International Culture The Environment of International Business

Category: Culture, Sociology, Time
Last Updated: 28 Mar 2021
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The Japanese tend to be very polite, the Australians characteristically blunt. Red means “danger” or “stop” to the British, but in Turkey it signifies death and in China, good fortune. In France getting into a grande ecole tends to guarantee good job prospects whereas in Saudi Arabia the wealth and status of your family is far more important.

The importance of culture in different business contexts

Patterns of global diversity and the implications of these differences have been studied from a range of perspectives, by sociologists, psychologists, anthropologists, and political scientists.

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Here we are concerned with how cultural diversity and related differences in the behavior, norms, and expectations of particular groups of employees, managers, colleagues, or customers affect management decision making and corporate organizations. After an introduction to the kinds of business contexts in which cultural differences do matter, this chapter will describe some typologies of national cultural differences and discuss the implications of these for international managers.

The specific objectives of this chapter are to: Define culture and explain the factors that underlie cultural differences. Show where and why cultural differences matter to international managers.  Explain a number of frameworks that help identify important cultural differences.  Examine how firms can anticipate and cope with cultural differences.

Part Two the Environment of International Business

Active Learning Case Culture clash at Pharmacia and Upjohn Despite being part of the same advanced, industrialized world, Kalamazoo (Michigan, United States), Stockholm (Sweden), and Milan (Italy) are worlds apart in many important ways. Senior managers leading the merger between two pharmaceutical firms, Upjohn Company of he United States and Pharmacia AB of Sweden (with operations in Italy), came to realize how significant these differences were after the merger took place in 1995. Swedes take off most of the month of July for their annual vacation, Italians take off most of August. Not knowing this, US executives scheduled meetings in the summer only to have to cancel many because their European counterparts were at the beach. As the more dominant US firm began to impose its way of doing things on the newly acquired European organizations, international relationships became increasingly strained. Neither the Swedes nor the Italians were happy with positions such as the drug and alcohol testing policy brought in by Upjohn, or the office smoking ban. These clashed with local ways of doing things and the more informal work environment that these cultures prefer. Although Upjohn later relaxed many of these work rules, allowing some local practices and preferences to prevail, ill-feeling and a degree of resistance had already developed among European colleagues. The additional bureaucracy and the command-and control style imposed by the Americans created more significant problems for the 34,000 employees and managers in Pharmacia and Upjohn Company. The Swedes ere used to an open, team-based style of management where responsibilities are devolved; managers are trusted and not strictly monitored or closely managed. Swedish executives also tend to build up a consensus behind big decisions, “getting everyone in the same boat” (alla aer i baten) rather than handing orders down the hierarchy. As a traditional US multinational, however, Upjohn was more used to strong leadership and a centralized command-andcontrol structure. Its CEO, Dr. John Zabriskie, quickly created a strict reporting system, tight budget control, and frequent staffing updates, which clashed with the Swedish rganization style. Swedish managers would leave meetings disgruntled, having been overruled by US executives keen to push their vision of the merged company. The Swedes’ own ways of doing things had already clashed with the Italian style of management, following the takeover of Farmitalia (part of Montedison) by Pharmacia in 1993. Italians are used to a distinctive division between workers (and their strong unions) and managers. Their 130 steeper hierarchies contrast the more egalitarian Swedes. Italians also place a high value on families and will leave ork to tend to sick relatives or help with childcare, which the Swedes frown upon.

The addition of the Americans from Upjohn to this mix created further cultural confusion. Communication problems, beyond the obvious language differences, became a real barrier to honest dialogue. “You go there thinking you’re going to streamline the place,” said American Mark H. Corrigan, Pharmacia and Upjohn Vice President for Clinical Development, “and you leave just having added five pounds from some wonderful meals. ” These differences, many of them small but important at the local level, quickly began to have an impact on the verall performance of the merged company. In the months and years following the merger unforeseen inefficiencies and added costs began to undermine the potential synergies of bringing together two such companies in the first place. At one level the problems amounted to things like canceled meetings, new organization demands (such as monthly report writing), and a general decline in staff morale. There were also unexpected difficulties integrating the IT systems across the various parts of the merged organization. These and other changes added an estimated $200 million to the predicted costs of the structuring, taking the total cost to $800 million. Even more seriously, for a pharmaceutical company heavily reliant on its new drugs pipeline to survive, delayed product launches and the loss of key staff (including the head of R&D at Pharmacia) had a longer-term impact. “There was probably an under-appreciation ... of these cultural differences,” says Art Atkinson, former Vice President for Clinical Research and Development. Particular problems resulted from the restructuring of the firm’s global R&D structure. Prior to the merger Upjohn owned well-known names such as Rogaine and

Motrin and had annual sales of around $3. 5 billion, but had a weak new product pipeline and slow sales growth compared to its larger competitors. Similar-sized Pharmacia had a more promising pipeline but weak distribution and sales in the US market, the world’s largest. These amounted to a strong rationale for the merger. Together they could challenge the financial power and the larger R&D programs of their competitors. However, integrating and refocusing the various parts of the new R&D structure became a major problem. Rather than place the R&D headquarters in the United States, Sweden, or Milan, a ecision was made to establish a new and neutral Londonbased center for the R&D function.

 International culture layer of management and a more complex matrix reporting structure, which further alienated key R&D personnel. In 1997, after the stock price of the merged corporation had fallen significantly, CEO John Zabriskie resigned. Swede Jan Ekberg, the former head of Pharmacia, took over temporarily and began to rebuild aspects of the merged organization. After acquiring a major part of Monsanto in 2000, Pharmacia and Upjohn became Pharmacia, which was hen itself acquired by the US giant Pfizer in April 2003. This made Pfizer, according to its own Annual Report, the “number one pharmaceutical company in every region of the World. ” 11 All this proves is that going global is hard work. Not all of these problems could have been foreseen, but a real lack of awareness of cultural differences did lead to many of the organization difficulties and people problems with a real impact on the bottom line.

 What kinds of cultural differences matter when organizations from different countries merge? 2 How well do the characteristics described in the case match the respective, stereotypical national cultures of these countries? 3 What could senior managers have done before and after the merger to alleviate some of the problems that resulted from culture clash? Explain why one organization might want to impose some of its ways of doing things on another, such as an acquired firm or subsidiary.


The number of workers employed by foreign-owned companies has grown significantly over the past 20 years as a result of the expanding activities of foreign affiliates of MNEs around the world. For many people, both employers and employees, this has brought home the realities of globalization. An estimated 73 million people globally (including 24 million in China) now work for foreign companies, nearly three times the number in 1990.

Companies such as Motorola, General Motors, British Petroleum, and General Electric are among the largest private-sector employers in economies such as Malaysia and Singapore. 1 This growing multicultural workforce, part of the increasingly global patterns of exchange and interaction discussed earlier in this book, makes it more and more important to understand how people’s preferences, beliefs, and values differ. Understanding international cultural differences allows us to be aware of and adapt to the differences that matter for managers.

What Is Culture? Socialization

The process of enculturation, or the adoption of the behavior patterns of the surrounding culture Culture can be defined as “the sum total of the beliefs, rules, techniques, institutions, and artifacts that characterize human populations”2 or “the collective programming of the mind. ”3 Sociologists generally talk about the socialization process, referring to the influence of parents, friends, education, and the interaction with other members of a particular society as the basis for one’s culture. These influences result in learned patterns of behavior common to members of a given society.

As you can see, definitions of culture vary according to the focus of interest, the unit of analysis, and the disciplinary approach (psychology, anthropology, sociology, geography, etc. ).

Corporate culture

The shared values, traditions, customs, philosophy, and policies of a corporation; also, the professional atmosphere that grows from this and affects behavior and performance . This is significant in that studies of cultural differences adopt a specific definition and set of measurable criteria, which are always debatable.

Research into culture and its impact in business and management studies is highly contentious and should not just be taken at face value, including the studies described below. There is a strong consensus, however, that key elements of culture include language, religion, values, attitudes, customs, and norms of a group or society. Table 5. 1 shows how the world’s population is divided according to geography, language, and religion. Language is perhaps the most important key to understanding culture in general and the specific values, beliefs, attitudes, and opinions of a particular individual or group.

English is widely accepted as the language of business; many global institutions and companies have adopted English as their official language. For many firms, such as Toyota, NEC, Hitachi, and IBM Japan, English-speaking ability is a prerequisite for promotion. However, any assumption that speaking the same language removes cultural differences is dangerous—it normally just hides them. Moreover, a reliance on English by British and American managers, and a lack of other language skills, can weaken their ability to empathize with and adapt to other cultures.

Religion, linked to both regional characteristics and language, also influences business culture through a set of shared core values. Protestants hold strong beliefs about the value of delayed gratification, saving, and investment. The sociologist Max Weber, writing in 1904, saw this Protestant work ethic as the “spirit of capitalism” during the Industrial Revolution. 5 Rather than spending, consuming, and enjoying life now, their religious beliefs prompted the Protestants to look to longer-term rewards (including those in the after-life).

There are parallels with the Confucian and Shinto work ethics, which also view spiritual rewards as tied to hard work and commitment to the fruits of industry. Contrasting this, a more stoic attitude among some African populations partly explains their acceptance of the ways things are, because it is the “will of God” (shauri ya Mungu). At the most general level culture can refer simply to the lifestyle and behavior of a given group of people, so corporate culture is a term used to characterize how the managers and employees of particular companies tend to behave.

But the term is also used by human resource managers and senior management in their attempts to proactively shape the kind of behavior (innovative, open, dynamic, etc. ) they hope to nurture in their organizations. Promoting a distinctive corporate culture is also expected to enhance the sense of community and shared identity that underpins effective organizations.

International Culture the Importance of Culture in Different Business Contexts

Cross-cultural management issues arise in a range of business contexts.

Within individual firms, for example, managers from a foreign parent company need to understand that local employees from the host country may require different organization structures and HRM procedures. In cross-border mergers and acquisitions (M&As), realizing the expected synergies very often depends on establishing structures and procedures that encompass both cultures in a balanced way. Cross-border joint ventures, alliances, or buyer–supplier relationships between two or more firms also require a cultural compromise.

Finally, for firms to sell successfully to foreign customers requires culturally sensitive adaptations to products, services, marketing, and advertising. Figure 5. 1 outlines, at the most general level, links between business contexts and particular characteristics of individuals or groups that are influenced by social and cultural norms of a particular region. At the face-to-face level in meetings the language and behavior of different peoples vary and their mutual understanding of each other’s culture will influence the effectiveness and efficiency of communication between them.

This influences how well multicultural workplaces operate at all levels, from strategy setting at the senior level to plant-floor operations. Firms also tend to have different organizational and decision-making practices depending on where they have evolved and which cultures and subcultures they encompass. For firms to build successful alliances and partnerships, or for M&A activities to succeed at the company-to-company level, there needs to be an understanding of the organizational Figure 5.

Part Two the Environment of International Business

Ethnocentrism The belief that one’s own way of doing things is superior to that of others. differences between them. This covers practically every element of corporate organizations from decision-making structures and systems and management–labor relationships to individual employees’ attitudes toward their work and their employer. Finally, culture influences the behavior and preferences of clients and customers. To sell successfully in a foreign market, a manager needs to adapt his or her product or service to meet the different needs of that particular group of customers.

Any alteration in advertising, marketing, product or service features, after-sales support, technical back-up, documentation, etc. , will be partly guided by cultural differences. Failure to do this ends in the kinds of marketing mistakes and communication blunders that become marketing folklore. For example, Ford’s low-cost truck was initially marketed as the Feira to Spanish-speaking people, but this means “ugly old woman” in Spanish. The Ford Comet, a high-end car, was sold as the Caliente in Mexico, which is local slang for “prostitute. Unsurprisingly neither model did well in these markets. This reinforces the above point about the importance of language, but also demonstrates how some of the largest and most experienced companies do not appear to do the most basic cultural due diligence (their homework! ) when launching products and services in foreign markets. The chapter on marketing strategy in this book examines these kinds of issues more closely. Across all of the business contexts in Figure 5. 1 ignorance of cultural differences represents a common stumbling block for international managers.

Ethnocentrism, the belief that one’s own way of doing things is superior to that of others, can also be a major barrier to good international management. The challenge lies in recognizing differences, combining the advantages that stem from different styles and approaches, adjusting and adapting to succeed with different people, in different partnerships, and in different markets. ? Active learning check Review your answer to Active Learning Case question 1 and make any changes you like. Then compare your answer to the one below. 1 What kinds of cultural differences matter when organizations from different countries merge?

The definition of culture itself gives some indicators of the kinds of differences that matter. Organizations from different countries will have developed different beliefs, values, and patterns of behavior based on their underlying national culture. A wide range of differences could be important, including attitudes toward work and workplace practices, management–labor relations, the decision-making hierarchy, and division of responsibilities. Cross-border M&A often also requires changes to the marketing and branding of products and services as sales are expanded into new markets.

Differences in the language, values, and preferences of customers in different countries also need to be taken into account. Culture has always been important Cultural convergence The growing similarity between national cultures, including the beliefs, values, aspirations, and the preferences of consumers, partly driven by global brands, media, and common global icons 134 Despite the various patterns and processes of globalization, cultural differences still remain important. Even with greater common access, via various media and the Internet, to the same brands, rock icons, and sports stars, differences remain.

Terms like cultural convergence or, simply, Americanization (the homogenization of global consumer preferences through the ubiquity of McDonald’s, Coca-Cola, and Ford) overstate the similarities between groups of people around the world. (See the case International Business Strategy in Action: McDonald’s. )

International Culture

International Business Strategy in Action McDonald’s. When Jose Bove, a self-proclaimed leader of France’s antiglobalization movement, was sentenced for vandalizing a McDonald’s restaurant in 1999, he claimed to have the backing of the French people.

That might have been an overstatement, but 40,000 French people were there to show their support. It was not only the French, however; in the 1990s McDonald’s restaurants were vandalized in about 50 countries. At issue is the worldwide perception that McDonald’s represents a particular friendly Ronald-McDonald-type of US imperialism. Traditional lifestyles, critics say, are being eroded by McDonald’s marketing practices, its value chain system, its fast-food concept, and the unhealthy food itself. Yet, McDonald’s bends over backwards to blend into local cultures. The company advertises itself to its critics as a lobal company owned and run by local people. Indeed, the franchise system makes it so that McDonald’s Japan is run by the Japanese and Israel’s McDonald’s restaurants are run by Israelis. Local business owners choose their menu’s offerings to fit their culture, find alternative suppliers, and create suitable marketing for their culture. An American in Saudi Arabia might seat single men with families at a McDonald’s opening, but a Saudi Arabian owner would know that this is unacceptable and the restaurant will be designed to accommodate the culture. In the land of Jose Bove, Asterix, a French comic-strip haracter who stands for individuality and ironically symbolizes local resistance to imperial forces, replaced the goofy Ronald McDonald in the company’s marketing in the early 2000s. In 1999, French McDonald’s went the extra mile to prove how local it was by printing advertisements making fun of US eating habits. In one ad, a large American cowboy complains that McDonald’s France does not import American beef to “guarantee maximum hygienic conditions. ” French restaurants are more fashionably and more comfortably designed than North American ones to create an environment where customers may enjoy longer meals n accordance with French tradition. If they want, customers can order a beer from the menu. In India, where local tastes are very different from those in the United States, the company crafted an entirely different menu that does not use beef or pork due to the mostly vegetarian population. The Indian Big Mac is made of lamb. In Israel, the locally owned McDonald’s purchases over 80 percent of its ingredients from local producers, including 100 percent kosher hamburger meat, potatoes, lettuce, buns, and milkshake mix. There are no cheeseburgers in Israel’s McDonald’s because dairy products cannot be eaten together with meat.

On the other hand, McDonald’s does bring its own culture to its foreign operations. In China, where children’s birthdays are not traditionally celebrated, a successful McDonald’s marketing strategy encouraged birthday parties at their establishments. Not a bad deal for children, but still a cultural effect from a foreign multinational. More mundane things, such as combo meals, are popularized through McDonald’s expansion. By promoting its carbonated beverages in India, the firm is unsettling the country’s tea culture. The company’s presence creates a cultural exchange, not a one-sided cultural takeover.

Beyond reactionary behavior against McDonald’s cultural “impositions,” McDonald’s has had to suffer simply for being born in the United States. Just hours after the United States began bombing Afghanistan in 2001 McDonald’s restaurants were vandalized in cities in Pakistan and Indonesia and Muslim clerics asked for the boycott of US products. For activists and cultural protectors, the most frustrating thing is that their calls go unheeded. Owners of McDonald’s franchises continuously remind customers that they too are locals, that their employees are locals, and that their suppliers are mainly local.

In Brazil, some anti-war protestors on their way home will stop at a McDonald’s for a bite to eat. Some of McDonald’s major troubles, however, are in its most established markets in the United States, Canada, and the UK. Russian and Chinese go-getters might think that a meal in McDonald’s puts them in a class above, but in its two major markets of North America and Europe, where the firm derives over two-thirds of all revenue, the food is considered unhealthy. Indeed, both Canada and the UK considered imposing a tax on fatty foods on the grounds that it was damaging to people’s health and it osts the health-care system a substantial amount. The tax is unlikely to be imposed because of a strong backlash from poverty groups who argue that this tax would place an uneven burden on those who depend on cheap food for their everyday survival. In the United States, the firm is being sued over claims that it misled parents about the nutritional value of its products, leading their children to become obese and unhealthy. McDonald’s in the UK reacted by eliminating supersized options from the menu. A set of healthier options has now been introduced in Europe and North America as the company fends off critics in some of its friendliest markets.

The Environment of International Business

Cultures vary and these variations lead to real and significant differences in the ways that companies operate and people work.

Moreover, because of globalization more and more firms are coming head to head with the added complexity of doing business globally, which stems from the huge amount of variety in the world that still exists (and arguably will always exist). Before moving on to examine some typologies of global cultures, here is a word of warning. Much of this section will describe how various kinds of individual and group behavior can be linked to specific cultural groups and associate these cultural dispositions with different business styles and company structures.

Acting on the basis of cultural stereotypes is highly sensitive and can be problematic. For example, at the simplest level a banker may be able to prove empirically that Pakistanis are more successful than Jamaicans at starting and running small businesses around the world. Using this insight as the basis for discriminating against Jamaicans wanting bank loans for business start-ups is not only unethical, but in most countries falls foul of race discrimination laws.

National Stereotypes and Key Dimensions of Culture

There are traditionally two different approaches to looking at culture: psychic distance .The psychic or psychological level, which focuses on the internalized norms, attitudes, and behavior of individuals from a particular culture (psychic distance is a measure of differences between groups). A measure of the similarity or difference between two cultures; also commonly ¦ The institutional level, which looks at national (or group) culture embodied in defined as the measurable institutions (government, education, and economic institutions as well as in business distance between the home rganizations). market and a foreign market resulting from the perception In this chapter we will mainly discuss the first, culture as shared psychology, with a brief of cultural and business differences reference to national institutional differences at the end. People who are born in, or grew up in, the same country tend to share similar cultural characteristics. Nordstrom and Valhne examined a sample of Swedish firms to understand the effects of psychic distance on market-entry strategies and costs. They ranked 20 particular countries according to a range of national characteristics that contribute to psychic distance and found, as you might expect, that Denmark is closest to Sweden (1/20), the UK comes in at 6/20, Portugal at 15/20, Japan 16/20, Brazil 17/20 and Australia 20/20. Nationality and culture tend to coincide, although nations encompass a wide variety of institutions, religions, beliefs, and patterns of behavior, and distinctive subcultures can always be found within individual countries. The only way to make sense of this wide diversity is to characterize distinct cultural groups through simplified national stereotypes.

Many studies have attempted to create these stereotypes by mapping and comparing the shared characteristics of managers and employees in different countries. 7 Researchers then examine the effects of key differences on business behavior, organization, structure, and ultimately the performance of companies from different countries. The following describes the milestone studies of this kind in the management field. Hofstede’s four dimensions of culture Geert Hofstede is a Dutch psychologist who conducted one of the earliest and best-known cultural studies in management, on IBM’s operations in 70 countries around the world.

Hofstede’s power distance against individualism for 20 countries Source: Hofstede, G. (1983). The cultural relativity of organizational practices and theories, Journal of International Business Studies, Fall, p. 92. Copyright © Geert Hofstede. Getting answers to 32 statements from over 116,000 questionnaires, he mapped key cultural characteristics of these countries according to four value dimensions: Power distance A cultural dimension that measures the degree to hich less powerful members of organizations and institutions accept the fact that power is not distributed equally Uncertainty avoidance The extent to which people feel threatened by ambiguous situations and have created institutions and beliefs for minimizing or avoiding those uncertainties Individualism The tendency of people to look after themselves and their immediate family only Masculinity The degree to which the dominant values of a society are success, money, and material things 1 Power distance is the extent to which a culture accepts that power in organizations is distributed unequally.

High power distance equates with steep organizational hierarchies, with more autocratic leadership and less employee participation in decision making (see Figure 5. 2 for examples). 2 Uncertainty avoidance is the degree to which members of a society feel uncomfortable with risk and uncertainty. High uncertainty avoidance (Japan, Argentina, France) will be reflected in the high priority placed on rituals, routines, and procedures in organizations and society in general. Countries with low uncertainty avoidance (Denmark, UK, India, US) tend to emphasize flexibility and informality rather than bureaucracy. Individualism is the extent to which people are supposed to take care of themselves and be emotionally independent from others (see Figure 5. 2 for examples). 4 Masculinity is the value attributed to achievement, assertiveness, and material success (Japan, Mexico, Germany, UK) as opposed to the stereotypical feminine values of relationships, modesty, caring, and the quality of life (Sweden, Netherlands, Denmark), according to Hofstede. Figure 5. 2 illustrates some of Hofstede’s findings using two of the most useful dimensions, power distance against the degree of individualism/collectivism.

It reflects some general stereotypes of the countries included, with clear grouping of Australia, UK and US as highly individualistic and less hierarchical (small power distance) cultures against Mexico, Thailand, and Panama at the other extreme. We will elaborate on these definitions and their practical interpretation throughout this chapter. Among his most important contributions, Hofstede provided strong evidence for the significance of national culture over professional role, gender, or race, as a determinant of variation in employees’ attitudes, values, and behaviors, accounting for 50 percent .

The Environment of International Business differences his study observed. However, his studies have come in for significant criticism, despite widespread adoption of the four-dimensional framework. Three common criticisms are: (1) that the dimensions developed from data collected between 1968 and 1973 were relevant only for that particular period; (2) that corporate cultural and other influences from this one-organization (IBM) study created significant bias; (3) that the sole use of attitude-survey questionnaires was not a valid basis for the resulting values and dimensions his study concluded with. Although Hofstede has continued to write on culture, organizations, and management10 it is useful to look more deeply into the work of another well-known Dutch culture guru. Trompenaars’ seven dimensions of culture Universalism The uniform application of rules and procedures, regardless of situation, context, or individuals involved Particularism Judging a situation and adjusting rules and procedures according to the specific situation or individuals involved Collectivism The tendency of people to belong to groups who look after each other in xchange for loyalty Neutral A preference for unemotional, objective analysis of a situation or a decision and for limited displays of emotions and feelings in the workplace Emotional An acceptance of emotion and subjectivity as the bases for some decision making and a preference for explicit displays of emotions and feelings in the workplace Specific A tendency to limit workplace relationships and obligations, including relative status and hierarchical position, to the workplace Diffuse A tendency for workplace relationships and obligations, including relative tatus and hierarchical position, to extend into social situations and activities outside of work 138 Fons Trompenaars built on Hofstede’s work by expanding the framework for stereotyping and comparing different national cultures and by focusing more on the management implications of cultural differences. Using initial research involving 15,000 employees in 50 countries, Trompenaars explored the “cultural extremes and the incomprehension that can arise when doing business across cultures,” even when people are working for the same company. 1 Trompenaars arrived at seven distinctive dimensions of culture and used the questionnaire responses in his study to map a wide variety of countries along a continuum from one extreme to the other within each dimension. The key to understanding this mapping approach is to identify where each country or culture is positioned relative to others on one or more of these dimensions. Relative positioning gives insights into the kinds of conflicts, misunderstandings, and organizational and management problems that are likely to arise when individuals, groups, or firms from these countries interact in any of the ways described above. Universalism versus particularism. In universalistic cultures rules and regulations are applied in all situations, regardless of particular conditions or circumstances. The example used by Trompenaars refers to a salesman who does not fulfill his monthly sales quota because he was looking after his sick son. Should he be penalized according to standard company regulations or should he be excused because of the particular circumstances? According to Trompenaars’ findings, Switzerland, Canada, and the United States are among the most universalist. Australia and the UK are also toward this end of the scale.

Germany is closer to the center, as is France, but the latter sits on the particularist side of the scale. Korea, Russia, and China are the most particularist of countries. (Note that some of the countries studied by Hofstede, like the strongly particularist Yugoslavia, no longer exist. ) 2 Individualism versus collectivism. This dimension, clearly building on Hofstede, centers on whether individual rights and values are dominant or subordinate to those of the collective society. The most individualist countries are Canada, the United States, Switzerland, and the UK.

Among the most collectivist are Japan, Egypt, and India (and Nepal and Kuwait). 3 Neutral versus emotional. This reflects how much emotions are displayed in the workplace. More importantly it indicates whether emotional or subjective (rather than objective) forms of assessment are thought to be the basis for good decision making in organizations. Some organizations emphasize reports, data, and analytical decision making by managers, whereas others feel that opinions, intuition, and gut feelings are credible or valid criteria.

Predictably the most emotional countries include Italy and France and the least emotional groups (in the workplace at least) are the Japanese, Germans, Swiss, Chinese, and Indonesians. Specific versus diffuse. Do work relationships (such as the hierarchical relationship between a senior manager and a subordinate) exist just in the workplace (are they  or do they extend into the social context outside the workplace (diffuse)? Here a telling example is whether an employee is willing to help paint a senior manager’s house over a weekend.

Clearly Australian bosses are likely to get a characteristically blunt answer to this request! China, Japan, India, and Singapore display highly diffuse relationships, Australia and the Netherlands the most specific. Achievement oriented Where status is earned rather than a right; recruitment and promotion opportunities tend to be more dependent on performance, as in a meritocracy Ascription oriented Where status is more of a right than earned; recruitment and promotion opportunities tend to be more dependent on seniority, ethnicity, gender, religion, or birth Sequential

Cultures that view time in a sequential or linear fashion; order comes from separating activities and commitments Synchronic Cultures that view events in parallel over time; order comes from coordinating multiple activities and commitments 5 Achievement versus ascription. This dimension refers to one’s status within organizations, contrasting those cultures where status, credibility, authority, and ultimately power tend to be based on merit (achieved) against those where class, gender, education, or age tend to be the defining characteristics (status is ascribed).

Countries where status tends to be ascribed include Egypt, Turkey, and Argentina (and slightly less so, Russia, Japan, and France), and those where it is achieved include Norway, Sweden, and predictably the United States, Australia, Canada, and the UK. 6 Attitudes toward time. Sequential (time as a sequence of events) versus synchronic (several events juggled at the same time) views of time tend to relate to punctuality for meetings and deadlines. Swedes and other northern European cultures tend to be punctual and plan according to specific timetables.

Many southern European, Latin American, and Arabic cultures see punctuality and chronological precision as far less important. They also tend to naturally cope with a range of issues simultaneously, rather than one by one. 7 Attitudes toward the environment. This dimension reflects the emphasis a particular culture places on people’s relationship with nature and the natural environment. On the one hand some cultures emphasize control and subjugation of environmental forces, whereas others emphasize the need to work with nature, in harmony with the environment.

Clearly religious and philosophical differences around the world influence differences within this dimension. Trompenaars’ seven dimensions have been used in a variety of ways to gain insights into the kinds of problems that might arise in the contexts (face to face, company to company, and company to customer) outlined in Figure 5. 1. In general they indicate the organizational characteristics we can expect from firms based in particular countries or dominated by certain nationalities. They are also used to measure changes in cultural values and behavior over time.

Research shows that in both Japan and China, for example, achievement orientation is on the increase alongside some elements of individualism. 12 The Japanese are moving away from a reliance on collectivism in the form of the state, large firms, and group associations and placing more value on personal responsibility and individual performance. In China there is a shift in companies toward performance-related rewards and individual initiative, built on the changing views of the growing urban elite.

But there are also wider concerns regarding the social costs as well as the benefits of self-interest. The GLOBE project’s nine dimensions of culture More recent research has built on the Hofstede and Trompenaars research. The Global Leadership and Organizational Behavior Effectiveness (GLOBE) project began in 1992 and continues today. It has involved 150 researchers collecting data on cultural values and management and leadership attributes from 18,000 managers across 62 countries in the telecommunications, food, and banking industries. 3 In the same way as Hofstede and Trompenaars before them, the researchers place countries along a standard 1 to 7 scale. The GLOBE project, however, ends up with nine key cultural dimensions: 1 Assertiveness. The United States, Austria, Germany, and Greece are high; Sweden, Japan, and New Zealand are low. 2 Future orientation. A propensity for planning, investing, delayed gratification: Singapore, Switzerland, and the Netherlands are high; Russia, Argentina, and Italy are low.

Gender differentiation. The degree to which gender role differences are maximized: South Korea, Egypt, India, and the China are high; Hungary, Poland, and Denmark are low. 4 Uncertainty avoidance. A reliance on societal norms and procedures to improve predictability, a preference for order, structure, and formality: Sweden, Switzerland, and Germany are high; Russia, Bolivia, and Greece are low. 5 Power distance. Russia, Thailand, and Spain are high; Denmark, the Netherlands, and Israel are low. 6 Institutional collectivism (individualism vs. ollectivism). Promoting active participation in social institutions: Sweden, South Korea, and Japan are high; Greece, Argentina, and Italy are low. 7 In-group/family collectivism. A pride in small-group membership, family, close friends, etc. : Iran, India, and China are high; Denmark, Sweden, and New Zealand are low. 8 Performance orientation (much like achievement orientation). Singapore, Hong Kong, and the United States are high; Russia, Argentina, and Italy are low. Humane orientation Cultures that emphasize helping others, charity, and eople’s wider social obligations 9. Humane orientation. An emphasis on fairness, altruism, and generosity: Ireland, Malaysia, and Egypt are high; Germany, Spain, France, Singapore, and Brazil are low. As you can see, many of these dimensions match those of Hofstede and Trompenaars, and the overall GLOBE framework is very much an extension of their approach. The GLOBE researchers have examined the HRM implications of these cultural differences for practicing managers and looked at ways to avoid the pitfalls of ignorance and insensitivity. 4 A similar long-running study by the CRANET network has focused on European cultural differences and reports similar findings. 15 As with the other cultural mapping studies by Hofstede and Trompenaars, GLOBE has faced some critical appraisal, which helps us understand the strengths and weaknesses of its concluding framework. A recent set of debates has usefully raised some methodological issues associated with these kinds of studies, and provides interesting points of contention we should be aware of, rather than blindly accepting the above kind of research. 6 Applying the national culture frameworks Different styles of communication and interaction result from the cultural differences listed above. These can lead to workplace misunderstandings, poor interpersonal and intergroup relationships, inefficiency, and higher costs. Three examples provide some insights into how we can apply the above typologies. US managers, according to all of the above studies, are highly assertive and performance oriented relative to managers from other parts of the world (they come around the midpoint on all the other dimensions).

Their interaction style is characteristically direct and explicit. They tend to use facts, figures, and logic to link specific steps to measurable outcomes, and this is the main focus of workplace interaction. Greeks and Russians are less individualistic, less performance oriented, and show lower levels of uncertainty avoidance (are less driven by procedures) than the Americans. When Russian and Greek managers, employees, customers, suppliers, or public-sector officials interact with US counterparts, they may well find their approach too direct and results focused.

For them communication is likely to be more about mutual learning and an exploration of relevant issues than an explicit agreement about specific expectations and end results. Similarly, the Swedes may find the US style too aggressive and unfriendly, working against the relationship-building process that for them is a major objective of workplace interaction. The Koreans and Japanese have highly gender-differentiated societies with males tending to dominate decision making and leading most face-to-face communication. T


A belief in the superiority of one’s own ethnic group; the dominance of the homecountry culture in decision making, human resource management, and overall corporate culture in a multinational firm for discussion is likely set by males, and traditional language forms differ according to whether a man is addressing a woman or an older person talking to a younger person, and vice versa. Gender- (and age-)related roles, responsibilities, and behaviors are therefore deeply embedded in language and customs. 7 Poland and Denmark lie at the other end of the continuum on the gender-differentiation dimension. Perhaps even more than other Western managers, their lack of awareness of this cultural difference runs the risk of both embarrassing female employees and offending and alienating senior Japanese male managers. This kind of clash can make negotiations and interaction of all kinds between these groups that much more difficult. Certain kinds of HRM techniques are inappropriate for organizations that show high power distance ratings.

Companies and management consultancies in the UK, the United States, and northern European countries have developed fairly participative management systems to improve productivity, based on their characteristically low power distance and flat organizational hierarchies. Techniques such as 360-degree feedback systems for developing management–employee relationships are not likely to work, however, in Mexican, Panamanian, Thai, or Russian organizations, which have high power distance and steep hierarchies.

Subordinates are uncomfortable being asked to evaluate senior managers, and managers would not see subordinates as qualified to comment on their performance. More than this, to employees in some countries this kind of consultation can give the impression that senior managers do not know what they are doing! The employees may lose faith in senior management’s ability and leave! None of the above examples means that international managers should (or ever could) entirely change their behavior to suit local values and practices.

Like many of the challenges facing managers, cultural sensitivity and cross-cultural effectiveness come from striking a balance between one’s own norms, values, and principles and those of the “foreigner. ” The lesson for multinational firms is that ethnocentric corporate cultures and completely standardized HR systems do not work. The key challenge is to adapt to get the best from local differences. ? Active learning check Review your answer to Active Learning Case question 2 and make any changes you like. Then compare your answer to the one below. 2

How well do the characteristics described in the case match the respective, stereotypical national cultures of these countries? According to the above frameworks they match reasonably well. The US culture is characterized as individualistic, achievement/performance oriented, and assertive. Most of these traits clash with the “feminine” (in Hofstede’s characterization) values of relationships, modesty, caring, and the quality of life emphasized by the Swedes. Hofstede finds US managers less hierarchical than most cultures, which is not indicated in the Pharmacia–Upjohn case. However, as Figure 5. shows, both countries have a low power distance and high individualism rating, relative to other countries, but the United States has slightly higher power distance (steeper management hierarchy) than Sweden. Sweden also has a relatively high uncertainty avoidance ranking, preferring order, structure, and formality, which does not stand out in the case study. Swedes are also high on institutional collectivism but low on family or small-group collectivism. The Italians are the opposite. Unlike the Americans, the Italians are not at all oriented toward achievement (Trompenaars) or performance (GLOBE).

They are also more emotional than the Swedes and Americans according to Hofstede and have a relatively low future orientation .

The Environment of International Business

“The way we do things here”: the implications of cultural differences for organizations and managers Mapping out a variety of national cultural typologies using the various dimensions of culture described above gives us some insights into the kinds of differences that exist among different groups of managers, employees, and organizations.

Two key questions about the role of the individual in a firm and the role of a firm in a society from Trompenaars’ study give us a starting point to explore the management implications of cultural differences. The responses in Figure 5. 3 reflect the degree of support for the particular proposition A or B for each of these questions. Americans clearly display what has been termed (originally by the sociologist Max Weber) a mechanistic and functional view of the firm as an organization (A) and a shareholderdriven, profit-oriented view of this organization in society (although more than half the US vote in Figure 5. was for option B). The Japanese tend to have a more organic view of the firm, emphasizing the importance of social networks and the obligation of the firm to a wider constituency of stakeholders (although this is a characteristic of traditional Japan that has been strongly tested in the recent recessionary environment). A wide range of factors within organizations are influenced directly or indirectly by the cultural predispositions of managers and employees. We know from the above studies and a wide range of other research that these factors include: The general relationship between employees and the organization: their roles and responsibilities, obligations, and loyalties and the link this has with life outside the workplace.

Hierarchy, power and authority, and the accepted routes to attaining these, including factors that underpin status and credibility in different societies and organizations. The role of formal rules and regulations versus the informal communication, personal networks, and hidden “rules of the game. ” The accepted basis for decision making, including rationale, scientific, mechanistic, and objective versus subjective, tacit, rule of thumb, etc. The degree to which employees act and are treated as individuals or groups and the role of interpersonal relationships.  Motivation and rewards systems. Interaction and communication mechanisms. Work attitudes and the appropriate management of work attitudes have a significant influence on productivity and innovativeness in a company. Managers and employees who are motivated by their core social values to work hard and continually strive to improve their company’s products and services and the processes by which they are produced are clearly a source of competitive advantage. It is interesting to note how social norms may drive a strong work ethic despite individual dissatisfaction with workload or job responsibilities.

This has been shown in several companies between US and Japanese factory workers where the Japanese are found to be more loyal and aligned with company objectives but far less satisfied individually. 18 Table 5. 2 compares interview responses from sample workforces in seven countries. The resulting ranking of what it is that employees value most from their jobs shows that “interesting work” is what tends to engage most people, beyond everything else.

Three key areas capture many of the factors covered by the above typologies and cultural stereotypes, where cultural differences can make a significant difference at the company-tocompany and face-to-face levels. These are organization, leadership, and communication (see Figure 5. 4). Organization Organization styles range from organic, informal, or people oriented to systematic or mechanistic, formal, or task oriented, in keeping with some common organizational dimensions described by sociologists throughout history (such as Max Weber and Emile Durkheim).

Organizations that operate very much around personal relationships and social networks contrast those that are much more functional and logical. In fact different cultures and different firms display elements of both these characteristics, but the balance varies considerably and can create tensions when groups of people or firms from different ends of the spectrum interact or try to cooperate. As an aid to predicting differences among individuals, groups, or firms, and understanding the significance of these variations, relative differences among countries, organizations, and groups of people are important, rather than any absolute scores.

For example, family companies are characteristically directive, individual oriented but organic. Multinational firms are usually more autocratic and mechanistic. Consulting and professional services firms are often mechanistic and emphasize individual performance and rewards but may also be fairly team oriented. Entrepreneurial new ventures will usually be organic, unsystematic, and group oriented. Leadership Leadership styles range from individual oriented, directive, autocratic, top down, or authoritarian to group oriented, participative, democratic, bottom up, or egalitarian.

Again, cultural groups and corporations often encompass both kinds of leadership but tend to reflect one dominant style. Individual managers from cultures that score high on the power distance or assertiveness dimensions are likely to be viewed by those from other cultures as autocratic and directive but will tend to view others as indecisive and too compromising. They will not want to spend too much time discussing issues to achieve a consensus. If they also reflect an organic  or informal (low uncertainty avoidance) culture, this will result in an instinctive or unsystematic decision-making and implementation style, and they might be viewed as an unpredictable autocrat. This contrasts the combination of high power distance and high uncertainty avoidance, which results in a more directive and mechanistic style. Such leaders prefer established formal routines and a command-and-control bureaucracy, while other managers are likely to see this as over-regulated and inflexible.

The Pharmacia and Upjohn case demonstrates a range of these styles and the problems that result from the imposition of a new style of organization and leadership within a corporate merger. Communication Culture clash When two cultural groups (national or corporate) meet, interact, or work together and differences in their values, beliefs, rules of behavior, or styles of communication create misunderstandings, antagonism, or other problems Clearly, at the face-to-face level language differences can be the most prominent barrier to communication and therefore to cooperation and coordination.

English speakers tend to have an advantage in many situations since English has emerged as the main language of business globally. However, this has led to complacency among some indigenous English speakers, notably the British and the North Americans. First, less effort is often made to learn other languages and their associated cultures, which normally limits a manager’s understanding of foreign colleagues, workers, or customers. Second, the assumption is often made that once the language barrier is broken cultural differences are also removed, whereas these may emain, causing miscommunication and misinterpretation. As for much of this chapter on culture, preparation and awareness are the best starting points for minimizing differences that can create problems. It is through efficient communication that two parties steer toward an understanding— a mutually agreed basis for doing business. The signs and signals on this route to an understanding are strongly influenced by culture. Different groups have different ways of displaying approval or of showing frustration in negotiations and different ideas of what constitutes a final agreement.

The Japanese do not really have an equivalent word for the English “no” and indicate disapproval in a range of non-verbal ways. The Japanese word hai does mean “yes” but it often means “yes, I understand what you are saying” not “yes, I agree with what you are saying. ” Germans place a lot of emphasis on written communications and documented evidence rather than verbal interaction, compared to the Spanish and Italians to whom verbal interaction and agreement is recognized as binding in some contexts.

The Americans prefer legal contracts and have armies of lawyers to make agreements highly specified. Other, more organic business cultures tend to work toward a relationship in which trust and understanding replace the need for legally binding contracts. Again, awareness through preparation and anticipation of differences is the best starting point for avoiding culture clash. The corporate response How have MNEs responded to the challenge of managing across cultural boundaries?

What kinds of organization structures, HRM procedures, and corporate cultures have been developed to cope with the enormous differences among people and to unify this diversity toward a common purpose? At a very general level good transnational firms develop an awareness and appreciation of cultural differences among their managers and employees. They also take steps to encourage adaptation of personal behavior or organizational practices, or products and services, to suit the changing mix of cultures within the firm, in subsidiaries and in key markets. Training programs, including a range of activities at the induction stage, when new ecruits join a firm or existing personnel take up a role in a new country, are a standard way for firms to do these things. Job rotation, with a focus on developing international managers with personal experience in a variety of different countries, is also practiced by a number of firms.

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International Culture The Environment of International Business. (2017, Apr 20). Retrieved from

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