Moving to China? Tips for success.

Guest post by Jon Fields, co-creator of the “Living and Working in China” cross-cultural course

“I am moving to China!”

People from around the world are increasingly finding themselves
uttering these words.  As China has emerged as the most important
growth market in the world people from around the globe are flocking
to cities like Beijing and Shanghai in search of opportunities.

Currently there are between 3 and 4 million foreigners living in
China; Shanghai is home to more than 300,000 expats from 119 countries
and regions and the population is expected to reach 800,000 over the
next ten years.For business people considering a move to the Middle Kingdom, and
companies posting people to China, what are the ingredients that make
up a successful expat move to China?Here are my 6 Difference Makers in Successful Expat Postings to China.
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1)       Bring Something That’s Not Already Available

A foreigner coming to China takes away a Chinese person’s job or
promotion, and the money spent on expat packages could employ office
floors full of Chinese staff.    Chinese workers know this all too
well.  While the majority still see the necessity for some expats in a
multinational’s China operation, they expect the foreigner to be

highly proficient in something that fills in a gap in the
organization.  Simply having worked as a middle manager at
headquarters will not impress the team and will not gain their
confidence, respect and build the rapport needed to successfully
manage Chinese staff.  Therefore, expats should be chosen first on
their professional skill and how they will contribute to the specific
goals of the China organization, and they should be informed in
advance what those are.
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2)      Come to China for the Right Reasons

Many people see China as an adventure, and in many ways it is, but expats looking for personal fulfillment over the companies’ goals are not good fits for success in China.   Most of the time there is only a small number of people in a company who both possess the right qualifications and a willingness to move to China.  As a result, often those people who are the most enthusiastic about going are the ones that get the job, regardless of their true motivation.    Classic types include late career managers looking to find the fountain of youth (and frequently a much younger wife); unseasoned managers who end up
focusing mainly on exotic travel and rowdy socializing; or the
do-nothing “I’m just here for the money” bosses who can turn into cancer for a China organization.  Companies should always delve deeply into a candidate’s reasons and motivations about going to China before making any decisions.

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3)      Have an Stable Family and/or Emotional LifeChina is a stressful place to live.  The market is ultra competitive
and fast changing.  Cities are crowded and polluted.  The language and
culture can seem impenetrable.  And there is no let-up.  These strains
push even the most stable people and families to their limits.   For
this reason, China postings can lead to serious marital and personal
problems for the wrong person.  It is critical that both partners in
the marriage (and children), all feel right about the move and want to
experience China as a couple or as a family.  If the father is working
and the wife and kids stay behind the walls of a expat only compound,
they are not experiencing China together.  Companies should take the
step to talk to the family about the move and consider especially the
spouse’s plans to stay busy and positive while living in China.
One of the ways to help expats and their families determine if they will be happy in China is offer them a full course on living and working in China before they make their decision.  This way they can self-select themselves out and save the company headaches and lost revenue of an early return.  “Living and Working in China” online course is available for self-study and self-assessment through the Global Coach Center Academy for Expatriate and Cross-Cultural Education — and has been  co-authored by yours truly.
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4) Understand the Power of Diplomacy

A foreign manager who always sides with headquarters and tells his or
her Chinese staff to “Just do it – that’s what they want back home”
will never develop a loyal or independent team of Chinese staff, which
is the key to long term success.  The Chinese staff looks to expat
managers to work as a bridge between China and the home office,
providing insight and advice in both directions.  That expat must know
when to stand up for the Chinese organization and negotiate hard with headquarters, as well as how to find a way to sell unpopular initiatives to the Chinese staff in a way that doesn’t de-motivate.   So the successful China expat must be a diplomat in the best sense of the word:  a deal maker who tries to understand both sides of an argument and seeks to find a common ground to move things forward for long term sustainable success.    People who have demonstrated ability to work across functional lines and international borders will often find success as expats in China.

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5)  Don’t Bring the “English Only” bias

An English-only expat is the most unlikely person to attempt to learn
a new language when living abroad.  Anyone who has studied a foreign
language knows attempting to converse with native speakers is a
humbling experience, but even small successes in foreign language
communication are thrilling and reward all the hard work.  People who
only speak English and consider foreign language “unnecessary” are
frequently more likely to be narrow minded in other areas of expat life, and demonstrate either a lack of respect or indifference for the country they have chosen to live in.  It’s not that the expat needs to speak fluent Chinese!  The point is that posting any bi or multi-lingual person to China is more likely to have a person with the right cultural outlook for expat life, and they are more likely to pick up some Chinese as well.

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(6) Learn about China before you come
If you company is providing you with cross-cultural training, make sure you take advantage of it.  If they are not or if you are coming independently, make sure to take our online course on “Living and Working in China” before you arrive.
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3 responses to “Moving to China? Tips for success.

  1. Thanks for this article, is really helpfull :)

  2. this is really helpful for those who are moving to China or simply any other countries that are Chinese oriented! The Cultural Frontier also talks about Chinese cultural misunderstandings, hope they are helpful too!

  3. To point number 3, cultivating mental calmness and a sense of stability is a key to success not just in China, but in any developing country.

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