Inside Aperian Global: Michael Shen
In our monthly interview series, Inside Aperian Global, you will get to know the passionate people that drive Aperian Global’s mission and values in day-to-day operations, as well as find out more about their background and what their typical day looks like. In January, we spoke to Project Manager Celeste Kruse, based in Boston, and this month we are shifting our attention to Shanghai, and to our Senior Global Account Manager there, Michael Shen.
Q: Michael, you are one of Aperian Global’s Senior Global Account Managers, responding to clients’ requests and building synergies to support our clients’ Learning and Development processes. What led you to this particular position in the cross-cultural consulting field?
A:My first job in the Learning & Development circle was that of a Business Development Manager at the Shanghai Office of the Thunderbird School of Global Management. It introduced me to the field of global business management where culture plays a critical role. Through my experience at Thunderbird and in my subsequent role of Intercultural Account Manager at another company, I had the chance to meet people from different cultures, gain knowledge on global talent development, and experience the impact of culture on my daily work. I truly believe that in our current globalized world, it is highly important for people — especially my fellow Chinese — to build awareness and develop cross cultural communication, global teaming, and global leadership skills. All of these previous experiences paved my way to Aperian Global and our cross-cultural consulting and global talent development business, where I can contribute both my capabilities and my passion.
Q: Based in Shanghai, your primary focus is the Chinese market. From your experience, what are the biggest trends you see in regional Talent Development and Leadership initiatives?
A: The biggest trend is the focus on developing Chinese talents to help them become truly global leaders. This is a fast changing world, even more so in China. China has opened up to the world and to modern concepts of business management and talent development over the past 30 years. For multinational companies, its role has evolved from a cheap labor source to a big market, and now to possibly an incubator of regional and global talent and leaders. On one hand, multinational companies continue their thirst for local Chinese talents to drive China revenue growth. On the other hand, they are looking to increase the percentage of Chinese in APAC leadership teams, and even global leadership teams, to support regional and global growth. That’s why they are shifting their talent and leadership development focus.
Q: As a Senior Global Account Manager, building relationships with your clients is very important… even more so in China. What challenges do you see for foreigners moving into the market and trying to establish and build a client base?
A: In my experience, foreigners are better informed than before in understanding how to do business and build relationships in China. But it doesn’t mean that they are able to address all of the various challenges well. Actually, we still see a lot of foreigners and foreign companies making costly mistakes. Challenges include:
- How to achieve balance between global consistency and local adaptation
- How to complete tasks of turnaround or high revenue growth within a short time frame, while…
- Building long-term relationships (which takes time and patience), and
- How to frame-shift their personal styles to fit the local environment while being themselves
Foreigners also need to understand that while they may learn and know a few things about China, getting the big picture is not so easy. They should not be complacent and claim that they understand China so quickly. Sometimes that can be more dangerous than not knowing anything about China. A foreigner that lived in China for many years once wrote, “When I was in China for half a year, I knew I didn’t know this country. When I was here for 1 year, I thought I started to have some knowledge about it. After I was here for 3 years, I felt I was a China expert already. Now I am here for 5 years, I have to admit I don’t know China at all.”
Q: While you are helping your client’s multicultural teams work more effectively together, you yourself are working in a similar multicultural environment, often times virtually, with colleagues in Singapore, Bangalore, the U.S. or in other parts of the world. Which best practices have you implemented along the way?
A: I don’t think there is a best practice. I learn every day, and I often made mistakes. My focus in the workplace is to get my job done efficiently and effectively while trying to not be biased in my communication and decision making. In the meantime, I care about the relationship with my colleagues in same office and other regions. I try to be sensitive to the impact of my behaviors on others. I try my best to be open to different styles and opinions, though I can be very persistent. However, when I am persistent, I present my opinions with good reasons. I often remind myself to adjust my communication styles, in emails for example. I found humor helped me a lot (even though my jokes may not work as well). I try to keep in mind that both my colleague’s personality and their cultural background define their daily behaviors.
Q: Finally, if you don’t mind, share something we don’t know about you yet!
A: I hope I can be a pilot one day. Can you believe that? I would be very excited if Aperian Global started a new line of business for training pilots!