Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Understanding Corporate Politics from a Chinese Perspective

By Donny Huang

Personally I believe that wherever there are human beings, there exist politics. For good or for bad, its causes can be by human nature or maybe human foible. Take for example the current World Bank President, Mr. Paul Wolfowitz. He is resigning at the end of June and what he has done is beyond what the rules allow in his organization. However, the same kinds of deeds gendered in different organizations, in different cultures, may be considered legitimate. It is very important to understand where the limit stands.

Corporations consist of groups of people with very different gender, ages, backgrounds, and value systems, however, corporations need to achieve corporate objectives and goals, so there are many rules and policies set up to avoid uncertainty and increase efficiency. But rules and policies can not replace human emotion and feeling. Therefore, people like to interact with like-minded people. We like to go the extra mile for people who we like and trust; we like doing favors to those who are close to us. As long as the rules allow, it is fine. The US president-elect, for example, has the right to nominate Cabinet members, most of whom are the President’s personal friends. Since those people are known by the President for years, when the nominations are passed, those people will enhance the efficiency of US government. So politics can be good for organizations.

In cross-cultural terms, China is a group-oriented, hierarchical society. China has a long history of being an agricultural society and has a tradition of regulating peoples’ behavior through Confucian ethics, which has become Chinese orthodox school of thought for over 200 years. The essence of Confucian value is family-value, loyalty to friends, and respect to the elders; Confucianism lays down the foundation and rules for proper human interactions and sets up roles for people to follow. Relationships transcend the rule of law sometimes. There is an obvious line between insider and outsider. It is common for Chinese to treat people differently based on context and relationship and person’s social status. Even today, Chinese organizations, no matter where they are, still heavily rely on trusted relationships to achieve organization results instead strong systems and structures. Therefore, Chinese culture is a hotbed to develop alliances and trusted friends in organizations which will create strong “corporate politics.”

It is kind of healthy for western managers to develop closer personal relationship with their colleagues, clients, partners, or suppliers in China. The line between professional relationships and personal relationships are a blur in Chinese society. Sometimes it is hard for western managers to do this, since it may violate their code of conduct in their own countries. Remember, in China, an organization achieves its maximum results through trusted and harmonious relationships with its people instead of systems and structures.