A longitudinal study of Chinese managerial behaviour : an inside view of decision-making under the economic reform
This research compared decision making processes in six Chinese state-owned enterprises during the period 1985 to 1988. The research objectives were: a) To examine changes in the managerial behaviour over a period of 1985 to 1988 with a focus on decision-making; b) Through this examination, to throw light on the means by which government policies on economic reform were implemented at the enterprise level; c) To illustrate problems encountered in the decentralization programme which was a major part of China's economic reform. The research was conducted by means of intensive interviews with more than eighty managers and a survey of documents relating to specific decisions. A total of sixty cases of decision-making were selected from five decision topics: purchasing of inputs, pricing of outputs, recruitment of labour, organizational change and innovation, which occurred in 1985 (or before) and in 1988/89. Data from the interviews were used to investigate environmental conditions, relations between the enterprise and its higher authority, interactions between management and the party system, the role of information, and effectiveness of regulations and government policies on enterprise management. The analysis of the data indicates that the decision processes in the different enterprises have some similarities in regard to actor involvement, the flow of decision activities, interactions with the authorities, information usage and the effect of regulations. Comparison of the same or similar decision contents over time indicates that the achievement of decentralization varied according to the topic of decision. Managerial authority was delegated to enterprises when the authorities relaxed their control over resource allocation. When acquisition of necessary resources is dependent upon the planning system or the decision matter is sensitive, because it involves change to the institutional framework (e.g. the Party), then a high degree of centralization was retained, resulting in a marginal change in managerial behaviour. The economic reform failed to increase decision efficiency and effectiveness of decision-making. The prevailing institutional frameworks were regarded as negative to the change. The research argues that the decision process is likely to be more contingent on the decision content than the organization. Three types of decision process have been conceptualized, each of them related to a certain type of decision content. This argument gives attention to the perspectives of institution and power in a way which facilitates an elaboration of organizational analysis. The problems encountered in the reform of China's industrial enterprises are identified and discussed. General recommendations for policies of further reform are offered, based on the analysis of decision process and managerial behaviour.