James Wang, CEO of KUKA China: Understanding cultural differences boosted my career
The 19th CPC National Congress Report attaches great importance to cultural confidence and has stressed that the Chinese nation will not be able to rejuvenate itself without strong cultural confidence and a rich and prosperous culture. That’s true when it comes to Chinese executives overseas in MNCs. Cultural confidence is important, and understanding the cultural differences makes a difference.
“Cross-cultural communication” is just one of the buzzwords that’s being used everywhere but somemay have a vague notion of what it means. In an interview with James Wang, CEO of KUKA China, who is also on the advisory board of ICUnet China, he talks abouthow cultural differences can affect the way people interact in the workplace and more.
James’ first job was at Siemens, a corporation headquartered in Germany just like KUKA. As a Chinese, James found out that working in a German corporate culture he had to be more straightforward and confident. “My German supervisor had asked me to finish a rather tough assignment,” he recalls. “At that time I was confident to do a good job, and I started working at my own pace but without any progress report.”
He adds, “Only when my fellow colleague reminded me did I realize that we should learn to speak up because German supervisors need to keep track of the progress while I, as a Chinese, preferred to work quietly.” It was the first time for James to be aware of the cultural differences. “I have gained valuable communication and intercultural skills over the years which could carry over into different roles or positions I may hold,” he says.
Cooperation between Chinese and Germans is deeply influenced by cultural differences, and those who are willing to go a step further in the quest for cultural awareness are more likely to overcome international business challenges. It is important that we improve our awareness of cultural differences so as to prepare ourselves for successful cross-cultural communication.
In recent years, there has been a trend among multinational companies (MNCs) to appointa growing number of Chinese moving to global executive boards. “Chinese tend to follow the steps and simply act, but it requires a global vision to achieve win-win results in a context of cultural differences when you’re a member of a global executive board,” James says, “You need to learn and adapt, communicate and coordinate with people from different cultural backgrounds.”
Cross-cultural communication is challenging yet meaningful. There is an increasingly large number of Chinese companies choosing to go global and they may face intercultural challenges like many MNCs in China. Likewise, it also requires lots of localization efforts to be made by Chinese companies. People from different cultures keep different value systems and have different ways of looking at things.
James continues, “Understanding the different value systems and properly adjusting localized strategies will help Chinese companies to gain the trust from their local employees. Chinese are attaching great importance to ‘guanxi’, while Germans rely mostly on written agreements. We should try to learn from each other to achieve effective cooperation.”
There is always room for improvement when dealing with people from different countries, for example with the help of intercultural professionals like James Wang and alsothrough some of the training and consulting services offered by ICUnet. Cross-cultural communication expertise willalways be a bonus!