Managing a Good Team in China Requires Process. Not Luck

Tuesday, March 15, 2011 17:09

There are few things more difficult sometimes than managing people, and across cultures it can at times become an exercise in patience, futility, and/ or comedy as managers look for ways to attract, train, and retain staff.

For one of my good friends, his theory was that a firm’s most difficult period was when it crossed 20 employees because at that point the firm needed a proper HR structure (and HR manager), but was still too small to afford it, which left it to the “entrepreneur” … who was already overwhelmed by the work 20 people were creating.

For me though, I have the knowledge and experiences I have gained through managing teams in China to be some of the most valuable in my time. Consulting teams. Sourcing teams. Real estate teams. Charity teams. Student teams… teams that were for my own organization(s)… teams that were handed over to the client’s organization… teams that were project based… teams that were (meant to be) permanent…

I think it goes without saying that the first step towards succeeding in anything (in China) is having a fundamental understanding of “need” and then developing a strategy (for hiring, training, and managing). Over the course of my time, had more than a few new hires sit at a table for a day or two while we worked out what they would be doing, which is a massive waste. I have also seen the wrong person hired for the job because the hiring manager needed a body, but picked the wrong one. A massive waste

So, a few things to consider when building a strategy for hiring the right people
1) Do you have an org chart? Do you know what people are doing / supposed to be doing? If not, then build one. It is, fundamentally, a road map that will allow you to understand where you are as an organization, who is doing what, and what skills are still needed. In the case of one organization, the team has moved from 2 people (3 years ago) to 14 (present day) and will be 25-30 (in the next 6 months).. and with 2 restructurings behind us, we have had to rewrite the org chart twice in the last week

2) Does every position in the org chart have a clear job description?
If not, take the time to write out JDs that are clear, concise, and can help new hires (and their managers) understand exactly what it is they should be doing. Perhaps this is a bit much if you only have 2 hires, and they are both doing everything, but once you are past 5 people (and on your way to 20), this becomes critical. Chines staff love templates, and the JD for them is the first template they will see, so put some time into it.

3) Does the current org chart provide space for existing staff to grow, or are they likely to be fixed for “a while”? If you are not able to offer opportunities for growth, you are going to have a much harder time stabilizing a young staff (unless they are equity partners and are charged with building their own teams). At the same time, if the firm does have room to move, then you need to plan for that movement along multiple time lines. Personally, I find that growth happens in spurts that can last 6 months, and that will force me to move people up when they are not necessarily ready.. unless of course, I have already planned for it, and have been interviewing.

4) When was the last time you showed your current employees the firm’s org chart, and what did they think? This is something that I am not sure many firms do, or at least if they do, they are not doing it as a way to understand how to improve it. For me though, I find my team’s staff insight invaluable when building/ tweaking an org chart. they are after all, the ones who are on the ground and know how duties need to be split, and they are the ones who are going to be put into teams (that I push them into) and so having their insights into the gaps, skills, and personalities of the team are invaluable.

5) If you were to grow 200%, could your org chart support that growth, and if not, where would the bottlenecks be? This is something that I recently ran into as well. We landed a large client which put a lot of pressure on the organization to perform, and while I would say I have A grade people across the organization, they were clearly unable to keep up. I needed to hire. I needed to reorg. I needed to support my people… and had I planned for landing big clients, and the impact of a big client to the organization, then I would have been in a better position to calm the nerves of my staff. As it happened, the staff was a bit euphoric from the new opportunity the client brought, and they were understanding, but I have in the last 2 weeks a lot of new people .. and that means mass integration.

For me,in developing my strategy, the most important questions that I have to answer when ramping up my efforts to hire as (1) I need to know where the critical gaps are (2) I need to know the skills/ talent that I am looking for (3) I need to be able to clearly articulate the need/ JD in a way that attracts the right person and (4) I need to make sure that I will be able to retain that person once they are on board.

Second, armed with a “strategy” and org chart, the next step in the process for me is to advertise the needs that I have in hand, and begin a process of advertising for positions that I know I’ll need as the org chart fills out… a topic I will cover in my another post.

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5 Responses to “Managing a Good Team in China Requires Process. Not Luck”

  1. Steven says:

    March 16th, 2011 at 2:44 am

    Esp. when the organization gets larger, and/or when you have industries different than consulting (lots of teams), here people think by compartment/department. Inefficiencies in large companies are normal, but in China this is especially true.

    On this perspective what you write as “person” should probably also translate on a macro level when the organization gets larger. With reference to your above points:

    1) Does each department has a clear mission? Is each department clear how their work should contribute to the overall organization? Are they clear how their choices impacts other departments and the organization?

    2) Does each department has a precise list of tasks/subjects which fall under their responsibility? Does the organization have a standard way of addressing unassigned responsibilities or responsibilities which fall under more than one department?

    3) Is each department clear of what the big picture is for the organization and for that department in the organization? Does each department has a long term goal? Was this goal discussed within the organization and coherent with other departments and the organization long term strategy?

    4) When is the last time you discussed with your departments how your org. chart is? Did you ever discussed how the interdepartmental collaboration and communication is going? Did you ever set standards for this and in general for interdepartmental processes?

    5) same question.

  2. Foreign Entrepreneurs in China » Blog Archive » Human Resources in China: Structure your Needs and Plan for Growth - Talking to Foreign Entrepreneurs and Small and Medium Enterprises Doing Business in China says:

    March 16th, 2011 at 8:32 pm

    […] just read a very good post at All Roads Lead to China. The article is entitled “Managing a good team in China requires process. Not luck”, and I fully subscribe it. I think Richard Brubaker’s recommendations are universal and apply […]

  3. Clara Muriel Ruano says:

    March 16th, 2011 at 8:35 pm

    I think this post is really insightful. I would probably add the following:
    1.- Invest on the tools that will allow you to identify the right candidates:
    Do not base your recruitment decision on intuition! Even if you are exceptionally gifted, in a multicultural environment, the differences in body language facial expression, reactions… can lead to a lot of misunderstanding.
    You also want to be able to identify important personality traits.
    There are good tests that will help you make a more rational decision.
    2.- Define personality profiles required for every position.

    I thought the post was to good that I’ve also quoted it in my blog:
    http://www.foreignentrepreneursinchina.com/2011/03/human-resources-in-china-structure-your-needs-and-plan-for-growth/

  4. Homer says:

    March 22nd, 2011 at 7:52 pm

    How would you manage a company structure that has already been established with workers that have been mismanaged for a number of years before?

    For example: A factory has a number, if not all, of its employees have been employed for more than 5 years. These employees will not change nor take on any more responsibility. The Factory as a whole has never really been managed. The employees has fallen into a routine of doing whatever they want. No structure, no job descriptions. Creating job descriptions for 100 employees is a daunting task. Asking them to write their own JD failed.

    The only reason everyone hasn’t been fired per say is that it would take time to retrain new hires. But it’s looking more attractive everyday. Departments have formed little unions, there are mini strikes every week about more money. Workers refused to come in because what they were offered for work “outside their JD” wasn’t enough.

    The workers that are women are great employees, as are the elder and younger male workers. It’s seems that the younger male workers are eager to learn and are hungry. The older male workers seem tired of fighting and just want to get the work done. What seems to be the problem are the middle age 28-35yr old males. They seem power hungry, want the money, and will scheme, plot, and do whatever they can to stick to their own agenda.

    Any thoughts or comments on what management structure and techniques would be best employed? I see that the above advice is great and works well for a company that has new employees, is a new start up and all parties are willing to participate. But is hard to implement in a company that has employees that will stop at nothing to hinder the process.

  5. Jim says:

    March 24th, 2011 at 10:48 pm

    Homer, Find the highest ranking problem and plan carefully and then fire him. Be very careful who you get to replace that person. Hire on character 1st and resume 2d. You can dig your way out. I would want a deeper look at the factory to see if the older workers are not actually more of a problem than you might think. Problems also flow from the top down so you must know something is deeply wrong with leadership at the top. It can be changed, there is hope.