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Imagine there is a proposed merger between a Chinese company and an African company. You are appointed to lead a team consisting of managers from both countries to examine any cultural problems linked to the proposed merger. Applying the work of Hofstede and Trompenaars, how close would the cultural fit be; and how might you seek to improve cultural understanding between the two groups of managers?
Culture is defined as "Collective programming of the mind which distinguishes the members of one human group from another... Includes system of values; and values are among the building blocks of culture..." (Hofstede, 1980)
(Kroeber and Kluckhohn, 1952) defined "culture as a transmitted pattern of values, ideas and other symbolic systems that shape behaviour".
(Van and Schein, 1979) defined culture as "values, beliefs and expectations that members come to share".
Many researchers have provided different frameworks to describe the elements of culture that relate to business patterns around the world. But here we would discuss how these frameworks apply over CHINA and AFRICA, which has so many cultures and religions within it. Dutch expert, Geert Hofstede has provided his research framework from the results of his extensive study of national cultures. He did this study on IBM employees in 40 different countries and gave four dimensions of culture (Hofstede, 1983). But later a fifth dimension Long-term orientation was added to his framework which he developed with colleague Michael Bond. The below paragraphs' will discuss briefly on the Hofstede and Trompenaars find out the cultural fit between China and Africa
"Power distance is the extent to which less powerful members of institutions and organizations within a country expect and accept that power is distributed unequally." Of note is China's significantly higher Power Distance ranking of 80 compared to the Africa which averages about 49, and the world average of 55. The above result indicates that there is a high level of inequality in terms of authority and wealth in a social set up. The situation is created but the cultural heritage and was not forced upon. (Hofstede, 1984). As said by Hofstede, power distance between management and employees is very high. The seniority concept is been implied in all the company structures both in private and public sectors. The age factor also plays a vital role and giving respect to elderly person is a must in both the culture. "Individualism pertains to societies in which the ties between individuals are loose: everyone is expected to look after himself or herself and his or her 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, 1984). A culture is determined as individualistic or collectivistic by the means of three main factors. They are complexity of the society, affluence of the society, heterogeneity (Triandis 1994). China is a typical collectivist society where harmony is valued very high. Harmony can be found in many ways in case of the Chinese. Dignity, self-respect, and prestige are some of the attributes which they would call it as 'Saving one's face'. Therefore, social relationships including senior- junior relationship in business organisation in China are maintained with harmony. Chinese managers involve lot of sentiments in their decision making rather than using rational powers in leadership performance.
Adele says that most of the African countries are low on IDV but in contract South Africa alone has a high IDV of 65 because of the European influence in the country. This high score of IDV is indicative of different cultures existing in South Africa and how much they prefer to use their reasonable powers in terms of mangers and their leadership.
Chinese masculinity index in Hofstede Dimension is at 66, and the world average also stands at 50 (See appendix). The difference in the values of men and women infers from the higher rank of the country in this dimension. On comparing the world average Masculinity and uncertainty avoidance are relatively higher. A glance on the appendix, very few listed countries have such high masculinity index. In China, masculinity is higher than the figure actually shows as males are valued more than females, and the masculinity of China (66) is quite close to that of South Africa's masculinity index which is 63.
Chinese lowest ranking dimension is Uncertainty Avoidance (UAI) at 40 and South Africa at 49, when compared to the world average of 65. Openness towards unstructured ideas and situations can be found while going down the ranking (Hofstede, Website). The population may have fewer rules and regulations with which to attempt control of every unknown and unexpected event or situation, as is the case in high Uncertainty Avoidance countries. Future is unpredictable in both the countries; People are more concerned in saving money for the future generations because of the highly unsecured feeling which is entirely diversified from the developed country were people tend to spend money. The families in China and Africa are closely bounded in terms of financial needs and wants. Hence Hofstede's view on this index is a real fact.
A Chinese value survey was created by Hofstede and bond, (1988) and was surveyed across 23 countries. The results of which combined with an understanding of the influence of the teaching of Confucius on the East, long term vs. short term orientation became the fifth cultural dimension. China leads this dimension with 118 while Africa has no long term orientation in Hofstede's index.
Fons Trompenaars and Hampten Turners's Cultural Dimensions.
To find various ideas on the national culture, Fons Trompenaars a Dutch culturist who is a researcher on international culture and Charles Hampden-Turner (a dilemma enthusiast) combined together to find national culture. The finding of broad general rules is called as Universalism; it helps in finding the best rule when there aren't any rules that fit in. Particularism on the other hand is about finding exceptions. When no rules fit, it judges the case on its own merits, rather than trying to force-fit an existing rule. China and Africa are mixture of the both. Each culture differs from the way it carries out various operations than the other. Chinese and Africans have a much particularized culture about their family and friends. Rules and regulations are common for all the people whereas the government scheme preference differs for each and every class and state of people.
"Integrating brings things together to build the big picture. It assumes that if you have your head in the weeds you will miss the true understanding" (Richard, 2002).
(Turner and Trompenaars,1997) says "Individualism is about the rights of the individual. It seeks to let each person grow or fail on their own, and sees group-focus as denuding the individual of their inalienable rights. Communitarian is about the rights of the group or society. It seeks to put the family, group, company and country before the individual. It sees individualism as selfish and short-sighted". In his views Individualism means people who consider only themselves first than others and communitarian mean a person who considers themselves to be a part of a group or a community or people sharing same beliefs and views. China and Africa both has a communitarian culture and people wanted their family & friends to be around them during their good and bad situations. People always wanted to work as a group initially but now a day due to huge influences of western culture the trend has started to move more towards individualism. South Africa where there is a heavy influence of the French are tend to be more Individualistic than the other parts of Africa. Whereas, people from interior part of Africa are still communistic and tend to depend on family, friends, and the close circle relation.
Achieved status means getting to the desired status by means of hard work and performance. In South Africa, status is achieved by means of performance and dedication towards work. It assumes that the individuals or organisations earn and lose their status every day, and that other means of achieving status are recipes for failure. Ascribed status means to gain status either by heritage or by seniority without taking into account of the performance based considerations. It is believed that "status is acquired by right rather than daily performance, which may be as much luck as judgement. It finds order and security in knowing where status is and stays", (Turner and Trompenaars, 1997).
(Trompenaars,1993) says that people from emotional cultures like china and most of Africa does business in an unbiased culture, where it is important to do the paper work and to bind them legally. People from emotional culture should understand that lack of emotion does not necessarily mean that people from unbiased cultures do not have emotion or sentiments rather it means that people from such culture usually do not express their emotions to others. But when it comes to work culture, they do not give any room for emotions and sentiments.
Chinese people usually are open to share common private issues to others but only to a certain extent. They are very much hesitant to share deep and personal issues to common people other than their family and close friends. This type of culture is also known as specific culture. On the other hand, a culture where public and private spaces are similar in size is a diffuse culture. According to (Turner and Trompenaars, 1997) individuals guard their public space because entry into public space allows them into their private space. South Africans usually follow this type of culture.
Equality refers to people having equal status, equal rights irrespective of their birth, caste or creed. Hierarchy refers to the individuals who are superior to others in terms of the power or authority they possess. In China the hierarchy nature is followed in many private and all the public sectors. People in higher positions take decisions and others will have to take it. In most of the private sectors the owner of the company takes the decision which directly implies on the employees which may be both positive and negative in nature. In China the hierarchy nature is followed in many private and all the public sectors. People in higher positions take decisions and others will have to take it. In most of the private sectors the owner of the company takes the decision which directly implies on the employees which may be both positive and negative in nature.
After examining the work of Hofstede and Trompenaars dimensions on China and Africa, we can say that there are various differences in both the culture. Both, language and traditional culture differs from one another and there are key cultural problems when considering a merger between the two cultures and companies. Below listed are the some of the problems identified as cultural barriers.
One of the commonly noted barriers is communication and language stands as a primary problem when considering a organisational merger between China and Africa. The various languages such as French, English, and Portuguese in different regions are spoken in Africa. On the other hand Chinese speak only Phyia language and is still the lone user of the language in the world. The method of expressions and the way of communicating things are very different between the two countries. "Chinese language and expressions are defined and ambiguous", were according to (Chang, 1999).
(Ma, 1996 and Toomey, 1988) investigated characteristics of Chinese style of communication giving much importance to "saving of face, promoting indirect communication, practicing deference, avoiding confrontation and placing a greater burden on receivers to interpret messages". According to another author McCrea (2004), in his research sample it is proved that Chinese are more assertive people than that of Africans. It is also said that to learn the languages and the methods used by the Africans will cost more for the Chinese organisations than other western countries. Thus leads a bigger worry for setting a work pattern together. The second most problem is the difference in the work pattern. The Chinese companies have opened the trade globally only a little more than ten years and also known for being one of the most productive people in the world because they work in most difficult and critical situations across the globe. While, most of the Africans had been used as slaves for many centuries ago and by the influence of that Africans usually do not work as much as the other people do. People who lived in rural areas had a very strong ability for the survival from a critical surroundings and their attitude towards work is taken very light and most of them have don't care attitude towards work and salaries (Jian, 2003). It will be important for a manager to mould these indifferences and enhance the maximum out of the employees who do not have similar work pattern other. One of the challenges for the organisation will be to offset the differences in the religion from employees from both the countries. In China, there are a large number of people, who are atheist, who do not believe in any deities. They are the highest in the world with 91% in terms of non believers. They have Christians, Muslims, and Buddhist in very less numbers and they all account for only 4 to 6 % in total (Central Agency of the USA, 2008), While religion in Africa is versatile, and most of them follow either Christianity or Islam. After religion, the bigger challenge will be to bring these two different cultures to group as one and extract work out of them. According to (Vacas et al., 2003), "the coexistence of overseas investing companies and the local communities is a famous research project" in itself. Many companies from the west have existed in Africa for a very long time than the Chinese but still there is lots of conundrum for them to take it forward. It is very difficult to coexist as a one team with the native and foreign people to live harmoniously is a crucial hitch for all the MNC's. Harmony with the local environment will enhance a much better environmental setup for both the Chinese and Africans and will lead to achieving better management goals. As there are not many mergers between the Chinese and the Africans it will be even more difficult task to bind them together as a one unit.
Recommendations for the African and Chinese Managers:
After many arguments put forward, this shows that there are various differences in cultural aspects between china and Africa. Though there is continuity in the business transactions between the two countries, there is a significant use of absolute power by both the Chinese and African managers. Hence managers from both the countries who will lead a team in a cross-cultural context are suggested as below:
The first and foremost aspect in culture is to respect other cultures and to have tolerance level for different religion and cultures. According to (Hofstede,1994) the cultural differences will not change for at least next ten decades. The existence of the cultural differences creates cultural clashes everywhere in the society. Similarly even in organisation these days with more development and advancement of globalisation concept is taking a heavy toll on cultural diversity and with that manager from different cultures get involved in such clashes directly or indirectly. It is very important for the manager to understand and solve the cultural issues, play a vital role in assessing the effectiveness of a manager and as well as the organisation as a whole. Thus it is important for the organisation to maintain tolerance of all cultures and traditions also it is the responsibility of the manager to ensure that the Chinese and Africans work along with each other to keep the relationship harmonious with their fellow mates.Secondly the organisations should take active part to educate the employees on various cultures and involve them in cross-cultural activities. The cross-cultural activities will make the employees to appreciate different cultural values and in turn will change the ignorance towards a particular culture or religion. (Samovar & Porter, 1991) identified these values at three different perspectives and they are "superficial culture traits, awareness of significant and subtle cultural traits that contrast markedly with another's, and awareness of how another culture feels from the insider's perspective". In the first place managers from both the cultures should know the resemblance and variations between the Chinese and African cultures. The managers from both the countries should use their own judgement while using their authority considering their own experience from respective cultures. This is done so as to facilitate a clear understanding of using one's own authority and putting themselves in each other's position before extending their use of authority on others. In the second place, only rigorous cross-cultural communication can eradicate any misunderstanding between the Chinese and African managers. These cross-cultural training also helps managers to change their behaviour and leadership pattern towards different cultures. Many MNC's give significant importance to cross-cultural communications and is considered a key factor in evaluating manager's leadership skills. African and Chinese managers need to measure their own and other parties use of power. After analysing this at the third level, they will also have to examine their control over the power source from each other's perspective respectively. After examination, the manager should move forward from being keen observers of the targeted culture to be an effective impact on that culture. Only after this can managers understand his/her foreign counterparts and subordinates to an extent, perceiving his/her use of power sources. In addition, a manager also needs to show his subordinates that how much a manager can utilise the power source and to what extent he/she can use it effectively. It is very important for the managers to reveal their powers so that it can be used effectively and while acting to be an insider of another culture may spread information quickly than other means.
And thirdly and the most important is to improve use of power sources according to culture. There have been various studies which have been undergone to research the relationship that exists between the managers' primary power sources and the subordinates performances. The outcome of these studies shows that there is a major impact on the appropriate power sources by the situational variables. This specific outcome has made the author to point out culture as being one of those variables. In cross-cultural leadership, the use of power sources to the specific cultural environment where the manager works should be very carefully imposed. In our case with African and Chinese managers, African managers are far more used to legitimate power whereas the Chinese culture emphasizes on human emotions because they believe that everything should be done fair. Therefore the African managers should consider the factor of human emotions while improving their use of power sources, where as The Chinese managers pay respect to all the institutional rules while imposing their use of power sources, because they value harmony in the company. Thus, proper exercise of powers can mould the two different cultures to work together to achieve the organisational goals and responsibilities. These are the some of the discussions and solutions put forward for a merger between Africa and China. This paper brings more insight on integration between two of the most ancient cultures in the world today.
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http://www.geert-hofstede.com/hofstede_south_africa.shtml (All the diagrams and explanations given in the appendix is taken from Hofstede's website.)