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workplace differences between Chicago & Shanghai

Tuesday 18 December, 2012

World Chicago hosted a delegation from Shanghai for the past 2 months, & as a grand finale, they made a presentation on their comparisons between workplaces in Chicago & Shanghai.  The experienced interns worked primarily in human resources & real estate with firms such as US Cellular, Exelon, the Chicago Public School system, the city of Chicago, Arcelor Mittal, Flying Food Group, & a real estate company or 2.  To sum up Shanghai in a few words, it has a 700 year history & links inland China with the west.  Shanghai has been a sister city of Chicago’s since 1985.

Chicago & Shanghai are similar in that they are both cities of immigrants, which results in a great inflow of new ideas.  Only 3 in the delegation were born in Shanghai.  Ostensibly both cities encourage fair & open markets, have substantial regulations on international business, & are proud of a spirit of innovation.

The 2 cities differ in a number of ways as well, starting with corporate culture.  Those from Shanghai like big offices, with a welcome board for guests, are friendly, reserved, & there is little public praise.  Chicago employees focus on efficiency, walk through open doors, voice their opinions, & have simple relationships, pay for themselves, are independent, & solve their own problems.  Specifically, business management skills differ in HR strategy, lean HR, channel management, succession plans, leadership building, mentoring, feedback, & safety.  Communication methods differ:  Chicagoans prefer e-mail & conference calls.  Shanghai workers like face-to-face conversations, less e-mail, & sharing stories over lunch & dinner.  Diversity is a much bigger issue in the US, in terms of providing fair opportunities regardless, of race, nationality, & gender.  Many from the delegation were employed by state-owned enterprises, of which Chicago has none.  Most employees are represented by trade unions in Shanghai with whom much information is shared & good relationships are collegial, but not in Chicago.  Infrastructure & utilities differ as well.  By the numbers, Shanghai real estate goes for $800/ft2, transportation & food are cheaper, but eating out is more expensive.

The delegation agreed more government support is needed for these programs in the future to fund more exchange programs.

Here are some of the personal impressions of the delegation:

  • 1 took a business trip to Indiana by train, found not taxis @ the rural train station & was very impressed when a woman helped him find his hotel.
  • Specifically in real estate, English is different from Mandarin.  In China, developers are the boss, while in Chicago, it’s all about efficient networks of architects, brokers, etc.
  • Lean HR is more efficient, creates confidence, & inspires employees.  She was impressed when it was raining, a receptionist dropped her off @ the train.
  • Lake Michigan & the Chicago River tour are impressive.
  • Pregnancy is treated differently in Shanghai.  It was open to question if Diversity departments really lead to equal employment opportunities.
  • Airports are going green,  There are more meetings here.
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