What are the HR issues facing China?

Written by
Gary Miles

04 Apr 2016

04 Apr 2016 • by Gary Miles

That was certainly the experience that my Roffey Park Colleague Alex Swarbrick and myself had when working with a group of HR business partners, directors and managers in Beijing in the summer of 2015 and before that in Shanghai.

The HR professionals were taking part in our three-day HR business partner skills programme, hosted by HR Excellence Centre from Shanghai.

HR Excellence Centre are a key partner of ours in helping Roffey Park Asia Pacific to extend its reach into mainland China and are a large professional body for HR professionals in China attracting membership across many organisations in the country.

What are the challenges?

Having worked with many similar groups in the UK and elsewhere in Asia Pacific, we asked about the challenges they’re facing. Many of the HR challenges faced by these Chinese HR professionals (left) were very familiar. We could have been in Birmingham or Berlin rather than Beijing: how to persuade leaders of HR’s value; how to lead change; how to make the shift from traditional HR to business partnering.

But some issues were unique. How do you support a state owned business through mergers and acquisitions, particularly where the collaboration is with a Japanese business? How do you sustain competitiveness and productivity when international competitors have smaller workforces? How does HR contribute to supporting key sales functions within the business to be stronger at business development? These were fascinating challenges to work through with the group.

It was great to have a diversity of organisations represented in the group that included a long-standing Chinese state-owned motor company as well as a prominent Chinese Dairy Business, more recently established software businesses and three multi-national conglomerates from the food services , media and pharmaceutical sectors – all big recognised brands.

We were blessed on our programme in Beijing with the expert professional help of a first-class Chinese interpreter who enabled us to work seamlessly with her to deliver a programme that could meet the needs of non-English speakers from the Chinese-based organisations as well as the English-speaking HR managers in multi-nationals. This meant the three of us working really well together as a facilitation team to deliver a high-quality programme for our group.

Our experience of working with enthusiastic and highly committed individuals from some really interesting organisations has certainly given us the thirst to do more in mainland China in the future and we thank HREC for their faith in us as their trusted partner. 

But what have we learnt from the experience of delivering programmes in Shanghai and Beijing that has enriched our intercultural learning ?

Well we pride ourselves at Roffey Park for our “deep dive “ into personal areas of focus and development ,recognising for example that being an effective HR business partner or leader requires a strong sense of self-awareness in order to understand the impact you have on others in the business. Yet for our Chinese HR professionals, while they may understand this, what was really key for them was the tool-kit that they would take-away from the programme in order to demonstrate added value back in the business and to enhance their thirst for knowledge. We were brought back to that often during the programme and gave them extensive experience of applying those tools to real issues which they particularly acknowledged as highly beneficial in their feedback. 

What lessons did we learn?

Another lesson we learnt is that the focus of our group’s attention was much more about the “here and now”  and less about long-term planning, in that sense how to solve present problems and deal with current issues. Yet the more challenge you gave the group the more they responded and were up for the stretch because there is a thirst to be the best and to come up with the optimum approach and solution to those problems – no more was this apparent than in the case study which we employed with them on the final day of the programme working alongside local professional actors as key stakeholders. The determination and energy shown by the group as they grappled with a complex scenario full of twists and turns and  navigating relationships was a joy to observe and offer feedback.

We were heartened by many of the personal feedback comments we received  such as: “Thank you both for your impressive strategic thinking and solid HR knowledge/skills and how your efforts have helped to improve my competency.” Although we see ourselves as facilitators/developers it was interesting how we were held in high esteem as Professors and of course wisdom that comes from age and experience together with subject-matter expertise as it is described in Asian cultures is highly respected in China drawing on strong traditional confucian values.

Finally we realised what was so refreshing about working with Chinese HR professionals was the lack of cynicism or negative thinking that sadly can take-over in the mind sets of some UK groups when we work with them – their probing is not borne out of hoping to “trip you up” as a facilitator but genuinely in the desire to widen their horizons and learn as much as they can to better themselves both personally and professionally – what could be more satisfying than that from a Roffey Park facilitator perspective? We’d take that any day!