Rethinking Talent Management in China — In China and Beyond

This morning, I'd like to welcome Yijiang Li to Spend Matters. Yijiang is Managing Director of Trading Partners' Shanghai office. A couple of weeks back, he dropped me a line in response to my post on managing talent in China. I found that his response really made me think about talent management in emerging markets, so I asked if I could republish it.

I recently read your article entitled "Tips from the Trenches: Managing Talent in China" and I wanted to share with you my experiences with finding, leading and retaining talent in China. First, allow me to tell you a little more about myself. As a native of China, I spent a great deal of my personal and professional life there, however, I have also lived and worked in the US and Europe, including 16 years in London. I have been with TradingPartners, a global eSourcing company, for five years and have worked as the Managing Director of the TradingPartners Shanghai office since it opened its doors over a year ago. Like the rest of our company, the Shanghai office has undergone significant growth -- going from 1 to 25 employees within the first year -- and is looking at further expansion throughout the next several months.

In response to your Spend Matters posting on managing Chinese talent, while I think some of the opinions mentioned are true, I have found leading a group of talented individuals in China to be an exciting and rewarding opportunity. Here's why.

Talent DOES exist in China -- you just have to know what you’re looking for

Your quote from Mr. Buczynski is correct; the Chinese education system does use memorization, however, students are now self-taught and they absorb information from multiple channels. An old, stereotyped educational methodology could not restrict those proactive and enthusiastic minds. They are hungry for information far and near; they are eager to know what is presented on a global stage; they are growing at a speed that is hard to imagine.

What Mr. Buczynski didn't mention is that the education of many people in China extends far beyond the country’s borders. A lot of people spend time in other countries to earn masters or doctoral degrees or gaining international work experience. In truly global cities like Shanghai and Beijing, this kind of talent is easy to find.

Like you wrote at the end of your article, people who have lived and worked in foreign countries have an understanding of the different corporate cultures that exist around the world and are very good at applying it to their work in China.

Expectations of Chinese employees are high, but money is not a magic solution

The growth of the eSourcing industry, coupled with the opportunities that exist for talented people around the world, does make it more challenging for any manager to attract and retain talent. Many people think that the only way to overcome this challenge is to throw more money at desirable candidates. While I imagine that anyone would enjoy a higher salary, it is definitely not the most important thing a manager can offer his or her employees. I recently read a human resources survey that stated the most important thing to China's workforce is a great manager/employee relationship. This is followed by a clear career path for talent. Salary came in third.

Not everyone is motivated solely by titles and compensation. Many people work for the achievement of self-value and self interests. For example, more and more women are actively involved in the local and global business arena and are choosing careers instead of staying at home.

Because of China's corporate culture, which encourages parent/child-like relationships between managers and employees, workers are incredibly loyal to their managers. In fact, most people are more loyal to their managers than to their companies and if a manager works hard to build strong, respectful, positive relationships with employees, he or she is bound to reap the benefits of a positive work environment with low employee turnover.

If you build it, they will come. Management style is everything.

Mr. Buczynski said, "Young workers seem to understand one way to do something but as soon there is a small change factor, then work stops or there is confusion. Giving project work may require constant follow up as to progress." Once again, I think he is correct -- but only to some extent. If you, as a manager, build an environment full of strict guidelines and specific methods for getting things done, your Chinese employees will do it -- exactly as you tell them to. If, in that environment, you change things or expect your employees to think outside the box, they probably will get confused, but I would be willing to bet that the same would be true for a US office.

The best way to avoid this problem is to create an environment that encourages creative thinking; one that establishes guidelines and parameters, but allows people to do things their own way.

In Shanghai, I have purposefully set up our office with as little structure as possible. My team knows that they have clear goals to meet and specific time frames to meet, but how they do it is up to them. For us, this method has built a happy and creative work environment where people are becoming more and more comfortable trying new things, striving to do more and pushing themselves to be even better workers.

Yijiang Li is Managing Director of Trading Partners' Shanghai office. He can be reached at yijiang (dot) li (at) tradingpartners (dot) com.

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