Hong Kong tips
Skyscrapers and temples, shopping malls and traditional markets sit side by side in Hong Kong. It is a unique meeting place for East and West. It is no surprise that almost all multinationals are located here. Local employees are smart, hardworking and (reasonably) proficient at English and Mandarin. Expats find it a pleasant place to live. Unlike other cities in Asia, cultural differences don’t seem to pose a problem.
During the 12 years I lived and worked in Hong Kong, I managed both Western and Asian staff. I therefore truly got to understand the differences between Western and Chinese employees. That process took 8 years. Most expats are long gone by then.
I started to see that the “Hong Kong is Easy Asia” attitude of expat bosses meant that they weren’t evoking the best out of their employees. By not making the effort to understand the culture and getting to know the team, they failed to build relationships. Without a solid relationship, Hong Kong Chinese avoid giving feedback for fear of loss of face – either by the boss or themselves.
I found this observation fascinating and together with Bulb Research and Radar Global did more research into this subject. The research confirmed the suspicion. Worse: Hong Kong Chinese feel that expats fail to respect the local culture. That expats treated all Asians the same. “You don’t treat Germans like you treat the French?” one said. Chinese respondents also admitted that both the lack of giving feedback, as well as the expats’ attitude of knowing best “leads to many missed opportunities”.
Our research found that both cultures want to get to know each other, but go about in their own way. It can be simple differences, for example when the local team invites the Western manager to lunch the manager often prefers to eat a quick sandwich behind his/her desk because he/she is busy. And when the boss invites the team out for Friday drinks, they decline because most don’t like going to bars, or getting drunk as they could ‘lose face’. The bonding moments quickly evaporate. But there are more complicated factors at stake, such as different definitions of success for Westerners and Hong Kong Chinese. Western managers, trying to motivate their Asian staff, use western motivators that simply do not work.
The best tip I can share is to build relationships with your staff, clients or suppliers. A bond is not established after 3 lunch sessions, like one Dutch respondent expected. It is a long process that will open all the doors to retaining staff, getting feedback and opening doors to new clients because Hong Kong Chinese are very well networked and connected amongst themselves. Enjoy the ride: nothing is more enriching than opening your eyes and ears to new perspectives. And if you have questions, please contact me!