Conchius, a Swedish-owned, Shanghai-based specialist in cross-cultural training, has assessed and trained employees from more than 100 multinational corporations in China, including Ericsson, Estée Lauder, Bayer, Shell Oil and Novartis. Tomas Gustafsson, managing director, spoke with China Economic Review about what it takes for Western managers and their local sta f to ind common ground.
Q: What does a cross-cultural training session involve?
A: We make sure Western managers and Chinese staff go through the training together to establish a new platform for understanding. Most programs on the market don’t do that. Our biggest challenge is to convey to potential clients that we’re not offering a cultural orientation program; it’s a hands-on session to help people succeed together. We do not talk about things like Chinese history, we talk about work – work situations, why problems happen and how to handle them.
Q: What mistakes are often made by Western managers?
A: We only see the surface and not what’s underneath. [Chinese staff] want to make sure Westerners are well-received and respected. Westerners misinterpret that. We think it means that we don’t have any challenges, often too late. I see a lot of companies go in circles. After one-and-a-half years, [managers] are experiencing trouble and they only have half a year left on their contract and don’t think they should be taking any training assistance by that time. They try to stick it out and don’t achieve the results they should have.
Q: What trends do you see in managers who come to China?
A: People now come to China as a career move, which wasn’t the case before. A lot of them are thinking they will do their three years and then move on. There is limited success for these types of people unless they are just here to transfer knowledge and be recognized as an expert.
Q: How important is it for managers to be able to speak Chinese?
A: It’s an extremely valuable tool, but the most important thing is not what language you speak, but what you build with your employees. A manager can speak fluent Chinese and may still not be perceived as a good manager by anyone.