Saturday, June 27, 2009


I have been in China about two and a half months and starting to dig a little deeper into how things work---or don't. In terms of human resources, there are a number of similarities to India, but I have drawn the tentative conclusion that these are more due to the dynamic nature of these markets and the immaturity of the respective workforces, than to purely cultural similarities. Yesterday I had lunch with another HR person whose company has significant operations in Beijing, and she told me it is not uncommon for young people in the capital to suddenly quit a job even with no alternative lined up--similar to what you find in the BPO industry in India. Usually these employees live with Mom and Dad and work is more like a pastime than a necessity, so their attitude toward it is casual. Not to mention that they can easily go out and get another position--maybe one where the cafeteria food is better. If China and India are similar in this respect, it's probably more due to a shared problem of over-indulgent parenting.

One thing I have noticed that has a definite cultural backdrop is a striking lack of persistence. In China, people try things once (and sometimes not at all), and if it doesn't work the first time, they tend to give up rather than try again or use a different approach. For example, they will look for what is wrong in a piece of machinery (or a toilet), but rather than try to understand the root cause, they simply patch it over or respond "huai le" (it's broken). If logistics don't appear to be working out or someone says "no" , they take this as the end of the story, and it's "mei banfa" (there's no way, it can't be helped). Needless to say, this drives a lot of Westerners bonkers. We're all about "ownership" of problems even if we didn't create them, and "drive for results."

I have not been here long enough to get below the surface to understand the mentality that produces this behavior, but I suspect it is combination of education (emphasis on rote learning rather than problem solving) and differing assumptions about the value and/or risk of associating oneself with a problem or a solution.

Problem solving, when it does happen, can be eclectic, and not necessarily logical. This morning I was fascinated to watch an employee in the dining room of my hotel spend several minutes trying to adjust the milk dispenser so that it would let out the last cup of milk, rather than simply go back to the kitchen and get more. Which, of course, he had to do less than five minutes later when someone came along and drained the dispenser which did not contain even a full glass...... .

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