How to make a multicultural workplace work

A problem often revealed too late for multinationals arriving in China is creation of a “globalised local team” in their offices. How to transmit the company’s foreign culture and vision and exchange ideas while localising operations and business style?

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 02 May, 2013, 4:08pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 02 May, 2013, 4:09pm

Entering the Chinese market is exciting and challenging for many multinational companies wanting to live the “China Dream”.

However, even more than in other new markets, understanding the business culture is vital. A problem often revealed too late for multinationals arriving in China is creation of a “globalised local team” in their offices. How to transmit the company’s foreign culture and vision and exchange ideas while localising operations and business style?

First, there is no point trying to “Westernise”, You don’t arrive in China and say: “This is how we do business”, unless you intend to hit local professionals with a big culture shock. What works in the West does not necessarily work in China, and the solution to adaptation varies depending on your organisation. You should first work with the local market and implement a corresponding strategy. The most successful companies make compromises, by integrating ideas and absorbing market specificities slowly. There is really often a need for structure and strategy rather than simple “language-adaptation” of the business.

Keeping clear company objectives, but adding structural changes when doing business, and also the way the strategy is implemented: it must serve the needs of the China market while adapting to the reality of the country (bureaucracy, importance of personal relationships, etc).

Setting clear goals with employees at the beginning - is a great way to ensure smooth co-operation and communication without overwhelming staff with cross-cultural misunderstandings.

Building trust within the multinational and local workforce, making them feel comfortable, is the best way to foster ideas, creativity and innovation. Companies can localise their managers or hire locals to work with employees. In all cases, establishing TRUST is essential but difficult in the first phase of developing your office. Chinese and Western managers should communicate as much as possible. Due to cultural differences, it is often harder for a Chinese manager to discuss things with Westerners.

Launch specific training and team building- A lot of companies use their HR department in dealing with management and leadership issues. Shorten the bridge between East and West among international employees.– at Antal China for example, we provide daily business English training and regular international communication workshops, but also more traditional activities: business trips and team building, for instance, are an excellent way for everyone to mix and learn from each other, fostering trust between employees and managers.

Sending the best managers and employees to headquarters and overseas offices, making them work on international projects, are good ways to develop “global minds”. In this rapidly changing world, multinationals need to ensure smooth adaptation and integration of staff to the company’s culture and vision. International mobility is a way to better communicate these global objectives: Antal International organises a global conference every year where best managers from around the world travel to the headquarters for a two-day conference on HR best practice and latest news from the market. This type of international activity not only binds people together but provides a great platform to communicate latest trends and challenges, as well as sharing experiences, etc.

Understanding employees’ motivations to succeed and perform well is essential in adapting your China management style and encouraging understanding, communication and initiative in your multicultural workplace. From my experience as a manager of a team of 30, I realise that currently in China, employees are more focused on money as a motivation to perform and progress, while Western employees are more concerned about recognition. Once the trust is established among managers and employers, your business will be healthy enough to grow.

Many businesses already localise second-level management, and many are now localising upper management as well. - This is not obligatory for success but for those who are keeping it international, cultural elements will have to be mastered: Saving face, use of indirect communication, the importance of family, and guanxi, for example.

By showing an understanding of Chinese culture, MNCs are more likely to attract and retain talent.

Every MNC in China wants to be a Chinese company with foreign headquarters, and not the contrary.


Author Max Price is a Partner at Antal International China in Beijing. 


Send to a friend

To forward this article using your default email client (e.g. Outlook), click here.

Enter multiple addresses separated by commas(,)

This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.
Enter the characters shown in the image.