by Anna Lupetto
As of October 2017, my office is no longer located in the peaceful town of Köngen, Germany:
it‘s on the other end of the world, which is to say at the Staufen site in Shanghai.
China was terra nova for me, a major step into another world. Luckily, as I started out there, I had a colleague at my side who had already been working in China for 30 years. He was a British expat who had a good eye for Chinese culture, which meant having a solid awareness of the differences I should prepare for as a newcomer.
China is a place unto itself, which is something I experienced even in the first few weeks. Not everything was received or implemented the way I had envisioned from my German perspective. Looking back, this minor culture shock was a bit of a surprise after all.
China is simply different: companies have very well-pronounced hierarchies, and the interpersonal distance between employees and their supervisors is huge. Developing your work environment, yourself or initiating improvements directly with your colleagues, both of which are core aspects of continuous improvement, are ideas that are still very unfamiliar to many Chinese. Beyond that, the direct supervisors‘ decisions generally outrank everything else.
If this description reminds you of what German companies used to be like twenty years ago, you can put that thought right out of your head: in China, the direct supervisor is very often a woman. There are many more women in leadership positions than in Europe. When it comes to dealing with cultural differences, arrogance and stubbornness will get you nowhere: you have to be responsive and open. And if contemporary management tactics such as the inverse pyramid used in Shop Floor Management cannot be directly applied to corporate culture in China, then other tried-and-true approaches have to be reconsidered and adapted. These are the very situations I find so exciting about my job – pursuing continuing development for myself and others. And working with other people to create something new.