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Chinese Managers: More Skills Than Teamworks Print

From www.cbiz.com

Chicago - By Ellie Weldon

Recently, I surveyed Chinese managers about their personal development goals. I became interested in this issue when I discovered that few managers in China have a personal development plan. With the shortage of trained managers in China, every manager should have a development plan.

To conduct my survey, I listed 11 management skills and asked 94 managers to select the three skills they would most like to develop over the next six months. Most of the respondents were men (86%), and half were working in private firms (54%). The others were working for SOEs (22%) or a foreign invested enterprise (24%). After conducting the survey, I asked them to make plans for increasing these capabilities.

The data produced some interesting results. First, I found that these managers want to develop practical management skills that they can use to conquer the challenges they face today. 52% want to improve their ability to build effective work groups; 40% want to learn how to initiate and implement change; 37% chose the ability to think creatively; 35% chose the ability to think and act strategically; and 34% want to develop skills related to the facilitation and coordination of their day-to-day work, including goal-setting, planning, and developing systems and procedures. Together, these results show that Chinese managers want to improve practical management skills to make an immediate impact on performance.

In contrast, there was little interest in developing skills that would pay off in the future through indirect processes. Only 27% want to increase their ability to develop others; only 19% want to develop a better understanding of their own strengths and weaknesses; only 17% want to increase their ability to learn; only 17% hope to improve their ability to get along with many different types of people; only 16% want to increase their ability to balance conflicting demands; and only 4% want to develop their ability to communicate clearly and to listen carefully to others.

When I looked for differences across SOEs, FIEs and private companies, I found that the proportion of managers who selected each development goal differed somewhat across the three categories. However, the top six were the same, and communication skills was always in last place.

What do these results tell us about development goals among Chinese managers? First, Chinese managers working in SOEs, FIEs, and private companies have similar development goals. Second, Chinese managers want to improve practical management skills to manage the challenges they face today. Capabilities that could improve future performance through indirect processes are not top priorities. Third, building effective teams is important for many managers, but building communication skills is not. This surprised me, because in my view, these go together.

I can imagine several explanations for this result. First, it may be that these managers think that they are good communicators and good listeners, and they have no need to improve. Second, it may be that communication and listening are not important for teamwork in China. Third, it may be that clear communication from the manager is important, but listening to subordinates is not. This would reflect a top-down management approach to teamwork. If I had asked about communication and listening separately, I might have found this out.

In my next study, I will try to sort this out. Knowing more about effective teamwork in China, and how it differs from teamwork in other places, would be useful as more Chinese companies become multinational firms. In the meantime, if you have thoughts on how Chinese leaders develop effective work teams, please send them to me ( This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it ).

After seeing these results, I hope to follow up to see how many of these managers actually pursued their development goals. Setting goals is important, but taking action is what counts. I am also inspired to re-examine my own development goals and renew my development plan. You might want to do the same.

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