Why can't Taiwanese work independently?

Can they? Can you leave your Taiwanese staff alone and work independently on urgent, complicated and utterly important projects without having sleeping problems and getting a hard attack when the project is due and you find out it’s a total mess?
It’s not that I have not been trying, the thing is, every time I am giving them responsibility something goes wrong. I am talking about people with University degrees, who are fairly intelligent and have worked at the job for at least one year.
What is wrong with them? Why can they do a perfectly well job, when somebody is supervising them, but as soon as they are left alone, they mess up one way or the other?
I just don’t get it. Do you?

There are. I’ve seen them. The trick in Taiwan, is to find someone with a promising base, train them properly and then pay them more than a Taiwanese company ever will. If you don’t, you won’t retain them. You really need to invest the time and effort in Taiwan in getting your staff close to the standard of anyone back home.

Ah, yes… and hire a woman. Men all get the idea that they can go into business for themselves (will probably try and copy you as well). Um, and women are smarter anyway.

Also, don’t hire a beautiful one… they’ve never had to try as hard to get where they are, and they’ll end up getting married and may leave your company. Get one with little prospect of marriage.

Am I mean?

Miso, maybe they just do it to piss you off?

Aspects of this came up a lot when I researched an article about telecommuting for the GIO.


David Pan, a Tainan businessman, agrees. “I do know a few people who work from home; they’re practically all freelancers. Taiwanese bosses still don’t trust their employees to work from home.”

Also, Pan says, those working from home sometimes “don’t feel they’re really part of the company.”

“Taiwanese are more dependent on other people [than Westerners],” explains Pan, who spent nine of his first 20 years in Canada. “Our culture isn’t a DIY culture. Taiwanese people are used to having their relatives or their co-workers around them. They tend to rely on each other.”

In his opinion, Western people are more self-motivated than Taiwanese - and that self-motivated Taiwanese tend to run their own businesses…


The article can be found in the December 2006 Taiwan Review, or at:
taiwanreview.nat.gov.tw/ct.asp?x … %2021k%20-

I hear your frustrations miso. Generally speaking, I’ve found that the Taiwanese ability to work independently and accurately is inversely proportional to the difficulty of the task at hand. There are exceptions but the need to micromanage the Taiwanese is directly proportional to quality of output desired. Also generally speaking, the North American educated Taiwanese have often been of high quality.

In fairness, I’ve found this to be true also for many other Asians in ASPAC, not just a Taiwanese thing. YMMV.

True miso but I could say they same for the majority of my colleagues back home. Never forget the saying “if you want something done right you have to do it yourself

I experience the exact same thing with our employees both in Taiwan and in China…

I’ll set the bar higher than it was for any given task, make it very clear where the expectations are, then spoon feed them the perfect solutions, demonstrate the ideal results and how to achieve them, holding their hand as needed through the entire process, pointing out pitfalls, allowing them to make their own mistakes/decisions but point out where they are screwing up before it’s too late, make them know they are 100% responsible for the outcome, but give them all the help they need and more, blah blah blah… end result = 99% of what I was after… great… come the very next time where it’s the exact same task to the same standards, I give them more autonomy and don’t babysit… end result = utter f**kin train wreck… so bad it’s hard to believe it’s a genuine effort, but it is…

how to be pragmatic, how to prioritise tasks, crisis management, the ability to think on your feet, ingenuity and more than anything else common sense, seem to be things that 99% of Taiwanese/Chinese just do not learn growing up… Exact same folks with a Western education or just time spent living abroad, huge difference… It’s just a cultural and I’d suspect more than anything, an educational thing… PITA though…

Thanks for all your feedback, I feel better now, a little…

We work for European customers and need to deliver European quality. So it’s either micromanagement or doing it myself. But then again, I am not hired to micromanage, I am hired to manage. I end up doing the job of 5 locals and neglecting my own. Do I have to hire another foreigner to do the micromanagement, cause Taiwanese managing Taiwanese does not seem to work??!! Training does not work either, I’ve tried. The result is exactly as plasmatron describes it. What can I do?

You’re not alone. That’s been my experience too, miso.

Although, having said that, I’ve had the fortune of working with four of the most independent and capable women you could find. By any standard. And they’re Taiwanese.

We had a little re-union the other night (three of us left the company) and the one that is still there started complaining about the new colleagues. Ironically enough, she described them exactly as you did and then we all started ranting how hard it is to find good people.
We all agreed that one of the reasons was that our former company is too stingy to pay for high quality people.
Other than that we couldn’t figure out why they were so useless.

Another “exception to the rule” is the company I sometimes work for now (the one you actually referred me to, miso). About 60% Taiwanese and all independent, responsible people. Maybe you could steal some from them? :wink:

[quote=“miso”]Thanks for all your feedback, I feel better now, a little…

We work for European customers and need to deliver European quality. So it’s either micromanagement or doing it myself. But then again, I am not hired to micromanage, I am hired to manage. I end up doing the job of 5 locals and neglecting my own. Do I have to hire another foreigner to do the micromanagement, cause Taiwanese managing Taiwanese does not seem to work??!! Training does not work either, I’ve tried. The result is exactly as plasmatron describes it. What can I do?[/quote]

What I know many do… drink… a lot :neutral:

Ok, more seriously on this, this what I’ve done:

  1. Hire Hongkies
  2. Hire Taiwanese with demonstrated North American experience/education. I’ve met a number of good Aussie/Kiwi educated Taiwanese who satisfy my standards so you might have luck with them. The less than handful South African Chinese I know are excellent but don’t know enough of them.
  3. Look for outsource partners who can do the work - takes a long while because you cycle through a lot of crap providers. Eventually, the sheer numbers works in your favor. Use network and word-of-mouth to narrow down the list of competent vendors.
  4. Hire foreigners - independent contractors/consultants wherever feasible.
  5. Look for entrepreneurial/self-starter type Taiwanese (I’ve met a few but hard to find). One of my current vendors is such a type and he’s totally atypical Taiwanese. A real pleasure working with him and his company.
  6. Don’t let it get me down and focus on replacing the idiots with the above options. If you need an HR recruiter or two or three… I’ve got a few references.

Cheers :beer: :beer:

Thanks, Yellow Cartman and Tasha for your advise. Well, if you do happen to know someone, feel free to refer them to me. I need people with native Chinese and very good English language skills, who can work and think independently without messing up. I need to stop micromanaging and do my own job.

Miso, you got a number of informed replies.

Still, I can’t agree with the generalization that Taiwanese aren’t capable of working independently. I’ve worked with Taiwanese employees at all levels, from CEO down to line worker, at small and large companies, at MNCs and locally-owned firms. I’ve been the boss, the trainer, the employee, the customer, the supplier. I’ve done this, off and on, for ten years.

My experience does not mirror the experience of most of the respondents. I find that the ability to work independently is very much an individual thing, and is also a byproduct of training, effective leadership, clear communication of expectations, and good coaching. I don’t see any significant differences in the ability of Taiwanese managers and/or workers to work independently when compared with people I’ve worked with who come from Western countries.

I’d caution you against creating a reality that might not be one you want to deal with permanently. In other words, if you are managing people who you don’t think you can trust, they’ll pick up on that and will never behave in a way that allows you to trust them. On the other hand, if you take the time to figure out what there skills and talents are, and match tasks to those talents, providing training and coaching along the way, you may find out that they are quite capable of handling projects on their own, perhaps even better than you, as their manager, could.

I’ve tried a lot and am tired of training and coaching. I need vacation and then I might have the energy to start again and again and again…
I just needed to rant and I desperately need vacation.

I nead a new job, but it seam like I’m moust likely to end up Back home again because I do not master Chinese.

My gf’s siter is looking for a job by the way. I think she is independant at least more then the average. Don’t allways folow orders from father, mother and older sisters. She actualy do things on her own.

But will she follow orders from her boss, and also use her own initiative? Or will she listen politely to orders, and then do her own thing, or do nothing?

Personally I’ve found that by and large, people in Taiwan don’t listen. They have their own ideas about what’s best and no amount of instruction or training will change that. This is why bosses generally micromanage, leading to many complaints from foreigners.

It’s a vicious circle. If you don’t micromanage then things don’t get done, but if you do then nobody ever learns to work independently, so you never have time to get anything done.

We’re in a country where questioning the boss is bad. Also, actually doing something carries an attendant risk that it’ll all go horribly wrong and you’ll get into trouble. Best to avoid responsibility by not doing anything unless someone is supervising you.

[quote=“A BBC article recently”]Chinese corporate mergers and joint ventures with Western companies have particular difficulties.

The way Ron Logan, an HSBC executive who is managing a joint credit card venture with a Chinese bank, sees it, Chinese business culture emphasises respect for senior management and does not encourage subordinates to think independently and question the boss.

To Mr Logan, the hardest task is to get his subordinates to make their own suggestions and think creatively.

He says that asking subordinates what they think about the broader picture often produces defensiveness and confusion, as people feel the quality of their work is being questioned. [/quote]

So people don’t question, but they don’t listen either. No intiative. And no real commitment to getting the job done, it’s just a job for money and they’re not willing to do any more than they have to because the boss is looking over their shoulder.

Still, as Tomas points out, there are people out there who have a lot more get-up-and-go. The problem is to attract them, or to awaken that quality within the people you have. It’s a question of leadership, rather than management.

I guess you have to figure out how to become an employer that can either attract the right people or turn the people you have into the right people. In a specialised field like yours it may be difficult to do this. After all, the people who get into your industry in the first place may have chosen it, or drifted into it, precisely because they thought it would be a job that didn’t require them to take responsibility for anything.

(Anyone who is confused by the above should be informed that I know Miso IRL so I have access to privileged information.)

Yes, yes and yes. I know, you would understand, Loretta.
That’s my current problem. For example, I made some serious changes to our workflow and file management system. I discussed it with my staff in a 3 hour (yes, three) meeting and they all understood, had no complaints and agreed with the new system.
So I let them do their thing. Couple of weeks later I accidentally find out, that they are doing the old system again… So I politely asked them, trying not to freak out, WHY?!
I had answers from “I didn’t know.” to “I though my system is more convenient”.

So, any of you super managers, tell me, what went wrong?

A few questions to ask yourself that may help:

Are there members on the team who are more influential than others? What do they say about why the new system wasn’t followed? Is there any possibility that people don’t feel secure in discussing their true opinions with you?

And some avuncular insights from Tomas, for your consideration:

Certainly there is a cultural element at work here (i.e. a strong reluctance to say no, particularly to the boss and in a public setting), but I have found that if Taiwanese employees feel like there will be no punishment for being honest, they’ll open up. A solid relationship of trust between you and the individuals on the team is a prerequisite–if that doesn’t exist, spend some time thinking about how to build it.

It may be that you need to do just a bit more selling to the right individuals get the plan firmly in place, or it may be that there are a few kinks in the process that spurred people to fall back on the old way of doing things.

That three hours may have been better spent on six 20-minute individual sessions where you could resolve concerns that people are reluctant to bring up in front of the group, and a one hour instructional meeting. Did the details of the plan go out via e-mail before the meeting, so that people had time to digest it and let their concerns crystalize? It may be that there was never a chance for concerns to be voiced, or that concerns only arose after the meeting.

Don’t give in to the temptation to believe generalizations about Taiwanese people (e.g. they never listen), or you’re really sunk.

And a final thought:

Loretta may be right–it could be that some of the people on your team were not properly recruited. They would be motivated by another job, or another setting, but aren’t motivated by the one they are in. In that case, no amount of training and coaching will ever get them to do what they should do. Have you figured out which of your people are a good fit with the job they are in, and which would be happier in a different situation?

That could be said of people in any country around the world. Teaching, like leadership, is largely about persuasion.

Sorry, mate, but I have to disagree strongly.

The OP is the CEO, the boss. As the boss it is not your job to ‘sell’ something to the people who are paid to follow the company’s procedures. There shouldn’t be individuals within the company that have more authority than the person at the top. And if there are any problems with the implementation of a new system then it’s reasonable to expect your employees to let you know. They should not, individually or collectively, decide to disregard the bosses instructions without bothering to even commmunicate the problems. Not in any culture.

You may have been here long enough that you’re starting to think of this as normal, but it’s not good for any business to operate in this way.

I think the OP’s question was about why it’s necessary to persuade your employees to follow procedure, and why it’s necessary to micromanage to ensure that your instructions are followed. Why not just tell them what is required and expect them to do it? Your suggestions are good from the perspective dealing with the problem, you’re suggesting possibly more effective use of all that time as well as recommending that the OP spend even more time in disseminating information, but this doesn’t address the fundamental issue.

The OP is running a company. All those hours spent individually negotiating to try and persuade people to please implement better working practises are hours not spent doing the CEO’s job. Who is focusing on strategic issues like how to get and keep customers while the OP is drawing flowcharts and having lovey-dovey 1-1 training meetings with every single employee? Who is going to make enormous and costly decisions about replacing the entire IT system (thread in tech forum) if the OP is busy fighting to implement a simple file management system? And is all that investment going to be wasted if the staff decide that they would rather not co-operate in using the features of this new system? How will this office’s operation fit into the group’s global network if the employees simply disregard SOPs?

Perhaps the OP could hire some other people to do these strategic jobs while he/she patrols the office like a teacher in a classroom, monitoring everybody and stopping them every time they deviate from the required path to identify and fix the problem? It’s hardly an optimal solution, especially as the IT and marketing specialists could easily decide to buy sophisticated gaming machines that are no use for the job at hand, and turn the marketing effort into an expensive art project that impresses the hell out of people who will never be customers without bringing in any more business. The OPs job is to monitor and direct the whole effort, not to deal with the minutae. Perhaps someone should be hired just to make sure that people do as they are told? But who will make sure that person doesn’t decide to just do his/her own thing?

Wouldn’t it be nicer for the boss to be able to say “I need you to do this,” and then focus on something else until the employee comes back with either an acceptable outcome or problems that he/she could not reasonably be expected to solve alone?

Employees, it’s simple: I am the boss and this is how we’re going to do it. If you see any potential problems, or encounter them down the line, then I rely on you to let me know. If you hide important information from me that has an impact on the way this business is run then ultimately you are jeapordising the whole company and the livelihoods of everybody here. I will be very grateful to anybody pointing out any problem that I need to know about, and will personally nail your hands to your head and carve my initials on your back if you fuck things up for me. Are there any questions?

I disagree with this. As CEO, or GM, then you will have better performing line managers and resultant more productive staff if you do take some time to explain your ‘vision’. It helps to motivate and get people rowing in time and in the same direction. Blind adherence to a boss’s instruction without a little time having been taken to explain the rationale behind a certain decision increases the scope for mistakes. Understanding of why a decision has been made and an instruction given, clarifies the necessity for undertaking certain tasks. It is a useful motivatonal tool and leads to better operational practices and greater initiative.

Persistent failure to get middle management and by extension workers to carry out tasks to the CEO/GM’s liking speaks more to the CEO/GM’s leadership skills than it does the abilities of those below him/her. Good managers are not necessarily good leaders and good leaders are not necessarily good managers.

BroonAdministrator