With the increasing number of multinational companies in Thailand, Thais are becoming integrated with the new technology, knowledge, know-how and modern organizational tools developed from the western context. At the same time, there are differences in their cognitive systems and cultural phenomena. Culture and Thai national character are identified for their impact on participation, work performance and attitude. Because of this, a Harmonious, Multicultural Organizational Strategy is proposed: Building an international structure, process, and technology, together with operations driven by Thai values. It is a different view to fit the organization into local people's values, instead of the usual practice of fitting the people into the organization's vision and mission. How HRD plays the role of facilitating and supporting the new organization is also discussed.
Many organizations of the 21st century are multicultural, which is influenced by the growing influence of technology, world business economy, and globalization. Thailand is one country that is affected by those rapid changes. The Thai government promotes foreign investment in Thailand through the Board of Investment (BOI). As mentioned in BOI website (BOI, 2009), Thailand consistently ranks among the most attractive investment locations in international surveys, and a 2006 World Bank report indicated that Thailand was the 4th easiest country in Asia in which to do business, and the 20th easiest in the world. Nowadays, leading foreign investors in Thailand include Japan, the USA, Singapore, Europe, Hong Kong and Taiwan. As a consequence of this, there is increasing presence of foreign businesses in Thailand. Foreign investments, especially those that contribute to the development of skills, technology and innovation are actively promoted by the government. Many new and wonderful things have made a sudden impact on the traditional culture of the Thai. This is because people can connect with each other by media, or technology such as television, newspaper, radio-we are in a global village predicted by McLuhan in the 1960s. Thomas and Inkson (2004) stated that "with a computer, a modem, and telephone connection, it is possible to be a global business almost instantaneously" (p. 7). In business today, day-to-day reality of global business involves interactions and relationships with people who are culturally different. All these challenges to Thai organizations for adjusting or adapting themselves to be more competitive in the international level, such as reorganizing their structure, redesign offing the human resources program due to the diversity of multicultural workforces, and reconstructing the work environment. However, the transforming of organization could impact to the existing workforces who are Thais. It is not easy to blend the organizational direction from the western countries together with Thai workforces. This is because both are from the different cultural context. Ferraro (1994, p. 7) argued that "failure to consider the cultural context in the domestic organization can, and has, led to misunderstandings, miscommunication, lawsuits, and generally and undermining of the goals of an organization" (p. 7). Furthermore, Thomas and Inkson (2004) argued that even when people come from the same culture, interpersonal skills are often poor, and this weakness is costly to business. Where interpersonal interaction is taking place across cultural boundaries, the potential for misunderstanding and failure is compounded. Thus, with the differences of individual cultural background between Non-Thai and Thai workforces, its may affect to their collaboration and work relationship. This is significant for foreign companies which of purpose to increasing the number of branches in Thailand should aware for the implementing of organizational direction, policy and procedure, management tools and human resources program. In the meantime, HRD or OD practitioners also have a role to rethink and innovate how to integrate the western knowledge, know-how and technology systems, people, learning and performance, particularly, it is suitable for the Thais.
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The aim of this paper is to explain and argue the influences of culture that affects to individual behavior/characteristics, particularly, Thai national characteristics which HRD or OD practitioners have to learn and try to understand what the nature of Thai characters is, what patterns of behavior they are normally practicing in the organization since they are a majority of workforces to run the business. In order to cope or manage such the multicultural workforces, the concept of fitting organization itself into the local people's values instead of trying to fit its people into the values of the original country where it was established is proposed as a solution to overcome cultural misunderstandings and errors. It is called "a Harmonious Multicultural Organization"-means that the employees are working as international citizens, but their heart and mind still having Thai values.
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Culture and Its Influences
Everyone has his or her own style of gathering and processing information or individual differences: personality, intelligence, and emotions in order to response or cope their problems or day-to-day situation. Their experiences to think, analyze, and decide to select the right ways on their believe basis are increasing as relevant to his or her seniority, education, work environment, and culture, in which they grew-up. Each culture trains and molds those within its system for what it considers the most appropriate methods of problem solving. Schein (2004) described culture as:
A pattern of shared basic assumptions that was learned by group as it solved its problems of external adaptation and internal integration, that has worked well enough to be considered valid and, therefore, to be taught to new members as the correct way to perceive, think, and feel in relation to those problems. (p. 17)
The culture of a country or an organization can be viewed as a set of shared values, rules, beliefs, attitudes,and behaviors. Culture is composed of beliefs, norms, assumptions, knowledge, values, or sets of practice that are shared and form a system (Rapport & Overing, 2000). Hofstede and Hofstede (2005) stated that culture is mental programming or software of the mind. It means that every person carries within him- or herself patterns of thinking, feeling, and potential acting that were learned throughout their lifetime. Jones and Alony (2007) criticized Hofstede's use of the term "programming." Culture is not something that is easily acquired. Rather, it is a slow process of becoming a member of society. It includes:
Learning values (dominant beliefs and attitudes),
Partaking of rituals (collective activities),
Modeling against heroes (role models), and
Understanding symbols (myths, legends, dress, jargon, lingoâ€¦)
These ingredients of culture are acquired from birth. They are influenced by family, school, religion, workplace, friends, the media and many other sources. Using results from a study on work-related values in more than 50 countries, Hofstede (1984, 1997) demonstrated that cultures vary along five value dimensions: Power distance, Individualism-Collectivism, Masculinity-Femininity, Uncertainty Avoidance and Long term-Short term orientation, which become the basis of his characterizations of culture for each country (d'Iribarne, 1996, p. 33; Dorfman & Howell, 1988, p. 129; Hofstede, 1980; Schneider & Barsoux, 1997, p. 79)
Power distance. It is defined as "the extent to which the less powerful members of institutions and organizations within a country expect and accept that power is distributed unequally" (Hofstede, 1997, p. 28)
Individualism versus collectivism. They are related to the integration of individuals into the group. "Individualism pertains to societies in which the ties between individuals are loose: everyone is expected to look after him and his immediate family. Collectivism, as its opposite, pertains to societies in which people from birth onwards are integrated into strong, cohesive in-groups, which throughout people's lifetime continue to protect them in exchange for unquestioning loyalty." (Hofstede, 1997, p. 51)
Masculinity versus femininity. They are related to the emotional roles of men and women. "Masculinity pertains to societies in which social gender roles are clearly distinct (i.e., men are supposed to be assertive, tough, and focused on material success, whereas women are supposed to be more modest, tender, and concerned with the quality of life); femininity pertains to societies in which gender roles overlap (i.e., both men and women are supposed be modest, tender, and concerned with the quality of life)." (Hofstede, 1997, p. 83)
Uncertainly avoidance. It is related to the level of stress in a society in the face of an unknown future. "It is the extent to which the members of a culture feel threatened by uncertain or unknown situations." (Hofstede, 1997, p. 113)
Long-term versus short-term orientation. They are related to the choice of focus for people's efforts: the future or the present. Long-term orientation as characterized by persistence, ordering relationships by status and observing this order, thrift, and having a sense of shame, whereas short-term orientation is characterized by personal steadiness and stability, protecting your "face", respect for tradition and reciprocation of greetings, favors and gifts.
Thus, culture has a powerful influence on individual behavior (Kreitner, 1998, p. 502). Although individual cultures differ in significant respects, some characteristics common to all cultures may be identified as follows: culture is shared, culture is learned and is enduring, culture is a powerful influence on behavior, culture is systematic and organized, culture is largely invisible, and culture may be "tight" or "loose" (Thomas & Inkson, 2004). According to Hofstede's (1984) cultural map, Thailand has two value dimensions that have been ranked with high scores: power distance and a collectivist culture. This result was related to Komin's (1990) study of Thai national character, which will be discussed in the next section.
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Thai National Characteristics
In Thailand, Komin (1990) studied the Thai national character (i.e., common characteristic elements within the Thai culture-the national norms, or group norms in case of describing a particular group), which are: 1) Ego Orientation, 2) Grateful relationship orientation, 3) Smooth interpersonal relationships orientation, 4) Flexibility and adjustment orientation, 5) Religio-psychical orientation, 6) Education and competence orientation, 7) Interdependence orientation, 8) Fun-Pleasure Orientation, and 9) Achievement-task orientation. According to her study's findings, ego orientation was ranked as the highest dimension. It is the root value underlying various key values of the Thai, such as "face-saving", "criticism-avoidance", and the "kreng jai" - an attitude which roughly means "feeling considerate for another person, not want to impose or cause other person trouble, or hurt/her feelings" (Komin, 1990, p. 160). These three values have a correlation with Hofstede's finding of a high rank in the dimensions known as power distance and collectivism. For example, traditional Thai culture places a very high value on learning; teachers are highly respected and are typically considered as being knowledgeable and authoritative (Nguyen, 2009). Students show kreng-jai to their teacher by not asking questions, even when they do not understand the lesson. They are taught not to talk back or voice contrasting views. Even in academic seminars, where intellectual criticism has a legitimate place, Thais still try to avoid direct, strong criticism if possible (Komin, 1990, p. 161). They would find indirect ways to soften the negative message in order to avoid public confrontation and save the face-the ego-of persons involved, regardless of whether it involves an inferior, and equal, and worse still, a superior. Particularly, in a class conducted in English, they would feel ashamed if they pronounced words or sentences incorrectly, as the English language is not a mother tongue of Thais or they themselves lack self-confidence or skills to express those ideas effectively. In contrast, in western cultures, such as America, a simple question "Why?" is often be used to know why they are doing it. It reflects the staff's (culturally) legitimated belief that they should have a voice in decisions. Where there is an individualistic culture, people expect greater equality in social relations regardless of formal status and act accordingly (Wallace & Poulson, 2003, p. 118). The individualistic culture emphasizes personal interests over group interests and stresses personal rights and freedoms over collective well-being (Hofstede, 1980).
Another example is based on my work experiences in an American multinational company-High Technology Company, in this instance for an example of collectivist culture and Thai values. The company had a policy to reduce the HR administrative cost by using technology to answer all HR programs through a contact HR module. The contact team was not based in Thailand. If employees had any inquires concerning HR programs, they needed to log into the system for putting their questions. The contact HR team was committed to answering their questions within 3 days. When implementing this HR system in Thailand, there were a lot of issues happening between the Thai HR staff and its employees. Employees felt uncomfortable to log into the system, because they thought that their inquiries were a simple question, needing a Yes or No answer. They met their Thai HR staff to ask their question, but the answer was that they needed to log into the contact HR. This was because their measurement was related to the number of log-in issues. It made both Thai HR staff and employees feel dissatisfied. This issue points out the importance of being sensitive to the values and culture of Thai people because the Thais usually adopt a personal relationship for learning from each other, and it is an informal pattern (Nakwatchara, 2002). Furthermore, as an agricultural culture, collective work is common and expected in Thailand. Having said that, they had been building Thai values of caring and consideration, brotherhood spirit, "sanuk", ambitious and hard working. Thais try hard to avoid conflict that might create uncomfortable and unpleasant feelings. Letting one's negative feelings out in the open is frowned upon and subject to social sanctions. Consequently, Thais work hard to build and maintain relationships among a wide and complex network of people (Holmes & Tangtongtavy, 2003, p. 17).
Apart from those values mentioned above, there are other value clusters according to their relative significant position in the Thai cognitive system, as presented in Table 1. It shows that the higher the order, the closer to the self and more likely to be activated to guide actions
Table 1: Value clusters according to their relative significant position in the Thai cognitive system
Grateful Relationship Orientation
Bunkhun (indebted goodness)
Smooth Interpersonal Relationship Orientation
Caring and considerate
Flexibility and Adjustment Orientation
Responsive to Situations and Opportunity
Religions and spiritual life
Education and competence orientation
Form over content
Sanuk (to have fun, to enjoy oneself and have a good time)
Ambitious and hard working
Source: Adopted from Joungtrakul (2004) www.blcigroup.com/backend/work/file/061113172043.pdf
From the review of the concept of culture and its influences, including the background of the nature of Thai characteristics, as expressed above, it is summarized that all people acquire their culture through the same process-that is learning (Ferraro, 1994). The Thais share a collectivist culture, then pass on through the next generations and its influences the Thai common characteristics. Therefore, it is essential for HRD or OD practitioners to rethink a new organizational development strategy for blending an organization together with its Thai workforce, as well as managing and developing them in order to work in the multinational environment smoothly, as presented in the next section.
Developing Suitable HRD Polices
To reimage or upgrade a Thai organization which is influenced by economic forces and growing technology as a multinational company in the future, HRD or OD practitioners should rethink how to integrate the technology system, people, learning and performance as one team. The alternative approach is to create an organization which fits into the local people's values, instead of trying to fit people into the original values of the organization's country of origin. The aim is to build a harmonious, multicultural organization, one where international structure, process and technology are its strengths, but operations are driven by Thai values. It is important that they should strong and work professionally, as well as maintain the Thai values of peace and harmony that are embedded into their heart and mind. This approach adjusts the view of both the employer and employee. In the view of the employer, it is an alternative way to sustain international operations in Thailand. Meanwhile, in the view of the employee, Thais can understand and adjust themselves for the coming changes that affect their cognitive or thinking system, motivation in work-life, and collaborative learning and working with expatriates. Moreover, if they are selected to be an international assignee, they can be well-prepared for those international assignments as well. There are key areas that should be considered for creating a harmonious, multicultural organization in Thailand.
Features of a Harmonious, Multicultural Organization in Thailand
Company policy regarding cultural diversity philosophy
The transformation process should begin at the corporate level with the implementation of an additional organization-wide policy and procedures regarding the cultural diversity philosophy; this expresses the standpoint of the company. It has been found in Thailand that company image is one of five significant sources of motivation (Holmes & Tangtongtavy, 2003). Thus, the company branding strategy as a truly international employer is used in order to attract candidates with the right skill sets. It is essential that HRD should work with business owners in deciding to launch this new direction, as well as to have them adopt it as executive sponsors.
Who is Leader?
Leadership role has influenced the responsiveness of employees in order to accomplish or not perform their tasks. It works as a motivator, especially leaders in Thailand, who are expected to provide direction, control, protection, as well as emotional support, looking after the needs of their colleagues and staff, much like a prosperous father might do (Holmes & Tangtongtavy, 2003). Therefore, the leader or top management, who is a good person with integrity and having a multicultural mindset, is very important for a Harmonious Multicultural Organization. Regardless of whether he or she is Thai or a foreigner, he/she should work hard to develop and maintain good personal relationships with his/her staffs.
The effectiveness of getting the right people working in the organization is dependent upon the recruitment strategy and methodology. Since the new organization structure is designed to be a multinational company, the HR department should also be actively engaged in expatriate programs, in selecting the right people, and in arming them with the right knowledge (Jonkeren & Brinkmann, 2003). For this reason, Thomas (2008) proposed six factors affecting international assignment success that HR should consider in selecting candidates:
Individual factors-A study of expatriates of 26 different nationalities (Arthur & Bennett, 1995) identified five characteristics of individuals related to success: family situation, adaptability, job knowledge, relational ability and openness to other cultures;
Demographics-such as age, tenure, educational level and marital status.
Foreign Language ability and previous international experience;
Job Characteristics-No ambiguity and conflict in the role;
Job Level-more high level, more challenging assignments and an increased amount of organizational support; and
Expatriate Training to prepare for working in a foreign country.
Furthermore, providing realistic previews prior to international assignments did not change candidates' interest in possible assignments, but did increase candidates' self-efficacy for an international assignment (Caligiuri & Phillips, 2003)
Workforce Development Planning
HRD should work proactively in engaging line managers to embrace, support, and participate willingly in the process of workforce development planning efforts, particularly, in developing multicultural workers for both short-term and long-term assignment. This plan will motivate and alert employees for their future success in a working environment with colleagues from different countries. Therefore, this factor is combined into a Harmonious Multicultural Organization in order to adjust or develop intercultural perspective skills to ensure that Thais and non-Thai workforces are ready to move forward to be members of the same team. A training and development program should be designed or customized to be relevant to the learners' cultural background. Thus, a focus on the learner is first needed to achieve a long-term and positive learning effect. Employee assessment is required to learn whether the existing employees have met the basic needs in cross-border transactions. Examples of necessary skills are communication skills, English language (since English is not the mother tongue of all participants, including the Thais), and project management skills. There are three assessment tools mentioned in Jonkeren and Brinkmann (2003), which HR managers can apply for individual development planning. Each of them is used depending on the objectives of the program:
Intercultural Development Inventory (IDI), developed by Hammer and Bennett (1998; 2003). The results on the IDI can then be used to plan and implement the right approach so as to maximize worker development.
Multicultural Personality Questionnaire (MPQ), developed by van der Zee and van Oudenhoven (2000). The MPQ can be used for selection of employees, both at first entry and when composing multicultural teams. It can also be used when selection is a luxury, as in so many expatriate assignments. Here it helps in risk management by providing a basis for individual coaching and support to expatriates (and their partners) before and during their assignment, as well as when they return home.
Intercultural Readiness Check (IRC), developed by Jonkeren and Brinkmann (2003). It allowed us to assess individual learning needs, as well as the overall level of learning needs for representative groups of learners. Moreover, it could be integrated into other training programs by providing a basis for learners to explore what they needed to develop in order to succeed in other cultural contexts.
Furthermore, Jonkeren and Brinkmann (2003) proposed four intercultural competencies, as shown in Table 2.
Four Intercultural Competencies
The ability to recognize multiple perspectives on an event or behavior, to recognize one's own cultural values and those of others, and to pick up on verbal and nonverbal signals.
The ability to manage the greater uncertainty of intercultural situations
The ability to empathize with the feelings, thoughts and behaviors of members from different cultural groups
The ability to stimulate interaction and cooperation, and take the lead while keeping others on board. Involves sensitivity to the dynamics within larger groups of people inside and outside the organization, and understanding of these dynamics and the ability to benefit from them.
Source: Jonkeren & Brinkmann (2003)
Each competency can be combined in different ways, depending on the needs of the individual or group. For managerial functions, for example, building commitment should be a key, while for non-managerial functions, special attention can be given to intercultural communication. The need to manage uncertainty depends both on the type and number of cultural groups involved and aspects of the task. Intercultural sensitivity will always be trained, but how it is trained depends, for example, on whether we are dealing with an existing multicultural team or with participants who do not work together as a group. Furthermore, the focus is on developing an individual's ability to sustain interaction - being able to establish and maintain relationships across cultural boundaries (Jonkeren & Brinkmann, 2003). However, cultural pluralism can create positive learning outcomes, such as how to improve working relationships, better interaction skills, and growth in cognitive reasoning (Johnson & Johnson, 1989). On the other hand, cultural diversity in learning may lead to negative relationships characterized by hostility, rejection, stereotyping, and prejudice (Hofstede, 1980), if these four intercultural competencies are not learned. So, the different learner's cultural background affects their participation, their motivation, their satisfaction and their performance (Economides, 2008).
Holmes and Tangtongtavy (2003) demonstrated how to motivate the Thais through their book "Working with the Thais: A guide to managing in Thailand". They argued that of the many factors that can influence particular individuals in the Thai workforce, five are especially significant among a wind range of people. Those factors are: money, security, company image, personal prestige and workplace atmosphere. Typically, it could be said that, for both Thais or Non-Thais, the basic needs are acquired at the first stage of Maslow's (1954) Hierarchy of Needs Theory. However, one important factor about the work atmosphere is closely related to one of the Thai values-sanuk-to have fun, to enjoy oneself and have a good time.
Joyful behavior may look like "light" behaviors, but, sometimes, it makes the workplace a place of happier and friendly collaboration. The workers feel free to talk within their group, sharing their work/life, family and caring for each other. The research findings of Komin's (1990, p. 230) study suggested that this fun-pleasure value functions as an imperative mechanism, as a means to support and maintain the more important interpersonal interaction values. HR managers can get many ideas or knowledge sharing during coffee breaks, such as informal assessments, but sincerity is vital. An innovative project to improve the organizational performance may be raised in such small group, in which creating a workplace community may occur. Nakwatchara (2002) argued that the effectiveness of a traditional Thai person's learning came from a community, in which the best way for a Thai learning system is by building a strong social relationship. It is informal learning, but has a powerful impact. Thus, including the Thai value of sanuk in the workplace atmosphere is essential for top management or even line managers to take into account when managing people and businesses in Thailand.
In the challenges of working in a multicultural environment, where most of the employees are Thais, and the operational base is in Thailand, the Harmonious Multicultural Organization is one approach for an innovative HR Department to propose to its CEO or Business owner as a cost-effective strategy for managing their workers. The CEO or Top Management or Business Owner is the most important factor of successful leading a Harmonious Multicultural Organization. Their role impacts upon and motivates their employees to achieve a good or bad performance at work, as it promotes doing good deeds for one's subordinates and builds up a boss' store of goodwill, or bunkhun. Managers are placed in a position authority in managing, caring, joining, and feeling as a team within the Thai work group. And the juniors will reciprocate with hard-work and loyalty. It is true that Thai culture has embedded bunkhun in its people's heart and mind. Even though, it might not be reasonable in the view of a foreigner, it is a fact when working or living in Thailand. So, if the organization has a poor leader or an immoral leader, then it can become bankrupt. This approach also guides the HR managers in providing an intercultural training program, as well as how to motivate the Thais in doing their work well. The HRD role in designing or operating training courses or OD interventions must proceed carefully and always focus on the learners' needs. Learning to manage cultural differences is a means for all persons to become more global in their outlook and behavior, as well as to become more effective personally and professionally (Moran & Harris, 2007). Furthermore, it helps to mobilize some characteristics of Thais, which may not be workable in the sense of a foreigner's perspective when they need to competing and fighting for higher performance. It is necessary to learn one's own culture, and then recognize that this is only one version. When the leader stands back so as to appreciate others' contribution to the organization's goals, the result will be a richer understanding of one's own culture, plus a real opportunity for synergies to happen. This can be seen as a self-development plan for any person who seeks to understand more about themselves and others (Joungtrakul, 2004). Not only foreign colleagues should aware of this plan, all Thais also need to aware and understand why their non-Thai friends are thinking and acting as they do.
Once the company needs to implement something new, which is developed from a Western policy, they need to review or check conscientiously whether it is relevant to the local context, rules and regulations, legal implications, and lives of its employees. Philip Hallinger and Pornkasem Kantamara (2003) argued that knowledge developed in one society needs to be adapted before application in another, and that the adaptation process should be the subject of empirical evaluation. An organization's workers may be American, Japanese, German or from other countries, which have a fundamental influence on the structure, processes, and organizational culture, but its operations are driven by people based in Thailand. Organizations look and feel the way they do because of the people working in them. It would be fair to say that "the people make the place" (Schneider, 1987). However, some weak points of this approach are its costs of implementing it, and the extra time involved for the change efforts. This is the beginning of drawing a suitable organization for multicultural workforces in Thailand, for which is needed further research and development to find out more factors and the correlation between each factor in influencing the organization's performance.
Thailand is one of country that has received great impacts from globalization. The number of multinational companies has increased since the promotion of foreign investment by the Thai government through the Board of Investment (BOI). Therefore, new factories were built, as well as more multicultural workers employed. People with different cultural backgrounds may impact on collaborative learning and working, especially on Thai people. Based on Hofstede's study of national characteristics in 1980, Thai culture was ranked high on power distance and collectivism. This result was supported by the research of Komin (1990) on common Thai characteristics. It was found that culture influences individual behaviors. This is because of the influence of parents. For example, in Thailand, children are taught from childhood to follow the advice of their elders. They are taught not to talk back or voice contrasting views. Meanwhile, an agricultural culture had built Thai values-brotherhood spirit, sanuk, ambitions and hard work.
In consequence, it is a challenge for HRD or OD practitioners to evolve methods for managing and developing Thai workers in a multinational environment. Thus, the Harmonious Multicultural Organization has been proposed here, based on the saying, "the people make the place". The key factors or concern areas start with the discretion for organizational-wide policy and process in diversity management. Key issues that have been discussed include who is the leader, recruitment activities, workforce development planning, building intercultural competencies and a motivational program. This approach may benefit both employers and employees in terms of long-term international operations in Thailand, while employees have an increased loyalty to their multinational employers. However, some weak points of this approach are its cost of implementing the policies, and increased time for the change efforts. This innovative approach to HRD requires further research and development.