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Cross-cultural training

Cross-cultural training within the international hotel groups appears to be given some credence as one strategy for enabling expatriate managers to appreciate the potential difficulties in marshalling a workforce with negative ideas about service, and the offer of staff development via language and general training is another attempt to instil corporate values into operational workers. The use of Western management trainees on sandwich placement is also increasing as international hotel managers in China look to project such proactive self-starters as role models for their reluctant Chinese operatives.

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Observations from China World Hotel do suggest that the younger generation of Chinese have the potential and capacity for change. Although the Chinese cultural traits are still prevalent, younger Chinese people seem to demonstrate a higher tolerance for cultural differences and more willingness to accept alternative concepts and lifestyles. However, this does not constitute a full endorsement of the Western concept of management, as summarized in an article by Professor Huang Da, President of the People’s University in Beijing:

In our eyes, studying commercial and management methods is a matter of technique. One can make his choice, it is not dangerous. To study theory contains an ideological element and that is harder to control; but it is impossible to have a full understanding of business management, what we should adopt and what we should not adopt, without a full understanding of the theory behind it (Baokan Wenzhai, 1993).

The lack of understanding of the concept of corporate culture will prevent its full acceptance by the Chinese purely because they would not trust what they do not know. When encountering an unknown entity, a Chinese person would always retreat into the safety of the collective, as suggested by the Chinese saying: “In unity there is strength”.

Additionally, as corporate cultures are transgenerational, requiring long-term development and sustenance, the implementation of the Contractual Labour System in 1992/93 by the Chinese Communist Party poses the threat of discontinuity. With the new labour policy, the risk exists that (management) staff may not remain long enough with an organization to ensure continuity and consistency in its corporate culture.

Another barrier preventing younger Chinese people from learning, understanding and, subsequently accepting the Western concept of corporate culture, is the older generation currently in positions of power. The concept of importing a working culture that encourages a change in staff mentality, attitude and behaviour is generally considered a challenge to their authority, and unwelcome. The more persistently an organization is perceived to introduce and transfer its corporate culture, the tighter the control senior Chinese managers will have on their local staff.

Therefore, to successfully transfer corporate cultures, organizations need to improve their understanding of, and adaptation to, the Chinese culture, continuously evolving to avoid direct confrontation with the Chinese society and complete rejection. It is suggested that as the younger generation of Chinese are exposed to more international influence, the Chinese culture itself will undergo a natural evolution in which it will reshape its mentality and redefine its values. This will not only allow the “Outside World” to achieve a better understanding of the Chinese mindset but will also effect a more ready acceptance of international concept.

Conclusions

The world today is witnessing a perhaps more subtle and less violent revolution in China, as tomorrow’s economic giant exposes itself to the influx of international influence, from the “hamburger” lifestyle and Western popular music, to the modern management concepts of autonomy and empowerment. Although China is surrendering to change, its national culture and identity remain steadfast.

The Chinese culture is no mystery, but its unique characteristics, especially those developed in the last generation, were lost to the world during the Communist regime, and need much exploring and understanding. Multinational organizations seeking business opportunities and intending to transfer their corporate cultures into China face the mammoth task of researching into the Chinese culture and traits, and localizing their corporate cultures on the basis of these Chinese characteristics, for only then will their corporate cultures be recognized by the Chinese.

Corporate culture should not, however, be seen as a substitute for the Chinese culture. Rather, it should be an extension of the local culture at an organizational level with organizational goals and functions. Senior Chinese managers, unfortunately, maintain the view that the introduction of corporate culture is an organizational attempt to control Chinese staff. Therefore, while many multinational organizations recognize the need to understand the Chinese culture, and despite the efforts some have already invested in localizing their corporate cultures, a successful and effective transference of corporate culture will only occur in a future generation where the Chinese and the rest of the world have attained a level of mutual understanding. This demands a future generation of Chinese who no longer segregate themselves from the world, politically, economically, socially or culturally, and who are ready to co-operate with the “Outside World”, recognising that changes are inevitable and should not be resisted.

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