How to gain success in China being a foreign manager?

Lots of foreign companies in China have to take a decision about personnel, whom to employ.  Nowadays, more often the first preference is to recruit local candidates who are bilingual and who have experience of working in multinational corporations. Yet for certain niches and top positions with strong management skills, there can be openings for expatriate staff.  But does the foreign managers know how to perform successful in China?

Culture difference and management style can have a big impact on employee and company performance. What is important to keep in mind being a foreign lead.


Guanxi is a core of Chinese business. Your product is 50%, and the rest is Guanxi. You need to know why business with you is worth of it. You need to have right connections and right partners. Learn about the industry, its distribution structure and core players. Guanxi makes different to your product perception and opportunities of cooperation with the Chinese partners. Influence the influencers. And do not forget to have the right Chinese person by your side. Guanxi belongs to mainlanders.

Suit the Chinese market

No matter how good you think your product is, no matter how well it sells in your own country or abroad, you need to look at the product in the context of China. Is it a right product to Chinese market? What is the price? Do you need to adapt something to be competitive? Best practice from successful multinational companies shows that they act Chinese in the market. Analyze the case studies.  HQs abroad seldom understand about Chinese culture, business realities, or need for speed. Companies, which are not able to keep up with Chinese tempo & style, loose the opportunity.

Power and clear directions

In Confucian philosophy, all relationships are deemed to be unequal. Ethical behavior demands that these inequalities are respected. Thus, the older person should automatically receive respect from the younger, the senior from the subordinate. As a leader you have to be decisive and assertive. You need to give more than just a task, but also the clear guidance and instructions with variants of solutions and designated responsibilities. The leader’s decisions do not allow employees to question or discuss the authority. “I don’t know” is not an acceptable answer to the subordinates as it is considered of “loosing face” (mianzi) and the respect as a consequence.

Perception of Time

Doing business abroad is very often has much quicker pace than in China. Apart from being on time, which might be a critical point in China, it is also important to build relationships with people before doing business. The first meeting with a potential business partner aim to get acquainted and to find out more information about possible opportunities of cooperation. The next step is dinner together. Business, however, is rarely discussed during business meals. It is a time to get better acquainted to see how well everyone can know, like and trust each other. Only after several meetings of ‘building the relationship’ there will be the right time to discuss the business in details. Remember, you need to establish a strong relationship before going into a deal. All business related processes are also working under this rule. And do not forget about lunar calendar. And Chinese festivals. And dates and numbers. For example, there are dates where it is not recommended to take serious decisions. Plan carefully and keep in mind that success in China takes time and requires patience.

Indirect way to say things

As a rule, the Chinese are much more indirect than Westerners. We tend to be more black-and-white in our communication, while the Chinese tend to beat around the bush a little more. So, think twice before giving direct comments or criticism to your Team’s work. What you perceive is direct could humiliate the feelings of your colleagues. Learn about Chinese way of indirect communication and it’s interpretation.

Build a strong local team

You as a foreigner do have certain advantages. You know the corporate culture and western style of management. You may perform perfectly in the public events and meetings. But do not forget to form a strong local team onboard. Local talent can help you set better network and work out better deals, understand the culture and complexities of the market. Teach your local team to make decisions and the style to communicate with headquarters. In the end of the day, there are people who make great brands.

Business in China is a fast developing target. To succeed, you have no choice but to understand Chinese market, business culture, learn fast and be flexible to adjust your management style to fit business situations.

© Market Entry Atelier. All rights are reserved
© Market Entry Atelier. All rights are reserved