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In various article relating to managing across culture the word Xenophobia was mentioned. Yes, this rightly exits in the work places of the organisations which have people from various cultures. The firms are trying hard to eliminate these cultural barriers for the smooth working of the organisation. Huge investments have been made and progress was limited until now. Due to the better understanding of the problems and most importantly the different cultures in the world, experts have come up with numerous solutions. Although taking care of these issues and trying to eliminate the tensions between the employees the companies are also trying to capitalise on the diverse conditions that prevail.
In the contemporary world there is a lot of labour outsourcing and expatriate employment. In a scenario such as this, where the whole world is considered as a village, Cultures play an important role. We all know that people are the species who live by a routine in their life, a routine which is inculcated in them or which their local society or culture dictates them to live by. This is the era where every company is willing to compete globally and wants to pool the best of talent into their firm who can produce good results. Managing such diversity is not an easy task. People from different cultures; follow their own set of policies or ethics. Managers of the company should be very careful in dealing with their employees as each person is different, has his own opinions and goals. Communication is the most important factor which needs to be set as a priority to eliminate various barriers in the smooth and efficient functioning of the firm.
Here comes the term "Cross culture communication" and its management. Cross culture communication is the way introduced to effectively communicate with people of different cultures or countries. These days' companies or MNC's use this as a key source in performing business and working on international projects around the world. We shall discuss various problems in cross culture communication and the various ways of effectively managing them.
A culture is a source through which each individual views the world around him and behaves accordingly. When a person moves into a multicultural organisation then he starts depending on his work or corporate culture. There are various dimensions to culture and some of the important ones are directness, hierarchy, consensus and individualism. Every culture sees things in different ways, for example; In the case of eye contact, the Americans think that making eye contact increases the effectiveness in the conversation but in some cultures eye contact is considered as disrespectful especially with elders.
With the enormous cultural diversity in the working place of a company, it became very important for every firm to concentrate on the aspect of cross culture management. Many could recognise the problems arising out of cultural diversity but couldn't manage that. So, since 1980's huge investments were made in the field of human resource management. A significant observation was made that most of the misunderstandings and discomfort between the employees were because of the different working attitudes, opinions and also due to colloquialisms. Problems were also caused due to the use of local dialect or accent by the local employees with their expat counterparts. This led to misunderstanding and frustration in the employees about how to do a particular task.
It was observed that most discrepancies were caused due to the cultural difference of the manger and employee. When the employee has a problem and approaches his manager for solution then his response might not always be considered correct. Every person has his own ideal leader or manger according to his cultural beliefs and this was considered as a major problem at the work place (Shaw's 1990).
An employee should feel comfortable and be able to adopt the new work culture otherwise there is a chance of the expat to go through a cultural shock. The most important symptoms and those that are commonly found are; feeling discarded, worry and anxiety, decrease in job performance and feeling nervous and left out. Cultural shock should be considered as a major problem and should be delt with immediately otherwise this could lower the overall performance of the firm.
Geert Hofstede has made some assessments and listed out some dimensions that study the culture and work place dynamics:
Power Distance (small vs. large): In cultures with small power distance there is equitable distribution of power and the employees can critique the decisions made by the authorities and often help them to take better decisions(like USA, New Zealand, etc) . In a large power distance cultures like Malaysia, the power relations are more autocratic and paternalistic.
Individualism vs. Collectivism: Individualistic cultures like USA people work for themselves and strive hard for their own excellence but, in an collective culture people are expected to be working in groups and considered as a team.
Masculinity vs. femininity: Masculine cultures are considered to be more materialistic where as in the feminine cultures its more about relationship and the quality of life.
Long term vs. Short term: In countries like USA, UK and some others, they are for short term relations and earning money quickly. But in countries like Japan it is about building a relationship before doing business for a long time. Their policies are also framed accordingly. Companies which follow long term polices take a lot of care before entering into a business relation with others like long meetings and some restaurant meetings and then take a decision.
The following are some of the ways to manage across culture:
When entering into business dealings managers should be aware of the cultural dynamics and deal with aspects of low and high context cultures carefully. Appropriate steps shall be taken so that misunderstandings in the work place are reduced by adopting some measures like speaking of a universal language in the firm with no local slangs and attitudes. Proper training must be given the employees about how to behave with employees of other cultures and if possible to enlighten them about some of the cultures.
Lehman Bros. Adopted a method called "Interactive Theatre Method" where there are performances done on the stage and the daily conversations are enacted. This helps the employees to realise and restructure accordingly.
Accenture, a company which has its operations spread over around 48 countries has introduced a model called "computer based awareness tool". This enables its employees to access on their computers about various cultures and behaviours.
Real time learning should be given to the managers so that managers are able to deal with the cultural discrepancies effectively. A manger should be aware of the culture of an employee and its dynamics to solve his grievances and increase the efficiency of the organisation.
Diversity should be seen more as a competitive advantage then as complex situation. A manger should be able to convert this cultural diversity into competition by chalking out a constructive strategy which would help both the organisation as well as the individual.
Team work should be encouraged which results in collective effort for the completion of a particular task. During this, various people from different cultures spend time and get to know each other in a much broader sense.
Respecting difference in cultures is very important so that people don't become judgemental about the others. We should try to understand others before interpreting their culture. Acknowledging the fact that each culture is different and has its own work ethics and rituals is an important feature in an employee or employer of the firm.
It was discovered in the recent survey that mangers follow extensively the methods proposed by anthropologists. This has not show a great effect but one method was proved to be effective. "Rollerboards", when a task was given to a group of employees they go to round table and discuss their views ideas and perceptions on that issue. During this process employees got a chance to look into the ideas of the other and as well as arrive at a better conclusion on the issue.
The work is been performed has changed rapidly with the changing time. More decentralisation of work is taking place and an idea is been given preference. The market has become global and the competition on this level is very high. People are moving long distances for work and working with a lot of people around them who don't belong to their culture. With the changing dynamics the managers should be able to handle both the diversity and the pool of talent they got or is available in the market. As Prof. Hofstede said human resource is not something which chalked out and is performed accordingly like math. But it is an aspect which deals with enormous dynamism. It is like the continuous schooling which takes place. Managers should be up to date with all the changes that take place across the world and should think of new ideas which shall be implemented to improve the relation between the employees themselves as well as with the employer.