What Does it Take to Be a Successful Manager in China?

Managing staff is a difficult challenge all over the world. You have to be tough but fair, supportive yet critical and be a friend but not too friendly. It’s the role of a politician in a commercial environment and far too often across every industry the role of manager is not something  people are trained for, instead we tend to promote top performers naturally thinking that as a top performer they can lead and groom a business’s next generation.

In China, exponential fast-paced economic growth led to the quick change of people’s lifestyle and mentality. The older generation being used to a highly formalised, hierarchical system and the younger generation expecting a flat organisational chart, how can that gap be balanced in a workplace where these generations are based in the same business unit? The answer is to keep it simple. There are so many ways to over complicate things as a manager and the danger is that you lose the clarity of the task and crucially the implications of success or failure. There are four main points that managers need to ensure are communicated in order to be successful in China.

1 – Goal Setting
2 – Clear performance management
3 – Recognition
4 – Regular reviews

Everyone has a different idea about what they want from a career. Some people want to climb as high as possible in a company, some want to learn new skills, some want to find a perfect work life balance. The role of a manager is to find out what their employees want to achieve, match that to what the organisation as a whole needs to achieve then set manageable goals together. This gives employees a clear path to reach their targets, be they financial, personal or career based with no ambiguity. It is a simple task but too often neglected. Once these goals have been set a manager’s duty is to help a team member achieve that, and the only way to gauge progress is with milestones. If a milestone is achieved then as a team you can move onto the next step, if it is not achieved it is not a case of firing that individual, but to go through clear steps in order to rectify the situation. Of course a part of performance management is to remove underperforming individuals from their current position and in some cases from the company, but the only way to maintain managerial integrity and the respect of your teams is if the performance management systems used are used for all, and are clearly highlighted before the reviews begin. Assessment time is stressful, for managers and staff alike, but can be made easier if the process is clear from the offset.

All four points are important, but if I could highlight one in particular to be the number one, it would be recognition. The only thing better than doing a job well is to be told sincerely that you have done it well and the same applies if a task or a goal hasn’t been achieved in a satisfactory manner. I personally throughout my career have had moments where I wish someone had come to me and said this wasn’t acceptable, but this is how we can change it and learn from it for the future. As long as it is constructive there is nothing wrong with criticism, in fact employees welcome it.

Finally there is no point in doing all of the above if it is not continuous and communicated. All of the good work done with an individual and team will be undone if there is no follow through, if promotions aren’t achieved, if financial rewards aren’t given or if poor performance isn’t dealt with as threatened then you lose the respect and a managers influence diminishes exponentially. These regular reviews must be set up within specified time frames and with clear agendas, they are invaluable and are the glue that keeps the four managerial golden rules together.

In a time of talent shortage where poor managerial performance is being highlighted across industries in China, good managers will stand out, and poor managers will be left behind.

antalCourtesy of Antal International Executive Consultancy

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