Thursday, January 10, 2013

Link of the Day: Learning Local Work Customs...

Learning Local Work Customs Would Save Chinese Bosses Headaches - Global Times by John Gachiri
So any foreigners coming to work in the country would be foolish to try anything that had the slightest tinge of racism.

With that crash course, let us go back to the Chinese in Kenya.

The only insight that has come out has been courtesy of the rumor mill about a Chinese manager at a media station who is being stingy with employee per diems.

Nevertheless, I sought to find the truth from two friends who worked for Chinese firms in the IT and construction industries.

Both have quit, and say that working with the Chinese was one of the most difficult undertakings they took.

Paul, a quantity surveyor, says that his seven-month stint was frustrating due to the language barrier and different work cultures.

There was a cordial relationship between him and the senior managers who were more traveled and exposed. But it was not the same for the lower cadre staff.

He says the foremen, for lack of a better word, were not refined.

"They used to scream and yell (at the Kenyan porters). I understand that at times you have to do work but as a Kenyan I felt bad," says Paul.

He doesn't know if that is how they treat workers in China, but it is not acceptable here, he says.

They also spoke very little English, a major source of frustration because it makes everyone's life difficult...

Two things I noticed:
  • The difference in Chinese management style based on experience. While the Chinese are often seen as ruthless supervisors, Paul saw that not every manager is the same. It appears that certain Chinese individuals are finding another way to manage their African staffs, which bodes well for the future.
  • I did not expect the language issue to be that important and I am not sure just how willing Chinese managers are to learn another language before going overseas. Seasoned managers probably do not have as much of a problem, though.


  1. John's article teaches the importance of learning local customs, cultures, and preferably language (even basic) if you plan to do business in any region.

    This is Business 101 and it could make or break deals - especially in this case - Chinese investors have got to step and do more in terms of trying to fit in as Africa continues to grow and expand (attract other) hitherto reluctant inverstors especially from the West.

    The continent's citizens are well-versed with what the West expects, lifestyle, languages, etc due to centuries of interraction, and I think this is a competitive advantage that the West has not yet really tried to exploit for whatever reason.

  2. Rachel, I could not agree with you more about learning local customs and how that should be standard practice for doing business. However, in my experience there are many organizations, Chinese and otherwise, who do never really try to cater their product or management to local tastes.

    As for the advantages that the U.S. and Europe never seem to exploit, I could write a very long and bitter blog post on that topic...

    One of the things that I find interesting about Chinese business practices is that there do not seem to be a lot of Chinese who want to say in their host country permanently (and I am speaking only from anecdotes and limited research). If that is the case, just how much should we expect Chinese people to assimilate to their new surroundings if they are simply expatriates who will make money regardless?

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