Are Chinese Managers Better Than, Equal to, or Less Than Western Managers?

Tuesday, June 24, 2008 14:05
Posted in category Uncategorized

It is a topic that has been debated in many a bar, and on many a blog.

The quality of Chinese management.

The Institute of Leadership & Management has just release a very interesting report (PDF Here) on Western and Chinese managers. Specifically, they set out to see just how far back Chinese managers were relative to international perceptions, and they found some interesting things.

Throughout the report, what I find most interesting is just how different the west sees the east vs. what the east really represents. Perhaps it comes down to where the interviews take place, or perhaps they just reached out to the saltiest of old China hands, but as you will see in the 15 page report, there is a huge gap.

For my part, everything is a work in progress, various industries are bound to see different levels of talent, and with almost 7 years of working in China with a wide variety of Chinese staffers, analysts, managers, and others, I have come to understand that there are always going to be a percentage (large or small) that will fit into any bucket.

That goes for the foreign talent as well.

In the end, the authors have 4 suggestions for western managers:

  • Know the competition: Our perception of Chinese managers remains rooted in the past.
  • Get your priorities right:It seems that we do the less important things well, and the most important things less well.
  • Invest in development: The Chinese managers we surveyed come across as well educated and far more ambitious than those in the West – although we seem happy with mediocrity, they are not, and they are doing something about it.
  • Get ready for a new style of Asian management: We will need to learn from their different perspective and also to understand the potential impact this will have on future economic relationships.

Solid advice.

Read the report and tell us what you think.

Are the Chinese managers improving? Are they underestimated? Or is this just another study playing the statistical bell curve to its advantage?

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3 Responses to “Are Chinese Managers Better Than, Equal to, or Less Than Western Managers?”

  1. Charles Frith says:

    June 24th, 2008 at 5:40 pm

    A pointless report in my opinion. If the metric is wealth creation then surely China is doing just fine. If it’s Western dimensions then of course they will be different. It’s like comparing chalk and cheese. Futile.

  2. Rich says:

    June 25th, 2008 at 1:57 am

    Chalk and cheese…. I guess that is a wide gap.

    Any thoughts on whether or not western managers underestimate the talent in China?

  3. Tian Zhang says:

    June 27th, 2008 at 6:52 am

    I’ve left China for some 15 years but managed to travel back frequently. I also had the luxury of staying fairly connected with Chinese executives (wife being one). I would suggest that the difference is really rooted in the fact that China is different-the role of government in business, the importance of personal relationships in business, local protection, etc. Most Chinese managers rise up from operations, they are extremly competent in execution, getting things done. Western managers underestimate the talent in China, partly because none of the modern management concept came from China, and many Chinese managers (especially in traditional industries and SOEs) are still skeptical about the applicability of these leading concepts and thoughts. Neither side is wrong on its own: strategy is based on sound analysis and critical thinking – it will only be wrong when you make the wrong assumptions. On the other hand, the ground situation is vastly different in China and you have to respect that to the maximum – so you won’t make the wrong assumptions and will be able to execute. Newton’s second law is never wrong (if you ignore relativity), but when applied to solid vs fluid, you get totally different results.

    The point is that each side has something to learn from the other: Chinese managers can learn the leading strategic principles, the way Western managers build scale and achieve efficiency through processes, as well as financial dealings that creates instant weath and growth. The Chinese have already being doing this. On the other hand, the Western managers should step out and take another look at the assumed world order. There is a lot to be learned from the Chinese managers who are defeating (especially in Chinese market) the almighty Western “troops” who are armed (with resources) to teeth and seemed invincible (Google, Microsoft, Yahoo). Be smart, and be street smart, that has never changed.