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.
A reader left the following comment/joke: