In Confucian philosophy, all relationships are deemed to be unequal. Ethical behaviour demands that these inequalities are respected.
Thus, the older person should automatically receive respect from the younger, the senior from the subordinate. This Confucian approach should be seen as the cornerstone of all management thinking and issues such as empowerment and open access to all information are viewed by the Chinese as, at best, bizarre Western notions.
It should be borne in mind that many people in China – as well as in many other Asian countries – see the lack of observance of hierarchical values as the root cause of the problems of the West. These problems include the twin Western diseases of moral degeneration and the anarchic idea that an individual is more important than the group to which they belong.
In China, management style tends towards the directive, with the senior manager giving instructions to their direct reports who in turn pass on the instructions down the line. It is not expected that subordinates will question the decisions of superiors – that would be to show disrespect and be the direct cause of loss of face for all concerned.
The manager should be seen as a type of father figure who expects and receives loyalty and obedience from colleagues. In return, the manager is expected to take an holistic interest in the well-being of those colleagues. It is a mutually beneficial two-way relationship.
Senior managers will often have close relations to the Communist Party and many business decisions are likely to be scrutinised by the party which is often the unseen force behind many situations.
It is often said that China has a lack of good-quality, experienced managers – this is typical of a rapidly growing and modernising economy – and that the good managers who are available are very expensive (even by Western standards.) This places enormous emphasis on any company’s recruitment and retention policies – you have to be able to recruit the best and then keep them.
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This World Business Culture profile is designed as an introduction to business culture in China only and a more detailed understanding needs a more in-depth exploration which we can provide through our training and consultancy services.