The importance of building trust has come up in several previous posts and one of our guest bloggers last summer was even a little skeptical, thinking expatriate managers used trust as a manipulative tool rather than as something that was just inherently the right thing to do. Yet having trust with your Chinese staff and the regulators can lead to positive outcomes. So just what can an assignee here in China do to build that trust?
(An aside: At the risk of being a bit snarky, folks who can’t naturally build trust already aren’t apt to pick up much by reading this short blog post. Or care. But it rarely hurts to occasionally highlight even the obvious. So onward we shall proceed.)
A few short tips on what an assignee can do here in China:
Encourage upward communication, even if it hurts. Chinese employees may often appear reticent to communicate their opinions and ideas until they develop a confidence in your management style. Why? Cultural and historical reasons going a long way back, a desire to be polite and respectful to a boss, fear of losing face.
This requires managers to invest some time, talking one-on-one, with staff and reassuring them through words and action, or lack of action, that they can talk openly without suffering consequences or being singled out as the source of confidential information. It also means that mistakes need to be treated as learning opportunities. And it means spending time with employees who may not be very confident of their English. Remember, linguistic fluency alone doesn’t indicate an employee’s competency in other, more vital areas.
Develop and implement team rules. The process of involving your employees in developing these rules will put a lot of issues on the table anyway. And be sure that you’re going to follow those same rules yourself as well as enforce them for the staff. I’ve seen hypocritical and inconsistent managers outed within seconds and an organization’s office grapevine go into overdrive within a few minutes, all while the manager has been telling me “Hey, no problem. I handled that one!” Yeah, right.
Take a chance on your staff. Start with the small risks, stretch your staff and evaluate the outcome until you’re comfortable. Bridging cultures is always difficult and there will often be mistakes made. But I’ve rarely seen situations where there was bad intent. Time and patience help an inexperienced and learning staff person grow.