By Ward Chartier
Though I lived and worked in Texas for 16 years, I wasn’t born there. While in Texas I learned quite a bit about Texas culture, and even learned to distinguish the East Texas accent from the West Texas accent. What struck me most about Texas culture is the rugged individualism and self-reliance practiced by many native Texans, urban and rural, men and women, and of all ethnic backgrounds. This culture is quite different from the social culture of China which emphasizes identifying with various groups such as family, company, geographic region, and ethnic origin if one is of the minority groups. In certain circumstances, it is possible to use the cultural differences between China and Texas when managing an operation.
China is a country with a large government presence, and complex sets of laws and regulations. As a general manager of operations in various countries, I very firmly believe that part of my job is to ensure that I as an individual and my operation practice the very best corporate citizenship. In part, this means scrupulously following the laws and regulations of the host country. In China, adhering to the requirements of the Tax Bureau, the Public Security Bureau (police), the Labor Bureau, the Customs Bureau, and the Environmental Bureau is crucial. These organizations have tremendous power over all companies. It can be a terribly costly and draining experience if any of these organizations choose to investigate one’s company. Much better to never get into that position by practicing rigorous compliance and performing internal audits.
On a few occasions, I had to deal with disgruntled employees who felt that they were not being treated correctly. Most often, their objective was to extract a large cash settlement from me and my company. These employees would often threaten to lodge a complaint with one of the government bureaus betting that me paying up was less painful than resisting the employee.
Since I always insisted on maintaining good relations with all government agencies, and doing everything correctly, specious employee complaints fell on deaf ears at the Bureaus. The government organizations backed my company up because we earned the reputation of consistently meeting or exceeding the requirements of the laws and regulations, and striving to always act correctly.
If disgruntled employees chose to escalate with more threats, and about half did, then I would tell them a story.
I met with the employee face-to-face with an interpreter and an HR manager present. I asked if they had ever seen any cowboy movies, and they admitted they had. I reminded them of the typical plot in which the self-reliant Texan would be set upon by “bad guys” determined to make the Texan miserable. The Texan would fight back in clever and violent ways, and would eventually overcome the bad guys.
I continued by saying that I am a follower of Texas culture, even though I am not originally from there. If I am threatened, I would feel free to engage in all aggressive ethical and legal behaviors necessary to protect me and my company. I never went into any detail about what this might entail, but let the unhappy employees think about what they saw in the cowboy movies and imagine what might happen to them if they continued to threaten me and my company.
On the few occasions I had this conversation with disgruntled employees, they all backed down and ceased making threats. In every case, they resigned within a few weeks with no untoward pressure from me or any of my managers. This gave the resigning employees’ managers the opportunity to hire a better replacement.
Ward Chartier worked in high-tech manufacturing operations in 6 countries for 31 years, with over 10 years as general manager. He is presently a principal with TechZecs, a consultancy based in San Francisco. Ward is also a frequent guest lecturer at universities, and mentors high-potential managers.