China work cultureI was interviewed the other day by a reporter working on an article on why Chinese companies so often fail outside China. I think the thesis of the article will be cultural differences. After we spoke, this reporter sent me links to some of what he had read for background and particularly liked.
I read the links and enjoyed them as well. The below comes from Quora and is entitled What’s the difference between working in Japan vs. in China? 
I have edited it a bit (without changing any of its substance) to shorten it and to make for smother reading.

Being a Chinese who has working experience in both China and Japan, here are some of my personal observations. Please take this with a grain of salt (Warning: Generalization ahead!) :

Imagine employees A and B. Employee A is smart and “can-do” but pretty “lazy.”  He often rushes into the office at the last minute in the morning. He never does overtime, and he never needs to. He always finishes his tasks perfectly, long before they are even due, which is why you can often see him surfing the Internet or Skype chatting.

Employee B works very hard but he is not particularly skilled. B always arrives at the office at 8:30am and he usually leaves at 9:30pm and he sometimes works weekends. His work performance is just okay. Sometimes he will submit his reports late, but he always tries his best to meet all deadlines

What would their performance evaluations be like?

In a typical Japanese company, B would generally be considered a qualified employee and he would likely have an average or even above average career path and he would be respected by his coworkers. And A? He would not be liked very much. Some managers and coworkers would doubt his work ethic and his attitude and in many cases he would be isolated. He would not have a bright future.

Want the opposite scenario? Welcome to China!

There is a famous Chinese saying that describes the majority of Chinese companies’ culture: “It doesn’t matter if it’s a white cat or a black cat, a cat that can catch rats is a good cat!” It roughly means that “I don’t care how you do it or how much time you spend on it or how much effort you put into it, or even how you do it… as long as you give me a good RESULT, you are good!”

Some of my Japanese coworkers who work in a Chinese joint venture used to keep their Japanese style work habits. They would work long hours, draft super detailed reports full of numbers and report literally everything to the boss. Then their Chinese general manager would tell them:  “Stop bothering me with your useless papers and stop wasting my time on endless meetings. How you do things is your job to decide. Just show me you did it.”

One of my Chinese coworkers (an IT guy) who went for training at the Japan head office was reported for having “played with his cellphone during work time.” He couldn’t understand why that was wrong, especially because he had been doing a good job on the training project. The funny thing is that the Chinese HR manager who was supposed to give him a warning could not give a good explanation either. She said, “You can’t do that. You know, it’s Japan.”  

There are other differences too:

  • The HR system. Equalitarianism and seniority in Japan. Performance-only-matters company values in China. My coworkers often jokingly say “China is a capitalist country that calls itself socialist; Japan is a socialist country that calls itself capitalist.”
  • Data-and-detail-loving Japanese vs.  data-and-detail-hating Chinese. A typical Japanese style business report format is an A3 paper, full of numbers and charts and super small sized font. The Japanese boss will always find any typos or inconsistent borders and you should be ready to revise it at least three times. A typical Chinese style business report format is… well, in most cases (if it’s not an outward-facing presentation), there isn’t one because your Chinese boss has no interest in reading it anyway. Instead, you talk to your boss about your findings, maybe while smoking together and in 5 minutes — that’s it.
  • Risk-hating Japanese vs. risk-loving Chinese. My Japanese boss’s favorite question is “What do you think about the risks?” Too which my Chinese boss will usually respond: “Risks mean bad things have not yet happened, right? Let’s talk about them when they do.”
  • Silent Japanese vs. talkative Chinese. MyJapanese coworkers generally don’t speak much. When they need to do a presentation, they often will make a super detailed Power Point and read it word by word. Some Chinese leaders from the head office can give a 2 hour speech without any text at all. Amazingly, when you think seriously about the content, you will find… no real content there.

The list can go on and on. The differences always amaze me. I guess they explain why Japanese products are known for their quality and longevity and why Chinese enterprises develop so fast.

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Photo of Dan Harris Dan Harris

Dan is a founder of Harris Bricken, an international law firm with lawyers in Los Angeles, Portland, San Francisco, Seattle, China and Spain.

He primarily represents companies doing business in emerging market countries, having spent years building and maintaining a global, professional network. 

Dan is a founder of Harris Bricken, an international law firm with lawyers in Los Angeles, Portland, San Francisco, Seattle, China and Spain.

He primarily represents companies doing business in emerging market countries, having spent years building and maintaining a global, professional network.  His work has been as varied as securing the release of two improperly held helicopters in Papua New Guinea, setting up a legal framework to move slag from Canada to Poland’s interior, overseeing hundreds of litigation and arbitration matters in Korea, helping someone avoid terrorism charges in Japan, and seizing fish product in China to collect on a debt.

He was named as one of only three Washington State Amazing Lawyers in International Law, is AV rated by Martindale-Hubbell Law Directory (its highest rating), is rated 10.0 by AVVO.com (also its highest rating), and is a recognized SuperLawyer.

Dan is a frequent writer and public speaker on doing business in Asia and constantly travels between the United States and Asia. He most commonly speaks on China law issues and is the lead writer of the award winning China Law Blog. Forbes Magazine, Fortune Magazine, the Wall Street Journal, Investors Business Daily, Business Week, The National Law Journal, The Washington Post, The ABA Journal, The Economist, Newsweek, NPR, The New York Times and Inside Counsel have all interviewed Dan regarding various aspects of his international law practice.

Dan is licensed in Washington, Illinois, and Alaska.

In tandem with the international law team at his firm, Dan focuses on setting up/registering companies overseas (via WFOEs, Rep Offices or Joint Ventures), drafting international contracts (NDAs, OEM Agreements, licensing, distribution, etc.), protecting IP (trademarks, trade secrets, copyrights and patents), and overseeing M&A transactions.