Jay Carlson had been working in China for just three months when he encountered his first real management challenge. He needed to fire someone, and quickly found out the process doesn't always happen the same way in China.
Carlson had relocated to China to set up a new supply chain for a US-based furniture company. His role was to run the Shanghai office and hire another 70 people.
He had assumed he would run his new office much like a Western company - building a collaborative environment of creative thinkers. But, the local manager, an older man who had worked with the firm for years, had other ideas. He insisted on a traditional Chinese authoritative system where the boss is always right, said Carlson.
Constant arguments over which method was appropriate meant that Carlson eventually had to fire the local manager. Things went well when he delivered the news, but the following day, the man showed up for work.
"I was like, 'Why are you here?'" Carlson recalled. "He said he felt loyal to the company, and even though he had been fired, he was going to serve out the final month of his contract."
Carlson explained this really wasn't necessary, that he'd be paid either way, but the man insisted on remaining at work.
Rethinking your style
It was the first of many lessons Carlson learned working in China, a place where foreign managers must often significantly adjust their style and decision-making to the local culture.
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