How do the Chinese feel about work?

Christiane Linkenbach regularly skipped lunch in the canteen. This worried her boss, the Chinese managing director of Sany Germany in Bedburg. "He was suspicious," says the marketing manager. She had to explain to him that she just couldn't bring anything down at lunchtime. And she learned: "Ni hao", which means "Hello" in Chinese, means literally translated: "Have you already eaten?" Meals together are very important for Chinese supervisors.

Often it is only small things that lead to uncertainty and mistrust between employees and superiors. Especially when both grew up 9,000 kilometers away from each other. This constellation is no longer uncommon in Germany either.

Chinese companies are increasingly appearing as major investors in the transport, IT, finance and automotive industries or, like the concrete pump manufacturer Sany, are producing "Made in Germany" under Sino-German management. Around 1400 Chinese companies are already present in Germany, often with one or more Chinese managers. What do you expect from your employees? How do you make decisions? What is it that makes you happy? And how do you get them angry?

Slow approach

"When the Chinese take over a company abroad, they approach the market and the workforce very carefully," says Jan Büttgen, a manager in Shanghai for eleven years. "They collect an incredible amount of information because the Chinese want to learn a lot." They expect their employees to work hard and independently, with unlimited loyalty and absolute honesty. You just shouldn't try to cover up a mistake or pass it on to someone, warns Büttgen. "The trust of Chinese bosses is won through straightforwardness and honesty."

However, a distinction must be made between honesty in the matter and in the form. Clear criticism of the manager's behavior or decisions is not possible, warns Jürgen Jentsch, plant manager at the steel processor Wälzholz in Taicang, especially not in the presence of third parties. "You snub him with that, and then the worst of all happens: he loses face." Open approval and expressions of respect, on the other hand, are very welcome. So far, no difference to managers from other origins.

That changes when it comes to decisions. "There are seldom real discussions in large groups," says Christoph Nettesheim, Senior Partner at the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) in Beijing. If you try to draw attention to yourself with original and creative ideas in a meeting, you will fall out of favor, the advisor warns and advises you to merge with the group. In general, this is a tried and tested recipe for success when dealing with the boss from China. Tricksters, self-promoters and schemers like the TV series antihero Stromberg would not get old under a Chinese boss.

Just don't put any pressure on

Managers also reacted stubbornly to pressure. "If you as an employee approach your Chinese boss with a 30-page presentation and ask for a decision, then you probably won't get it," says Nettesheim. It is completely different if you say: Here we are, let's discuss how we can proceed. So if you aim at the next small steps, you can count on concrete decisions.

Christian Hummel, who has been with the consulting firm Capgemini in Shanghai for three years, has already experienced quite a few surprises with his Chinese superiors. "You have to adjust to people extremely well," he says, "and say goodbye to a lot of things that we take for granted." Leadership by announcement, long frowned upon in the western world, is still very much alive in China. "The management styles in traditional Chinese companies are much more directive, less participatory," says Hummel in typical consultant language. "It always comes as a surprise to European managers who are used to being involved, at least in the preparation of a decision."

BCG consultant Nettesheim can confirm this: "In Europe you are strong in analysis. You collect data, make quantitative studies, build slides and then make the decision whether you want to go left or right. In China, on the other hand, we do not discussed, but acted. " Chinese managers rarely put on velvet gloves. "Sometimes they are very rough with their employees," says Nettesheim. "In top management things can get loud. You have to get used to it. But they are also very pragmatic and constructive. And once they have gained confidence in an employee, they will hold on to them."