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The biz of biz in China (Part 1)

Avoid the fried squid

The essential guide to IT transformation

Mind the Gap Saturday Mind the Gap Saturday is a feature every Saturday where Blognation China tells its readership the differences - the gap - in the tech, mobile, and enterprise worlds between China and the Western World.

How does business - and corporate culture - work in a People's Republic of 1.3 billion? Whether it's a startup, small or medium enterprise (SME), or a long-established company, here's the start of Blognation China's two part look at the "biz of biz" in China.

Draw your line

The line between commander and obeyer, instructor and the instructed, boss and employee has never been clearer than in China. And it's no big surprise. If the whole Chinese system is of any clue, it's that the big boys at the top gain a seat - and once they do that, rule the country or the company from that spot "high up" there. This has been the way things were done for millennia on end. Change is, of course, coming, but only slowly. For generations, the Chinese have come to understand that if you're ordered to do something, that thing gets done with the least bit of protest.

Chances are, the big-bossism, or laozongism (named after the Chinese word for "big boss", laozong (老总)), is still alive and well. People either fear or come to not like the laozong when the going gets tough. The name of the laozong is sometimes referred to with an expression of displeasure or disdain. Yes, the boss ordered this, but it may not be the smartest idea out there.

If the "boss ordered this", however, it's pretty much done without a fight. People are under the idea that a fight with the boss would be futile - and, at the very worst, could result in that instantaneous pink slip.

The emotions matter

So how do people deal with their laozongs? Believe it or not, some get downright emotional with them. We're not talking about weeping at the boss's feet when the going gets tough, but in China emotions are sometimes so important that they overshadow the legalese - and the rules (that's sometimes a good thing, and at times could be a really bad thing).

Countless employees sacrifice their twopence just to get closer to the seemingly inapproachable laozong. They do their best to please him or her (I once worked for a lady laozong, by the way). A smile on the side of the laozong, or a nod at that, does wonders to brighten many an employee's day.

Emotions matter for another cause: it does its bit in building trust (even if at first fragile, it can easily solidify provided there's a clear effort). When things get rough, the laozong isn't that likely to take someone who he or she knows is with him or her to task. Someone might get a "fried squid" (chao you yu (炒鱿鱼); that's Chinese for getting the pink slip), but if you're on good terms with Mr or Ms Laozong, your chances for being the fried squid are less if there are good emotional connections between you two.

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