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Culture and Transformational Change in China's Accession to the WTO

Culture and Transformational Change in China's Accession to the WTO

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Published by myolles
China is passing through transformational change from membership of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), and this requires an understanding of knowledge processes and of how action research approaches to organizational development (OD) can lead to effective knowledge migration. The paper seeks to provide an example of such an approach, based on social viable systems (SVS) theory.
Design/methodology/approach – Illustration of the problems of WTO will be indicated. Approaches to OD in China based on action research perspectives may be particularly suitable to
helping Chinese organisations deal with transformational change. A new model of action research that draws on SVS theory is discussed, and an illustration of a structured approach to inquiry is provided. It is hypothesised that such an approach
may well be compatible with features of Chinese business culture (e.g. long-term focus, pragmatism, collectivism, moderate masculinity, face, lack of comfort with face-to-face criticism). This is a conceptual paper, developing a model for use/testing in the Chinese context. Further empirical research is need to validate the usefulness of the model.
China is passing through transformational change from membership of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), and this requires an understanding of knowledge processes and of how action research approaches to organizational development (OD) can lead to effective knowledge migration. The paper seeks to provide an example of such an approach, based on social viable systems (SVS) theory.
Design/methodology/approach – Illustration of the problems of WTO will be indicated. Approaches to OD in China based on action research perspectives may be particularly suitable to
helping Chinese organisations deal with transformational change. A new model of action research that draws on SVS theory is discussed, and an illustration of a structured approach to inquiry is provided. It is hypothesised that such an approach
may well be compatible with features of Chinese business culture (e.g. long-term focus, pragmatism, collectivism, moderate masculinity, face, lack of comfort with face-to-face criticism). This is a conceptual paper, developing a model for use/testing in the Chinese context. Further empirical research is need to validate the usefulness of the model.

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Published by: myolles on Jun 02, 2009
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Culture and transformationalchange with China’s accessionto the WTO
The challenge for action research
Maurice Yolles
 Liverpool John Moores University, Liverpool, UK 
Paul Iles
Teesside Business School, University of Teesside, Middlesbrough, UK, and 
Kaijun Guo
 Liverpool John Moores University, Liverpool, UK 
Abstract
Purpose
China is passing through transformational change from membership of the World TradeOrganisation (WTO), and this requires an understanding of knowledge processes and of how actionresearchapproachestoorganizationaldevelopment(OD)canleadtoeffectiveknowledgemigration.Thepaper seeks to provide an example of such an approach, based on social viable systems (SVS) theory.
Design/methodology/approach
Illustration of the problems of WTO will be indicated.Approaches to OD in China based on action research perspectives may be particularly suitable tohelping Chinese organisations deal with transformational change.
Findings
– A new model of action research that draws on SVS theory is discussed, and anillustration of a structured approach to inquiry is provided. It is hypothesised that such an approachmay well be compatible with features of Chinese business culture (e.g. long-term focus, pragmatism,collectivism, moderate masculinity, face, lack of comfort with face-to-face criticism).
Research/limitations/implications
– Thisisaconceptualpaper,developingamodelforuse/testingin the Chinese context. Further empirical research is need to validate the usefulness of the model.
Originality/value
Suggests that actionresearch/action learningapproaches areparticularly usefulin China to transfer/migrate knowledge and help organisations deal with transformational change,such as that consequent on globalisation and WTO accession. Approaches based on SVS theory areseen as particularly useful if dialogue is structured to enhance “semantic entanglement”.
Keywords
China, Action research, Organizational development, Knowledge transfer,Transformational leadership
Paper type
Conceptual paper
Introduction
China is passing through a process of social and cultural change that is transformingnot only its traditional values and beliefs, but also the way that it makes decisions andcreates and distributes its products. Such changesinclude itsrecent (2001) membershipof the World Trade Organisation (WTO), which have an impact on processes of globalisation as Chinese enterprises begin to gain access to global markets andorganisations with international missions engage in activities in China. This alsoaffects organisational fitness as organisations attempt to shift their paradigms to meetthedemands ofWTOastherulesthatconditionsandfacilitatetheir operations change.
Culture andtransformationalchange
147
 Journal of Technology Managementin ChinaVol. 1 No. 2, 2006pp. 147-158
 
It provides an enormous challenge to China and its enterprises and its impact will beprofound and problematic as organisations, and indeed the governance of the countryas a whole, passes through the change process. Story (2004) argues that WTO entrywas backed by party “reformers” to raise China’s salience as a key global player, andwhilst market adjustment will be painful, WTO accession gives Beijing a majoropportunity to re-establish central control and regulation over regional barons. In thispaper, we will focus on the impact of WTO entry, and on how organizationdevelopment (OD) should respond to these challenges.If such change is to happen, people in China need to be able to appreciate therelationship between structural and cultural change, and learn how to adapt theirorganisations and change their cultures. The problem is that this type of change is notonly very painful, but also very difficult. The west has passed through such changes,and has developed ways of understanding how to manage it and how to dramaticallychange organisations and indeed societies so that they can be responsive to the newneeds of a changing world. These new patterns of knowledge are culturally based, butthey also entertain principles that are beyond culture.So, how can Chinese learn from the west? How can knowledge be moved from onesocietytoanother?OnewayisforChinesemanagers togotothe westtotakecoursesinmanagement. For example, starting in the late 70s China has been sending largenumbers of managers and professionals to study or take training courses abroad;according to statistics presented by Sun and Jellis (2004) the accumulated number of personnel who had taken overseas training was over 400,000 by the end of 2001 inorder to bring new ideas, approaches and competences to Chinese organisations. Doingthis they have a chance of learning about western culture, and appreciating some of what is being said in course programmes. However, there is little in the wayof systematic evaluation of such programmes: Sun and Jellis (2004) in a study of 66 Chinese managers who had taken training courses abroad found that most traineeswere selected by nomination from their boss in non-transparent ways, with little inputfrom the trainee, much self- selection by directors, and rubber-stamping by the HRdepartment. Some institutions delivered modules designed for local students with littlereference to Chinese practice, restricted use of case studies, and a failure to meetmanagersexpectations. Other problems occurred over culture-shock, languagedeficiencies limiting group participation, and problems using interpreters.Another way if for courses and tutors to go to China, and this can be a more difficultpathway if the course material is not delivered by teachers who are attuned to Chineseculture,becausetheycannotcouchmeaningsintheappropriateway.Fundamentally,theproblemliesintheprocessoftransferringknowledgefromoneculturetoanother,andthisprocess we claim is not possible unless it is accompanied through experience and thedevelopmentoftacitknowledge.Theproblemofmappingknowledgefromoneculturetoanotheriswhatwerefertoasknowledgemigration.Knowledgeissentfromasourcetoasink in a communication that acts as a catalyst, enabling source knowledge to beassembledafreshinthesink.Theproblemisthattherelationshipbetweensourceandsinkknowledge may not be close. We can only ever know by examining the behaviours of peoplewiththatknowledgetoseeifitissimilartothebehaviourthatwewouldtake.Butitcan never fully be, because we are all different. In the end, knowledge migration can bepositive because it creates variety in understanding. However, it can also create myths,andthesecanbeusedinwaysthatarenottotheadvantageofeitherthesourceorthesink.
 JTMC1,2
148
 
One way of overcoming the problem of knowledge migration is to establish newways of implementing OD. Action research approaches provide a solution, particularlywhen they engage with a process that we refer to as semantic entanglement, leading toeffective knowledge migration; concepts that we shall discuss in due course. We alsocontend that unlike more interpersonal approaches to OD, action research approachesare useful in China because they may be compatible with dimensions of Chineseculture, and may help Chinese organisations to manage transformational changefollowing WTO accession.The aims of this paper are to:
.
discuss the impact of WTO accession on Chinese organisations, in particulartheir need to manage transformational change;
.
explore transformational change in social viable systems (SVS) theory terms;
.
discuss the role of western management knowledge in facilitating change inChinese organisations, and the role of action research approaches to facilitatingknowledge migration and OD; and
.
discuss a particular approach to action research and OD that draws on SVStheory, and discuss its potential in facilitating organisational change in Chineseorganisations.
Explaining social revolution as a cultural change
China’s joining of WTO is expected to help to encourage effective competitionin organisations, bringing many challenges. Companies will have to transformthemselves to enable them to deal with them. This will not only involve a change inmanagement approach, but much more fundamental changes, including encouraginginternational cooperation to help develop companies and requiring that organisationswill have to pass through a transition due to the new set of international regulationsand practices that WTO will bring ( 
China Daily
, 2002).An illustration of the changes to be dealt with, from the WTO accord, include: tradeliberalisation; more privatisation and reduced State trading; changes in economic andregulatory behaviour; Internationalisation of product standards; rights forinternational import/export trading, leading to new product markets; new rights toinvest and establish subsidiaries; right to choose one’s own joint venture partner;cultural conflicts as China’s enterprises balance the use of political connections withcommercial ones; changes in effectiveness and efficiencies of companies; and greaterfailure rate for enterprises not understanding the meaning and implication of theregulations. It seems, therefore, that China is passing through a social revolution,perhaps more profound than Chairman Mao’s cultural revolution.All forms of social revolution can be explained in cultural terms. To explain this weadoptherethecyberneticSVStheorybasedontheworkofEricSchwarz(Yolles,1999).Itisconcerned with social communities that have both a social and cultural system.Sophisticated cybernetic processes populate the relationship between the social andculturalsystems.Suchasocioculturalsystemsapproachcanbeexpressedintermsofthreeontologically distinct domains contained in a model now called SVS due to Yolles (2006).Thesedomainsare:phenomenal(withitssocialsystemdefinedintermsofstructuresandsocial behaviours), noumenal (with its virtual system defined in terms of ideate “mental”images and systems of thought), and the existential (with its cultural metasystem that
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