I have been working in China for last 18 months or so, with one of the largest software MNC here. During this period, I have (very briefly, 3 months) been an individual contributor and rest of time I have been a people manager. Having been a people manager in India and US in the past, I now have the perspective on managing people in 3 biggest economies of the world! Given this, let me share some comparisons and contrasts across these three countries.
- Effective people management requires customization to individual needs – Some individuals require you to be very direct and brutal in communication and feedback, others need you to be softer in your message and be more sensitive to their emotional needs. This variation occurs in all teams in all countries and I couldn’t find any pattern of cultural or geographical preferences; an effective manager needs to be adaptable and have a set of styles to suit individuals reporting to him/her.
- Career growth and development is #1 concern for everyone – Most of the concerns and problems I have faced over last 8-9 years across these 3 countries can be traced to concerns and insecurities around where the career is going and whether they control their own career. Sometimes it has required effort to figure the root cause out, and some other times it has been masked by the skills requirements and weaknesses of individuals, but a focus on career topics have helped a large number of 1-1 I have had over this time.
- Everyone wants to trust and be trusted, everyone wants to give and take feedback – This one surprised me. For example, when I joined in US, I was given many resources to familiarize myself to how to be a manager in US. When I joined in China, I was given 2-day training on how to be a manager in China. I was also given doses on how cultural issues will impact my interactions with my reports (some culture prefer open and direct communications, others prefer ‘saving face’ and indirect conversations for ex). While these resources were useful in knowing the ‘stereotypes’, my experience has been that people everywhere respond to trust and open communications and so stereotypes never work.
- Management track vs. Individual contributor (IC) track preference: In India and China, engineers almost always prefer management track, no one wants to stay IC. In US, however, IC is preferred much more. However, companies everywhere need ICs, and so managers job is much harder in India and China since they need to convince right people to stay on IC track even though they may want to be a manager.
- Availability of talent: As is obvious, US has the best available pool of resources. China fares worst, and India is in the middle. This is true when you want to hire employees, as well as when you try to get vendors. Quality of vendor companies in China is way less than those in India. This makes management different in China in some ways since you deal with much more junior set of people who grow with the company.
- Exercising career choices: Career choices are much better exercised in US by individuals and people do try to do what they want to. In India, family, friends and peers play a much bigger role than what individual wants. Surprisingly, same holds true in China too. One of the comments that I heard from someone that saddened me and awakened me to the reality of careers was “I can’t do this because my peers will think I am crazy to do this”.
I attribute all of these differences to the fact that US, China and India are at different stages of software industry evolution, and that the differences are really a factor of the stage of evolution rather than geographical or cultural effect. Some of the problems I face in China as a manager are very similar to the ones I faced in early stages of my management career (when it was still early days for Indian software industry).
In summary, my experiences across these 3 economies have been very rewarding and I have much more weapons to tackle management challenges now; however, it has also reiterated my belief that an effective manager and a global manager are just different terms for the same person.