Different strategies of intercultural management



In the following paper we are to present different strategies of intercultural management based on Quebec branches of two multinational firms. Generally speaking, Quebec-based companies provide a great example for any intercultural analysis given that this part of Canada is in a rather special situation. Even though the vast majority of the province of Quebec is dominantly francophone, Montreal, home of these branches can be considered a true multinational environment. Apart from the original mixture of English and French settlers, Montreal attracts immigrants from all over the world (30 % of the city's population was born outside of Canada).

The presented facts are based on research and interviews conducted at these companies by Stéphanie Langis and Jean-Pierre Dupuis [1] . In the analysis we used the mainstream theories of intercultural management as a theoretical basis (e.g. Gert Hofstede, Philippe d'Iribarne, and see as referred later on).

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Our paper is divided into two main parts. In the first half, we analyze the attitude of employees on the level of personalities, based on group discussions and interviews conducted. In the second part our main focus is general management strategies and company culture.

Individual attitudes at CS Canada and Solution Abilis

Considering the diversity management, integration strategies and identity models in these two companies, great differences can be found in the general and in the individual approaches as well. In the first part we discuss the individual reflections and strategies. Even though most of the individual behaviour depends on personalities, we believe that the corporate culture also has an important influence on these perceptions. The general attitude at Solutions Abilis is more people- and small-group-oriented, while at CS Canada, the "big picture" always plays a more important role, and there exists a clear cleavage between nationalities. Although the employees at these companies seem to be at different stages in cultural understanding and adaptation (this can also be related to the HR strategies), corporate culture could also fine-tune their everyday approaches and conflicts.

We also must highlight that at such multicultural companies it is not only the "immigrants" or "foreigners" who have to adapt to the home culture. In both cases, Quebecois [2] are very much outnumbered, and so are French, so even for the local employees, or those of the dominant culture, there is a high need for adaptation.

In the case of Solution Abilis, we have more information on the individual employee`s perspectives. Presenting an interesting cleavage, one can make lot clearer distinction and perceive a more equal proportion between groups of national backgrounds (in numbers: Quebecois (12), French (18), Chinese (15), "Latino" (11), Anglo-Saxon (≈15) and "others") compared to CS Canada. At the latter the national proportions in reality are not so clear, and still, it is at CS Canada that the employees feel that one third is Quebecois (≈16), one third is French (31), and one third is "the rest" (≈20). In the following paragraphs, I`ll present how the employees of these companies can fall into the categories explained in the model of Philippe Pierre [3] .

At Solution Abilis the employees seem to have more solution-oriented, flexible and opportunist personalities, starting with the founder of the company (Eric le Goff), who came to Quebec for business opportunities, and because of his intolerance of rigid French regulations, that can be seen as conflict with the home culture. His adaptation to challenges can be felt throughout the whole company. Another very important person when it comes to building bridges within the different cultural backgrounds is the HR director, Karine Vachon. She seems to be very much adapted to the multinational environment, she could probably be categorized as a transnational personality should she be really out of her own culture. Jose Reyes, one of the Mexicans at the company presents signs of a mostly transnational attitude, has a bit of Quebec education (also bi-cultural, as he has studied at an English institution, Concordia University), has moved to Montreal voluntarily, likes the loose hierarchy, flexibility and openness of the environment (the values brought here from his own culture). The other Mexican employee, Felipe Martinez is not always so open and positive, and he has the most problems with the French language (and is also not perfect in English). He had to step back on the corporate ladder; was really shocked at the working culture at first, and also while he seems to be adapting to the Quebecois lifestyle, he is more unstable, and could be seen as a defensive personality type. One of the true transnational figures is Patrick Lachance. Coming from a multi-ethnical family, he treats cultural backgrounds as age differences, considers communication difficulties as challenges, and tries to get to know each culture, and profit from all opportunities in this environment. Another example of the seemingly easy adaptation is Anas Adam, who, while retaining some of his Algerian background, can be considered Quebecois in lifestyle and socialization (his family left Algeria almost twenty years ago). He can certainly be considered transnational by attitude, but as he spent his adult life in Quebec, we think he is following the path to become "converted".

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The two Chinese employees have a slightly different approach to the everyday challenges new cultures have to offer. At first sight, Wang Ling shows signs of being converted; treats Quebec as a great place to express herself, has a local husband, acts independently on looking for qualities in people. She likes the flexibility at the company, and she is also flexible herself, saying she will stay at Abilis as long as she feels good there. She arrived in Quebec more than ten years ago, seems to be well installed with a social background, the perfect conditions for assimilation. However, this can definitely not be generally applied to all Chinese employees. Huang AiLing, even though she likes the liberty in the national as well as the corporate culture, stays a lot more reserved and unstable (also due to having some bad luck with previous employers). We believe she would be categorized as rather transnational had we known more of her background. (It is interesting to see how at CS Canada "the Chinese" are of main concern based on the attitude-surveys, and at the same time they are not even mentioned as a group.)

Turning back to Solution Abilis, the true opportunist of the company is the Englishman, James Webster. He thinks of his life in Quebec as a great adventure, "lots of fun", he likes the diversity and the colors surrounding him, he is enthusiastic towards the company, and this is what he also wants everybody else to feel. Coming from a non-informatics background, this Quebecois adventure is a great chance for him to gain more valuable experience in this field as well. He seems to keep in mind that he has a secure background in the UK, and treats being in Canada as part of a "fun game". At the same time we see signs of adaptation in his speech, the frequent use of "like" or "you know" shows us that he is far from rejecting the new culture.

To point out a different example, at CS Canada, we perceive a lot more rigid national grouping of the employees. This can be due to management practices (see second part of the paper), but also due to personal factors. As we believe the head of the company has a great influence on the rest of them, first we`d like to show how Laurent Speyser treats multinationalism. He always tries to look for people with values that match his expectations, does not really try to dig deeper to see what is useful for the company in one`s background. He honestly believes that some nationalities are "just not good" in some jobs, so he`d rather not spend his time on those. Being prepared for a cultural "clash" between Quebecoise and French cultures, our understanding is that he has not really prepared for other ethnicities or real multiculturalism. In this matter he is really conservative in thinking of these two francophone cultures only, and minimizing adaptation towards anybody else. He thinks that the company efficiently uses the assets of the two main cultures, and anybody who is "francisized" enough is great to work with. At the same time M. Labezin sees the differences between the two francophone cultures causing problems as well, and both of them acknowledge the superiority of French (as people and as language) in the company structure. A veteran French employee, Marc L. has an attitude of rejecting the home-culture a little bit, and he seems to appreciate the Quebecois system better (for raising kids, for a more careless lifestyle…etc.). We believe he is treating Quebec as a great opportunity, where he does not even have to put too much effort in cultural adaptation, as most of the company is (and was especially) French anyway. Together with this, he puts effort in adaptation when speaking about the French colleagues. This can be seen as a rejection of the conservative attitude. Francoise V. makes great efforts to look accepting and adapting, and tries to collect more information on the French and their practices already when in Canada, and also when having to work in France. She does have a rather multi-cultural education (Concordia University), but at the same time her attitude is rather conservative. Her way of approaching the differences is more based on the perception of normal or "not normal" in certain cultures, and admitting that she could not be part of a French team due to cultural differences would be the first step towards a more open integration, should she have stayed in France. This way we believe she will not really change her way of approaching the multinationality of the company in Quebec. Maybe there is less to reconsider for French dealing with Quebecois (and vice versa) than dealing with people from very different backgrounds, but it is really unsure if a smaller difference is easier to manage than a very huge one. In the latter cases everybody sees it and tries to deal with, while in the former the first task is to realize that we are indeed different.

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The young French employees seem to form a special group within the company. While most of them are at their internships, studies or cultural exchanges in Quebec, they are in a "different state of mind", not wanting to integrate so much, rather to experience different cultures from behind the safety of a wall. This explains their rather conservative behaviour, their approach to the rest of the group and them being a closed "micro-society" within the company. We believe this restrains them from seeing more possible differences within the two professional cultures as well. Meanwhile they claim to be amazed by the cultural differences; based on their experiences, it is valid only as much as one can be amazed by things seen on TV. Them forming a large group of the employees, they can efficiently close themselves up in this mini-France. [4] 

In the previous paragraphs we were presenting personality styles and the attitudes of different nationalities. In the second part of our study, the focus is more on the global image. The following paragraphs deal with practical management styles observable at Solution Abilis and CS Canada.

A more global picture - management styles

Considering the management styles in regards to the cultural diversity, parallel to our earlier discussion, a huge difference can be seen in the approaches at the subjects of our analysis.

While at Solution Abilis, cultural diversity is built in to the management style, and the corporate strategy focuses on using each employee`s personal strengths in conducting their business, CS Canada seems to treat the French-Quebecois difference as something advantageous, while the difference between all the other cultures as something that is necessary to handle. This can be followed in several issues:

At the level of new employees and HR strategies, both companies have to face the same challenges, namely that they are small (or medium) size, and most of the excellent graduates of valued universities would choose a more known multinational company at first. They both realized that this is a serious challenge they need to cope with, but they have applied different solution-strategies. At CS Canada on the first level a lot of French students are welcome on internships. They are always great and fresh additions to the company, but they usually only stay for a limited period of time, causing rather important fluctuation. Secondly, they choose francophone immigrants (from North Africa), mostly people already being acquainted with French management culture, or ready for adaptation to the new life. They keep the general, collective, company interest in mind, and they consider individual, personal goals and objectives much less. At Solution Abilis, the qualifications and skills of the applicants are measured first, and only after that does the department look at their personal profile (i.e. nationality). They try to "hunt" all the talented individuals around, regardless of cultural background. Solution Abilis is also ready to adapt tasks and responsibilities according to the employee`s personal attributes, for example not everybody has to speak to the clientele. This individualist management culture is partly compensated by the attachment of employees to the company. At Abilis, they want their employees to trust and like the company, to be loyal. At CS Canada, with a high rate of fluctuation this is rather difficult, and we believe their personnel strategies are rather short or medium term considerations.

Language barriers are literally abolished at CS Canada, by it being an "impossible" environment for those not speaking French. According to Mr. Speyser, people would not make the effort to speak English to someone unless they really crucially need to. This was the reason why the few Anglophone employees left the company not a long time ago. They could not be integrated in a French-dominated system. On the other hand, Solution Abilis, being very solution-oriented, has started French courses for the non-Francophone employees. Even though they might not necessarily need French skills for their everyday work (as these tasks are also adjusted according to individual needs), the company (and the HR director) thought that it is an important step in the process of integration. They have found a way to avoid high costs as well, and after the first hiccups they adjusted the teaching structure as well according to individual (partly cultural-based) needs.

We could consider CS Canada as a company "in transition" towards multiculturalism based on how non-French or non-Quebecois employees are considered, but they definitely should have passed this stage a long time ago, as the firm is in reality a lot more multicultural than some of the employees feel. At the same time Solution Abilis has a truly multicultural management that can also be seen in the following:

The values, and their way of being applied are also somewhat different for the two companies. CS Canada has a rather top-down approach, they have more strict company values that are practically rules for everybody, while at Solution Abilis, the atmosphere is less stressful, less directed, more flexible according to everyone`s needs. Most employees put emphasis on the "familial" atmosphere. This can also be seen in the hierarchical structure. At CS Canada there probably is a stricter hierarchy, and there is less room for individual manoeuvring. At the other company, there is more focus on temporary groups, projects and a more flat power-structure. This, I believe, is in strong relation with the difference between the individualist and collectivist [5] management culture of the two firms.

At Solution Abilis groups are formed occasionally and on a project by project basis, so people can get to know each other and socialize across cultures, and at the same time exploit their best qualities in each group. At the same time, with the rather rigid structure of CS Canada, socializing is restricted to national groups (and possibly a group of "internationals"), and the walls of these groups are difficult to penetrate. There is ale much less intercultural interaction, even though language barriers are not of great concern. I believe the lack of this familial atmosphere at CS Canada is one of the causes of the more important male-female distance and misunderstandings at the company. The warmer the environment (also the more people know each other), the less stereotypes and cultural misunderstandings can poison work relationships.

Given the fact that the environment is changing really fast, and there are a lot of young employees at CS Canada, I believe the company could really profit from having a more practical "value or ethical code" that reflects the multiculturalism more. Currently, the employees here have no reasons (and they aren`t "forced") to integrate into a multicultural system, and staying in their own national groups blocks them from exploring their own potentials as well. The environment is changing at Solution Abilis as well, but the management tries to keep this change low-key so that the employees (and consequently the clients) can further benefit from the friendly atmosphere.

We believe that while managing a multicultural company has lots of challenges, we can see through the example of Solution Abilis that little efforts can also mean a lot. Also, intercultural management is very far from being an exact science, and is very much case- and time-related. In my understanding, in both cases the management style was an important decision (conscious or unconscious) of the owners and top managers, and can (and at CS Canada possibly will) be changed only with a change at the top of the hierarchy.

Based on the cases we do not exactly know how efficient these companies are, how much profit they make, but we all know where an immigrant would go to work, should he/she have a choice.


Even though based on the analysis presented in the previous pages one might think that Solution Abilis is considered a good example, while CS Canada presents an avoidable case, we do not think it is so easy to categorize. While Solution Abilis is definitely in a higher level of multicultural management, when observing CS Canada, one can see a struggling company with some desire to change with regards to multiculturalism. It clearly is a long path to construct an appropriate company strategy for such a diverse environment, and the higher management's personal and professional attitude is crucial throughout the whole process. It is never easy to live and react well in multicultural scenarios, and as we could see from the personality types presented in the first part, it is also not for everyone. CS Canada could be more efficient and could create a more pleasant atmosphere should they be more careful in HR strategies. At the same time we believe that even the latter company has already realized the need for change in strategies, and by this they are already on the way to improve their policies.

Nevertheless in this paper our aim was only to depict and analyze two company profiles, not to show what can be done for improvement. Consequently there is a lot of room left for researchers and councillors to further debate and refine these company strategies.