Intercultural management is of such recent origins that it assumed an identity of its own, so to speak, only in the middle 1980s. Geert Hofstede's seminal book Culture's Consequences (1980) highlighted the fact that multinational corporations had to adopt management styles that were appropriate to the culture of the country they were working in. Thanks to Hofstede, managers of the multinational IBM realized that if they were working in Mexico they would have to adopt a relatively more authoritarian management style, while by contrast, if they were working in Sweden, a more democratic management style would be appropriate. Countries were differentiated by their culture. Hofstede differentiated national culture using four dimensions. He then used these four dimensions to construct a typology for categorizing countries .
Some contemporaries of Hofstede have also categorized countries into matrices defined by different cultural dimensions. They, like Hofstede, emphasized the need for global managers to assess in advance the cultural features of the countries they were to work in. This prior assessment is an important aspect of intercultural management today. In the 1990s, however, the work of Hofstede and others of his genre was criticized for defining national cultures in gross terms. The typologies they had developed were viewed as generalizations. Exceptions to their generalizations were believed to exceed the cases that actually fitted the bill. Additionally, their work encouraged cultural stereotyping and caricaturing.
JC Cheong et al 's book Cultural Competencies: Managing cooperatively across cultures is one such work that has pointed out the limitations of the intercultural management gurus of the 1980s. It averred that their perspectives were narrow and lacking in comprehensiveness. A range of cultural variations could be discerned within a country. This range for any country comprised a very large number of elements. Some elements could be common for many countries. It is not that the cultural elements of every country are unique.
These common cultural elements form the backdrop against which the global manager has been socialized and conditioned. This commonality of orientation can be discerned, for instance, in the type of motivation that drives the global manager. The global manager's motivation is defined by a high need for achievement. His or her driving force is the desire to show performance. This homogeneity in the character of the global manager has given rise to the global convergence perspective on intercultural management.
According to this perspective, global managers are likely to be similar in motivation, competencies, and exposure. Hence, the way they behave may not vary significantly in many countries. Thus while a worker in Mexico could be different in many ways from a worker in Sweden, a manager in Mexico could be similar in orientation and interests to a manager in Sweden. In fact, the manager for the Unilever group in Mexico might be Swedish, and his counterpart in Sweden could well be Mexican. And managers in both countries may watch CNN and BBC on their Sony television sets, while unwinding with their Heineken beer.
Cray et al 's book Making Sense of Managing Culture (1998) also contributed to demolishing the utility of the approach adopted by the intercultural management gurus of the 1980s. These authors are sceptical of the extent to which generalizations about national cultures can be extended to predict corporate management behaviour. Additionally, intercultural management gurus of the 1980s designed their research efforts with the expectation of finding cultural differences across countries. Thus, according to Cray et al , cultural differences were generated by the research designs used by them. Cray et al 's work, important as it is in itself, also paved the way towards the global convergence perspective.
Existing parallel to the global convergence perspective which gained considerable ground during the 1990s is the international diversity perspective. According to this viewpoint, even if managers across the world have similar tastes as consumers, they are still products of different countries, and therefore products of diverse cultural contexts. However similar managers from different nationalities may be, they still have to manage workers who have imbibed the cultural ethos of their countries. According to the international diversity perspective, people take pride in their indigenous cultures, and therefore a culturally borderless world is an unlikely prospect. On the contrary, the sensible approach would be to celebrate diversity. This perspective emphasizes the importance of adaptation to local cultures. It also allows for the incorporation of those features of local cultures that promote efficiency, and are deserving of corporation-wide diffusion.
Both the global convergence perspective and the international diversity perspective can be combined in certain ways. As a combined approach, they suggest that currently, a dialectic exists between divergence and convergence. It is this dialectic that drives intercultural management today. Similarity of social habits, tastes and exposure may be making managers across nations homogeneous, but there are still differences emanating from culture that have to be worked through. To achieve this, special efforts at integration have to be made. Quite a bit of intercultural management today revolves around constructing mechanisms for integration.
This has signalled the need for designing organizations that facilitate intercultural management. Bartlett and Ghoshal's book Transnational Management (1999) is one attempt to describe the transnational organization. This longitudinal study chronicles the various strategies adopted by mega organizations operating in a world characterized by varying cultures. Although the focus is on corporate strategy, Bartlett and Ghoshal have discussed substantially such features as integrated networking structure and adaptive coordination mechanisms.
Bartlett and Ghoshal have used the opportunity provided to them by their empirical study to examine management orientations as well. Intercultural management is thus increasingly acquiring a holistic flavour. Strategy, structure and management philosophy have to complement each other before intercultural management can make sense.
The Bartlett/Ghoshal perspective in a sense reflects a change in thinking on intercultural management. The transnational corporation comprises management teams representing diverse perspectives. These management teams appreciate the interdependent nature of managerial capabilities, even if the individuals concerned belong to different nationalities. The diversity has only to be integrated through structural mechanisms. The concept of organizational differentiation followed by integration, first propounded by Lawrence and Lorsch (1967), is a well entrenched notion and operates in large complex organizations everywhere. The Bartlett/Ghoshal perspective takes this notion further by viewing the challenge of integrating diversity within the context of intercultural management.
Ultimately, successful organizations are fashioned by successful individuals who are professionally competent, able and gifted. The challenge ahead now, as in the past, is to nurture cultures within organizations that promote corporate excellence. Intercultural management today concerns itself with ensuring that mangers are socialized into the appropriate values of the organization. These managers also have to develop an understanding of their consumers and their workforce. This entails understanding the cultural context of, first, the markets they function in, and second, the locations where they have plants and divisions. In essence, the understanding has to be of relevant human behaviour both within organizations and extraorganizationally.
There is an increasing preoccupation today with the leadership and management styles appropriate for intercultural management. Another important issue concerns the repertoire of abilities needed by global managers to feel comfortable in culturally diverse teams. Cultural orientations are learnt behaviours. Therefore, managers can develop the flexibility and openness necessary to transit from one cultural context to another. This is part of the challenge of working for professionally managed and high performance companies.