The paper is aimed at critical evaluation of the thesis that managerial work, skills and role are uniform throughout the world. This thesis is found to be controversial as it overlooks cross-cultural variations across nations as well as subcultures within one nation. Research outlined in two scholarly articles serves as evidence. The article by P.S. Kim, PS ‘Globalization of Human Resource Management: A Cross-Cultural Perspective for the Public Sector’ (1999) concentrates on examination of intercultural differences as assessed by Hofstede’s four dimensions and demonstrates their impact on managerial practice. The other article authored by Tomasz Lenartowicz and Kendall Roth explores the relationship between cross-cultural variation in motivational domains of four Brazilian subcultures and their business performance. The conclusion summarizes the findings of the research and its bearing on the evaluation of the original thesis. The final conclusion is that managerial expertise and functions demonstrate substantial variation across nations, and even within one nation managers have to act differently working with different subcultures.
Management around the world is undoubtedly grounded in some basic principles that govern the work of managers throughout the world. Everywhere, managers have to make decisions, lead and motivate subordinates, strive for profitability and maximisation of the firm’s value and build relationships with customers. At the same time, managers working in different national and regional environments often have to consider local cultural realities and rely on those in their management functions. Discrepancies existing between national, ethnic, social and cultural groups influence the way businesses function and direct affect managers that lead those businesses. These differences can become a serious challenge for someone who wants to migrate from one nation to another, working as an expatriate manager.
1. Cultures are Different
Management scholars have long found that cultures are not the same around the world. Instead, they value on many different aspects that determine the course of business and shape the management’s role and required skills. One of the classic frameworks for the examination of culture is Geert Hofstede’s dimensions that determine national system of values. Among these dimensions are ‘power distance, uncertainty avoidance, individualism/collectivism, and masculinity/femininity’ (Kim 1999).
These dimensions have a direct bearing upon managers. Thus, different degrees of uncertainty avoidance will cause different degrees of risk tolerance, impacting the decision-making strategies. Power distance has a direct bearing upon the role of the manager and the manager’s relationships with the subordinates. Thus, in the Eastern cultures the manager is seen as a paternal figure that has to be treated by the subordinates as such. The manager who has this kind of respect accorded with age and promotion has to behave accordingly, supervising the subordinates and taking care of them. On the contrary, in the West, where the culture is more egalitarian, the manager is often seen simply as someone who is performing a function rather than someone who has implicit authority over others.
Individualism/ collectivism division also matters as it affects ‘the type of leadership most likely to be effective in a country’ (Kim 1999). Thus, in culture that places greater value on collectivism leadership is effective when it leaves the possibility for group decision-making open. On the contrary, in individualist nations the leader has to rely more on individuals, distributing assignments in such a way that each individual is aware of his/her specific role and tasks. The manager most certainly has to adapt to each kind of culture separately. For instance, someone who is used to working in a collectivist culture cannot very easily shift to an individualist one, as this manager would most probably give assignments to groups and then wonder why group work breaks down. Besides, in individualist societies ‘task prevails over relationship’, while in collectivist societies relationships are the greatest priority.
2. Cultural Differences and Management Approaches
Culture is an important part of the environment in which the manager has to function. Although an organization strives to create its own corporate culture, but in case it conflicts with national value system, this culture will also conflict with employees’ values and therefore will fail to act as stimulation.
Pan Suk Kim in his article ‘Globalization of Human Resource Management: A Cross-Cultural Perspective for the Public Sector’ (1999) states with regard to the interplay between management and culture:
Cultural differences significantly influence management approaches and the performance of employees within organizations. General principles of management and specific human resource practices evolving out of management theories are currently being seriously questioned in various cross-cultural settings. Cross-cultural understanding and intercultural communications skills, therefore, can contribute to the success of negotiations. Owing to modern travel and communication technology, intercultural encounters have multiplied at a prodigious rate. Embarrassments occur between ordinary tourists and locals, as well as between business partners. Subtle misunderstandings still occur in negotiations between modern diplomats and government leaders. Avoiding any cultural conflict should be one of the themes of training and education.
Managers need to be aware that their work should evolve in correspondence to the cultural norms existing in a nation. International experience alone often cannot provide managers with the skills necessary in order to deal with employees of different backgrounds. For this reason, cross-cultural training should become a staple part of the management training curriculum. This training can be based on social learning theory that incorporates “symbolic modeling” consisting in observing and imitating and “participative modeling” including direct action (Kim 1999). The fact that scholars intensively plot various cross-cultural training techniques also attests to the fact that managers have to change their approaches to adjust to cultural reality.
3. Need to Adapt to Subcultures
While most talk about the difference in the role, work and skills of the managers focus on variations from country to country, one can find different cultural groups within nations themselves. Many contemporary states arose as a result of convergence of various ethnic or religious groups. Thus, in India one has to adopt different methods when working with Muslim or Hindu populations. Working in African nations, managers need to be aware that they are often composed of a variety of tribal groups, the values of which have not arrived at a common denominator in the time of the existence of these states.
An interesting study about the influence of subcultures on business decision-making, practices and outcomes is presented in the article by Tomasz Lenartowicz and Kendall Roth ‘Does Subculture within a Country Matter? A Cross-Cultural Study of Motivational Domains and Business Performance in Brazil’. They divide the nation, in agreement with previous researchers into four corresponding areas that correspond to nationalities: Minas Gerais provinc populated by Mineiros, Greater Rio de Janeiro inhabited by Cariocas, the Sao Paulo state populated by Paulistas, and the Gauchos occupying the Rio Grande do Sul state. In examining these subcultures co-exist in Brazil researchers rely on value-based model that takes values to be the cornerstone of culture. They also include the exploration of motivational domains defined as ‘specific types of motivational concerns that the various values express’ and their impact on business outcomes (Lenartowicz & Roth 2001).
The motivational domains against which cultures were measured included: achievement, enjoyment, security, self-direction, and restrictive conformity domains. Lenartowicz Roth found that values and motivation indeed varied across subcultures and even affected business outcomes. Thus, they found that for the Paulistas self-direction domain was more important than for the Cariocas. Instead, the Cariocas placed a greater value on security. The Gauchos place greater emphasis on self-direction than the Paulistas. At the same time, the Paulistas have scored higher on self-direction and enjoyment than the Mineiros (Lenartowicz & Roth 2001).
A manager working in Brazil where the four subcultures live has to take into account these perspectives and adapt one’s methods to the people working with them. Thus, someone working with the Paulistas has to realize that these people value independence in decision-making. Consequently, the whole managerial system probably has to be structured in a way that will give individuals an opportunity to participate in the company’s initiative. Employee empowerment would be welcome and appreciated. At the same time, an analogous model cannot be transplanted directly to the Cariocas or the Mineiros who may find themselves frustrated with the load of decision-making they have to handle.
The above discussion demonstrates that managers have to adapt in many ways to the specificities of cultures around the globe. The classical system of Hofstede’s four cultural dimensions underscores the variation of culture from one nation to another. Managers have to adjust as their subordinate have different expectations of what their leaders will be like. In any case, it makes sense to develop a managerial style that will correspond to the national norms and values.
Thus, the managerial work, role and skills demonstrate significant variations across the globe and cannot be described as the same. Moreover, even within one nation managers will face a number of subgroups that will make a difference in the manager’s work. The current trend toward globalization that pushes managers towards intercultural encounters makes cross-cultural training an important part of managerial education.
Kim, PS 1999, ‘Globalization of Human Resource Management: A Cross-Cultural Perspective for the Public Sector’, Public Personnel Management, vol. 28, no.2, viewed 24 Dec. 05, <http://www.questia.com/PM.qst?a=o&d=5001316171>.
Lenartowicz, T, Roth, K 2001, ‘Does Subculture within a Country Matter? A Cross-Cultural Study of Motivational Domains and Business Performance in Brazil’, vol. 32, no. 2, viewed 24 Dec. 05, <http://www.questia.com/PM.qst?a=o&d=5001025029>.
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