China HR – The Anchor Keeping Your Company from Flying

China HR

pop. density: Wherever you look, HR managers say “This is China”

We are a recruiting firm and some people think that means we work with the China HR in Western Companies active in China.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

China HR Managers – Beautiful on the Outside, But Do Not Look Under the Hood

What are China HR Managers good at? The best are good at writing professional emails and being professional in dialogue. They keep a lid on people problems and are experts at pushing out short term costs. What more could we ask? What more should we ask?

How about bringing long-term value to the company? I could throw in being a real part of the company core team? Or about taking responsibility for the organizational health of the company? How about having the operational sense of how to impact the  top and bottom line of the financial report for the long term?  Must do better than saying, “This is China”? How about any mature thinking for top line improvement?

We mostly cannot find these, and we bump into quite a few China HR’s. We work for owners and hiring managers as only they care about the company as a whole.  China HR managers commonly have deep blindness that keeps them from seeing the health of the company outside their department door. Some of the best will talk about how they stand up for HR in the company.  That is an even bigger problem. The best can only stand up to defend HR.  None that we can find are speaking with maturity for the company even if some appear to with their high professionalism facade.

Value Goes Up When They Leave?

Most companies we know in China could see improvement in productivity and revenue and decrease in unwanted turnover and confusion by one simple action. Fire the HR Manager.   Yes, they need to fire their HR manager and have an assistant handle the paperwork of HR. Empower hiring managers to handle the culture development.

Why such a radical prescription?  The high calling of HR has been lost to this generation of China HR Managers. Not only do they have no mature concept of team or value, they are also stubborn and digging their heels in to avoid it. They even put on team training in some companies with no mature concept of team! The least China HR can do is admit they are the highly professional anchor holding the whole team back.

China HR – What are They Up To Now?

HR managers regularly tell us they cannot manage interviewing technical people. How weak is that? They are in the company and have no idea about what is technically going on in a key department? Why can the owner with no technical background interview that technical guy?  The owner cares, and the HR actually does not.

HR are forever haggling on price like a grandmother buying fruit in the market. They see nothing else and hate to be told.

One HR proudly told me how they kept that unhappy employee from going to court. I have never met one who could do root cause analysis to make the company better and the employee happier. That should be core data for them.

Most HR managers just care about cost this month. They are experts at pinching pennies and losing pounds. They make workers less engaged year by year even while getting high marks from their GM.

Do not get me started on how bad they often treat candidates. Somehow they like to look down on candidates or be cold to them.  You likely need another department to handle your Employer Branding.

How Do They Get High Marks From GM’s?

Wait, how can they get high marks from GM’s? It might be because they usually have high English skills and can thus manipulate them. We are not getting even half of what we should from HR.  Cost-conscious is not bad, but singular focus drags you down. What about culture development? We interview lots of HR managers and none of them can give more than one sentence to what they have done to develop the culture.  Many cannot even recite the values of the company. Seemingly none can tell with any heart or maturity the three priorities of operations this quarter and how they are supporting. So few can even understand why their hiring is just so so even while they train on how to interview.

China HR – A Path Forward

So what is my path forward other than just firing the China HR Managers?  We need to ask more of HR managers. Unfortunately, mature China HR Managers are almost uniformly too stubborn and unteachable. They are good at window dressing for culture development under pressure. So do not put your hope there.

Hire young HR people who have not yet been spoiled. Raise them up with proper HR values.  Train them how to think about business. Expect them to work for the whole company and not just HR. Expect them to be real and not just professional. Train them to really care about workers and care about their desire for achievement. Expect then to read and know the highest principles for culture development and be your guide to get it done. They could read good books to start and many are in Chinese.

Then we will be talking about real HR and not someone to collect a salary and professionally pull you down month by month.


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Posted in: China, China Recruitment - Getting Good People, Culture Development, Leadership, System, Team Development

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  1. Francis du Bois November 26, 2015

    For every foreign company operating in China, there are 3 postions that should be held by a foreigner or they will get screwed at some point in the near future of their operations: the CEO, the HR, the CFO positions.

  2. Jim Nelson November 27, 2015

    We have some of the same findings. However, some Western leaders also are the wrong person as well.

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