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Hong Kong acts as “Asia world's city” and a gateway to China; it is a major hub in the global market. Over the past two decades, the HK economy has tripled its gross domestic product. HK had been under British's rule for 150 years and on July 1, 1997, it was returned to China. As the city where East and West meets frequently, what makes HK distinctive is the combination of Chinese cultures and the British bureaucracy i.e. the typical east and west cultures. Culture also has a profound influence on all aspects of human behavior. Cultural influences and evolves political, social, economic, and technological strengths that remake the cultural foundation itself. Therefore, it becomes more and more essential to take into account the character of culture and to understand how culture affects countries in associated with business world.
The aim of this essay is to focus how the east and west national cultures is not similar to each other, but in a different or cross national cultural situations, how the different cultures will affects the effectiveness of leadership which all leadership styles or theories are basically universal which can be applied elsewhere and across of time in contingent, by illustration through the PCCW Asiamiles/Marco Polo club call center as an example and corresponding to the critical success factor of Hong Kong. i.e. the British bureaucratic structure and transactional leadership plus the advantage of traditional Chinese paternalistic leadership culture, and how the call centre combines the east and west leadership styles in managing staff.
Leadership is regarded as the act(s) of influencing the behaviors of a structured group or groups of peoples (a team or an organization) and to utilize its efforts to achieve a goal or how an individual is capable to encourage, influence and facilitate others to contribute and headed for the efficiency and accomplishment of the organizations' goal(s) of which they are belonging to. Rost (1993) says that leadership is “an influence relationship among leaders and followers who intend real changes that reflect their mutual purpose.” Martinez-Cosio (1996) believes that this definition allows peoples from various ethnic and cultural backgrounds to participate entirely in a principal to contribute themselves to the society while maintaining their own cultural disparities in a framework or a structure In the modern business world or organization, leadership is one of the most significant aspect of the organizational context , therefore the successful leadership becomes one of a critical factors of bringing an organization towards triumph.
Defining leadership has been tough. Over time being, many scholars advocate different kinds of theories of leadership, this essay will focus on 3 major influencing leadership styles i.e. the paternalistic, transactional leadership and transformational styles which also will be co-referenced later in the essay.
Paternalistic leadership is characterized by revealing fatherly benevolence and authoritarianism with moral integrity in a "personalistic" atmosphere, also it can be defined as an approach that is based, rationally or irrationally, on the hypothesis of leader “knowing how” better than the followers and what is good for the organization, or even the followers him/herself. In short the paternalistic leadership can be also summarized that leaders prevail strong discipline, use of work-centered behavior coupled with protective employee centered concern. However no matter East or West approach, in somehow, the truth is that most leaders sometimes act in a paternalistic way, and make decisions with assumption that he/she knows the best so that he/she can makes decision on behalf of their followers, since it a also a fact that a leader sometimes grasps more information and resources than the followers may lack. This style of leadership also reflects the way fathers treat their children, deciding what is best for them. The style is autocratic like above - there is no discussion with the employees - but the decisions made are generally considered to have the employees' best interests at heart, and the employer may give some explanation of how they were taken. Owing to the differences of culture, the eastern Chinese societies utilize more paternalistic leadership than the West, which based on the tradition of Chinese culture and family system. Therefore, it may be considered as an eastern cultural leadership type.
Unlike paternalistic style, transactional leader works by creating clear and apparent guidelines which are required for their subordinates or the followers, and the rewards/punishment that they get or not get for following orders. For power is always given to perform certain tasks and reward or punish for the team's performance in the transactional leader (Burns, 1978). Therefore, subordinates must capitulate themselves to the authority of their manager or leader when people have agreed to do a job. Although it is not always mentioned, in a formal system of regulation i.e. under the control of transactional leadership, punishments are well-implicated by every member. When the transactional leader assigns work to a subordinate, the subordinate is considered to be entirely responsible for it, when things go off beam, then the subordinate or follower is considered to be in fault. Since transactional leadership assigns tasks through clear and defined guidelines, therefore performance and outcome are often can be expected and attention to the subordinates is not always required. However, it may require to praise and reward if the result exceeds expectation. In now a day, transactional leadership is still a popular approach and practicing by many managers, since it is more similar to the concept of management, in summary, transactional leadership is a “telling” style through 2 lines, i.e. guideline and deadline.
Whereas Transformational Leadership has more of a 'selling' style; transformational leader develops a vision at beginning, which is a goal of future that can excite and being attractive to the followers. i.e. the vision which built by the leader will inspire the followers to get things done will self willingness. Therefore, transformational leadership has more on the side of “selling” his/her vision to the followers and periodically feeds or injects enthusiasm, energy and “wonderful experience” to the followers. Bass (1997) also defines transformational leadership in terms of how the followers are affected by the leader who are proposed with confidence, respect and value to the transformational leader him/ser self. Charisma is definitely an essential but not a crucial factor in transformational leadership for example a charismatic pop star doesn't equal to a good leader. Two effects where charismatic effects can help a transformational leader are to bring up strong emotions and results to identity recognition of the followers with the leader. This can be inspiring appeals. It may also occur through calmer methods such as coaching and mentoring.
No matter transactional or transformational leadership, it can be concluded that leaders are often seen as motivating people to achieve the organization's goals. Effective leaders are particularly noted for their ability to identify what really needs doing: Managers do things right, whilst leaders do the right thing. (Fenton, 1990) and both transactional and transformational leadership has been developed as a theory by academics in the US (Duncan and Kirkbride, 1994), which can be considered as a western cultural approach in leadership.
If organization is the formation and summation of different peoples to achieve some specific aim(s), then, any form of organization must has its own culture as small as a family or as huge as a nation. Putting culture in a simple definition, it can be defined as a system for differentiating between in-group and out-group peoples. (Brown.A, 1995 ) In terms of nations, national culture can be defined as “Culture is the collective programming of the human mind that distinguishes the members of one human group from those of another. Culture in this sense is a system of collectively held values.” (Hofstede, 1981). In distinguishing the so called different collective programming of different groups of peoples, Hofstede (1980) also emphasizes that cultural differences are primarily encountered as differences in shared values, with values being defined as ‘‘broad tendencies to prefer certain states of affairs over others.'' Whilst organizational culture can be defined as “Organizational Culture is the deeper level of basic assumptions and beliefs that are shared by members of an organization that operate unconsciously and define in a basic ‘taken for granted' fashion an organization's view of its self and its environment.” - (Schein 1998). Another scholar, Miroshnik (2002), defines culture as the way of life of the group of people, which includes beliefs, art, law, morals, customs, and any capabilities and habits acquired by a man as a member of society, and enables people to communicate with others, provides the knowledge and skill necessary, and anticipates how others in society are likely to respond for the actions.
In now a day, only the minority successful businesses work peoples from a single culture. At one-dimension, most businesses, even though based in a single, employ people from at a minimum of 2 different cultural backgrounds. At another dimension, due to cost discrepancy between regions and the concept of the global village , many companies will outsource parts of their business to outsourcing partners. Because of this, it becomes a necessity for leaders in the 21st century to adept a more effective style that can manage people across cultures. They need to identify the essence of an individual culture swiftly, since culture is significant in molding customer or employee behavior. Leaders must learn to shape culture in their own organizations to align with the direction and target of the organization. Fail to do these may cause to fail to induce the best effort from individuals, i.e. the followers and will not be able to squeeze the strengths that different cultures present. Miroshnik (2002b) also emphasizes that how to evaluate social culture and organizational culture of a single country is an important issue and in which he presents the unique concerns of managing a multinational corporation, especially the challenges of effectively managing both national and corporate culture. In other hand, culture is also viewed as the collective encoding of the mind which differentiate the members of one human group from another and the collective, common characteristics that influence a group to interact with the surroundings, However, in fact it is very true that culture operates at different levels, at one level, all individuals are shaped by their own ethnic, racial or even religious and national backgrounds i.e. the national culture. At another one, they are influenced by the principles, ideals values and experience of their organization i.e. the organizational culture, therefore culture issue is multipart and comprehensive. However, if the existing of any forms of organizations are to achieve some purposes or aims, then this inspiration should be universally apply to all peoples in different cultures, then so as to the idea of leadership, is it applicable globally or is leadership an global idea? (Peterson & Hunt 1997)
Asiamiles is the frequent flyer program of Cathay Pacific Airways (namely Cathay in thereafter); at the year of 1999 Cathay outsourced its customer hotline for enquiries to PCCW. The call centre operates 24/7 (24 hours a day, 7 days a week), all staff are assigned to work on shift duties, and currently it has around 300 staff. The main duty of staff is to answer customer enquiries, handle members' administration matters such as mileage point accrual or redemption. In daily operation and interaction with customers, all staff are required to present themselves as the staff of Cathay. In such circumstance, staff always confuse their identity for which company they are belonging to, in other word, most of the staff are lacking sense of belongingness. Everyday, large volumes of phone calls are to be answered in the same time by a large pool of staff and a phone call is not dividable and must be handled by a single person. Although each phone call is a personal interaction between the agent and customer, Cathay requires the quality of each call answered by different agents should be aligned to the standard which set up by Cathay in terms of tone of voice, attitude, answers to inquires and workflow are required to conform in a same or similar approach. Furthermore, the average call handling time (ACHT) is another key performance index for staff, since shorter ACHT means staff can answer more calls and less headcounts are needed. In order to minimize the ACHT, all staff are required to required to maintain its ACHT within 400-450 second. Staff who can align to the standard for a whole month in both quality and the ACHT will be awarded with an incentive bonus for around 20% of the monthly salary, Although fail to comply the standard will not leaded to punishment, the management very emphasis the importance of those standards through pushing staff hardly, that creates an invisible pressure and atmosphere for all staff, in other word it is a other form of punishment. Since it is an outsourced call centre, although staff are selected and recruited by PCCW HR, the criteria for selecting staff is formulated by Cathay. PCCW HR is in the role of implementing those policies and practices on behalf of Cathay only. One of the reasons of outsourcing the call centre to PCCW from Cathay is to reduce cost by cutting employees benefits such as free/reduced fare air tickets, as mentioned, all staff basically are belonged to PCCW, but PCCW HR is just shadowing the policies of Cathay, therefore, both of the companies have no commitment to staff, as mentioned that staff are lacking of sense of belongingness
In terms of languages of the all of the calls or the members' base of Asiamiles/Marco Polo club, around 80% of the calls are Cantonese and Putonghua speaking, therefore, in terms of dealing or serving customers, fluent native Cantonese and Putonghua are one of the major competences in selecting staff, this criteria forms the basic pool of the call centre's staff are over 95% are local Hong Kong Chinese ethnics peoples, and others staff are from India, Philippines, Japan and Korea which aims to serve those customers with the specific language.
Since call centre is an industry which needs to deal with large volume of phone calls everyday, and owing to the nature of the Cathay client's business is about carrying human life to travel, therefore, the structure of the call center can be defined as bureaucracy with every standard is documented in details as regulations without excuse to ignore. In operating a bureaucracy organization, perhaps, the transactional leadership may be the best fit leadership style. As mentioned that, When the transactional leader assigns work to a subordinate, the subordinate Is considered to be fully responsible for it, when things go off beam, then the subordinate or follower is considered to be in fault.
It can be concluded that in managing the PCCW/Asiamiles call centre Cathay adopts McGregor (1960) theory X approach and presume that most peoples have to be pushed and controlled with punishment to make them work towards organization goals.
When examine how the national cultures affects leadership, Hofstede's study about national culture can be one of tools to analyze the situation of the call centre. Hofstede is a central figure in the progress of literature on cultural variation and the dimension-based approach to assessing and classifying cultures. His book Cultures' Consequences (1980b) was a major advancement in the application of the culture construct to organizations. Among others, emphasizes that cultural differences are primarily encountered as differences in shared values, with values being defined as ‘‘broad tendencies to prefer certain states of affairs over others.''
Hofstede (1980c) defines power distance as the scope of how a society acknowledges and allows the fact that power in institutions and organizations is distributed unequally. In cultures with large differences in power between individuals, organizations will typically have more layers and the chain of command is felt to be more important. In line with Hofstede, Schwartz (1999) contrasts hierarchical and egalitarian cultures. The first emphasize the chain of authority and hierarchical structures. An unequal distribution of power and status is legitimate and expected. This represents the disproportion (more versus less) which is from the perspective of below not from above which means a different society's levels are sanctioned by the followers (below) as much as by the leaders (above). Although it is a unchangeable face that power and inequality exist in every society, it is clear some are more uneven than others.
In the case of Hong Kong, as its national culture is mainly influenced by Confucianism, Hofstede's study shows that Hong Kong's Power Distance score is 68 compared to the other Far East Asian countries average of 60. (http://www.geert-Hofstede.com/Hofstede_hong_kong.shtml, 2002) This indicates the existence of inequality of power and wealth within the society. This is not necessarily a challenge condition upon the population, but somewhat accepted by the society as their cultural tradition.
Although as mentioned that all staff are PCCW staff which mainly serve the customers of Cathay, and Cathay is one of the major local carrier of Hong Kong, however, the management team and individual staff from Cathay who is in charge to dealing with PCCW are from Australia, whose mindset and national culture can be categorized as western style generally, from the perspective of PCCW, it is more suitable to arrange a similar people to deal with the client of Cathay who has similar cultural common ground, therefore, PCCW employs an Australian as the call center manager, however, as mentioned that, the major pool of staff of the call centre are Hong Kong Chinese, therefore, it forms a situation that the leader of the call centre adept a western leading philosophy to lead and manage a MNC but that staff are major are Hong Kong local Chinese who are adapted to eastern leading philosophy.
When imply the data of PDI of Hong Kong in Asiamiles call center, the situation match with the result of the study. Since the formation of staff pool of the centre are with Chinese majority, the Confucian heritage helps to explain its populations' respect of hierarchy. As mentioned that, although both Cathay and PCCW have set up certain kinds of regulations and rules, some are even can be considered too harsh for staff, (e.g. the harsh criteria of quality assessment on daily call handling performance, but such performance criteria are not explained fully to staff, each staff will only knows his/her performance which reflects on the salary adjustment according to assessment) to govern the performance of each staff, but astonishingly, over 10 years of operation, there are almost not an individual staff to oppose or to skeptic to such unfair rules, it may be explained by Hofstede's finding about Hong Kong's PDI that the mindset of the call center staff are yielded to authority without questioning. In addition, the Chinese in majority of staff pool i.e. the high PDI pool also show a significant figure for the willingness to accept the supervisory direction, and on their emphasis on gaining support from those in positions of authority. (Bu, Craig, and Peng ,2001) compared the willingness to accept supervisory direction among Chinese, Taiwanese and U.S. employees through a vignette study. Overall, Chinese employees had the strongest tendency to accept direction and the US employees the least. Chinese employees were most sensitive to the consistency between the supervisory direction and company policies, and were less responsive to their own assessment of the merit of the directions they were given.
Power distance in society is also directly related to leadership. For example, subordinates in high (rather than low) power distance societies are more reluctant to challenge their supervisors and more fearful in expressing disagreement with their managers (Adsit, London, Crom, & Jones, 1997). This can explain why the call center staff are seldom to judge or challenge the management or the leader of the call centre. It can be concluded that the transactional leadership of the call center manager is effective enough to operate the call center, but it is doubted that the effectiveness of the transactional leadership approach which is one of a western approach exert its effectiveness or the behavior/mindset of the high PDI of Chinese staff just merely match the transactional leadership, and permit the transactional leadership appears to exert its effectiveness.
In addition to the transactional leadership in high level management, call centre manager also takes the approach of transformational leadership to motivate the middle management team to be effective and efficient. For easier daily resources planning and roaster arrangement, each staff is assigned to a specific team to follow a team leader, then from its structure the main team in operating the call center become the routine of the middle management, namely team leader. The Australian call manager always entrust the middle management by dedicating the daily operational management to the middle management team which amplify their alertness of task importance and value and getting them to spotlight on the team or organizational goals first, rather than their own interests.
Besides, the transactional and transformational leadership approach, the call centre also takes the paternalistic leadership approach in the middle management. The call center top management encourages team leader (the middle management) to take care individual staff and focus on job performance, skills and knowledge transfer, as well as to provide “answer and solution” directly to staff which form an authoritarianism leadership and image to staff, which such direction can be regarded as a role of father like mentor. But on the other hand, further to jobs related issue, team leaders are encouraged to take care staff personal development or even personal life of individual staff which can demonstrate individualized and holistic concerns for subordinates' well-beings through coaching and foster a benevolence like leadership to staff. Moreover, team leaders are reminded to watch their personal virtues or discipline to earn respect and imitation from subordinates; such three ways approaches can be classified as a paternalistic leadership which is associated to the ancient Confucianism or Far East philosophy of fatherly duty. The reason of doing a different approach in between top management , i.e. the western bureaucratic approach in transactional leadership and the paternalistic leadership in middle management can be concerned as similar as the contingency theory, which leader or management doesn't bide to any specific leadership styles no matter west or east but it is utilized considerately; when dealing with client or in high level management such as policy, procedures and process, it must take a transactional leadership approach to ensure the call centre can be operated in its highest standard and meet the requirement of the client.
On the other hand, in corresponding the high PDI of Hong Kong peoples or the Far Eastern mindset, team leaders are encouraged to take another approach by utilizing paternalistic leadership to manage and lead staff or even to become a role model of staff. In fact, for the top management of the call center, his main duty is to communicate and deal with the CX client and to ensure the call center middle management staff to clearly understand the desires or requirements of the CX client; and to motivate the team leader to continuously take the caring approach to team members. Although, it is argued that when paternalistic leadership incorporates an over magnified personality, and a strong rejection to keep in touch with followers in an organization and it's often the case that the leader becomes detrimentally autocratic and makes poor decisions, Also, the strong belief that a leader "knows best” can lead to catastrophic results, when examine the function of the middle management in the call centre by using the paternalistic approach, such argument may become overwhelming. Since, the nature of the business, customers problems or questions are required to be resolved solved adequately and instantaneously, therefore, the paternalistic “know all and know how” approach of the middle management can effectively help staff to brazen out daily operational problems efficiently and effectively. Besides, since only the middle management levels are encouraged to take this leadership style, hence, it is almost not possible for this “non-highest power” to pilot the call center into catastrophic situation.
In conclusion, although culture is complex and multifaceted, the case of the Asiamiles/Marco Polo call center shows a kind of intelligence to assimilate different leadership styles and skills according to different cultures and occasions. Moreover, it shows that pure discussion on similarity or differences between East or West leadership is meaningless. One of the primary questions in all cross-cultural research is whether phenomena are ‘‘universal'' or culturally contingent and this is particularly true for the field of cross-cultural leadership research (Dickson, Hanges, & Lord, 2000). However, the PCCW call center has shown that the so called cross-cultural leadership just indicate to apply the “universal” theories of leadership according to the summation or different formation of different national cultures in a particular organizational structure and culture and the nature of the business in contingent, this is proven that whether aspects of leadership and leadership theory are ‘‘universal'' or are culturally contingent. In applying the universal leadership skills and styles, leaders must understand how culture operates at diverse levels. At one level, individuals are shaped by their national cultures while they are influenced by the culture of their organization. In the meantime, when globalization and cross-cultural become cliché in the past few decades, however the call centre also illustrates the intelligence of combining the east and west leadership styles in managing staff and which can be corresponded to the 150 years colonial history of British to Hong Kong, which in high level, managing or leading acts is according to bureaucratic system and transactional leadership, but the daily lives and living philosophy of Chinese heritage were still maintained, which such so-called cross cultural skills can be dated back 150 years ago. Perhaps, all leaders participating in MNCs or cross cultures management should review and examine the colonial management though out history (not only Hong Kong, but the colonial history of across time being) to perceive how to rule different colonies by utilizing different leading styles and skills thoughtfully rather than focusing on the ethnocentric, biased theories.