Overcoming China’s assignment challenges

A cross-border or domestic relocation can be a defining life event. Understanding the assignee’s perspective can help ensure assignment success.

China on world compass
Whether you are a Western-headquartered company looking to localise your leadership, or a Chinese-headquartered company seeking to globalise, understanding the assignee’s perspective is vital to assignment success.In the talent management and HR sphere, where sensitivity to individual needs is increasingly important, the Lexicon Relocation China Global Mobility 360 survey affords valuable insights into what these cultural differences are and possible responses.“Our main driver for doing the survey is that we hear so much about 360-degree views but I’ve never seen that before in a survey on China,” explained Avrom Goldberg, senior vice-president, global solutions, at Lexicon Relocation. “Culture is a big driver, and that needs to be negotiated in promoting mobility – regionally and globally.“When talking about the cultural differences that emerge out of the survey, one of the key differences is around the concerns around career development and China’s talent being less prepared to embrace regional mobility and international mobility. Chinese people are very strongly wedded to place and family ties. For dual careers, this is a double bind.”

Clinching the deal

The reluctance among both inbound and outbound assignees to undertake assignments is easy to understand. It is certainly true that mobility is not everyone’s choice. For Chinese assignees in a fast-moving economy, career can be a concern. Increasingly, however, opportunities for mobility can be as much a dealmaker as a dealbreaker.Describing the mood among the up-and-coming generation of Chinese business leaders, Shaun Rein explained at the WERC Shanghai Talent summit earlier this year the impact of a new sense of national pride, which ties in to a more adventurous spirit and desire to go and see new places.“China wants to go global, and people want to try something different,” he said. In career terms, people also want to work in the headquarters rather than in a regional position. “You need to create the career path and the role models to show that Chinese people can succeed, and how.”Avrom Goldberg, who first visited China in 1994 and has witnessed its development at first hand from his Asia Pacific base, concurs. ”If a Chinese national was offered a role in the US, many would embrace this. The same is not necessarily going to be true for other destinations.“There are cultural reasons for this. Having to leave extended family and successful careers is tied up in people's conception of pride and career. They have worked hard, studied hard, to reach a good position in a good company in a major city. They've met someone who shares this experience and these values, and they are in a position among their extended family, and they can support them. Why would they leave this?”

Domestic mobility

The cultural issue is just as salient for domestic moves, an area set for growth. “We can see this in the data, with cultural differences being a big whack of challenges for Tier 1 to Tier 2, 3 and 4 cities,” says Avrom Goldberg. “There are significant cultural differences.“In China, you read one written language, but several hundred variations of dialect are spoken. There’s a saying that written Chinese makes the nation. Language is a huge badge of culture, and that plays out in other directions, too, by sub-district and region. This is another concern for regional assignees, and it all comes together with the social aspects.”Cultural differences are the biggest overall challenge among respondents to the Lexicon China Global Mobility 360 survey. For 18 per cent of respondents relocating employees to Tier 1 cities, it is the second-largest obstacle behind housing (28.5 per cent). For Tier 2, this figure grows to 33 per cent, ahead of the second-biggest area of anxiety, personal career development (20 per cent). For Tiers 3 and 4, personal career development and cultural concerns tie as the biggest challenge, on 23 per cent.

Tailoring packages to meet corporate and talent needs?

Alongside cost, skills deployment, project and development rotations, these important considerations are likely to explain the current preference and growth in short-term assignments, where families remain in the home country.In the Lexicon China Global Mobility 360 survey, the short-term assignment of less than a year is the only assignment type showing high volume growth of more than 20 per cent for outbound moves from China.Likewise, from an inbound-to-China perspective, the WERC/Sirva study Talent Mobility in China shows that inbound moves on short-term assignments will increase for 39 per cent of China-headquartered companies, compared with 25 per cent for permanent moves and 30 per cent for long-term assignments.From the perspective of a non-China-headquartered company relocating assignees inbound, cultural differences are still important, but less of a concern, according to the Lexicon China Global Mobility 360 survey data.However, the range of challenges is greater, headed by a lack of medical facilities and housing – especially in Tier 1 – and a lack of education options and family support in Tier 2 cities and beyond. This may well explain the prevalence of relatively more-generous package offers, especially for long-term and some short-term assignees, including quality-of-life (hardship) premiums and incentives, spousal assistance and dependant education assistance.“Ultimately, domestic mobility within China will probably still require incentives such as guaranteed job placement or additional financial or promotion-related incentives for some time to come; this is especially true of any moves from a higher-tier city to a lower-tier city,” concludes Avrom Goldberg.“However, as Tier 2 cities, in particular, gain more cachet and visibility internationally, this will become less of an issue. The real problem for some time to come is going to be getting the talent needed into Tier 3 and 4 locations, which our survey shows are anticipated to see a huge growth in demand for assignments.”
Guide to International Education & Schools

Finding the appropriate school in China is undoubtedly one the major concerns for families relocating there, so our Guide to International Education and Schools features a a comprehensive APAC section that provides a wealth of advice to anyone searching for a new school in the region.

You can read an extract from this article, international school options in China, or order copies here

APAC global mobility magazine
Read more about China and the Asia-Pacific region in our APAC Summer 2016 digital magazine.

For more Relocate Global news and features about the Asia Pacific region, see our Asia and China sections.