Thursday, May 5, 2011

Work_Pt II

(Photo Credit: GR Sipe)
In the first part of this 2-part series, I illuminated my background and concept of the timeless institution of “work” and endeavored to contrast that with the modern-China concept of the same, or at least as my limited perspective perceives it to be here.

 In 2004 I started managing employees and from then until now, I have had the utmost pleasure of managing.  Managing, as many of you know can be bittersweet.  I wager that managing here is quite different than managing in the Western world.  What Westerners would consider to be basic concepts have to be repeatedly taught here.  Rule #1 in managing in China would be not to take anything for granted, not to assume someone should already know and don’t be timid to teach the obvious.  

It’s a blessing to be able to share, foundational points with folks and watch them hear, internalize and grow from them.  In many ways the Chinese come across as a million times more appreciative for knowledge garnered than the appearance and level of appreciation that is shown in the West.

Having said all that and also my pontificating from Part I, I wanted, for levity and to illustrate the differences in the two worlds, share some things that I’ve heard and seen employees say and do in the past 8 years.

Balancing the Facts:  One guy told us he had trouble balancing facts with “face”.  As he said, it was hard for him to “respect the fact”.  Where I’m from, we call that lying…a different world indeed.

2nd Thought on When to Start:  This same guy, after he was hired, sent me a text message less than 10 minutes later, post interview, after the we shook hands, hiring was signed and sealed and asked if he could get off work earlier than the confirmed time.  I guess in that 10 mins time he had time to reflect on his work hours…strange?    

It’s Good but It’s Bad:  A young lady was supposed to handle a task and she didn’t do it.  She said she didn’t forget, but that she also didn’t remember.  (would have caused her to lose face to say “she forgot”)

Not only a Boss, but a Provider:  Multiple times when we were positioned in Guangdong Province’s Dongguan City, many employees would ask me during the interview process, what kind of “dormitory and meal package we provided”.  This was a mindset they have from Communistic theory (and how many companies continue to work in China) where the employer not only provides your job but your whole livelihood.

Now You See Me, Now You Don’t:  I had two young ladies who were only interviewed but never hired to actually come into the office and start sitting at a desk and working.  If they misunderstand what is being said that don’t ask for clarification, they just pick an answer and assume.  So obviously they seemed to assume they were offered jobs.    

The first lady who did that, we had to embarrassingly tell her to go home.  The 2nd later, it turns out we needed, so we let her keep working like nothing strange happened….
(Photo Credit: GR Sipe)

Auckland or Sydney:  It’s very hard for Chinese to say “I don’t know”.  That is a direct loss of face in this culture.  Also mix that in with the fact that folks just generally have a hard timing relaying information in a linear fashion (high context vs. low context), it leads to a rip-roaring good time.  Once I asked an employee if the shipment was going to Auckland or Sydney.   He paused and looked away and started typing something on Skype to another employee.  I said “Hey, is this going to Auckland or Sydney”, he looked at me and said “Rosy said New Zealand”.  Not sure if you had to be there to get that, but notice how my direct question wasn’t answered.  The person on skype answered him and he used that.  I’d wager he still doesn’t know where Auckland and Sydney are..and how New Zealand is even involved. 

Where’s the UK?  We ship to many international destinations, some more than others.  One employee who had been with us for quite some time and successfully handled a multitude of overseas shipments was bold enough to ask a manager while they were both looking at a map, “where is the UK?”.  It’s not that the lady is ignorant, but the Chinese are very poor in World Geography (and Americans are the ones who seem to get the worst rap for this).  But with China, folks don’t value knowledge and don’t investigate what they don’t know.  The mindset is more like, “I don’t know, nobody has ever told me and I guess I know the info at the right time”.  They are more reactive on knowledge garnered than proactively obtaining an answer.  

I Don’t Use These:  We once informed a lady on our team that she was going to spearhead the items we manufacture that fall into the “personal care” line.  She told us she wasn’t the best person for the job because she “doesn’t use these”.  You know, how I’m always using branded merchandise such as surfboards, caps and keyrings…. (insert sarcasm here).

Do the bigwigs at Wal-Mart always use the items they stock and sell?  No but that doesn’t stop them from successfully supplying to customers to on a daily basis. 

That was her response simply because, like a multitude of employees here, they will scratch and claw in order not to have to take responsibility.  So you grab the most convenient excuse…   

Told It Like it Was:  After a company meeting I asked any comments, questions, points worth sharing and one young lady told me in front of the team that my meeting was a waste of time…ouch! 

Quite a Concerning Disclaimer:  During an interview one young lady felt the need to expound on her prognosticated habit of mistakes.  She told me over and over “I never promise I’ll never make any mistakes”.  I kept thinking to myself…. “what does this lady have planned?”  Sure we all make mistakes but the need to continuously spotlight that in an interview left a bad taste in my mouth.  But the Chinese way is to layout all the bad news, fears and phobias….that way, they are off the hook, there is no expectation and if they totally debase themselves, then they think they can be debased no further. 

Told it Like it Was Part 2:  A few weeks ago, we interviewed a young lady and like most employees she provided a resume.  Unlike most employees her resume gave the reason for leaving her previous job as “didn’t want to do it”.  When it came to offering her a job, I also, “didn’t want to do it”. 

English names (these aren't English names):  Occasionally when a new employee would enter the fold, they would start out with an incredibly ridiculous English name.  I can say that, because these are not their given names but ones they choose, and their name of choice is a bit…well here are the names I’ve seen amongst others.   Brilliant, Sumvy, Sego and Antrol.  Sumvy for a guy, Sego for a gal.  Sego is the gal that told me my meeting was a waste of time.  Antrol was also a dude.  To most Chinese, if it has "A, B, C, D..." it's definitely English.  

Weirdest name I saw:  Kevin.  What’s wrong with Kevin you may ask?  She was a lady.   

Travel:  Sending the team on a business trip can be sticky for a few employees.  More than a few female colleagues couldn’t travel because they get car sick.  I didn’t realize it was such an epidemic.  One guy, in his mid to late 30’s told me he could travel but first had to check with his family.  That’s taking the “momma’s boy” thing a bit too far. 

Told it Like it Was Part 3:  One lady asked me why I always seemed like I was in a bad mood.  Granted it is better to lighten up and carry a smile on my face and I have been known to keep a “serious look”..but after the above list…could you really blame me?

Related Posts:  click on below title for similar topics

Work (first part) 

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