Gaining Acceptance as an Expatriate Manager

The majority of the intercultural managers interviewed for this book agree that expatriate managers should introduce management practices in a different culture in an incrementalist fashion. We use the following analogy to demonstrate how an expatriate could do this. Consider a frog that has been tossed into a cauldron of boiling hot water. Its reaction will be to leap out immediately. Imagine instead that the frog is taken out of a pond, along with a substantial amount of pond water and bracken, then placed in a cauldron along with the pond water and bracken. The cauldron is made to resemble the pond from which the frog was removed. The temperature of the cauldron is then raised gradually, degree by degree, until it reaches boiling point. It will then be found that the frog has got cooked to death, without realizing what has happened .

An expatriate manager introducing a management practice into a foreign culture should do it so gradually that the local employees imbibe the principles behind that management practice without even realizing it. If an expatriate manager were to introduce the practice in such a fashion that it completely supplanted what the local employees had been accustomed to, they would reject it as too revolutionary, and in the process, reject the expatriate manager as well.

Expatriate managers must have considerable patience when trying to introduce a management practice in a new culture. Since they need to do so incrementally, they may have to wait for quite some time before they can see the results of their efforts. Often, expatriate managers would like to demonstrate that they are performing well on the job, and have successfully transplanted a management practice. However, they cannot artificially hasten the adoption process.

John Kortright is a Canadian expatriate owner of a sandals factory in Mexico who successfully managed to introduce Total Quality Management (TQM) in his company, the Sandalias Finas de Cuernavaca, SA (Ager, Lane and Kamauff, 1995). (Some of the analysis given is by Ager, Lane and Kamauff.) The effort of disseminating TQM throughout his company took five years to achieve. Kortright succeeded because he did not force the pace. He also explicitly took stock of the cultural reality of his company, then designed a TQM initiative that would find acceptance.

TQM is a set of comprehensive management practices that have worked exceptionally well in Japan. Especially after its success in Japan, it has been adopted by companies in various parts of the world, notably in the United States. Notwithstanding this widespread success, Kortright felt that he should first assess the prevailing work culture in Mexico. Dras (1989) has opined that Mexican employees do not challenge the views of their bosses or employees more senior to themselves . Mexican subordinates like to perform tasks in close consultation with their seniors, and are not comfortable with delegated responsibility. Since Mexican employees are not given authority to match their responsibilities, they seldom feel comfortable with enhanced responsibilities.

Mexican managers interviewed for this book aver that times are changing, and that Dras's description of the Mexican workforce is outdated . Dras recommends that expatriate managers desirous of introducing new management practices in Mexico should first invest in developing rapport with their co-workers . This is necessary because Mexican employees like to be reassured that they have the backing and support of their bosses. Additionally, the self-confidence of the Mexican employees has to be bolstered. Then they can derive satisfaction from working independently on enriched jobs. Mexican managers, especially junior managers, have to learn that taking the initiative actually serves to improve their performance.

Keeping in mind Mexico's culture, the first question that an expatriate in Kortright's situation has to ask is whether TQM is too revolutionary a management practice to introduce to the company. When Kortright first bought his company, he found that 'Sandalias Finas resembled an artisan shop rather than a factory'. However, over time, he managed to revamp the organization, and structure the company into a series of departments. A supervisor or coordinator, ultimately responsible to Kortright, oversaw each department. The coordinator could interrupt work processes when a special or rush order had to be attended to.

The efficacy with which Kortright had managed to replace a traditional form of organization with a more professional one would suggest that he could introduce TQM in his company. The workforce had adapted to the change, although the reorganization was effected over a decade and not overnight. It would therefore appear that a TQM initiative could be attempted. And that is what Kortright chose to do.

According to Ager's case study, the employees within each department performed their tasks as individuals and not in teams . In the cutting department, for instance, 'A cutter completed an order individually. Seldom was an order split between two cutters.' But a TQM intervention requires some changes to be introduced at the group level. One can therefore ponder whether Kortright's choice of this management practice was appropriate.

Kortright's main concern was to revitalize his company so it could become internationally competitive. In 1989, 14 years after he had bought an interest in Sandalias Finas de Cuernavaca, he found that as a consequence of economic liberalization, the Mexican footwear industry was being swamped by imports. Suddenly imports amounted to 30 per cent of sales. One reason the imported footwear found a ready market was its lower price. Kortright therefore had a legitimate interest in increasing the productivity of his workforce. He also had to demonstrate to his customers that his company's shoes were comparable in quality to imported shoes.

An expatriate manager in Kortright's position might be tempted to introduce the TQM approach because it is an organization-wide effort that attempts to involve all employees in organizational processes.

Participation is an integral component of TQM. However, the Mexican employees of Kortright's company had not participated in decision making until 1989. So when a TQM effort is initiated in such a context, what ensues is 'imposed participation'. Imposed participation is paradoxical, but it succinctly describes what eventually happened at Sandalias Finas de Cuernavaca.

Imposing participation requires skill and patience. The targeted employees have to first participate in training sessions before attempting TQM on the job. Thus, a TQM effort conducted in Kortright's Mexican company would have to be subdivided into a larger number of sequences than would be the case for a comparable company in Kortright's home country of Canada.

Training employees to be participative would have to be followed by training in empowerment, a more difficult concept to translate into action. When empowerment occurs, the empowered personnel are in a position to accept responsibility and take the initiative. It can be asked whether empowerment is a culture-specific concept. Can Kortright as a Canadian expatriate manager expect his Mexican employees to behave as empowered personnel?

The success of TQM in Japan suggests that it can work even in societies where broad-based participation is not the norm. In Japan, problem-solving TQM teams have been happy to find solutions to problems that affect conditions at their own level. They therefore do not view their behaviour as that of upstarts, or of employees who feel they know more than their seniors.

Quite often, as David Holt (1998) has noted, recommendations made by work groups in Japan are communicated upwards to the senior management echelons for approval and affirmation. When senior management has reservations about a proposed course of action, it is 'referred back' to the group for its reconsideration. This type of an approach could find favour at Sandalias Finas de Cuernavaca. Work groups can be empowered to devise solutions for problems that arise at their level. The problem solving can be conducted in a participatory fashion. Meanwhile, the fact that the final say on whether a recommendation is adopted rests with senior management can provide the safety net that Kortright's Mexican employees need while they adjust to TQM.

We have provided this brief analysis to suggest how expatriate managers can take cognizance of culture when introducing management practices in a new location. Expatriate managers are normally expected to contribute to the overall productivity of the company they work for, so they cannot fight shy of bringing in change where it is called for. However, if they ignore the cultural dimension, bringing in change may prove to be catastrophic.

Eventually Kortright introduced TQM to a single cell of employees, which he selected with great care. It comprised his best employees, those most receptive to being trained and developed. Gradually, TQM practices were disseminated throughout the company. But that was after the first cell had established a visible track record of success that served to motivate the rest of the company.

This method of first introducing TQM to a single cell was devised by Kortright after he had carefully considered how the concept could be effectively introduced to his Mexican employees. As a Canadian expatriate attempting to introduce a new system of management practices to Mexican employees, he also took into account the cultural dimension. Hence he succeeded in his endeavour of bringing TQM to his company, and eventually succeeded also in making his company internationally competitive.

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

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