Management Problems in Hong Kong (and generally in Asian Companies)

One stereotypical image of a Chinese manager / business owner is that they tend to be stingy and would work their employees into the ground. I’ve never worked for a Chinese or Asian company (unless you count Yahoo as Asian 😛 ), but I have heard enough horror stories and now, my wife works for a local handbag design company in Hong Kong. I get to experience the legendary Chinese management style… second hand. (Phew…)

How’s this for a job change? You are a mid-level designer that makes more than $60K a year in New York, working 5 (or 4.5) days a week. You don’t have a boss to look over your shoulder and the decisions you make in your designs are final, albeit there may be some final, minor changes to suit the buyers’ taste. Now, you moved to Hong Kong! Guess what? You have to work 5.5 days a week! (Yes, working on Saturdays are still the norm here in HK!) You make 1/3 of what you used to make in NY, you have to risk your life and travel to lawless China to visit the factories in order to monitor the making of the samples. You have a time card to punch, when you are late, your vacation time are deducted! Your boss or your boss’s wife literally sit behind you to “look over your shoulders”! You have a 1 hr lunch and it’s restricted to 1 – 2 pm! Your boss has the final say on your design, your opinions are not respected. Sales people in the US tell their customers that they can make changes or ask for new designs anytime, because the Chinese here work 24 hrs! Your boss basically expects you to have no life and work your ass off!

These are just some of the typical complaints you’ll hear from a typical Hong Kong employee. So why are management so different here? It’s quite obvious to me that this management style is self-destructive. Employees are put to work bounded by strict rules, management is basically prison guards who watch over the prisoners, making sure they abide by the rules. Hence, employees are not motivated, they do the bare minimum to fulfill the boss’s requirements, grind through their daily 9 – 6 and live like a zombie. Retention rate is close to zero. (I’ve heard of a manager in Yahoo who came from India, he uses similar Asian style micro management methods to manage his team of programmers, asking them to report to him on an hourly basis what they had done! Needless to say, he lost all his top talents and are rewarded with a team of low performers that need to be constantly monitored! Effectively turning himself into a prison guard.)

I really wonder, how far are business owners here looking into the future? I’m sure if they can just expand their visions a little bit, they’ll see that the life of their business will end before their own! (given the owner doesn’t get hit by a truck.) So why does such poor management continues? Haven’t they read the numerous books and articles out there, like the Harvard Business Review may be? I think management is a field where drastic changes are needed in Asia. This type of “extreme micro management” is poison to any company! Part of the solution could be returning expats like myself ~ but I think most returners are younger kids who had just finished college and don’t have enough work experience. Those who have worked more than 5 – 6 years in the West have enough invested into their career, they don’t want to risk coming back to Asia, where they’ll most likely get a pay cut. Another solution is through education. (Note to self, open management summer camps! 🙂

There’s no reason why HK Chinese have to remain in management dark ages! The US has one of the highest productivity and talents, so take a page from them! In a few words, good management is about motivation, hiring the best people, retaining the best people, improving productivity and job satisfaction, setting and communicating expectations, releasing control and ownership to promote career growth, cultivating the next breed of great managers… etc.

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Just another guy trying to beat the system and be released from the Matrix http://about.me/nicholaswang

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