Five Proven Ways to Bridge the Cultural Gap When Outsourcing to China

bridging-the-gap

Outsourcing, particularly offshore outsourcing, can be quite taxing due to communication and cultural challenges; this is particular evident for countries like China, which are culturally very different from the Western world. If the cultural differences are not tackled properly, they can cause irreparable losses of both, time and finance; as tension and communication breakdowns due to cultural conditions make it near to impossible to reap the benefits of outsourcing.

Our entire lives are governed by culture and it is the primary factor that determines all the choices we make as well as the preferences we opt for; yet it essentially remains invisible to us. It is only when we actually move into a new place or find ourselves dealing with someone from a “far away land” that we are struck by the magnitude of the impact that it has on our daily lives.

There are many profound differences between the Western and Chinese cultures that can impact communications, teamwork, and motivation of your employees. Here are a few of the most pronounced differences:

  • People in China put far more emphasis on team collaboration and performance than on individual contribution. People are generally more humble and frown upon on self-promotion which is very common and often necessary in the USA.
  • Chinese society is far more formal and hierarchical than in the USA. Hierarchy and clear delineation of duties are not only respected – they are required for productive collaboration. While in the Western countries we see informal style practically required for successful collaboration.
  • Vast majority of people in China value maintaining harmonious relationships over accomplishing tasks, and a typical Western remark such as “nothing personal” would not be understood.
  • Avoiding public confrontation is built in into the Chinese culture and maintaining “face” plays extreme importance in communications. Cut to the chase, “in-your face” truth so common among Americans will gain no support in China.
  • Chinese look differently at rules and regulations than most Americans. The Chinese people place more faith in personal relationships than in written rules and procedures.

Each of these differences can easily derail otherwise successful engagement, combination of them is truly terrific. The good news is that you can address this challenge in a structured manner, bridge cultural gaps, and minimize the risks of inevitable tensions that develop due to cultural differences.

Here are five proven ways to bridge the cultural gap when outsourcing to China.

  • Language. In order to truly access the Chinese culture and to thrive with them, the first step is to learn their language. Unfortunately, learning Mandarin or Cantonese is likely to look like an insurmountable challenge for most native English speakers living the USA or Western Europe. A short cut here is to hire a few key on-site team members who are already bilingual. I also recommend learning at least ~50 of most common Chinese words and expressions. The good will generated by this effort could be hardly overstated.
  • Cross-culture Education. Both your offshore and onshore teams can benefit greatly from learning the culture of the other shore team. I recommend hiring professional training or outsourcing advisory team specializing on cross-culture education.   A one or two day event will go a long way to cover the gap.
  • Team Swaps. Swapping team members, a program similar to foreign exchange student, is a great practice. Team members that are going to the other shore should go through a cultural training boot camp prior to departure.
  • Capitalizing on differences.Don’t force what’s unnatural and against the grain in terms of culture, don’t try to change your team members’ cultural foundations, beliefs or habits. Changing people is a futile venture in general. Instead recognize the differences and capitalize on them. For example, the Chinese predilection to hierarchy and team collaboration can help you build stronger teams.
  • Compensation and Motivation.Design compensation, motivation and recognition systems in a way they take cultural aspects into consideration. Simple adjustments such as “team of the month” instead of “employee of the month” can make a huge difference.

By no means is that an exhaustive list of tools that can help you to build better relationships with your partners in China. Would you like to go deeper into this topic? Do you have your own ideas you’d like to share? Please comment or email me at krym2000-po@yahoo.com.

Five Ways to Screw Up Your Content Outsourcing

regret-nohingAs our world becomes increasingly virtual, and therefore more connected, more and more companies are considering content outsourcing for a variety of tasks. This can be a truly great decision for any company, but there are also plenty of ways to screw it up.

For example, a client of mine decided to outsource his company’s blog. He hired a few providers on eLance and moved forward without establishing expectations for quality and even without defining when the work should be delivered. It turned into a complete nightmare after months went by with very few acceptable blog posts. Eventually my friend had to find a new writer. That put his company months behind schedule to meet their viewership goals. In fact, they ended up losing many of their existing followers due to the slowdown in content publishing.

Nothing like that ever happened to you? Maybe something similar? Well, here are five ways you can be guaranteed to screw up your content outsourcing:

Don’t take the time to identify what you really need. Before even beginning the process of outsourcing, you need to identify what it is that you need. Use S.M.A.R.T. approach to identify objectives and criteria for success. If you don’t know exactly what you are looking for, it will be impossible to find the perfect person/company for the job.

Don’t do your due diligence. Take the time to research the provider. Ask for examples of their past work. Have them provide references. And spend the time necessary to find out if they really have the skills and knowledge required to do the job well.

Don’t set up clear expectations. Before your new provider ever begins working for you, you need to set up clear expectations. Your S.M.A.R.T. objectives will coma handy at this point. Have specific tasks and milestones for when the work needs to be completed or sent in for review. Miscommunication of expectations can easily kill what could have turned out to be a fantastic relationship.

Don’t get guarantees. Have a contract with your provider that clearly establishes what is expected and that offers guarantees of the quality of work that should be delivered. This helps protect both of you.

Don’t get buy in from everyone. Unless you are a sole proprietor, you likely have at least a few other decision makers that need to be consulted before making a decision regarding outsourcing. In order for outsourcing to be successful you have to receive buy in from all of the people that have a major stake in the outcome.

What do you do to ensure your content outsourcing success? What have been your failures? Or successes? Please share your personal stories and suggestions in the comments below or send me an email at krym2000-po@yahoo.com.

Traveling to Ukraine? It Could be a Mixed Bag Experience, So Check Out This Post First

kievEven though I have been to Ukraine over a dozen times the country never fails to amaze me with its beauty and hospitality. I always wonder if that’s just me, but all my friends who live in Ukraine or moved from claim that friendliness and hospitality are the common character traits  and beauty is genetic.  Whether it’s true or not, chances are you will love the country, and yet, traveling to Ukraine is an experience a foreigner should be well-prepared for.  So before you jump on a plane, please consider a few tips from a road warrior:

Before You Decide to Go

I would not be surprised if you are considering Ukraine as an outsourcing destination: Ukrainian IT and R&D specialists have gained plenty of recognition over the recent years. In 2011 Ukraine became the “Outsourcing destination of the Year” and since then consistently have taken the leading spot in the Eastern Europe IT outsourcing market.

Of course the recent political crisis and military activity currently taking place in Ukraine made many businessmen have doubts about outsourcing to this country. Fortunately, these doubts are not well justified, as political turmoil in the country did not affect the IT outsourcing industry to any degree of significance.

While this crisis indeed affected the local population, it it also provided many foreign companies with an opportunity to negotiate better terms, reduced employee turnover, and put offshore providers on their toes.

The opportunity as usual comes with risks though.  Nobody knows how the situation in Ukraine develops over the next few months.   Understanding your own risk tolerance and risk tolerance of your company is critical.  And if you believe that outsourcing to Ukraine remains a great option to consider but you never been there you may want to check it out, as a matter of fact you should. Continue reading

Afraid of Using a VA? Here are Proven Tips To Minimize Your Risk

halo-cortana-1Even though using a Virtual Assistant is now considered to be common practice for many entrepreneurs and companies, delegating tasks that you’ve always done yourself can still feel scary. It is a frightening concept to give important tasks to someone you have likely never met in person. It might make you feel like you are losing control. The most common thought is probably an old cliché – If you want something done right, do it yourself. It’s old, but not good. In fact, for many of us “DIY” is pronounced as “die” :) Being a superhero (superworker) rarely pays. And I promise you, using a VA can actually be very rewarding.

There is always a risk when hiring a new employee of any kind, and there are steps you can take to minimize the risk you take on. Here are some tips to help you minimize your risk:

Start with the right hire. Remember it’s not about the best VA. It’s about the right one.

  • Take the time to do your prep work. Before you ever begin the hiring process with a new VA, you should know exactly what you want from them. This helps to minimize confusion, find the right person for the job, and maximize productivity for both of you in your working relationship.
  • A great way to know exactly what you want is to record what you do. You can use screen-capturing software such as TinyTake to record your actions and use it to explain the tasks to your VA.
  • If the scope of work your VA will be doing is likely to expand (which is often the case if the VA is good) you want to look for someone who can deal with more complex tasks that those you currently have on the plate. Don’t aim too high though, because your VA may be costing you too much or even worse be under-challenged and unmotivated to do their best work from the beginning.
  • When you are evaluating VAs for your new job, it is important not to focus on the rate.  Rate (however important) is secondary, because the quality of the VA and the work he or she will provide should be your main focus and motivation.
  • Get your paperwork in order. Before your VA begins doing any work for you, make sure you have an established contract with specific deliverables and requirements attached. This would include pay, hours per week, when payment should be given, the start date, specific tasks, quality expectations, and reporting frequency.

Once you believe you have found the right VA, it is important to spend the time needed to establish the best possible work environment for both of you. Continue reading

Offshore Destinations: Ukraine

ukrainiansIt’s no surprise that I have a strong predilection towards outsourcing to Ukraine – both my parents were born in Ukraine, my wife grew up in a Ukrainian city, and many of my friends have Ukrainian roots.

My own experience in working with development teams in Ukraine along with what I learned from my friends and family proved to me that Ukraine is an attractive IT outsourcing destination. I am not the only one to think this way as according to the analytics data recently released by top$dev, Ukraine takes the leading position on the IT outsourcing market of the Eastern Europe. At the moment, Ukraine takes 33% of the market, Russia is on the second place with 21.8% and the last of the top three East European outsourcing countries is Romania with 9%. Just a few years ago Ukraine was named the “Outsourcing Destination of the Year” by the European Outsourcing Excellence Awards.

Of course the recent political crisis and ongoing military operations in the eastern part of Ukraine raised a lot of concerns across business community.   But even a cursory look at the situation in the country shows that the crisis did not negatively impacted the outsourcing industry. On the contrary, this situation presents you with a lot of opportunities, for example a chance to employ qualified professionals for a lesser cost. The difficulties that Ukrainians face at the moment make them more eager to work for stable foreign companies and ready to accept lower salaries.

Personally, I am convinced that Ukraine remains a great outsourcing destination and with that let me share with you some of my personal knowledge and the information I’ve gathered through my network. Continue reading

The Secrets of Getting the Best Price for Your Virtual Assistant

Virtual-AssistantWhere hiring a virtual assistant used to be out of the norm, it has now become much more mainstream. Every day, thousands of companies and individuals are hiring Virtual Assistants to complete a variety of projects for their business. And even more, these companies are finding that hiring a Virtual Assistant is beneficial to their business in many new ways, often far beyond of what was originally expected.

There are many questions that come to mind when you are first considering hiring a VA. One of the questions that you might ask is, “what kind of rate can I expect?” And unfortunately there isn’t an easy answer.

Can you hire a Virtual Assistant for $5 an hour? Absolutely! But will that person prove to be a beneficial member of your team? Maybe. Maybe not. The point to hiring a Virtual Assistant needs to be getting the biggest bang for your buck. You want to use your dollars wisely to hire the best assistant possible for the least amount of money. Continue reading

Not Giving Up Is Overrated and Why You Should Fire Your Provider Now

I do not know how many times I’ve heard some form of a “never give up” cliché.  Google returns 185M results for “reasons to never give up”, every motivational speaker has a supporting story in their arsenal, and chances are you heard it at least 10,000 times as well.

Yes, we all have seen a plenty of examples where tenacity and perseverance paid off.  We know that in some cases a call to never give up may help us to get up and go on after we get knocked down.  And yet, in far too many cases “don’t ever give up” is nothing much but a banal saw or even worse – a dubious guidance that leads us in a wrong direction.  “Never give up” mantra can become the shackles fettering us to failures, doomed concepts, or wrong partnerships.  It may keep us stuck, limit creativity, and reinforce mistakes.

Determining a course of actions based on slogans, role model’s mottos, or old proverbs is not going to get us far.  We need to make a decisive action when the need is indicated, and this action could be to throw in the towel.  That in particular applies to terminating a less than successful offshore partnership.

I don’t suggest that we should stop trying at a first sign of difficulty or fire our providers as soon as we some problem brewing.  Nobody is perfect, it’s only fair to give your provider a second chance, and the cost of switching providers could be significant.   What I am 100% clear on is that in many cases sticking to outdated decisions, keeping existing partnership, or trying to fix something hopelessly broken is not the best strategy.

More so, if you decide under the circumstances that the best step forward is to fire your freelancer, offshore vendor, or service provider you want to “give up” on them as soon as possible.  In 99 cases out 100 the only regret you will have later is not doing it earlier.

Continue reading