Cross-Cultural Management

/ March 3rd, 2011/ Posted in Management Innovation / No Comments »

An article treating cross-cultural management: Leung. K.; Bhagat, R.; Buchan, N.; Erez, M. Gibson, C. 2005. Culture and international business: recent advances and their implications for future research, Journal of International Business Studies, 36:4 357-378.

It is a scholarly review of analysis of multiculturalism in the general context of management.

One core problem is to analyze the question of cultural convergence or divergence, and its implications for IB. Are there political implications? Do the authors take a position? Are they describing, or prescribing? I’ll leave those questions for a future post. Right now, it’s worthwhile to summarize their main ideas.

The authors present a two-part model of cultural change. The first is the multi-level idea, where global culture contains, in nested succession, national, organizational, and group cultures, all of which are in some way manifested in the individual.

The second is the multi-layer concept, consisting of superficial behaviours, a deeper level of values, and an essential core of basic assumptions “which is invisible and taken for granted” (p.362).

A set of static cultural traits were identified, as the authors explain, in seminal work by Hofstede. In later work “most of the cultural dimensions identified [such as Conservatism, Intellectual Autonomy, Affective Autonomy, Hierarchy, Egalitarian Commitment] are related conceptually and correlated empirically with Hofstede’s dimensions” (p.366).

Another stream of cultural analysis departs from the static view and uses cognitive psychological theory. Cultural differences operate through “frames”, “schemas”, and “scripts” – which are (roughly) ways of perceiving and responding to the environment. The cognitive view takes into account the dynamic aspect of cultural attitudes.

An example of a management situation shows how these analytical tools can work. Suppose, the authors suggest, that an HR manager needed to roll out a training program, but accomplish this across multinational locations: “A key challenge is to determine whether the program should be implemented in the same manner in each subsidiary or modified according to the local culture at each site.” (p. 368). Culture, of course, “matters”, but the question is, when, and how much?

To answer, Leung et al. describe the influence upon the individual of: 1. national culture; 2. group culture; and 3. technological environment. For example, group members working in a new situation will naturally gravitate to culture-specific ways of communicating, but this will attenuate as group members see how others’ expertise is contributing to the project. In situations where new technology must be dealt with, “people tend to respond in accordance with cultural prescriptions under conditions of uncertainty and ambiguity” (p.369).

To summarize, then, there are levels – or layers – of culture in the individual psyche, and these are called up by the situation. Awareness of this mechanism can help HR managers to assess the degree and type of pressure bearing upon employees as they engage with a training program or other corporate initiative.

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