Chinese Negotiation: 4 Tips to Succeed in “Times of Silence”

By Matthias M. via Wikimedia Commons

Have you ever been in a Chinese negotiation where suddenly everybody goes silent? It is not uncommon and it does not happen by chance.

One of my interviewees, an expat who had gone through a substantial amount of negotiation while setting up a manufacturing plant, observed on the topic of Chinese negotiations:

“Silence plays a very important role in negotiation. Our Chinese business contacts know we tend to feel very uncomfortable with silence. We become uneasy. Hence they use silence during negotiations to strengthen their position”

This conversation came back to my mind recently while I was reading a newspaper article about recruitment tips “Listening skills a winner for job hunters” (Waikato Times, Saturday January 14, 2012) based on insights by Jeffrey Kurdisch in the Washington Post.

One of the tips in the article reflects that very same comment. I reproduce it here because it is as valid for job hunting as it is for negotiation and life in general:

“Be comfortable with silence
Several recruiters have told me they use silence as a tactic to see how job-seekers respond. Negotiations research suggests that people who are uncomfortable with silence tend to share information that may put them at a competitive disadvantage. Savvy job seekers accept silence during a conversation and are careful not to talk about things that will reduce their employability. They also use silence moments as an opportunity to check on their own non-verbal communication (sit up straight, project self-confidence, no distracting mannerisms). If you feel the need to break the silence, try asking questions.”

Silence is also used in a range of situations in which you need the other part to open up and share information. One of my relatives, who was a marriage counsellor till retirement, says “we often used silence during a counselling session to allow people the time and the opportunity to share things that they needed to bring out”.

So, silence is widely used to bring information out. And, in a business negotiation, information is power. So be aware of your reactions to silence and follow in your own negotiations the advice Mr Kurdisch was giving to job hunters- that we could translate here into negotiation tips:

Tip#1. Be comfortable with silence

Tip#2. Do not feel pressured by silence into talking about things that will put you at a competitive disadvantage

Tip#3. Use silent time to review your negotiation strategy/tactics

-Tip#4. Break the silence with questions, if you feel the need to talk (this way you will not give away information)

By the way, my interviewee was very relaxed about silence. His tip was aligned with the ones specialists suggest: “Just take silence as a brief break in your negotiation. Take that time for reflection and thinking about how the negotiation is going and how to take it forward”

What do you think? Have you ever faced a silent room in your Chinese negotiations?

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Related Posts:
36 Tips on How to Deal or Negotiate with your Chinese Suppliers
Sourcing from China: Who are the Happy Buyers?

A China Joint Venture Survival Guide. 22 Facts and 22 Practical Tips (III)

This is the third post of the series entitled “A China Joint Venture Survival Guide” based on Mike Smith’s experiences as his company’s representative in a Chinese joint venture. If you have not read our previous posts you can read them here:
A China Joint-Venture Survival Guide (I)
A China Joint-Venture Survival Guide (II)

A Joint-Venture Survival Guide (III).(Tips 16-22)

“Watch Out for the Money Holes”
16. Money Hole #1: Company employees & Social Security.
There are a couple of “black holes” that are often used to suck your money away: the stated number of employees in the company and the payments to social security. You need to get two proofs here:
– Proof of the total number of employees in the company
– Proof that they are paying Social Security forthose employees.
Do not accept their word for this.
Experience: Our partner kept swearing that the company had 74 employees. My calculation was that there were no more than 50 employees in the company. I asked them to prove their claim but there were no contracts to be seen. When I asked for the bank transactions to assess the amount of money we were investing in overheads I was told it was paid in cash. When I asked for the receipts signed by the employees they said there were none.
I was not alone in this situation. I encountered other companies facing exactly the same challenge.
! Tip: You need to check this when you are negotiating and you still have bargaining power. If you discover this when you have already invested several million dollars you will be helpless. Do not accept their word on this. In China they file Social Security online. They have a website where they can access, through their company name and password, all their social security, accounting and fiscal (tax) data. Request to have access to this while still negotiating.

17. Money Holes #2: Stock Control
Companies often do not have good stock control in place and this is another big “black hole” your money will slip through.
Experience: You are told they bought 10 units of a product and they just purchased 5. When you try to investigate in detail they tell you there are not stock control systems in place, or the switch off the computer, or they tell you it does not work …
! Tip: Make sure you have access to all the policies and procedures manuals before you sign a deal. And once you have access, make sure you assess whether the policies and procedures are really happening or not. It is also quite possible that they do not even exist
The people from the purchase department should be “your people”. If that does not sound possible it is better to create the department from scratch and hire a local purchase manager of your choice, that you can trust, to ensure proper control.

18. Money Hole #3: Accounting
How many accounting books is your partner keeping? Make sure you keep a tight accounting process.
Experience: I always used to work late. One evening I happened to walk through the accounting department and somebody had forgotten to lock away the accounting books. To my surprise, the number of accounting books was higher than what I thought our company was keeping. I did not need to be too smart to figure out what was happening. Our partner was using fake purchase orders to divert money into his own personal accounts. Our accounting team was also keeping the books for his own company, which by the way was not supposed to exist any longer but should have merged into the J-V.
! Tip: Make sure you have unrestricted access to all cabinets and locations where information is stored.
!!Tip: Keep a very strict monitoring of the accounting. All expenses must come with proof of purchase,authorised and signed by you or your team.Fa piao (we could translatefa piao as “super-receipts – receipts that are hand-stamped and recognised for tax and other purposes) are difficult to audit as they usually come without a description of the expense.
!!!Tip: Develop a good relationship with the CFO
!!!!Tip: Purchases should come with double signature (CFO and your representative) on set days (probably not necessary more than three times a week as purchases are planned in advance)

Other things that could go wrong
19. Technology Transfer – IP Risks
A fact you should be clear about is that your partner is likely to end up copying your technology.
Experience: Our target market was China, so our J-V was supposed to manufacture a product more sophisticated than the existing competition in China but not as technologically advanced as our products in Europe. In order to do that, we needed to transfer some know-how to our Chinese partner. I strongly suggested against it but at that time, it would have been equivalent to giving up the project and I still did not have physical evidence of what was going on.
My fears were soon proved right and I caught them copying our electronic cards … And later on I found out about them copying machinery and tooling.
!Tip: Well, you have no way to control it. Fingers crossed and good luck (do not forget we are talking “deep China” and not main business hubs). If all steps have been taken correctly things are more likely to go better.
Most business people I´ve met in China share a view that the new generation of Chinese business people who have studied abroad understand how to do business for the long term rather than for immediate and dishonest gain.

20. Company Seal- Always with You.
In China documents can be signed and stamped with the company seal. Back home contracts would not be valid unless you have signed them. Here the company seal is enough to make a contract valid … so
!Tip: Never leave your Legal Representative seal with somebody else. If you absolutely need to, be sure you can trust that person 100% as that seal is equivalent to your own signature.

21. Be ready to test your endurance
Experience: My Chinese partner was responsible for my house utilities. Once I was left without power for several days, another time I had no running water for three days. I also got internet connection discontinued.
People around me also suffered. I went through three finance managers who left the company shortly after I hired them. I remember the case of one of them who would systematically arrive at the canteen to be told there was no food for him. These are highly paid professionals who have no interest in going through that hell when they can have a nice well paid job somewhere else.
!Tip: I think when you have reached this stage, things are going really bad. In this case, it could be safest to control your house contract and utilities directly (probably through somebody you trust).

22. Beware of direct communication between your partner and your headquarters.
When you start proving to be a “damned nuisance” in your partner’s life he may try to get rid of you in different ways. He may contact your headquarters and try to make you look like inept or make them believe you complicate your life (and everybody else´s) with non-existent problems and issues.
Experience: In my case the Chinese partner kept calling my company’s president and emailing the board of directors in order to undermine their trust in me. I was very lucky because in the end I managed to get access to all sort of documents that proved we were being ripped off. But I’ve later on met other people who lost their positions due to pressure from the Chinese partner.
!Tip: Invest in “Educating your Headquarters” before you start operating in China. Headquarters don’t like to hear bad news. And some of the stories you will tell them are so unbelievable that they may end up thinking you have gone China-mad.

So what are your tips and experiences in Chinese joint ventures? You can leave a comment or contact me to share it in a longer form!

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A China Joint Venture Survival Guide. 22 Facts and 22 Practical Tips (II)

This is the second post of the series entitled “A China Joint-Venture Survival Guide” based on Mike Smith´s experiences as his company’s representative in a Chinese joint venture. If you have not read our previous post with the first set of facts and tips you can read it here:
A China Joint-Venture Survival Guide (I).

A Joint Venture Survival Guide (II).(Tips 9-15)

“The Danger Zone”
9. Your Potential Partner is Well Connected … Maybe Good, Maybe Bad
Experience: It is quite common to be taken on the “big tour”, introduced to the city mayor, the bank’s president, and all sorts of top-end contacts. Your partner will put especial effort into making a great impression and showing you how easy doing business in China is going to be if you deal with him.
! Tip: Do not be dazzled by your partner’s connections …They will not necessarily be used for your benefit.
The fact that your partner is well connected is good (you obviously don’t want to end up with a nobody), but it is also a fact that at times those connections are only used for their own benefit.

10. Financial Reports: “I can’t live with or without you”
Financial reports: you need them, if only because when things go wrong you will be the first one fired if you did not order a financial report. But just be aware that reports can easily be falsified, and a lot of relevant information may be missing.
Experience: I will not get into too much detail but let’s say that I have even seen the falsifying process in action. Do not believe everything you read, and be aware that there will be facts/realities that are not reflected in those reports.
! Tip: There are things you will only get the feel for if you base yourself at your potential clients´ workplace. My recommendation would be to place your trusted person (who by the way should be China-knowledgeable and understand what he/she is looking for) at the company´s site . You need to see how the factory works, how many workers there are, their accounting, their stock control ….

11. Tax Planning: “Tax Breaks. Do not believe all you hear”.
While you are negotiating the joint venture you will be promised a lot of benefits. Tax breaks are a common tool to lure you into a location that needs to be developed. A lot of companies start operations in a location partly because they have been offered corporate income tax exemptions or reduced/zero import/export duties. It is also common to find that the day you to try to apply for them, you are told that the central government has changed the regulation and they can no longer grant you the benefits they promised.
Experience: We were promised tax exemptions on all those tools and parts required for our product manufacturing. It did not happen. Not even once.
! Tip: As mentioned in tip number 5 , it is essential to get the support of a good consultancy firm. Your investment should also make sense regardless of the tax exemptions or other promised benefits.

12. Let me guess: your Chinese partner wants to contribute the land to the joint venture.
Experience: The Chinese partner always wants to contribute his own properties to the joint venture. But, can he give you actual proof of the real land value? These are common situations to encounter:
– The real value of the land, does not correspond to what your partner is claiming.
– The audited value presented and paid by your Chinese partner has been (easily) falsified.
– All sorts of excuses to justify the absence of a purchase document stating the real value they paid: “Government does not give invoices. We got a good deal …” . Do not fall for them.
In our case, we got an independent valuation of the land. It was worth 30% less than what our partner claimed.
! Tip: Do not fall for excuses. A land purchase should be properly documented. Beware if is not.
Experience: We wanted to buy land for the JVC. Our Chinese partner finally presented what he deemed was the best possible location and the required size(we felt it was too big). The land value would be considered capital contribution by the partner. He presented an alleged Government document stating the land value. The document had no seal so we suspected something was wrong and requested an independent valuation. The land value estimation was 200,000 € cheaper than the value presented by our partner. Our company´s President trusted the partner so they decided to take his word on this (by that time MD was already suspicious about the partner). The land was purchased, the invoice was never seen. He showed us an ownership title and the land became his capital contribution. Later on I managed to located the real purchase documents and the deal had been sealed at a 400,000€ cheaper prize.

13. Does your land have a license to have a factory built on it?
You need to watch out for this one. Chinese companies often ignore this step. You may find sizeable companies operating (100 employees, tax bureau number, social security …) without the license to legally operate a factory/company on their land. That may not be a problem while you stay together (they will surely have their ways to ensure there are no problems). But in the event of a split you may face one of these two situations:
– You want to sell it but you can’t because there is no licence for the construction done.
– You want to operate it alone, but being a foreign company you will find the government inspection at your doorstep day one. And they will close it due to lack of permits.
! Tip: Make sure you know all the licenses the business needs to operate legally. If your partner claims to have the license for that land already, you need to see it. If licenses are pending have your expert/consultant involved in that matter.

14. Building the Factory- Oh Nightmare
This is another potential source of conflict. You will probably trust your partner to lead the factory construction works.
Experience: “…a workshop building would not progress and when I inquired I would get “We have run out of money”. Digging into the contracts details I would find a lot of irregularities like missing contracts, unsigned contracts …”
! Tip: “If your project involves building a factory, I would recommend to budget for 15% to 20% extra cost vs. agreed amounts. Timewise, I would build in an extra 40% as a buffer. Penalties should be included and quantified in your contract. And as mentioned before, always use the China or Hong Kong Arbitration Court”.

15. Check Company Operational Manuals.
Very often there is nothing written on how operations should function. When you land there and try to organise things you do not even know where to start. And what is worse, your Chinese partner is not interested in changing anything as he feels it has been working for him for years before you arrived.
! Tip: The trusted person I advise before to place in your prospective partner´s operation should check out the operational manuals and whether the company works in compliance with them. If there are no manuals in place, you should request them to record their existing processes so that you can discuss them and negotiate before the deal signature.

Coming soon the final post of this series: “A Joint Venture Survival Guide (III)”. More interesting and useful tips to help you navigate a joint venture negotiation.

 Would you like to share your experience with a Chinese joint venture?

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A China Joint Venture Survival Guide. 22 Facts and 22 Practical Tips.

Joint-Ventures (J-V) in China can go well, and can also go very wrong. When the latter is the case, problems come up from where you less expect them. “Mike Smith” (not his real name) spent two years in rural China supervising his employer’s interest in a Chinese joint venture where they were the majority partner (deal signed before he landed there). His case falls within the second category I’ve mentioned (I would in fact say that all that could go wrong went wrong) but that has given him invaluable lessons on how to ensure things are done right. He has also met on the way a number of joint-ventures facing quite similar challenges to the ones he experienced.

We met to talk about his time representing the foreign partner and I’ve drafted a series entitled “A Joint-Venture Survival Guide” composed of three posts based on his experiences, opinions, tips and comments .

A Joint-Venture Survival Guide (I).(First 8 Facts and 5 Tips)

Some introductory thoughts
1. China is a noble and good society… but when it comes to doing business, the value system changes. Ripping off a foreigner may be seen as a clever thing rather than a bad one.

2. Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou are in a universe of their own. Drive just 100 km away into central China and reality changes. It is a hardship environment and corruption is readily encountered.

3. You may have successfully set up joint-ventures and businesses in other countries. Do not assume China is going to be the same. You are lost without an expert if you are going to deal with a local partner.
“My company had successfully set up J-Vs across the world, and nowhere did they face the situations they faced here. They assumed they knew it all, and that was a big mistake”.

“The Essentials”
4. The foundations for your success will be laid before you sign the deal.
Preliminary work is essential, and I cannot stress this enough. Once you have signed you are helpless. And later on, once your million dollars are in China, you will not be able to get them out unless you exit the J-V. There is plenty of room for disaster so make sure you dig into every single hole to figure out where the problems may be.
! Tip: This is the time to get as much information as you need. You need to be able to access all books, information about operational manual, … You may hear the somewhat overused sentence “What is the problem? Don´t you trust me?”. Well it is not about trust, it is about business, and companies that have nothing to hide will share the information with you.

5.Confidentiality and know-how protection will be difficult in a small cities. All the legal issues about this will be judged in the city in which it happens, which means that if you have a company in Shanghai and someone “copies” your product in Ningxia, the legal procedure will be carried out in Ningxia so you will be dealing with all the difficulties of operating in a place that is not a business hub.
! Tip: We are a European SME. If that is also your case you canhave free brief advice from the European Chambers of Commerce. Also a free advice for intellectual property, copy right, etc in China IPR SME Helpdesk.

6. A GOOD consultant/advisor: Priceless.
You need real in-depth expertise to pull this one off successfully:
! Tip: “J-V conflict resolution and dissolution in China is really complicated compared to other countries. Consultant/Advisor companies have an instinct for knowing the real situation”

7.[On consultants] … But find the one suited to your size
“The reality on the ground for SMEs is quite different to that of MNCs. We don’t have their leverage and muscle power and we deal with different issues/situations. It is essential to get on board a very good consultant but I wouldn’t recommend one of the big ones. I think they are better suited for big companies.”
! Tip: MNCs are often interested in high tech, setting up R + D centres, the pharmaceutical industry, medical issues and they will find some decent protection from the Local Government. In the case of SMEs that do business outside big business hubs, protection will be very difficult to guarantee and there will be unimaginable issues unless they hire the right consultant/advisor. And believe me, consultant/advisor big names will not help you to find the back door of your J-V.

8. Sign the right “pre-nup”
You obviously don’t want your relationship to go wrong, but if things happen you need to have put in place the right “break-up” conditions.
! Tip: Always use the Chinese or Hong Kong Arbitration Court. Most companies feel more comfortable with international arbitration, but what do you do when your Chinese partner doesn’t show up or doesn’t comply with the resolution? It needs to be done in China or Hong Kong where the resolution will be mandatory and enforceable.

Coming soon “A Joint-Venture Survival Guide (II)” with more interesting and useful tips to help you navigate a J-V negotiation.

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Human Resources in China: Structure your Needs and Plan for Growth

I’ve just read a very good post at All Roads Lead to China. The article is entitled “Managing a good team in China requires process. Not luck”, and I fully subscribe it. I think Richard Brubaker’s recommendations are universal and apply not just to China but everywhere else in the world.

 As an overall strategy, he tries to answer the following questions:
1. Where are the critical gaps in the organization
2. What skills & talents are required
3. What is the Job Description – and articulate the need in a way that will attract right people
4. How will I ensure I retain them

 From a practical perspective he takes you through some steps to help you build a good hiring strategy (some of them also to help retain your current staff). These steps cover your “homework” before you get out there and start looking for new employees:
1. Have and org chart. Know what people are doing or supposed to be doing
2. Write clear Job Descriptions for all positions. It will help hires and managers equally
3. Ensure your organizational structure allows for professional growth (if not your staff will soon grow demotivated )
4. Share your org charts with your current employees to input their views and insights in your decisions
5. Plan for unexpected growth/ Have a growth strategy in place. Where are the bottle necks?

I would probably add the following comments (insights coming from my interview to German Torrado, who has set up & managed HHRR award winning companies. You can read the complete article here):
6. Invest on the tools that will allow you to identify the right candidates (Do not base your recruitment decision on intuition! There are good tests that will help you make a more rational decision)
7. Define personality profiles required for every position.

I recommend you to read the full article from All Roads Lead to China here

 What do you think?

The Power of Networking in China

I have started writing articles about China for Business Blogs, a New Zealand business blogging community. In my last post entitled “The Power of Networking in China” I share the stories of two real estate companies that came to China looking for investors. The results were dramatically different for each of them.

The main lesson learnt in this post: the company that leveraged its Chinese networks had an extremely successful China experience. Read how they did it here.

Would you like to share your own stories?

China Inspection Company: Has Yours Got a “Conflict of Interest”?

One of the tips you have often read in this blog is “you need to visit the factory and, if you can’t do it, you need an inspection company to visit it for you”.  I’ve repeated this one through different stages of the supply process (when you are selecting your supplier, through the product development process, during production, for quality control purposes…)

Today I was reading about this same topic at the Quality Inspection Tips blog. Renaud Anjoran  has written a post with tips on “How to Choose a Quality Inspection Firm”, based on an article at Pro QC International  Newsletter entitled Controlling Quality Worldwide- Without Leaving your office”.

I recommend reading both of them to get some insights on how to choose the right inspection company.

Michael L. Hetzel – Vice President / Americas, Pro QC International adds in the original article an interesting angle. Had you realized that your inspection company may have a conflict of interests?
These are the two “watch-out” remarks Mr Hetzel makes:

1. They may be the company that has qualified your supplier as ISO9000 or other quality standard
“A number of companies offering third party inspection services are also ISO9000 or other quality standard registrars. This can be a non-issue for the most part, or a liability if a vendor being qualified has been registered by that company, creating a conflict of the “of course they’re qualified, we registered them” type.”

2. They may not be a real 3rd party, but work also for the supplier.
“Another potential conflict of interest lies with companies that are not truly “third party,” who work for the supplier rather than the buyer. You’ll want a company who only works for you conducting these activities, or you may as well return to reliance on the seller’s assertions of quality and conformance and save the service costs“

Have you found yourself in this situation?
Do you agree with this view?

36 Tips on How to Deal or Negotiate with your Chinese Suppliers

During the last year, I have interviewed several entrepreneurs who source products from Chinese factories. Their tips and insights are scattered across a number of posts (and a few of them I’ve not even published). Today I am going to compile most of the tips I’ve heard so far on how to deal / negotiate with Chinese suppliers ( I say most because I am probably forgetting a few). Here is the check-list:

Tip #1. Initial Search for Suppliers: directories, trade-show directories and internet
Tip #2. Not all good suppliers have English websites, get on board somebody who can help you search in Chinese
Tip #3. Existing (good) suppliers may be able to help expand your supplier network in non-competing products
Tip #4. If there is any IP involved, register it in China before you approach anybody
Tip #5. Consider registering your IP for categories similar to the one you manufacture

Tip #6. Approach them first with an introductory email presenting yourself, your company and detailing as much as possible the product you are after
Tip #7. If they do not answer fast (1-3 days) move on, they will give you trouble in the future
Tip #8. If you have a good number of suppliers to choose from, create a “pre-selection system” that helps you shortlist: level of response to your introductory e-mail response, telephone check (do they exist?), factory address provided, factory license, any certification your business requires, quality certifications…
Tip #9. Ensure you are not dealing with the middle man (I): Visit the factory… ALWAYS!
Tip #10. If you can’t visit the factory, get an Inspection Company to do it for you. It is not that expensive

Tip #11. If you are not a fluent Chinese speaker, bring a native Chinese speaker to the negotiation- he/she will be a valuable support
Tip #12. Understand perfectly the production process
Tip #13. Be very clear on who is going to be making decisions
Tip #14. The best way to do business in China is face-to-face” Technology is great, but I do not think it is the way Chinese people are wired to work
Tip #15. “I can’t” is not in their vocabulary, so be wary if you get silence for an answer…
Tip #16. Make them recap the agreements, do not assume they understood just because you feel you were clear enough”
Tip #17. Give realistic purchase estimates. If you promise 10 more times than you are planning to buy, they will cut corners to meet their profit so it will hit you back with poor quality (they work on small margins)
Tip #18. Expect long negotiations: even points that have already been agreed will be raised again in the future
Tip #19. Pricing: Do not get obsessed with the cheapest deal. Quality has a price and you should also consider that.
Tip #20. Track commodity prices used in your products
Tip #21. Learn about your suppliers cost structure (how much goes into labor, materials cost…),
Tip #22 . If your IP is involved, make sure they agree to sign a good non disclosure agreement, with non use / non circumvention  provisions (I read this one at the China Law Blog- worth reading the whole post about it)
Tip #23. Make sure you have good contracts in place. It will be a good use of your money to get a China knowledgeable lawyer to draft them (so that the terms are enforceable and it covers all the points you need to cover- IP, stocks, product quality, product specifications, penalties, etc)
Tip #24. Ensure they have the machinery & capability to produce your product. Ask them to produce a few samples in front of you, even if they don’t match your exact specifications.

Tip #25. Make sure you visit the factory during product development. It will speed the process, as nobody will tell you on the phone when they’ve got stuck with something (especially if the product is technically sophisticated)
Tip #26. Visit the factory during production & for quality control
Tip #27. If you can’t visit factory send an inspection company or somebody you trust (and is qualified for the job)
Tip #28. Don’t pay till you are sure all the product is in good condition (make sure the contract is draft that way)
Tip # 29. Never relax! Even with good suppliers. “Quality Control: Always, even with good established suppliers”
Tip #30. Always be ready with back up options- you would be surprised about how many last minutes surprises happen
Tip #31. Expect Delays in your Supply Schedule (power shortages are common, national holidays…)
Tip #32. “Problems don’t finish after production. Supervise Logistic Paperwork! There are often mistakes that will get your shipment stuck

Tip #33. Payment Terms… Some buyers feel that, once you build the business relationship,  things get easier (ex. Not requiring advanced payments)
Tip #34. Get rid of unreliable suppliers A.S.A.P. If they trick you once, it will happen again
Tip #35. Take care of good suppliers, they are not easy to find. Look for win-win when problems come up.
Tip #36. “Renegotiating conditions” is quite common. Your Chinese supplier sees the contract as the “beginning” of the relationship. If you follow tips 20 & 21 (track commodity prices & know suppliers cost structure) you will be able to assess if there is a fair reason to give in (hopefully in future productions)

Would you like to add your tips?

Top Challenge for Foreign Companies in China: Human Resources Constraints

If you have been reading this blog you will already be familiar with some of the findings from the AmCham Shanghai survey “China Business Report 2010-2011”. The US companies interviewed reported “human resources constraints” or the difficulty to recruit qualified staff  as the number one challenge they face (and it has been at the top of the list since 2006) (see other challenges here). The topic was obviously raised during the panel discussion that followed the survey presentation, and some interesting trends and insights were shared with the attendees:
1.- Everybody is competing for the same talent:
a) talent quality coming out from university is better than ever, but competition to get it is also fierce
b) competition to recruit top talent is coming not only from other foreign companies but also from private Chinese companies and state-owned enterprises (SOEs)
c) domestic companies are “replicating” some of the western formulas that make an employer attractive, like moving their offices to prime real estate so that they make the setting more attractive to top talent (1)
2.- There has been an evolution in the type of talent that is lacking: in 2001 there was a lack of professionals, in 2005 a lack of managers and 2011 sees a lack of executives (2)
3.- It is difficult to motivate Chinese talent (the executives we mention in the previous point) to move out of China in order to expand their “non Chinese experience”. They actually prefer to stay in China (2)

Some of the suggested tips to deal with these issues included:
– Quality working environment
– China specific culture
– Recognizing top employees
– Developing a “company brand”, not just a product brand, to become a more attractive work place

What is your experience recruiting local talent?

If you are interested in reading more about human resources in China, you can also check these links:
* 3 Trends in the Chinese Labour Market
* 5 Recruitment Tips for Entrepreneurs in China
* 7 Tips on How to Recruit Managers for SMEs in China
* HR in China: “Accept what you’ve got and model them into what you expect them to be”
* Retaining your Chinese Employee
* 6 Tips on How to Retain your Chinese Talent
* China Stories: Trustworthy Employee… Please, Don’t Go!

(1) Quoting Mr. Michael Klibaner, National Research Director, Jones Lang LaSalle China
(2) Quoting Mr. Pierre Cohade, President, Asia Pacific Region, Goodyear Tire Management Co

6 Tips on How to Retain your Chinese Talent

This is our third article about recruitment in China. I would like to thank Yan Wu ( from The JLJ Group who has prepared this post for us.

Tips on How to Retain your Chinese Talent

A sound talent retention plan is the key to sustaining one’s success in China. Without talent retention, continued implementation of strategies will be difficult and additional expenditures such as recruitment and training costs will be incurred.

1. Keep salaries competitive with market levels
Salaries often reflect one’s social status in China. Hence, better opportunities are often synonymous with higher salaries. This is a root cause behind the worker retention problem in China. In fact, many talented managers have been poached by competitors on the basis of higher salaries. Thus, it is extremely important to keep salaries competitive with market levels, especially for senior positions.

2. Initiate corporate training program
While competitive salaries offer a short-term solution to retaining talent, effective corporate training allows companies to align their long-term strategies with employees’ career goals. As foreign languages and specific skill sets are very relevant to one’s career progression, professional training in these areas tends to be highly sought after.

3. Provide career development opportunities
Career development is a primary motivation in exploring opportunities at other companies. Succession planning and talent rotation are, therefore, popular and effective tools for career development and employee retention.  Employees invest in the company when the company is investing in them. These retention programs help to identify those with the potential to assume greater responsibility and also to keep the top talent in the organization. However, employers should be careful with mentorship program. Mentors often withhold important skills and knowledge from their apprentices in order to secure their own positions in the company.

4. Develop a sense of ‘family’ through organizational culture
In general, Chinese employees prefer flexible organizations that place greater emphasis on interpersonal relationships. This allows room for creativity and creates a friendly working environment on the basis of helping each other instead of following orders. Thus, it will be beneficial for foreign companies to adapt their cultures and inculcate a greater sense of ‘family’ in their China offices. This will create a sense of belonging to the company and instil greater teamwork among the employees.

5. Keep genuine relationship with employees
Just as relationships are important in managing external parties in China, relationships are also necessary in managing and retaining employees. It is a common mistake for managers to distant themselves away from their subordinates. They should instead build genuine friendships with their subordinates such that the latter will remain loyal to the company even in times of difficulties or despite receiving better offers. However, managers should also note that such relationships work in both ways – they may eventually find it difficult to terminate non-performing employees as a result of the personal relationships that may be involved.

6. Adapt different retention tools based on employee’s years of service
Young employees value more learning opportunity and career development, instead of retirement benefits.  Education reimbursement or corporate training goes a long way in motivation. For employees who have serviced the company for more than five years, they are more concerned about aligning their career with the direction of the company, so they will look out opportunities to participate in strategic decision making.  Relatively for employees who have spent ten years or longer with the company, they are seeking security from work place, such as retirement, medical benefits and long-term incentives.  They won’t be too keen on training or career development.

I hope all these tips help you. I would also love to hear what are the retention strategies that are working for you?