Cross Cultural Management (May 2005)
1. Introduction In today's increasing globalization and multi cultural companies the importance of our background and our culture gets put to the side. We tend to ignore the fact that we all have very much different backgrounds and work together without paying attention to the person and the culture behind our colleagues. To be able to work in a healthy, successful and efficient way we need to realize and work with our differences, not ignore them. The cultural clashes, especially in business and within management can be devastating for a company. If not being aware and working with it, many misunderstandings, mistakes and unnecessary looses can be made. When working with people or companies from all over the world, we need to be educated in how to coop with the differences even if you do not know each and every culture very well. We need to have knowledge, competence and understanding to be able to be successful within a multi cultural environment. 2. Definition of Subject This project is an overhaul and general view of the subject as a whole. We have tried to cover as many parts as possible but at the same time make it clear and precise. Although our main goal is to improve our business skills, we have tried to prove the importance of the subject not only in business but also in everyday life. In this way we believe we have given an introduction to the problems culture van bring in business if not aware of it and that the project will not only help us, but to awake an interest and awareness of the reader as well. 3. The meaning of culture Culture can be seen as the systems of knowledge shared by a relatively large group of people. Culture refers to the cumulative deposit of knowledge, experience, beliefs, values, attitudes, meanings, hierarchies, religion, notions of time, roles, spatial relations, concepts of the universe, and material objects and possessions acquired by a group of people in the course of generations through individual and group striving. The word Culture is a very broad term, which has many different meanings due to different nations and traditions. In the list below some other definitions of this term are listed: Culture is communication, communication is culture. Culture in its broadest sense is cultivated behaviour; that is the totality of a person's learned, accumulated experience which is socially transmitted, or more briefly, behaviour through social learning. A culture is a way of life of a group of people--the behaviours, beliefs, values, and symbols that they accept, generally without thinking about them, and that are passed along by communication and imitation from one generation to the next. Culture is symbolic communication. Some of its symbols include a group's skills, knowledges, attitudes, values, and motives. The meanings of the symbols are learned and deliberately perpetuated in a society through its institutions. Culture consists of patterns, explicit and implicit, of and for behaviours acquired and transmitted by symbols, constituting the distinctive achievement of human groups, including their embodiments in artefacts; the essential core of culture consists of traditional ideas and especially their attached values; culture systems may, in one hand, be considered as products of action, in the other hand, as conditioning influences upon further action. Culture is the sum of total of the learned behaviour of a group of people that are generally considered to be the tradition of that people and are transmitted from generation to generation. 4. The importance of culture in business The increasing globalisation of business is having significant impact on contemporary management in dealing with people from various cultural backgrounds. Cultural differences, if not understood properly, can be significant barriers to the implementation and success of a business venture. Today's managers and business leaders confront decision problems in various management issues while working in different national and cultural environments. Also, managers working in the corporate headquarters of global organizations have to deal with various management and HR issues relating to employees from different cultural backgrounds. The objective of a successful management is to explore the challenges posed by rapid globalisation of business, understand and analyse management and human resource issues for making effective decisions in the contemporary cross-cultural business environment. Nowadays the need for “culture change” has never been greater because business leaders everywhere are realizing the importance of having the right culture to support… and yet they continue to make decisions that have a harmful impact on their culture, and ultimately their business results. It seems as though many business leaders do not understand culture, or what causes it…primarily their own behaviour. In a domestic environment the reaction to cultural impact on the managers' activities is automatic: the various cultural influences that fill our lives are simply a part of our history, and we react in a manner acceptable to our society without thinking about it because we are culturally responsive to our environment. The experiences we have gained throughout life have become second nature and serve as the basis for our behaviour. The task of cultural adjustment, however, is the most challenging and important one confronting international businesses. Managers must adjust their efforts to cultures to which they are not attuned. In dealing with unfamiliar environments, managers must be aware of the frames of references they are using in making their decisions. Once a frame of references is established, it becomes an important factor determining or modifying a managers' reaction to situations; social and even non-social. When a manager operates in other cultures, business attempts may fail because of unconscious responses based on frames of references acceptable in one's own culture but unacceptable in different surroundings. Unless special efforts are made to determine local cultural meanings for every environment, the manager is likely to overlook the significance of certain behaviours or activities and proceed with plans that result in a negative or unwanted response. For example, a Westerner must learn that white is a symbol of mourning in parts of Asia, quite different from Western culture's white for bridal gowns. Also, time-conscious Americans are not prepared to understand the meaning of time to Latin Americans. These differences must be learned to avoid misunderstandings that can be lead to business failures. Such a failure actually occurred in the one situation when ignorance led to ineffective advertising on the part of an American firm; and a second misunderstanding resulted in the lost sales when a “long waiting period” in the outer office of a Latin American customer was misinterpreted by an American sales executive. Cross-cultural misunderstandings can also occur when a simple hand gesture has a number of different meanings in different parts of the world. When wanting to signify something is OK, most people in the United States raise a hand and make a circle with the thumb and forefinger. However, this same hand gesture means “zero” or “worthless” to the French, “money” to the Japanese, and a general sexual insult in Sardinia and Greece. To avoid such errors, the foreign manager should be aware that business strategies and judgements are based on experience, and experience is interpreted by each manager in terms of his or her own culture. We take into the business environment, at home or in a foreign country, frames of references developed from past experiences that determine or modify our reactions to the situation we face. Cultural conditioning is like an iceberg – we are not aware of nine-tenths of it. In any study of the business system of different peoples, their political and economic structures, religions, and other elements of culture, foreign managers must constantly guard against measuring and assessing business against the fixed values and assumptions of their own culture. They must take specific steps to make themselves aware of the home-culture reference in their analysis and decision making to achieve their business objectives. To obtain effective business results, managers must remember that, as every culture is built on certain core value orientations it appears necessary to identify the most important aspects for the individual country on the basis of a number of key variables. 5. Managing culture in general It is very hard to know what life is really like in a country or region whose culture one has never experienced directly. But it is very easy to have the illusion of knowing what it will be like--from images furnished by popular communications media, from reading, or perhaps having met a few people from there, here on home ground. Simply 'knowing about' another culture, however, is not the same thing as knowing what it will be to do business there, on its terms. Every Managing culture has distinct characteristics that make it different from every other culture. Some differences are quite evident, even to the unsophisticated (e.g. language, religion, political organization, etc.). Others can be so subtle that while foreign visitors may be vaguely aware of them, making adjustments is a complex process and one may remain uncomfortable and off balance for quite some time. One of the difficulties managers and other business men have in adjusting to foreign life comes about because they take abroad with them too much of their own cultural baggage. This is misleading stereotypes and preconceptions about others, coupled with a lack of awareness of that part of themselves which was formed by there on culture. As a result, suddenly feeling like a fish out of water is a not uncommon experience. It is in fact something which should be anticipated as normal and likely, at least for a while. According to Robert Kohls, former Director of Training and Development for the United States Information Agency; "Business culture is an integrated system of learned behaviour patterns that are characteristic of the members of any given society. It includes everything that a group of people thinks, says, does, and makes--its customs, language, material artefacts and shared systems of attitudes and feelings. The business culture in different countries is a mirror of the countries own culture. First you have to learn the countries culture before you embark on its business culture. 6. Cultural prejudgements Numerous studies have been done to identify specific characteristics that distinguish one business culture from another. Most overseas companies are often unfortunately captured by misleading and often dangerous stereotyping. Most Germans, Japanese, Italians, etc., have stereotyped perceptions of 'the American manager,' just as most Americans have stereotyped images of 'Germans,' 'Japanese,' 'Italians, managers etc. In short, misperceptions may exist on all sides. Frequently, the stereotype of the American is far from complimentary: the selfish manager who expects everyone to speak English, the arrogant patriot who thinks every country in the world should pattern itself after the United States, the manager who sees the anonymity of traveling abroad as an opportunity to drop all civilized inhibitions--all have contributed to the development of this unfortunate stereotype. It is up to you to behave in a manner that will convince your hosts that this is indeed an unjustified stereotype that cannot be applied arbitrarily, at least to yourself. It may seem a bit contradictory to suggest that because of the unique social and cultural milieu in the United States, most American managers tend to be less reserved, less inhibited, and less restrained in their efforts to communicate friendliness and sociability. But in some countries abroad this outgoing manner, especially in Asia, can be grossly misinterpreted: a friendly smile and a warm "hello" on a meeting in Kuwait City could easily be interpreted in a bad way. This is to say that until you develop a feel for the social customs characteristics of the area where you are conducting your business, it is wise to be more formal and restrained in your social contacts. By the same time, do not expect the local managers to welcome you immediately, with open arms; their formality and restraint are not necessarily an expression of unfriendliness but may simply be characteristic of their social manner with strangers. Unfortunately, attempts to categorize cultural characteristics often end up in cultural stereotypes that are unfair and misleading. In adjusting to your job abroad, you will therefore have to deal not only with real cultural differences, and also with perceived cultural differences. Keep in mind that managers of other cultures are just as adept at stereotyping you as we are at stereotyping them--and the results are not always complimentary. So when you do business in another country try not to fall on stereotypes, because this fall has led to a lot of problems for managers doing business abroad The following are a few examples of the qualities (some positive, some negative) that others frequently associate with the "typical" of different countries How we see managers:
- outgoing and friendly Americans
- informal Nordic countries
- loud, rude, boastful Americans
- hard working Japanese
- extravagant and wasteful Latin Countries
- sure they have all the answers Americans
- wealthy Gulf countries
- always in a hurry Americans
- Focus on every person as an individual.
- Become more aware of stereotypes and how they interfere with our ability to perceive and interact with people.
- Remember that there are more differences within a group than between groups.
- Recognize that we're all part of many groups, none of which can totally explain or define who we are.
- Learn to look at things from the other person's point of view.
- Adapt a more humble, tentative attitude about the accuracy of our judgments.
- Be willing to learn more about the culture / background of people different from ourselves.
- Take opportunities to neutralize stereotypes when we hear them.
Published: Sat, 27 Oct 2012 11:02:38 +0000