China the culture does not have to be so inscrutable. I had a comment on my Language Barrier post saying that culture is a more important fish to fry than the language problem. I so agree, I knew a guy who knew he needed a translator and used the HR manager as his translator for all matters. Seems OK, but really it was a mess. Her English was excellent, but she used it to control and manipulate everyone in the factory. She could make herself look good in every way and everyone else had to bow and scrape to her. It was painful to watch. He used an HR manager because of her English and her years of experience, and she used his trust to glorify herself at the cost of productive work.
Why did he allow this to happen? He thought he just needed to have an experienced translator to trust and lead him through the minefields he felt in China. But he never considered that the HR manager might use his trust to harm everyone else. She appeared so sweet and pleasant that he never imagined she was using him, but productivity got lower and lower and the home office let him go. To this day I think he believes the HR manager was his best friend.
China The Culture Can Be Unwound
Culture in your factory is the key indeed and not the quality of your translators English though you do need good translation. The American GM should have been extremely careful in who he choose to have that much trust. He trusted her and chose not to believe others and her power was complete.
The GM must be the creator and defender of the culture under her. She must not leave this to anyone inside or outside her enterprise. How does she succeed here? She must have enough character herself to know what character is. Further, she should connect deeply with all managers and certainly not through any one special translator. She must choose her important counselors with utmost care. If she is not familiar with Chinese culture, then she must find someone who has experience with finding people based on character. She needs to find an incorruptible and trustworthy person to build the business on. Finding this person or people is critical. You need eyes to understand China, but you must be careful, so careful, to choose someone who is on the same page with you.
The right person or people will help you build a company as I have often found. The wrong person leads to greater and greater fog. Sometimes they make you feel all is well while it is not. Sometimes you can feel the fog growing and think that is just China. It most definitely is not. We can and should do better in getting the right people as our top leaders.