had on Chinese society since this way of thinking didn’t become the norm until the late 1980s. Indeed, as the notion of “fenpei” (job allocation) became passé and the iron rice bowl became empty, the onus of finding a job has fallen on the shoulders of average citizens, who recognized that getting the right education is essential to their future success.

Simultaneously, their definition of success has changed as consumerism has led to a desire for more American and European goods and luxury items than ever before.

However, in the current frenzy to build teams overnight in China, what has been overlooked or underestimated by many is the degree to which the sense of empowerment in managing one’s career has coincided with a growing sense of entitlement and lofty aspirations that do not necessarily reflect a person’s skill sets. While government and business policies and systems have evolved to reflect the country’s globalization, the one-child policy, familial traditions, and social and educational mores have increased the aspirations of the graduates and set unrealistic expectations.

As a result, since the early 1990s, a group of “diligent scholars” who have been sheltered from the pressures of modern life by their parents to focus on their studies have entered the workforce with no prior work experience and no “real-world” experience to speak of. They have not had to provide for themselves or take care of any day-to-day errands associated with a life on their own. Yet these young 20-somethings take their first jobs with a clear desire to rise to the top of an organization as quickly as possible and are very open and confident about their intentions with their
hiring managers.

Given all of this, some may wonder whether attempts to build teams in China are futile. While it is more accurate than not to say that “anything goes” in this huge and fragmented country, HR managers can better handle the challenges by keeping the following in mind:

  • China is not “cheap.” Much like their peers who are relatively, if not totally inexperienced, the very upper echelon of young candidates with a solid skill set and background know all too well what they are worth—and they command premium salaries. Be prepared to pay top dollars for the most qualified people.
  • A title can mean more to a prospective employee than the job description or salary. People entering the market who seek to reach the “top” as quickly as possible are very focused on their title and perceived status in and outside the company. Be willing to be creative and give titles that don’t necessarily reflect the person’s function.

The Chinese market has only been open for a short period, and the workforce at large hasn’t had the exposure to global business dynamics required for today’s knowledge economy. The need for training and development at all levels will be critical for all organizations. Be proactive in your approach in identifying career tracks for themselves as early as at the interview stage.

China is an enormous country, where business practices vary from region to region. Dealing with ambiguity and uncertainty is part of life for everyone doing business here. Be flexible and do not approach the market with a one-size-fits-all mentality to hiring and retention.

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