Kelly’s Assignment in Japan Case Answers

Last Updated: 14 Feb 2023
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The American and Japanese cultures have been compared in a general context for their contrasting values.

In addition, the two cultures have been described as ‘‘polar extremes’’ by Barnlund (1975) as stated by (Khan et al. 2009) , pointing to Japanese being reserved and formal whereas the American being self-assertive and informal. When accepting assignments in foreign countries as expatriates, cultural differences are important to consider. More importantly, cross-cultural management is a matter an expatriate should be prepared for and which the company should give importance to. In this case, Kelly an American employee, who is a programme manager working in the US accepted an assignment in Tokyo, Japan.

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She had little time to decide but she accepted the offer and the family moved to Tokyo. This report starts with explaining the stages of culture shock the family experienced. The report then summarizes the cultural clashes that took place in the case which were a result of cultural differences and lack of orientation, preparation and training. After that, the report highlights the factors Kelly should have considered before accepting the offer and gives recommendations on how the company should have offered this international assignment.

Finally, suggestions of what can be done to remedy the situation are proposed.

Culture Shock Stages Reflection

(Answer to Second Question) Culture Shock as defined by the oxford dictionary is “the feeling of disorientation experienced by someone when they are suddenly subjected to an unfamiliar culture, way of life, or set of attitudes”. Culture Shock occurs in four main stages, which are clearly illustrated by Oberg’s U-Curve model (Refer to Appendix 1).

Black and Mendenhall (1991) point out that it is the most commonly used model; therefore, it is utilized to analyze the culture shock stages Kelly and her family went through as follows: Stage One: The honeymoon stage is when individuals feel positive when being in a different culture. This took place when the family arrived and spent the weekend looking at the city. It was a holiday and positive feeling phase. This stage is also reflected on Kelly’s first day at work and her Husband’s first day setting up their new life in Japan. Their encouragement to become acquainted is a reflection of the honeymoon stage.

According to Uwaje (2009) the person in this stage can be described as interested, curious and open-minded. Stage Two: The crises stage occurs “when cultural differences result in problems at work, home and in daily living” (Deresky, 2011). This stage started to take place at the second working day when Kelly felt irritated by the Japanese because she did not receive the presentations. Moreover, all family members were experiencing this stage as feelings of rejection to the life style in Japan arose. In this case, the associations linked to the crises stage can be divided into two kinds.

The first is work and school related, seeing that all family members are experiencing problems related to their professional lives. Likewise, language was a difficulty since differences in language may present a huge barrier as noted by Uwaje (2009). Language was an obstacle to Kelly’s children adjusting at school, Joe getting a job and Kelly communication complications. The second was home and daily life related. This included entertainment facilities (TV, Parks), social life, and even basics of life (food, language). A negative atmosphere was the feeling the family was experiencing.

It is known that many individuals do not bypass this stage. Moreover, McFarland (2006) reported that 40% of expatriates fail to complete their abroad assignment. In this case, the crises stage lasted for 4 months. Kelly then realized that she had to make a decision between rejecting or accepting the assignment. Kelly and her family are experiencing a phase between the second and third stages of the cultural shock. Stage Three and Four: The Adjustment and Biculturalism stages are when individuals start to comprehend the new culture then accept and respect the cultural variations.

Kelly is deciding on whether to adjust or not. If the family continues then they would move to the third stage. However, if they leave then they would not reach the third and fourth stages.

Assessment of Clashes

(Answer to First Question) Being in a different culture may result in clashes because peoples’ expectations, interpretations and values differ. In this case, many clashes occurred during the early culture shock stages with the Japanese but not the American or German team members whom values are similar to Kelly’s (Refer to Appendix 2 A and B).

The clashes are linked to the differences between the American and Japanese national cultures. Therefore, Hofstede’s and Trompenaar’s frameworks are deployed to evaluate the clashes (Refer to Table Appendix 3) since these frameworks provide an excellent basis for understanding cultural differences (Higgs, 1994). These clashes can be seen when Kelly requested for separate presentations from every team member. This revealed the Japanese collective, high context and masculine culture and how different it is from the American culture.

Moreover, the Americans and Germans ,being affective cultures, accepted to talk about their achievements and families whereas the Japanese did not as they were more neutral and formal. In addition, Japan is known for its power distance culture where formalities especially with clients and employees who are of higher-level is a must. Adding to that, getting direct to business is accepted in the US due to its universalistic culture but not in Japan’s particulistic culture. The culture in Japan is also high context seeing that rejecting Kelly’s proposal was done in a nonverbal and implicit communication manner.

The cultural clashes were also a result of unexpected living space, demographics and qualifications creating many conflicts. It can also be argued that if a Japanese colleague joined Kelly’s meeting with the client, a better negotiation outcome may have been a result. This is because understanding the client’s culture plays a crucial role in the negotiation process (Deresky, 2011). Clashes were also related to the leisure aspect of life. In short, many cultural clashes due to both cultures different values arose throughout the case.

Successful International Assignments

Answer to Third Question) In this case both Kelly, and the company should have considered key factors to insure a successful international assignment as explained below: Employee Kelly should have given the decision more thought and time and should have asked for training. Moreover, she should have insured that there is a position for her husband and asked about the kids’ school while she was in the US. For instance, setting a video conference with the school’s management and class teachers could have been a way of knowing the atmosphere she will put her children in.

Furthermore, a circulation of the team members CVs and setting a video conference with the team was necessary to avoid any misunderstandings regarding the team members’ demographics and qualifications. In addition, she should have planned for her life when they come back from Japan. Kelly should have asked about her position when she comes back and should have put her house on rent. Company Kelly was offered a tempting compensation package and her technical skills were considered when selecting her, but many key factors were not taken into consideration in the selection and training phases of this assignment.

An expatriate selection must consider key success factors including, technical and management skills, one’s personality, emotional intelligence, adaptability and language (Parboteeah and Cullen, 2011). Moreover, training must consider several factors including employee orientation, concerned individuals orientation and perceptual and cultural toughness (Mndenhall and Oddou, 1985). The company should also follow up with the employee while they are in the foreign company and insure that repatriation is well planned (McFarland, 2006).

In short, the company should have followed an IHRM model to select, prepare and train Kelly and the concerned individuals minimizing failure risk.

Suggestions to Remedy the Situation

(Answer to Forth Question) Kelly has two options; she can return to the US or continue her assignment in Japan. If Kelly chooses to return then she is taking the risk of loosing her job knowing that her husband already resigned and they sold their house. Therefore, Kelly may be in a better situation if she chooses to continue. She can look at her assignment in Japan as an opportunity that enhances her career path.

Her management issues can be tackled, especially that she is now aware of the cultural differences. Kelly must request from the company to follow up with her and provide her and the team with comprehensive cross-cultural management training to avoid clashes and misunderstandings between team members, especially in the encoding and decoding of the communication process between the team members (Kwar, 2012). In terms of her husband, he would be searching for a job whether in Japan or the US. The advantage of being in Japan is that his wife’s job is secure and the company indicated that they would support his job search.

With regards to the children, the parents can explain to them the benefits of living in Japan. Inviting the children’s classmates may assist in overcoming the social discomfort the children are experiencing at school. The issues of the after school life can be resolved by subscribing with an American TV programs provider allowing them to watch the US programs. Moreover, the family can use a video calling system to interact with their family and friends and can arrange regular visits to the US. In short, taking corrective actions to support the success of the assignment is how to remedy the situation.


Accepting an international assignment means agreeing to deal with a different culture from the employee’s home one. The selection, preparation and training of a potential expatriate are key factors that reflect on the success of the international assignment. Failure to implement these factors may result in clashes in culture and the employee may not bypass the crises stage of the culture shock stages resulting is failure to achieve the company’s and employee’s goals.


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Appendix 1

Figure of Culture Shock Stages Source: http://www. munich-business-school. de/intercultural/index. php/Image:Stages_of_culture_shock. jpg Appendix 2 Figure A: Comparison of USA and Japan Hofstede’s Value Dimensions Source: http://geert-hofstede. com/united-states. tml Figure B: Comparison of USA and Germany Hofstede’s Value Dimensions Source: http://geert-hofstede. com/united-states. html Appendix 3 Illustration of Hofstede’s , and Trompenaars’s frameworks with regards to comparing the American and Japanese national cultures. (Deresky, 2011) and (Parboteeah and Cullen , 2011). The table demonstrates the dimensions each research tested. It then states the scores or levels the USA and Japan were given and explains the clash or conflict that took place in Kelly’s Assignment Dimension | USA: Score and DescriptionJapan: Score and Description Clash  Hofstede’s Model of National Culture

Power Distance “Individuals in societies are not equal” Score: 40Hierarchy is for convenience as the manager or boss is accessible. S/he depends on employees’ expertise. Moreover, communication is informal.  Score: 54 Japan is a mildly hierarchical society compared to other Asian cultures. |Kelly being informal with the Japanese Client was not acceptable. This is seen when she asked for his name, was close to him in terms of distance and patted him on the back. Kelly being friendly with the client creating an embarrassing atmosphere. | Individualism/Collectivism “I” or “We”Score: 91 Individual achievement is seen ideal.

Moreover, as Americans do business with strangers so often, they tend not to be shy to approach people in the business world in order to obtain information. They are expected to take initiatives.  Scores: 46 Group decision making is perceived as best. Japanese society is a collectivist one where they work as a group and even decide as a group.  The Japanese employees did not feel motivated when Kelly asked them to present their ideas individually because they come from a culture where consensus plays a major role when making decisions.

Kelly comes from an individualistic culture where achievement is all about “me” and presenting one’s own ideas is an opportunity to achieve recognition. The Japanese culture is collective and they work in groups unlike America’s culture which is more individualistic.  Masculinity / Femininity| Score: 62Americans believe that a person should strive to be the best and find it acceptable to talk about one’s achievements. | Score: 95Japan is known to be one of the most masculine societies worldwide. It is difficult for the Japanese to accept a female boss.

The team didn’t expect Kelly, the new boss, to me a female. The Japanese addressed their work to Peter instead of Kelly. This is due to either Kelly being a female in a masculine culture or because Kelly asked peter to intervene and they took it sensitively. The client did not direct his questions to Kelly might be because Japan’s culture is masculine.  Uncertainty Avoidance    Score: 46 Americans accept the unknown meaning the society accepts: Innovation, new ideas and new practices.  Score: 92 Japan score is one of the highest worldwide. It is difficult to see changes in their culture. Opportunity: For Kelly as an American, it’s easier to adjust to a new culture than others who score high in uncertainty avoidance. This includes the Japanese ideas at work, food and lifestyle. |Long-term Orientation | Score: 29 USA is a short-term oriented culture. Americans value quick results at work.  Score: 80 Japan is a long-term oriented culture. Long-term returns are more important than short-term returns).  This dimension may have not been taken into consideration when Kelly finalized the report and may have been a reason on why the proposal was rejected. 7 d Cultural Dimensions Model by Trompenaars|

Universalism versus Particularism| US is high in applying rules and systems  Japan is low and deals with others based on personal relationships| Kelly wanted to present directly instead of first building a relationship with the client. However , getting direct to business in the US business world is accepted due to its universalistic culture but not in Japan due to its particulistic culture.  Neutral versus Affective “Express emotions even in business” 54 US medium| 98 Japan very high and consider expressing feelings at work unprofessional| Kelly created an awkward situation when she asked the Japanese about their families.

The result of being informal with them was opposite to lightning up the atmosphere which is what Kelly was trying to do.  Specific versus Diffuse “separate work from personal issues and relationships and more open and direct” 77 US is highly specific 57 Japan medium The outing after work wasn’t accepted by Kelly as she comes from a highly specific culture Achievement versus Ascription 97 Status is based on achievement 53 Status is based on class, age, gender etc. Kelly is not seen as having the authority by the Japanese because of her gender Past , Present, Future or mixture US is future oriented which implies that change is beneficial  Not applicable to the case Control of versus Nature Not applicable to the case Not applicable to the case  Individualism 77 6 Mentioned in Hofstede Dimensions High verses Low Context US is low Japan is High The Japanese did not inform Kelly that they prefer to do work in groups, they did not give previous notice about the presentation delay.

They did not speak about the way they prefer to work and used body language more than word expressions. The client had little eye contact with Kelly and was not frank with her regarding his opinion on whether they will accept the proposal or not.

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