In October 2016, ChapmanCG hosted a gathering of China Human Resources and Talent Heads at the offices of Johnson & Johnson in Beijing. The theme of the meeting was about creating globally-minded leadership talent in China.

The Old Recipe for Change: China HR must ‘Think Global’

A portion of the discussion was focused on how to further globalise the mindset of domestic talent in China. In this regard, the group discussed some of the key themes that would be familiar to most HR and business leaders who manage China.

  • At a fundamental level, Chinese executives need to be confident communicators with global leaders, not just by improving their English language ability, but by utilising story-telling and negotiation skills to truly influence global decision-making.
  • At a managerial level, Chinese executives need to set aside some ingrained beahaviours that might be a disadvantage when dealing with global counterparts. In China, as in other North Asian cultures, there is a cultural propensity towards being humble, as well as being overly deferential to seniority. These traits do not help in getting your voice heard at the global level.
  • And at a leadership level, Chinese executive need to be more comfortable in taking risks and in learning from mistakes. These attributes haven’t always been actively encouraged in China, which has been more culturally conservative up until the recent past.

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Flipping the Narrative: It’s Also Time for Global HR to ‘Think China’

The group agreed that there is much that can be done to develop globally-minded executives in China in this way. But the consensus in the room was that more can be achieved if global leadership were better educated about China. Because as much as Western multinationals have invested in China, they continue to hold onto biases and distrust about its people and its business environment.

  • We can’t expect to attract and retain the best talent in China by offering global career paths. Career assignments at global headquarters used to be seen as a ‘golden ticket’, but this is less relevant now that China’s economy is more mature and that home-grown multinationals can offer similar careers on the ground. There needs to be a multiplicity of career paths rather than an insistence on global mobility.
  • Since China is the engine of growth for many global companies, there needs to be more roles with global responsibility based in China and elsewhere in Asia. Some Western companies have already started to lead the way in this trend, but the group agreed that even these examples have been very limited. Global roles currently based in Asia tend to be designed around an individual, rather than the role itself . As soon as that trusted individual moves on, the global role itself tends to disappear or to revert back to headquarters. So we haven’t yet seen a genuine trend in this direction.
  • While many aspects of society and the economy in China could still be described as ‘developing’, there are just as many aspects in which China is on par with the West. Any visitor to China’s Tier I and Tier II cities will be aware of the sophistication, creativity, tech-savviness and modernity that can be seen all around them. So executives at multinationals might be relying on outdated notions about how management in China needs to learn from the West. There can be just as much to gain by maximising local talent in situ, especially if this prevents them from joining local competitors.

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In one example of this final point, one HR leader explained how his company acknowledges that it derives a large percentage of its global revenue from China, and has created a culture where the China office can innovate locally, incubating China-specific ideas without any input from the global HQ. The good ideas that have come from this programme have allowed the company to enjoy a strong advantage in the local China market. And the best ideas have been exported globally within the company. The group agreed that this was a good illustration of how a global matrix structure can coexist alongside a culture of championing local leadership.

ChapmanCG is very grateful to Johnson & Johnson for creating the perfect environment for this thought-provoking discussion, and we look forward to reconvening in Beijing in early 2017.

Here's what participants had to say

It was a very informative meeting and the thoughts that top HR professionals shared helped me a lot.

Juliana Zhang, Talent Aquisition Team Lead for Asia Pacific Region & Japan, Veritas

I really enjoyed the meeting organized by ChapmanCG, it offered us an opportunity to learn about practices existing in other companies, we can learn a lot from the sharing of such insights.

Bonnie Wang, Greater China HR Vice President, Fresenius Kabi

I enjoyed the meeting as ChapmanCG was able to get a great, diverse group of HR leaders together to exchange thoughts and discuss solutions around developing emerging talent and local leaders into global leaders in China as well as exploring new ways for HR to drive better experiences for our employees.

Horst Gallo, Vice President of HR Greater China Group & Asia HR Business Partner, IBM

Great group of professionals and very insightful discussion.

Arturo Poire, North East Asia Vice President of Human Resources, Ericsson

I find the topic highly relevant to the current stage of HR development in China and I’m pleased (also slightly surprised) with the number of HR peers in global/regional roles. As I also met some Chinese HR professionals working in such roles in Singapore, it offered me a very enriching perspective on HR careers towards a global leadership capability.

Daniel Zhang, Recruitment Manager, APAC and Middle-East, Shell