Three Monkeys Means Something Different in China

Three Monkeys Means Something Different in China

In China (and Japan) the monkeys are called the Three Wise Monkeys. In the West we see these monkeys as not taking responsiblity and failing to take ownership. The three monkeys mean something different in China, and we need to think about that.

In a Western plant in China, the Chinese plant manager tried to beat up the Chinese quality manager who was physically smaller.  Other mnanagers restrained him, but he still verbally threatened the quality manager.  The wise monkeys did not tell the Western GM. They stayed out of trouble and coverd up quality issues. It is very common. Things the Western leader should definitely know are things Chinese culture teaches against. So most Chinese managers in Western companies in China do not see covering up as bad behavior.

Three Monkeys Meaning Something Different is a Sign

Fortunately, some people cannot bear this bad behavior and refuse to follow the hear no speak no see no evil culture they were raised in.  They can open up this issue for the good of the factory.

The Western leader also needs to work hard to open up the Channels, so Chinese managers can feel safe to share such bad news with the Westerner. I only learned this story by working hard to get the trust of the people in the factory.

However, many people will not talk to you no matter how much safety you give them. These are the wise monkeys that you need to get out of your organization. They are like a poison that works its way through the whole organization. See also Chinese Managers Changed or Not.

Naturally, we Western bosses will almost universally see these monkeys as foolish and not taking ownership when they should. What it means is that most Western managers have hired Chinese managers who are most definitely not on the same page with them and never knew it, or until that hire caused much damage.

We really need to think more when we hire and promote in China. So much is happening that Western managers often fail to see or fail to face. The result is way too much politics and improper behavior which the wise monkeys will never help you find.



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Posted in: China Recruitment - Getting Good People

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