Cultural Lessons: Another Take on China vs. India


    At a recent meeting in Dalian, China, I was chatting with a site manager for a leading India-based service provider. Naturally enough, the topic of workforce management challenges came up, so I took the opportunity to ask about the relative difficulties in attracting, training, and retaining employees for business process outsourcing operations.

    The site manager started off by confirming what I already knew – then he threw me a curve ball. First he told me that China, like India, has an abundance of trained young professionals. Check. Then he said that attrition on his team was roughly equal to that seen at his company’s India-based operations. Again, no surprise. But then he explained why professionals often quit their jobs in this industrial city in northeastern China.

    First, a few reminders: In India, employees start to leave as they acquire additional skills and  experience and the forces of supply and demand make it possible for them to get a better wage by jumping to another job. Young professionals are feverous for opportunities to grow, so managers have to develop employees and keep offering challenges and potential for advancement.

    The cultural forces take a different form in China, I learned. Many employees grew up as only children – with all the focused nurturing that entails – with the result that managers often find it difficult to supervise them. As the Dalian site manager told me, you can’t be harsh with employees, else you risk them quitting. They are not accustomed to anything less than positive feedback, he explained. (We’ve read about this same sense of entitlement among the young professionals now entering offices in the U.S.)

    Figuring that this manager’s experience might be an aberration, I did some more asking around. Sure enough, I heard the same from several other managers of China-based companies and even from managers at multinational firms with operations in the country. 

    No one is saying that one country’s professional workforce is better than the other. Rather, the lesson is: Cultures matter, and in outsourcing and offshoring, it’s all about getting the best people to do the best work. Techniques for attracting and retaining that talent are unique to each country.