I took a few days off recently in Cambridge, UK, taking a punt on the River Cam and revisiting my old rooms near St. John’s College ‘Bridge of Sighs’ and walking on the Backs…sweet nostalgia.
I also took time to visit the Moeller Executive Education Centre at Churchill College, where I discussed running some courses on Global Management for Chinese executives.
As I was parking my car at the College, a number of minibuses drew up right in front of me and delivered a phalanx of excited Chinese, who I later learned were attending courses at the College for senior Chinese civil servants.
At the lunch buffet the Chinese outnumbered me by about 40 to 1, and there were Chinese signs all around. Suddenly, here was visible proof that China was taking its global management education very seriously.
I admired the systematic nature of this – and wondered how many Western countries were making similar high-level efforts to understand Chinese business culture, or indeed the business cultures of other Asian countries.
TURNING TO THE EAST OR WEST?
According to Robin Chater of the Federation of International Employers, there is still a huge divide between China and the world in terms of business culture.
‘This gap was not so challenging when foreign companies came looking for cheap manufacturing locations in China in the 1990s and 2000s,’ says Chater.
‘But now things are changing. The Chinese government is encouraging the growth of multinational companies and brands as a kind of soft power. And yet most Chinese executives don’t have a clue how to operate in the West.’
Chater points out the many differences in the Chinese approach to business – from the emphasis on guanxi networks to body language, facial expression (don’t expect reciprocal smiles) to humour and attire, all of which I explore in my book The Master Key to China.
Nevertheless, it appears that the China business executive – indeed many Asian business executives – increasingly expect their Western counterparts to adapt to their business style.
This is understandable when doing business in Asia Pacific, but what about in the rest of the world?
Chater claims that there is a ‘strong backlash in the West’ to doing business the Asian or Chinese way – and as my little trip to Cambridge showed, perhaps he has a point.
However, I do believe there is more to this than meets the eye.
What appears to to be happening is rather a meeting of styles, a desire to adapt to a mode of business that is not entirely Chinese nor Asian nor Western.[Read more about global management skills for China and Asia Pacific here: http://davidcliveprice.com/5-powerful-smart-skills-asia-pacific/]
SPOT THE DIFFERENCE
In this melting pot of cultures and mind-sets, the first essential is still learning global management skills.
And one of the first principles of these skills is accepting that huge differences still exist and that it is no loss of face to adapt and alter the usual way you do business.
This is not a ‘backlash’ for either East or West, but rather a natural and inevitable process of building a modern Chinese culture that is neither traditional nor Western in its nature.
The same applies to Western businesses in Asia Pacific. There is much to be learned about Asian etiquette and mind-set, approaches to time, relationships, decision-making and so on.
But more and more Western companies are discovering a Middle Way: an approach to traditional Asia business cultures that flexes and adapts, is curious and comparative, but retains essential Western features.
As my short break in Cambridge showed, it’s all about building a modern, global business culture that still retains traditional strengths and approaches.
To put it another way, it’s Bamboo Strong in action.
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