Comparing Eastern And Western Management Styles


The Global Balance of economic power has been shifting for a few decades. Chinese managers are setting the management agenda for China and are poised to do so for the rest of the world. During the past few decades, the topics within Western and Chinese managerial practice have attracted significant attention from both academe and industrial world. Various surveys and research have been conducted to investigate the differences in managerial principles between Chinese and Western managers in different context; the results of these investigations have contributed significantly towards how Western and Chinese organizations can interact successfully. This research aims to provide a comparative study in such area within the context of construction industry.

According to the National Bureau of Statistics of China (2008), in the year of 2007, all the construction enterprises in China achieved construction output value of 5,100 billion RMB (equivalent to USD 728 billion), and there was an increase of 24% in 2008, this contributes to over 15% of the country’s GDP. Only about USD5.7 billion (less than 1%) of the above output was achieved by foreign companies. This figure has indicated a huge gap for further internationalization in terms of the government policies and the industrial settings. Following the globalisation of world wide economy, transnational commercial activities in construction sector has become too attractive for countries not to be proactive. It is under such background that the proposed comparative studies can bring extra value towards existing commercial intelligence.

In order to understand the major difference between Western and Chinese management principles, it is essential to understand the value of Confucius which still permeates the Chinese culture nowadays. Born 500 years before Christ, the great philosopher and teacher, Confucius, established the cultural foundation of China. First of all, it is essential to note that Confucius teaching focuses on maintaining harmony through the relationships. According to Lin (1994), the key Confucius teaching also promotes five virtues: ren, or benevolence; yi, or righteousness; li, propriety; zhi, or wisdom; and xin, or trustworthiness. Confucian managers are expected to be caring, moral, maintain their dignity, have wisdom, and be true to their word. The proposed research will focus on the investigation of these values and how were they were translated to the management practice by Chinese construction managers and how these values have affected their managerial decision and practices.

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Research questions

The proposed research will try to investigate the following key research questions:

The core differences in management practice between Chinese and Western Managers are within the following areas: decision making process, communication, human relationship.

Questionnaires will be designed to collect different views from Chinese and Western construction managers to indicate which areas are the core areas to differentiate the Chinese and the western management practice. The major indicators will be in relation to the number of Chinese Managers vs the number of western managers who follow some management samples within the mentioned areas.

Furthermore, case studies will also be conducted for one Chinese and one British construction company to compare the management practice between their managers within the core areas of: decision making process, communication and human relationship.

Are the above differences largely contributed by Confucius value?

This research will investigate how the Confucius value has affected the three core areas between the Chinese / Western Managers and their colleagues. The three areas are the core areas related to the virtue of the Confucius teaching, the evidence of the outcomes will allow us to judge whether the Confucius values have contributed to the major differences in the Chinese / Western management practice within the construction industry.

Data collection

The proposed research will be conducted in two different phases, phase one will largely be collecting quantitative data, and will employ the methodology of questionnaire surveys to collect data from a range of audience. Phase two will involve two case studies in which the data are expected to be more transient, which can be understood only within the context.

During phase one, questionnaire surveys will be distributed to around 200 construction managers who have substantial supervisory experiences. 100 questionnaires will be sent by e-mails to managers who work for Chinese / HK based construction companies, another 100 will be sent to managers who work for UK based companies. All the contact details will be identified via channels of professional bodies e.g. members of Centre for Construction Innovations UK, HK Construction Association / fellow academics at universities. The responding rate is expected to be around 60%.

On another hand, two case studies (one HK company and one UK company) will be conducted to investigate the research questions in details. The management staff of the two companies will be interviewed to discuss the areas within their management decision process, communication and human relationship. The interview will take place in HK and UK respectively; the principle researcher will be visiting UK in June 2009 for business and hence can proceed with the interview with a selected UK construction company.

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The research is designed under an interpretive paradigm, according to Collis and Hussey (2009), the interpretivism “rests on the assumption that social reality is in out minds, and is subjective and multiple. … the research involves an inductive process with a view to providing interpretive understanding of social phenomena within a particular context” In this research, the comparative studies of the western and Chinese management styles will involve the understanding of the Confucius values within the cultural context, and there will be direct interaction between the researcher and the subjects of research, this process will develop into a conclusion of how the social reality is created between the West and the East. For the future application, this information and understanding in return will enhance the interaction and understanding between the western and the Chinese managers within the commercial context and will contribute towards between efficiency for the intercultural / international ventures.

During the two phases of the research, a mixture of data collection methods will be used. Questionnaire surveys will be used in the first phase to collect general views from Chinese / western construction mangers about their management practice, in particular within the areas of communication, decision making processes and human relationship. The questionnaire will also investigate the target managers’ awareness of their own cultural values which can be used to address the research questions. According to Easterby-smith et al (2008), the major benefit of using questionnaire in this instance will mainly be time-saving and low cost, however the researcher has little control over whether the person targeted is the one who answers the questions and also over how they answer them. Given the limited timescale and resources of this research, the questionnaire survey should still be regarded as the preferable option of getting a reasonable number of representations.

According to Creswell (1998)’s summary of the philosophical assumption of the Interpretivism paradigms, the researcher does interact with that being researched, hence the second phase of the research will involve a more in-depth study with two construction organizations, one from HK and one from UK. According to Arksey and Knight (1999, P2), interviews aim to explore “data on understandings, opinions, what people remember doing, attitudes, feelings and the like, that people have in common”, unlike the positivists approach, the planned interviews will be unstructured, certain open questions will be used to explore the interviewee’s opinion about their decision making process and how they communicate with their colleagues.

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The proposed research will endeavour to comply with the current practice of the research ethics. Bell and Bryman (2007) conducted a content analysis of the ethical principles of nine professional associations in the social sciences. These principles are


Ensuring that no harm comes to participants


Respecting the dignity of the research participants


Ensuring a fully informed consent of research participants


Protecting the privacy of the research subjects


Ensuring the confidentiality of research data


Protecting the anonymity of individuals or organizations


Avoiding deception about the nature or aims of the research


Declaration of affiliations, funding sources and conflicts of interest


Honesty and Transparency in communicating about the research


Avoidance of any misleading, or false reporting of research findings

The above code of practice provides guidance and framework towards research in social science, which is applicable to the proposed research.


The major limitations of the research will be the time and human resources. The whole research process will need to be completed in 6 months time, with only effort from one principle researcher and one subordinate researcher. The collection of quantitative data is limited to around 50-70 samples which cannot represent a generalized phenomenon. The checking of the quality of data from the questionnaire surveys is particularly important as it is difficult to expect 100% accurate results from such methodology.

Moreover, as the director of a construction company, the principle researcher has significant knowledge and experience within the local management practice, he is also widely connected with HK construction professionals, all these will affect some of the objectivity of his findings.


The research will produce some guidelines of communication / management practice for western / Chinese construction managers to adopt, in particular within transnational commercial activities.

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