Respecting Local Holidays: Avoiding Disaster on Chinese New Year

Categories: Global Mindset, Global Teams, GlobeSmart

Wang is frantically tapping away on his laptop keyboard. He yawns. It’s getting late and he is starting to worry that he won’t make it out of the office in time to buy last-minute gifts — gifts he is planning to bring home to his family on a 10-hour train ride to Changchun, Jilin Province, for Chinese New Year. But at this point, he hesitantly questions whether he will be able to use the hard-fought-for ticket to board the train.

Feeling Overlooked

As the project engineer for a global IT integration project , Wang plays a crucial role in translating the demands of the change managers and the key stakeholders (Program VP; Chief Engineer, Business Manager, Cost Manager) into a technical solution that satisfies all global demands. Meanwhile, he spends part of his time on a special taskforce to localize those IT components that need to be tweaked for the Chinese part of the organization and internal customers. It’s a complex role, with a spider-web-like matrix of involved stakeholders.

Wang is a hard worker, but the 10-11 hour days for the past ten weeks have taken a toll. How could this happen, Wang asks himself? How could Sangeeta, the Global IT Project Lead in the United States, forget such an important detail as Chinese New Year? Of course, he thinks, with all of the project planning committee members sitting in the U.S. and the UK, it just didn’t occur to them that all Chinese employees were going to take a week off. Wang shakes his head in frustration while he tries to finish up the daily report to his team. He is struggling to find the right words to keep his team members motivated. The prospect of spending the biggest Chinese holiday in the office in Beijing is not a picture he wants to paint for them.

The Importance of Chinese New Year

Chinese New Year, also called Spring Festival, is one of the most important traditional holidays in China (and other parts of Asia). The week-long celebrations are rooted in centuries-old traditions and customs. The two main reasons why this festival is important to Wang and his colleagues are:

1. To celebrate a year of hard work and spend time to rest and gather with your family.
2. To wish for prosperity and luck in the new year

Wang, like many others of his age, moved to Beijing to raise the odds of finding a good job. He is extremely grateful to be employed at a multinational organization. Even though he sends money home regularly, he rarely gets the chance to see his family. The spring festival therefore carries a special opportunity to reunite and catch up with family members and old friends.

Wang’s proposal to save Chinese New Year

As he is typing his last sentence to the team, Wang jerks his head up. He stares for a few minutes at the project roadmap and visual timeline hanging over his desk. An idea starts to formulate in his head.

What if Marcelo’s team in Brazil could run a system test during the week that the Chinese are out? It was initially planned one week later, but Wang is certain that he can motivate his employees to have the IT system ready to be tested if it means not missing the Spring Festival celebrations. Wang’s relationship with Marcelo, the head of systems analysis, is collegial and friendly. They get along well, and often chat about last-minute technical issues via their WeChat group. Marcelo has previously lived in Shanghai for a different project implementation phase. Wang feels that his Brazilian colleague has a good grasp of the importance of Chinese New Year for his colleagues in Beijing. He would surely be flexible enough to adjust to a new timeline.

Full of optimism and motivation, Wang texts Marcelo to get his opinion. At the same time, he clicks on “New email” … and pauses.

How will he influence Sangeeta (Global IT Project Lead) to roll with his improvised solution that would allow the Chinese project team to celebrate their holiday, but requires adaptations to the global project timeline?

How can he propose an alternative solution without making his project lead and her boss lose face?

While Wang contemplates his words and his next move, Marcelo has answered. “Bom dia, Wang. No problem, you go on vacation, we will run the system test a week early. Will give us more time to iron out errors.”

What’s your advice to Wang? How would you approach Sangeeta? We encourage you to leave a comment below to describe what you’d do in this situation.

Have you encountered a similar situation on your project team?

Take your GlobeSmart Profile for free to determine your cultural work-style, compare with others, and get advice on influencing your team members (use code: CNY2017).Attend a Leading Across Distance preview webinar on 23 February at 8am PST to learn why distance matters, and the implications for you and your organization.