Distinctive Features of Intercultural Management

Distinctive Features of Intercultural Management

Before we delineate the distinctive features of intercultural management, it may be relevant to appreciate why interest in this domain has arisen. Saturation of companies' traditional markets has necessitated that companies venture farther afield to be profitable. Multinational corporations originating from Germany and Switzerland, for instance, found that they could not induce the populace of their own countries to purchase more than they already were doing. Thus Nestl had to locate new markets to sell Nescaf . India for example, with its population of one billion, became a destination for Nestl to have operations. At the same time, several jobs were made available to Indians in India. A certain mutual dependency was thus created between Nestl and India. However, since competing brands of coffee also exist in the Indian market, Nestl needs India more than India needs Nestl . It was therefore in Nestl 's best interests to gain expertise in intercultural management. It found that India has a pool of managerial talent that it could tap effectively. It was also cost effective for Nestl to recruit Indian managers for India. The Indian managers had first-hand knowledge of the Indian consumer, which proved to be to Nestl 's advantage.

Swisscom, another Swiss company, which is a provider of basic telephone services, also entered the Indian market but had to pull out, because it had no understanding of intercultural management. It had no knowledge of how to face the considerable competition in the Indian telephony business or how to gain an initial consumer base for its product. The brand equity it had built up in Switzerland for quality was not known in India. Unfortunately, Swisscom had believed that since the company was well established in Switzerland it would not have to fight for brand acceptance in India. The company had not been prepared to learn first in a new culture, and then develop and grow. It also lacked employees with widened cultural horizons.

Employees with widened cultural horizons are adept at finding ways of assimilating new approaches to management and to life. They also like to indicate to people that they are capable of such assimilation. This becomes evident in their speech, not in terms of the use of a foreign language, although this is a great aid in assimilation, but in the way they use references to matters of local interest when talking to people. This involves developing a taste for local interests. A manager who is a sports enthusiast may like to follow football events while in Europe, and cricket events when in the Indian subcontinent or Australia. Common interests always serve to bring people closer together. Bill Clinton is an example of an individual who can connect with diverse peoples. When making public speeches he generally refers to issues, events and metaphors that have particular appeal for the specific audience he is addressing. When visiting India in late 1999, he often referred to the Taj Mahal, both literally and metaphorically, as a symbol of love. Likewise, when visiting Ireland in early 1999, he referred to sayings of Irish poets like WB Yeats.

Intercultural management thus concerns itself with how individuals can connect with others, even if those others are from culturally different backgrounds. It also gives importance to going beyond the Hofstede model, which can lead to cultural stereotyping. The Hofstede model, though useful as a starting point for discussion, is too gross in its categorization to have validity at the level of the individual. Intercultural management gives attention to understanding and generating connections between individuals. Holt (1998) has pointed out that Hofstede himself obtained conflicting results regarding cultural values when he investigated India and China. Thus, to reduce intercultural management to differences based on national cultures alone is to err on the side of simplicity. In fact, people may have more in common with similar groups from other countries than with people from their own countries who have fundamentally different interests and backgrounds, as John Daniels and Lee Radebaugh have mentioned (1998).

What is of interest, from the perspective of intercultural management, is that people generally have affiliations to more than one cultural group . Thus managers of global companies may all share a commitment to the Protestant work ethic irrespective of national identities or origins. Their membership of their professional group can exert greater influence than the gross cultural characteristics of their nationalities.

Tomlinson (1999) has used an interesting expression which is of interest to students of intercultural management: 'Cosmopolitans without a Cosmopolis'. This refers to people who are urbane, mobile, exposed to a wide variety of cultural influences, and generally well instructed. They can fit into cosmopolitan enclaves anywhere in the world. At the same time, they do not have a designated terrain exclusively for themselves . Global managers tend to be of this breed. Intercultural management requires awareness of this breed and the characteristics of its members . It is also interested in encouraging an increase in the number of global managers worldwide.

The cosmopolitan manager that intercultural management is concerned with should not be confused with the culture-shocked expatriate described by Schneider and Barsoux (1997). Culture-shocked expatriates immerse themselves in an 'expatriate bubble', and alienate themselves from other cultures. This is the antithesis of the culturally sensitive and therefore efficient global manager. They become liabilities for their corporation, in more ways than one. In the first instance, as cultureshocked individuals, they are likely to be experiencing considerable stress. They are further hampered by their inability to relate to people outside their 'expatriate bubble', to the detriment of their performance.

Thus a substantial part of intercultural management is about developing what Hall (1995) has described as cultural skills. Some researchers may view these as soft skills, but they are skills that can be learnt. What has to be learnt however is a broad repertoire of skills. A skill-set appropriate in dealing with one cultural context may not be appropriate for another. If ever there was a field for which the contingency approach to management was most appropriate, it is the field of intercultural management. Thus, global managers should not only have at their command a wide array of skills, they should also be able to diagnose a situation and ascertain what behaviour on their part is expected and appropriate. Effective global managers exhibit behavioural responses to situations that are spontaneous and natural. Part of this ability comes from natural propensities that have been further developed and strengthened . These global managers are agile, flexible, and able to learn continuously, as well as being able to 'unlearn' where necessary. This is facilitated when they have a strong sense of self. Intercultural management is not for the faint-hearted.

The following also characterize intercultural management:

  • It has an individual focus as much as an organizational one. Additionally, individual skills have to be properly aligned with organizational systems.

  • There can be more than one configuration of organizational systems that promotes intercultural management.

  • Cultural differences can surface even between managers who appear to have been nurtured by similar cultural influences. For instance, a conservative manager may experience difficulty working with a liberal -thinking manager. These differences can be accentuated when other differences traditionally associated with culture, such as ethnicity , also prevail. On the other hand, ethnic differences may not amount to much when both managers uphold the same values, attitudes and beliefs.

  • Likewise, cultural differences can surface between divisions of companies that espouse the same organizational mission. The divisions might have evolved in different directions over time.

Intercultural Management
Intercultural Management: MBA Masterclass (MBA Masterclass Series)
ISBN: 0749435828
EAN: 2147483647
Year: 2002
Pages: 98
Authors: Nina Jacob

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