July archive

International Negotiations

July 31, 2007 0 comments

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We are probably most familiar with the process of cross-cultural negotiations in our experience of current affairs. Hardly a day passes without some mention of high-level negotiations attempting to resolve inter-country differences, or conferences being held to try to obtain an international consensus on issues such as environmental pollution, whaling and so forth.

Even within EU-based negotiations we frequently reveal differences of opinion, which have their bases in national cultural differences, such as the centralism of France versus the ‘laissez-faire’ approach of the British government towards industrial and fiscal policy.

The politicians involved in all these settings have to agree, not only on action, but also over some deep-seated aspects of national pride and national culture through a process of compromise and diplomacy.

In business, similar problems occur. Negotiation of an agreement is subject to many cultural rules as well as commercial ones. This is an area where cultural differences can play a significant part. Arriving at agreement is a complex process and many factors must be explored by the parties concerned, while maintaining an understanding of the negotiating issues and continually checking for mutual understanding.

Many specialist books on negotiating skills have been published; several use what we could classify as a ‘cookbook’ approach, providing recipes for the dos and don'ts of negotiating. These tend to provide a surface approach to understanding cultural differences. Books, which look at doing business in various countries, provide more information about the country but tend to generalize about the negotiating processes. Finally, there are those books which seek to explore the cultural heritage of a country, as well as providing a goodly measure of business advice. An example of this is represented by Schecter’s book on Russian Negotiating Behavior. Schecters’s book highlights the importance of history and country-related historical development in understanding the background cultural environment of negotiating.

In international business, there are many agreements to be negotiated, drafted, signed and finally implemented: supply of services and raw materials, supply of marketing and design expertise, strategic alliances and joint venture agreements, export and distribution agreements, to mention just a few.

What makes cross-border negotiation different from purely domestic negotiation is that cross-border agreements are much more complex because the negotiators must deal with varied frameworks, such as legal and political pluralism, currency fluctuations (and other forms of economic risk) government intervention, instability and change, ideological and cultural diversity. International business negotiations involve interactions between managers from disparate cultures. Cultural norms and differences between the negotiators have a significant influence on how they behave throughout the process.

What makes cross-border negotiation different from purely domestic negotiation is that cross-border agreements are much more complex because the negotiators must deal with varied frameworks, such as legal and political pluralism, currency fluctuations (and other forms of economic risk) government intervention, instability and change, ideological and cultural diversity. International business negotiations involve interactions between managers from disparate cultures. Cultural norms and differences between the negotiators have a significant influence on how they behave throughout the process.

Gesteland (1999) suggests that there are two golden rules in international business:

  1. The seller is expected to adapt to the buyer
  2. The visitor is expected to observe local customs,

There are exceptions, of course, but these rules have fairly general application. Be yourself, advises Gesteland, but also be aware of local customs, traditions and habits, adapting to them as necessary.

There are exceptions, of course, but these rules have fairly general application. Be yourself, advises Gesteland, but also be aware of local customs, traditions and habits, adapting to them as necessary. In this section, we will explore the process of negotiation in an international context , outlining important elements of negotiation behaviour. A good deal of information is available from Gesteland’s book and from

"Executive Planet website - <http://www.executiveplanet.com/index.php?title=Main_Page>"_ - which contains good country-specific and detailed information on several relevant factors.

How might cultural differences impact on negotiations? Make a list of points now.

Let us take the example of timing and scheduling as an example.

Gesteland (1999) suggests that people perceive time very differently across cultures; this view is comparable with both Trompenaars’ and Kluckhohn and Stodbeck’s dimensions of temporal activity. Hall (he of the high and low context approach to culture ) calls those cultures in which timing and scheduling matters a great deal, ‘monochronic’ examples being Nordic and Germanic Europe, North America and Japan. Polychronic cultures value loose scheduling and have a relaxed approach to timing, examples being the Arab world, most of Africa, Latin America and south and south-east Asia. The remainder can be described as moderately monochronic! We are reminded that this is a very general description; in fact there are subtle differences within countries, as well as between them. Northern Italy, for example, is more monochronic than the south of the country, similar differences existing between northern and southern Spain.

Knowledge of differences and, much more, ability to adapt to differences without affecting performance are vital. Arrive late for a business meeting in Germany and you will create the impression that you will be also late in delivering any promised goods or services. This type of culture shock can be avoided with some careful planning and intelligence gathering beforehand (see the slide on preparation and planning for negotiations below). Living and working in a monochronic culture perhaps makes us less tolerant of situations in which we are kept waiting; the difficulty in making a change of mind-set to deal with foreign situations takes more than mere knowledge of the differences in behavior - we have to prepare ourselves

Visit "Executive Planet website - <http://www.executiveplanet.com/index.php?title=Main_Page>"_ and/or alternatively http://www.bspage.com/1netiq/Netiq.html and carry out a cross-country comparison of timing, classifying your selected countries according to Hall’s view of time-dependent and time-relaxed countries.

Posted by lisa
Categories: International Management Culture International Negotiations

The case of Upjohn

July 29, 2007 0 comments

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'Pharmacia and Upjohn merger in rough cultural waters'

A US company who had difficulties of co-ordination at their Swedish subsidiary through cultural differences in the form of different work attitudes and perception towards time.

Case 1

American executives, once part of Michigan's Upjohn Corporation, are becoming intensely familiar with London. They arrive with overnight bags and jet-lagged expressions to meet Swedish colleagues from the former Pharmacia S.A. flying from Stockholm to work in the new world headquarters of Pharmacia & Upjohn Inc. The $7 billion company was the result of a merger between the two giant Swedish and American companies in late 1995 and the office is located in the London area because an unobtrusive building near Windsor Castle was the only location that satisfied all of the executives involved in the decision.

Selecting a headquarters took months of negotiation, foreshadowing the problems now plaguing the newly merged company. After the merger was completed, the Americans wanted their Swedish counterparts to move to Kalamazoo, Michigan - a proposal which was unilaterally rejected. A second suggestion called for relocating the central office to Mississippi, where Upjohn had extensive R&D facilities. Managers from both Michigan and Stockholm rejected this option. Italy was considered because Pharmacia had substantial subsidiaries in southern Europe. Few managers in either group felt comfortable with the language and cultural requirements of an Italian location. France was unsuitable due to complex legal requirements, language barriers, and gut-level resistance. London presented a relatively bland compromise. Neither partner had facilities in London, no one had particular connections in or biases about the United Kingdom, and all executives could at least communicate in English. Hiring support staff would be easy, and travel would be a reasonable burden.

With the city chosen, managers had to agree on a style of building. Americans rejected a proposal for upscale and modern facilities with wide conference facilities and "open style" offices, since they were accustomed to well-insulated offices appointed according to rank and status. The Swedes, labelled as "too groupy" for American tastes, felt equally put off by the prospect of working like boxed rats in cubicles and locked offices. The solution was a nondescript, aging red-brick building which was remodelled to provide private space for the Americans and open space for the Swedes. But it also needed access to gardens and public transport, as well as a southern exposure to provide "acceptable light and air" to please Italians, who became part of the executive core, and Parisians, who felt "forced into a stifling Anglo environment."

The company has been buffeted by hundreds of relatively minor business culture problems since it was born but major conflicts have also surfaced. Soon after the headquarters problem was resolved, the new American chief executive, John Zabriskie, brought a style of management described as "brisk, fast-lane, driven and a full charge to take no prisoners." Within three months of relocation, Zabriskie left in what was called "a mutual agreement over un-reconcilable management differences." Current CEO Jan Ekberg, who replaced Zabriskie, said that difficulties had little to do with Zabriskie himself, other than his obviously entrenched American approach to business. Still, associated problems rankled throughout the company.

"We have half a merger," Ekberg said in an interview. "The companies were ideally suited, with compatible product lines and extensive research and manufacturing in their respective regions. Neither had markets in one another's areas. Upjohn needed Europe and a world presence after being anchored in the U.S. and Pharmacia could not compete in North America without the strength of Upjohn. What we missed was that a merger has less to do with accounting than with human beings."

At the outset, American executives tried to graft their U.S. management style onto an established European business. In Ekberg's view, this hard-driving, mission-oriented American approach shocked the more gradualist, consensus-oriented Swedish managers. American managers wanted plans, actions, immediate results and a reporting system or committee process tailored to inflexible power relationships. Americans regularly made proposals that encountered no obvious contention, so they assumed that the proposals had become decisions. They then moved directly toward implementing the perceived decisions, while Swedish colleagues, assuming that the Americans had merely put forward ideas, proceeded to contemplate the implications. They retreated to their offices to do some research or just think about the issues while the Americans charged ahead. In contrast, if a Swede put forward a proposal, he or she essentially invited input and consideration from colleagues, perhaps leading to consensus to move forward. This casual pace prompted impatient responses from Americans, who sometimes bypassed the Swedes and simply went ahead with their own agendas. At least the Swedes and Americans always arrived promptly and attended carefully to business; Italian managers might not even show up for a meeting. They found that Americans and Swedes were far too preoccupied with time and procedures to appreciate the finer points of life. French managers stayed at home when they had the choice and sometimes insisted on bilingual interpretations or translations of documents. One American executive, who decided to take early retirement rather than try to adapt to the situation, said, "these People just rubbed each other the wrong way. . . . we couldn't even agree on a new name for the company and ‘Pharmacia Upjohn’ was the default. . . . in fact, many of us are too set in our ways to even try to understand a new culture."

Organizational differences presented a set of problems that compounded human relations issues. Americans were accustomed to bonus payments in the form of stock options, deferred income and supplemental retirement benefits. Throughout the Upjohn company, prior to the merger, management compensation included a strong component of non-cash (or tax-advantaged) benefits. A Swedish company has no use for these methods, coming from a social system that offers universal medical care, state-mandated retirement annuities and employment protection, a social welfare approach to taxation and pervasive benefits for all employees which limit differentials between lower-level employees and managers or high-level executives. European accounting systems simply do not accommodate stock-option bonuses or selective, non-monetary rewards.

At the same time, Americans came to work early, stayed late, took few vacations, and coupled holidays with business trips. Not so for Europeans. Ekberg explained that the American managers from Kalamazoo could not begin to comprehend how their European counterparts could take off the entire month of August for vacation. "They were astonished at European vacation habits," said Ekberg. "I must admit there are different traditions and I think Europeans are much more international. We are used to working across borders, in different languages. We are used to treating people in a different way. The Americans are really not very international because they have this huge home base. American companies sell their products abroad but this does not necessarily make them international." Ekberg identified his most pressing task during the next few years as melding together an organization that could tolerate differences in expectations.

Goran Ando, the executive vice-president for research at Pharmacia & Upjohn, offered some insight into the culture clash. "I am a Swede who has lived in both Britain and the United States for a number of years and I see in Americans a more can-do approach to things," Ando said. "They try to overcome problems as they arise. A Swede may be slower on the start-up. He sits down and thinks over all the problems and, once he is reasonably convinced he can tackle them, only then will he start running. But I don't know which style is the best." Ando said he had found that one solution was to move American and European managers back and forth across the Atlantic, even for brief visits. This, he said, "may help to speed up the development of contacts and it will enhance understanding because you develop respect for each other."

The Pharmacia & Upjohn situation, its top executives insist, is being rectified, but not without pain. The organization is becoming flatter, moving toward Swedish methods of team management and away from systems based on hierarchical ranks. Global communication systems are under development in London and international accounting and information systems will benchmark American practices. However, the French maintain a dual accounting process that will be difficult to change. Major cross-border training has been introduced to raise levels of understanding among several continental European groups and regional U.S. interests. Unfortunately, the company has also launched a major downsizing program to cut excess facilities and staff, at the same time beginning to rebuild with new talent strong in a global perspective for doing business.

Posted by lisa
Categories: International Management Culture

Do Cultures Change?

July 29, 2007 0 comments

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Evidence from Individualism/Collectivism Research

  • Artifacts change more quickly; Values/Assumptions changes less quickly.
  • Japanese and Chinese are becoming increasingly individualist, and Americans are becoming increasingly collectivist.
  • Largely due to “dialog's” in Japan and America, and changing socio-political environment in China

It was identified earlier the relative ease with which artefacts change and noted that values, and more especially assumptions, take much longer to change.

Assumptions about the Nature of Change

Western: Eastern:
Linear Cyclical
Unusual, Caused through Natural; equilibrium
disequilibrium in change
Goal oriented Journey oriented
Planned or managed by Observed or followed
external agents by internal participants
Implications for…  
Org Development!  

Assumptions related to change processes themselves are culturally defined, with change in the west being more the result of a spectacular situation, rather the comparative nature of incremental change in eastern countries. This is a big generalization and you might like to consider what type of event causes cultural change.

Considering your own culture or another with which you are familiar, set out patterns of change over the past ten or so years. Are they changes at the artefact level or are they more fundamental?

CONCLUSIONS

  • Culture has a variety of levels that affect multinationals
  • Models provide starting point to understand culture
  • Learning another culture is a never ending process

Does anyone ever get to understand fully another culture? Probably not, although some get close by living in another culture for a long time. What they do achieve is an understanding of why people act and think in the way they do, though not necessarily all the antecedents of thought or action though.

You might like to think about this for a while. Decide what is the essence of your own culture.

As you might expect, an understanding of some of the complexities of culture and cultural differences is an important attribute of international organizations and therefore of international managers, in that they can adapt and confront differences.

Given the persistence of cultural diversity, international managers need to recognize and anticipate the impact of cultural differences on foreign operations as well as on themselves, since values, beliefs and norms are only shared and understood among a society’s members.

Posted by lisa
Categories: International Management Culture

Organizational Culture versus National Culture

July 29, 2007 0 comments

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Organizational culture is one of the control systems that regulates and governs employee attitudes and behavior. There is a widely held belief among some managers that organizational cultures tend to moderate or erase the impact of national culture. The logic of such conventional wisdom is that, if an American company set up operations in France, it would not be long before the French employees began to act like Americans. In fact, evidence seems to suggest that the opposite may be true. Hofstede’s research found that the national culture values of employees impact significantly on their organizational performance and that the cultural values the employees bring to the workplace are not easily changed by the organization. For instance, some French employees would have a higher power distance than Swedes and some a lower power distance, such that ‘if a company hired locals in Paris, they would on the whole, be less likely to challenge hierarchical power than would the same number of locals hired in Stockholm’ (Hodgetts and Luthans, 2000).

Dr. Monir Tayeb states that people take their ‘cultural baggage’ into the workplace.

Monir Tayeb’s claim that national culture and organizational culture were sometimes difficult to distinguish and in fact often meld together.

Organizational Culture: Hofstede Framework

Underlying patterns:

  • Process- vs. Results-Oriented
  • Employee- vs. Job-Oriented
  • Parochial vs. Professional
  • Open vs. Closed System
  • Loose vs. Tight Control
  • Normative vs. Pragmatic

Artefacts:

Rituals, stories, jargon, informal practices, dress codes, office layout, humor, etc.

The orientation on results versus process can be illustrated by the masculinity versus femininity dimension. Open versus closed systems are examples of low and high uncertainty avoidance and loose versus tight control as a feature of power distance. Cultural artefacts at the organizational level include such things as dress codes, office layouts and office practices. In fact, we can use the three-tier approach that we used earlier for discussing national cultures.

One specific problem faced by many researchers is to differentiate between national culture and organizational culture. For example, if one studies the behavior of managers within, say, IBM, is the differences in responses one might obtain in the various subsidiaries due to subsidiary differences or to differences between the countries in which the organizations are located?

In practice, differentiating between national and other cultural effects is very difficult and anyone who researches in this exciting area of management endeavor faces this problem.

Posted by lisa
Categories: International Management Culture

Control and other Management Issues

July 29, 2007 0 comments

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Control

  • Organizational Structure
  • Budgets
  • Production Processes
  • Inventory and Distribution
  • Marketing and Sales

It is apparent that culture affects many managerial processes carried out across borders and that cultural differences can affect even the most standard of routines. Control is no exception and, outside the centralization/decentralization debate, there are some interesting examples.

Budgets are subject to differences because of the varying accounting standards and their construction is subject to individual management interactions. Therefore, that which is important to control through budgets in one country may not be reflected in the design of budgets in another. This argument can be extended to other areas, the net effect being to add complexity to the way in which international firms are controlled.

A similar argument can be extended to negotiations of various kinds

Implications for International Management: Differences in Negotiation Approaches

American Japanese/Chinese
Deal w/ strangers Deal through connections
A deal is a deal Deals can be changed
Share lots of info Share minimal info
Quick Slow

The discussion widens to include the impact of culture on various management approaches.

How Cultures Affect Management Approaches

Centralized Decision Making Decentralized Decision Making
Risk Averse Risk Seeking
Individual Rewards Group Rewards
Informal Procedures  
High Organizational Loyalty Low Organizational Loyalty
Co-operation Encouraged Competition Encouraged

Posted by lisa
Categories: International Management Culture

Assessing Trompenaars

July 29, 2007 0 comments

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  • summaries the content of previous studies, particularly Kluckhohn and Strodtbeck, Laurent and Hofstede
  • provides numerous applications of findings
  • little regard paid to population and spread of responses
  • problems with scoring of parameters
  • lack of correspondence between responses

The main benefit gained from Trompenaars’ work is that it provides practical examples of culture at work. Combined with the work of Hofstede, business people can gain an insight into the potential impact of cultural differences and appreciate some of the problems that may be encountered in doing business with firms and individuals in other countries.

To summarize the theoretical discussions, we can consider the impact of dimensions on national cultural aspects of organizational life.

How Cultures Differ (together Hofstede, Hall)

Individualism/Collectivism

  • Power Distance, Uncertainty Avoidance, Masculinity/Femininity, Confucian Dynamism
  • High/Low Context
  • Categorization & Language
  • Assumptions about Time
  • Assumptions about Change

Groups and Synergy

A mixed culture group is most likely to be synergistic

when members -

  • value the exchange of alternative points of view
  • tolerate uncertainty in group processes
  • co-operate to build group decisions
  • respect each other’s experiences and share their own
  • use the exposure to others’ cultural values as a positive opportunity for cross-cultural learning
  • overcome the misunderstandings and inefficiencies that result from members of different cultures working together

In many organizations, especially the multinationals, teams of people are often brought together from different countries to work on specific projects. The slides suggest some considerations which would help such teams function effectively, for instance, the need to use cultural differences to promote innovation and to expose staff from a particular culture to the attitudes of people from foreign cultures, thereby increasing their international competence.

If you have any experience of working with someone from another culture, you might care to reflect on these points in the light of your own experience.

Posted by lisa
Categories: International Management Culture

‘The Practical Guide to Culture in the Workplace’ - Fons Trompenaars (1993)

July 27, 2007 0 comments

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Another important researcher is Fons Trompenaars (another Dutchman) and his book ‘Riding the Waves of Culture’ discusses his main research rationale and findings. While some of his work has distinct similarities to Hofstede’s dimensions, other elements have a strong association with earlier, more general, research into cultural behavior. He describes seven dimensions.

Trompenaars’ cultural dimensions

  • universalism v particularism
  • collectivism v individualism
  • neutral v emotional
  • specific v diffused orientation
  • according status
  • managing time
  • relationship with nature

Trompenaars surveyed employees of fifty companies in 30 countries in the late 1980s. His research was particularly directed at how business was carried out and at business problems that occurred in a range of cultural settings, rather than concern with generic cultural issues. Five of the dimensions are related to personal interrelationships, the other two concerning the use or perception of time.

Universalism versus Particularism

Universalism:

the belief that ideas and practices can be applied everywhere without modification

  • USA, Germany, and Sweden

Particularism:

the belief that circumstances dictate how ideas and practices should be applied

  • Spain and Japan

The universalist approach says that what is good and right applies everywhere, for instance, rules penalizing sales staff that do not fulfill their quotas apply whether or not the individual claims extenuating circumstances.

The particularist approach emphasizes the obligations of relationships: a salesman has failed to achieve his quota because of his concern for a sick son, so can be excused.

Trompenaars presents findings from three cases. In response to a case concerning insider information, the percentage of respondents who would not tip off a friend (i.e. the most universalist) is greatest in Japan and least in Oman and Russia.

Collectivism versus Individualism

Individualism:

refers to people regarding themselves as individuals

  • USA, UK, and Sweden

Collectivism:

refers to people regarding themselves as part of a group

  • Japan and France

    ‘Do we relate to others by discovering what each one of us individually wants and then try to negotiate the differences, or do we place ahead of this some shared concept of the public and collective good?’

    Trompenaars 1993

Findings are given for responses to three questions. In response to one concerning options for the quality of life, the least interest in individual freedom was shown in Nepal, then Kuwait, the most in Canada, then the US. This description is very close to Hofstede’s concept of the dimension.

Neutral Vs. Affective

Neutral: emotions are held in check

  • Japan and the USA

Affective: emotions are openly and naturally expressed

  • Mexico, Netherlands, and Switzerland

Some cultures are affective, in that they readily show emotions; others are neutral and control or subdue their emotions. Findings are given for one question: whether informants would express their feelings openly if upset at work. The greatest readiness to do so was shown in Italy, then France and the USA.

Specific Vs. Diffuse

Specific: individuals have a large public space and a small private space

  • UK, USA, and Switzerland

Diffuse: both public and private space are similar in size

  • Venezuela, China, and Spain

In specific-orientated cultures, the manager separates the work relationships with subordinates from other dealings with them. Findings are given for two cases. In response to a question of whether a manager should help the boss paint his house, Australian and the Netherlands showed to most unwillingness and China, then Nepal, the most willingness.

Achievement Vs. Ascription

Achievement:

people are accorded status based on how well they perform their functions

  • USA, Switzerland, and UK

Ascription:

status is attributed based on who or what a person is

  • Venezuela and China

While some cultures give status on the basis of achievement, others ascribe it on the basis of age, class, gender, education and so on. Findings are given for two cases. In response to a statement that ‘the most important thing in life is to think and act in the ways that best suit the way you really are, even if you do not get things done’ (which Trompenaars reads as a reflection of ascribed status), most agreement was shown in Egypt, then Turkey and Argentina, least by Norway, then the USA.

Managing Time

Trompenaars distinguishes between sequential and synchronic cultures and past or future-oriented ones.

Past or Present-Oriented Vs. Future-Oriented

Past or present-oriented :

emphasize the history and tradition of the culture

  • Venezuela, Indonesia, and Spain

Future-oriented:

emphasize the opportunities and limitless scope that any agreement can have

  • USA, Italy, and Germany

Sequential Vs. Synchronous Time

Sequential:

time is prevalent, people tend to do only one activity at a time, keep appointments strictly, and prefer to follow plans

  • USA

Synchronous:

time is prevalent, people tend to do more than one activity at a time, appointments are approximate, and schedules are not important

  • Mexico and France

    Do countries emphasize their traditions or their forward thinking?

Relationship with Nature

Some cultures believe that they can and should control nature. Trompenaars characterizes these as inner-directed. Outer-directed cultures go along with nature.

Inner Directed

Believe in controlling outcomes

  • U.S.

Outer Directed

Believe in letting things take their own course

  • Asian Cultures

Posted by lisa
Categories: International Management Culture

Assessing Hofstede’s Work

July 27, 2007 0 comments

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Problems - assumptions about cultural territory and cultural homogeneity

  • single industry
  • one organization IBM - effect of organization culture

Strengths - control of populations

  • sample size 115,000 people in 50 countries
  • consistent use of dimensions
  • support from other studies - Sondergaard (1994)

Hofstede’s research is not without its weaknesses. Then fact that his survey was carried out in a single organization poses questions: How much of the results of his survey are national characteristics and how much IBM culture, for instance. Many of his work related values have a western bias and the inclusion of senior and middle managers may exclude perceptions of other groups. Furthermore, his studies were carried out before 1989, which meant that former command economies and China were not included. Some critics have argued that the research itself is culturally bound because the questions asked were based on industrial judgment founded on western thought.

Finally, a more general objection is that Hofstede assumes a nation-bound perspective, that culture and nation state correspond. This excludes the existence of subcultures and, more importantly perhaps, assumes that a country’s culture ends at the political border. However, we know that, in border regions, there is more of a mix of adjacent cultures, a good example of this being on the borders of Germany with Poland and the Czech Republic where, because of border shifts over time, it is sometime difficult to determine what is Germany and what is the other country.

On the other hand, his methodology is robust, he handles his samples in a controlled way and successive researchers have generally agreed with Hofstede’s findings. Sondergaard’s study is a good retrospective on Hofstede’s work.

Despite the criticisms, Hofstede’s research remains one of the most comprehensive and robust in the literature and the cultural dimensions are now used in many practical settings, as well as having theoretical importance. One colleague of mine, affiliated to Lund University in Sweden, is one of several people who offer consultancy services, based on Hofstede’s work, to international organizations.

Posted by lisa
Categories: International Management Culture

Managerial Issues

July 27, 2007 0 comments

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The following five tables match selected managerial processes to each of the four original dimensions and to short term versus long term orientation. The processes are Human Resource Management (selection, training, promotion and remuneration), leadership styles, motivational assumptions, decision making/organizational design and strategy issues. It is useful for us to take each process in turn and observe the differences between high and low examples of each. If we take training as an example, we note that in low power distance countries, a major criterion is for autonomy, i.e. the manager can take a decision on his own responsibility, whereas in high power distance countries, training emphasizes conformity. With regard to individualism, training in high individualism countries will be generally geared to meeting individual achievement, whereas in low individualism countries, training is more directed towards company-based skills.

MANAGEMENT PROCESSES LOW POWER DISTANCE HIGH POWER DISTANCE
Human Resources Management    
Management Selection Educational achievement Social Class Elite Education
Training For autonomy For conformity/obedience
Evaluations/Promotion Performance Compliance;trustworthiness
Remuneration Small wage differences between management & worker Large wage differences
Leadership Styles Participative; theory Y Authoritarian Close Supervision
Motivational Assumptions People like work; extrinsic/intrinsic rewards Assume people dislike work; Coercion
Decision Making/ Decentralized, flat pyramids; Tall pyramids;
Organizational Design Small proportion of supervisors Large proportion of supervisors
Strategy Issues Varied Crafted to support the power elite or government

Comparing Management Process -- High and Low Uncertainty Avoidance

MANAGEMENT PROCESSES High U. Avoidance Low U. Avoidance
HR Management    
Management Selection Seniority; expected loyalty Past job performance; education
Training Specialized Training to adapt
Evaluations/Promotion Seniority; Expertise; Loyalty Objective individual performance data; job switching for promotions
Remuneration Based on seniority or expertise Based on performance
Leadership Styles Task oriented Non-directive; flexible person-oriented;
Motivational Assumptions People seek security; avoid competition People self motivated competitive
Decision Making/ Larger organizations; Smaller organizations
Organizational Design Tall hierarchy; Formalized; many standardized procedures Flat hierarchy; Less formalized with fewer written rules/ standardized procedures
Strategy Issues Risk adverse Risk taking

Comparing MANAGEMENT PROCESSES -- LOW and HIGH POWER DISTANCE

MANAGEMENT PROCESSES LOW POWER DISTANCE HIGH POWER DISTANCE
HR Management    
Management Selection Educational achievement Social Class; Elite Education
Training For autonomy For conformity/obedience
Evaluations/Promotion Performance Compliance;trustworthiness
Remuneration Small wage differences between management and worker Large wage differences
Leadership Styles Participative; theory Y Authoritarian; Close Supervision
Motivational Assumptions People like work; extrinsic/intrinsic rewards Assume people dislike work; Coercion
Decision Making/ Decentralized, Flat pyramids; Tall pyramids;
Organizational Design Small proportion of supervisors Large proportion of supervisors
Strategy Issues Varied Crafted to support the power elite or government

Comparing Management Process -- HIGH and LOW INDIVIDUALISM

MANAGEMENT PROCESSES LOW INDIVIDUALISM HIGH INDIVIDUALISM
HR Management    
Management Selection Group membership; school or university Universalistic based on individual traits
Training Focus on company based skills General skills for individual achievement
Evaluations/Promotion Slow with group; seniority Based on individual performance
Remuneration Based on group membership/org paternalism Extrinsic rewards (money, promotion) based on market value
Leadership Styles Appeals to duty and commitment Individual rewards and punishments based on performance
Motivational Assumptions Moral involvement Calculative; Individual cost/benefit
Decision Making Group; slow; Individual responsibility;
Organizational Design Larger organizations Smaller organizations

Comparing Management Process -- HIGH and LOW MASCULINITY

MANAGEMENT PROCESSES LOW MASCULINITY HIGH MASCULINITY
HR Management    
Management Selection Independent of gender, school ties less important; androgyny Jobs gender identified; School performance and ties important
Training Job-Oriented Career oriented
Evaluations/Promotion Job performance with less gender role assignments Continues gender tracking
Remuneration Less salary differences between levels; more time off More salary preferred to less hours
Leadership Styles More theory Y; More theory X;
Motivational Assumptions Emphasis on quality of life, time off, vacations; work not central Emphasis on growth and performance excelling to be best work central to life job recognition important
Decision Making Intuitive/group Decisive/individual
Organizational Design smaller organizations larger organizations preferred
Carry out this exercise for each of the tables above and comment on the likely practices in countries with (a) high power distance and high masculinity and (b) low individualism and high uncertainty avoidance.

Comparing Management Process -- SHORT and LONG TERM ORIENTATION

MANAGEMENT PROCESSES Short term orientation Long term orientation
HR Management    
Management Selection Objective skill assessment for immediate use to company Fit of personal and background characteristics
Training Limited to immediate company needs Investment in long term employment skills
Evaluations/Promotion Fast; based on skill contributions Slow; develop skills and loyalty
Remuneration Pay; promotions Security
Leadership Styles Use incentives for economic advancement Build social obligations
Motivational Assumptions Immediate rewards necessary Subordinate immediate gratification for long term individual and company goals
Decision Making Logical analyzes of problems; Synthesis to reach consensus;
Organizational Design Design for logic of company situation Design for social relationships
Strategy Issues Fast; measurable payback Long term profits and growth; Incrementalism
This table might be considered in the context of the concept of time. Assess the potential impact on managerial practices if the companies take a predominately short-term approach.

Posted by lisa
Categories: International Management Culture

Theoretical Approaches to Culture

July 26, 2007 0 comments

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In order to understand national culture and its impact on business, we need some theoretical work upon which to base our discussions. You will find that, over the years, theoretical ideas have been refined as the sophistication and direction of research has evolved.

Theoretical Work

  • Kluckhohn and Stodtbeck (1961) - Cultural Orientations
  • Hall (1976) - Cultural Contexts
  • Laurent (1983), Adler, Campbell and Laurent (1989) - Culture, Status and Function
  • Hofstede (1980, 1984, 1991), Sondergaard (1994) - Culture and the Workplace
  • Trompenaars (1993) - The Business Consultant’s Perspective

We begin with some early research (though not the earliest cultural research) and you can see that elements of this are still evident in the latest approaches to explanations of culture.

Cultural Orientations (Kluckhohn and Stodtbeck, 1961)

Six basic orientations -

  • What is the nature of people?
  • What is the person’s relationship to nature?
  • What is the person’s relationship to other people?
  • What is the modality of human activity?
  • What is the temporal focus of human activity?
  • What is the conception of space?

The dimensions of this piece of anthropological research are reflected in later work. They identify six basic orientations as shown on the slide.

The temporal focus of human activity is related to the concept of time. How time is perceived is relevant to aspects of behavior such as punctuality and the use of time.

"Time is money”, as Henry Ford once said, is a particular perception of time.

The conception of space is relevant to the design of collective areas and also to the distance between people in conversation, something that is very culture-specific. We can readily see that this work, although of a non-business nature, has wide implications for human behavior, particularly in the world of business.

High and Low Context (Hall, 1976)

Defining Feature:

Extent to which behavioral cues are made explicit (e.g., through conversation, written documents), or are inherent in the situation.

Implications for Relationships, work settings

Hall developed a two-dimensional measure, which, although not sufficient in itself, provides an interesting insight into the explicitness or otherwise of societal behavior.

Essentially, Hall argues that some societies deal with societal rules implicitly, i.e. discussion and written documents do not make cultural rules explicit, compared with societies where the rules and regulations are carefully portrayed in interactions.

Hall suggests that, in order to analyze the behavioral characteristics of a group, one must understand the context in which they exist and how members of the group react to that context.

He classifies cultures into two groups: high context and low context. Some of the main characteristics are shown below.

Characteristic Low Context High Context
Relationship Long lasting Shorter period
Communications Shared code,non-verbal Messages,verbal
Authority Personally responsible Diffused
Agreement Informal,spoken Formal,written
Insiders and outsiders Distinguished Less distinguished
Cultural pattern Ingrained Adapt change faster
Using the characteristics above, examine your own domestic culture and suggest whether it displays a low or high context.

Hall’s work does not allow for the ranking of countries or for any scale of measurement, so it is of limited value. However, the work does have value in identifying those cultures which are more formal and rule-driven than less formal cultures.

Culture, Status and Function

  • Laurent (1983),
  • Adler, Campbell and Laurent (1989)
  • Laurent - Europe and USA
  • Adler et al - PRC, Indonesia and Japan

Two associated research programs come next: Laurent (1983) and Adler, Campbell and Laurent (1989). The earlier work was carried out in Europe and the USA and was extended in the latter work to SE Asia. Essentially, the researchers were considering status and function within business in different countries. They chose four quite broad areas: perception of the organization as a political system, systems of authority, how roles were formulated and the type of hierarchal systems.

Laurent, Adler et al - By-passing the hierarchy

In order to have efficient work relationships, it is often necessary to by-pass the hierarchical line

Disagree

Country %
Sweden 22%
UK 31%
USA 32%
Denmark 37%
Germany 46%
Italy 75%
PRC 66%

Laurent, Adler et al. The manager as expert or the manager as facilitator

It is important for a manager to have at hand precise answers to most of the questions that subordinates may raise about their work.

Agree

Country %
Sweden 10%
USA 18%
UK 27%
France 53%
Italy 66%
Indonesia 73%
PRC 74%
Japan 78%

Bypassing the hierarchical line to get things done would be found acceptable in countries like Sweden and the UK but not so in Italy or Japan. In those countries, things would have to be played ‘by the book’ - the hierarchical format for taking decisions would have to be followed, no matter what the situation.

The second point is particularly important - to what extent a manager is expected to have the answers to all staff queries. In Sweden, the USA and the UK, we as managers are not expected to know all the answers (perhaps only what is required to help with accessing the required information). In Japan and Indonesia, managers are assumed to be expert and thus able to provide immediate response to all staff queries.

It is readily apparent that, if a Swede is to work in a Japanese organization, a change of management approach may be needed; otherwise he or she may lose status in the eyes of staff members. On the other hand, a Chinese manager working in Europe may have to change to a more participative style of management.

If you have work experience, consider the questions above and relate them to your own experience. Do you agree, for instance, that the manager should always be able to answer subordinates’ questions immediately?

Hofstede, 1980, 1984, 1991

We now move to the two most important sets of studies into culture and organizations, the work of Hofstede and Trompenaars (both Dutchmen incidentally)

Hofstede carried out his research in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Initially, he made two questionnaire surveys within a single organization (IBM ), involving over 116,000 managers in 72 different countries. According to this research, Hofstede suggests that the way people in different countries perceive and interpret their organizational world varies along four dimensions: power distance, uncertainty avoidance, individualism versus collectivism and masculinity versus femininity.

Specifically, he argues the following:

  • work-related values are not universal
  • underlying values persist when a multi-national company tries to impose the same
  • norms on all its foreign interests
  • local values determine how Headquarters regulations are interpreted
  • by implication, a Multinational Corporation (MNC) that insists on uniformity across its interests is in danger of creating morale problems and inefficiencies
  1. Work-related values are not universal. In some countries, there exists a balance between work and home life that emphasizes the quality of life. In others, work is an economic necessity and everyone works, quite often for long hours. In some societies, work is given a religious meaning, the Protestant work ethic, for instance. People perceive the role of work differently between cultures and have implications for the way people are managed and motivated. In the UK, for instance, there have been several studies which suggest that people look for self-fulfillment through their work and that "money isn’t everything".
  2. Underlying values persist when a multi-national company tries to impose the same norms on all its foreign interests. That is to say, local values persist even when work instructions seem to conflict with them. Many companies have found to their cost that export of systems from headquarters to subsidiaries has not been successful because local interests prevailed.
  3. Local values determine how headquarters instructions are interpreted. Even in the most rule-oriented organization, instructions need to be interpreted by people. What Hofstede says is that local conditions will necessarily affect that interpretation.
  4. By implication, a multi-national company that insists on uniformity across its interests is in danger of creating morale problems and inefficiencies. Any conflict between headquarters rules and regulations and the local culture can lead to problems within the organization and consequent loss of efficiency. In extreme situations, management may find it very difficult to function effectively because of problems associated with headquarter needs.

Hofstede’s four dimensions of culture

Hofstede originally evolved four dimensions of behaviour: power distance, uncertainty avoidance, individualism and collectivism and masculinity versus femininity (slide 22). Later on, in association with Michael Bond, he evolved a fifth dimension: Confucian Dynamism. We will now set out these dimensions in more detail and assess their application in management situations.

  • Power Distance - the distance between individuals at different levels of the hierarchy
  • Uncertainty Avoidance - more or less the need to avoid uncertainty about the future
  • Individualism v Collectivism - the relationship between individuals and others
  • Masculinity v Femininity - the division of roles in society
  • Plus
  • Confucian Dynamism (Hofstede and Bond 1988)

Power distance

The extent to which less powerful members of institutions accept that power is distributed unequally

Large (Mexico, South Korea, India) + blindly obey order of superiors + hierarchical organizational structure

Small (U.S., Denmark, Canada) + decentralized decision making + flat organizational structures

HIGH POWER DISTANCE - NORMS, VALUES, AND BELIEFS

  • Inequality is good
  • Everyone has a place
  • People should depend on a leader
  • The powerful are entitled to privileges
  • The powerful should not hide their power

This refers to the degree of inequality between people and the readiness with which this inequality is expected in social situations. The lower the power distance, the more individuals will expect to participate in organizational decision making processes. It is likely that managers and subordinates will mix easily both in formal situations and in more informal gatherings. Outside the firm, people at various levels would mix relatively freely. In larger power distance situations, people expect instructions instead of participation - there is more dependency on direction and discretion in making decisions is not permitted. Managers would not mix socially with subordinates and would not expect any interaction with junior staff. Countries which exhibit high power distance ratings are China, Japan and Indonesia, with Denmark and other Scandinavian countries at the low power distance end of the scale.

Individualism/Collectivism

Individualism

The tendency of people to look after themselves and their immediate family only

  • strong work ethic
  • promotions based on merit
  • U.S., Canada, Australia

Collectivism

The tendency of people to belong to groups and to look after each other in exchange for loyalty

  • weaker work ethic
  • promotions based on seniority
  • China, South American cultures

Four Defining Features

  • Independent vs. interdependent self
  • Individual vs. group goals
  • Norm- vs. contract-driven behavior
  • Rationality vs. relatedness

Implications for…

  • Professional Behavior
  • Conflict resolution
  • Motivation
  • Ethics
  • Responsibility

Individualism is the tendency for people to look after themselves and their immediate family only, although in extreme cases, the individual element is driven for that person only. On the other hand, collectivism is the tendency of people to belong to groups or collectives and to look after each other in exchange for loyalty. Individual needs are then subservient to the goals of the group as a whole. The UK, Australia and Canada show high scores for individualism while Japan, Brazil, Chile and Columbia exhibit comparatively low readings. There are several implications here for managerial processes connected with motivation, responsibility and ethics.

Masculinity/Femininity

Masculinity (Vs. Femininity)

  • the dominant values in society are success, money and things
  • emphasis on earning and recognition
  • high stress workplace
  • Japan

Femininity

  • the dominant values in society are caring for others and the quality of life
  • employment security
  • employee freedom
  • Scandinavian cultures

MASCULINITY - NORMS, VALUES, AND BELIEFS

  • Clear definitions of gender roles
  • Men are assertive and dominant
  • Support for Machismo
  • Men should be decisive
  • Work is priority
  • Growth, success, and money are important

This factor relates to the degree to which ‘masculine’ values, such as achievement, performance, success, money and competition prevail over feminine values such as the quality of life, maintaining warm personal relationships, the idea of service, care for the weak and solidarity. Masculine cultures exhibit separate roles for women and men. The more feminine cultures tend to express a desire for a high quality of life and the environment over materialistic ends. The USA and Italy are at the high end of the masculine scale, whereas Denmark and Sweden are positioned at the feminine end of the scale. Differences in masculinity scores are also reflected in the types of career opportunity available in organizations and consequent job mobility.

Uncertainty Avoidance

Uncertainty Avoidance (High or Low)

The extent to which people feel threatened by ambiguous situations

High( Germany, Japan, Spain)

  • high need for security
  • strong beliefs in experts

Low (Denmark, UK)

  • willing to accept risks
  • less structuring of activities

UNCERTAINTY AVOIDANCE - NORMS, VALUES, AND BELIEFS

  • Avoid conflict
  • Low tolerance of deviant people and ideas
  • Respect for laws and rules
  • Experts and authorities are usually correct
  • Consensus is important

Uncertainty Avoidance concerns the degree to which people prefer rules, with fixed patterns of life and formal structures governing behavior. Risk taking is not a comfortable process and people prefer to have the maximum amount of relevant information before deciding on a plan of action. There is an expectation that rules and regulations will be followed closely, with a low tolerance for deviancy of action or ideas. In low uncertainty avoidance countries, people are happy to face the future with less formal rules and to interpret rules to fit the situation. Risk-taking is part of everyday life and following a hunch is as good as formal long-term planning. Control systems tend to be less detailed in low uncertainty avoidance areas. The USA and Canada show lower uncertainty avoidance while Japan, Greece and Portugal display relatively high levels.

Briefly describe the four dimensions in your own words. Think about your own work experiences and identify those processes which may be related to one or more of these dimensions. For example, are the payment systems based on individual effort or group achievement?

Confucian Dynamism

  1. Integration

Noncompetitiveness, trustworthiness, filial piety (obeying parents, honoring ancestors), patriotism

  1. Work Dynamism

Thrift, persistence, sense of shame, respect for tradition, protecting your “face”

  1. Human-Heartedness

Kindness, patience, courtesy, sense of righteousness

  1. Moral Discipline

Moderation, being disinterested & pure, having few desires

Implications for... Economic Growth

With the recent rise of China and other SE Asian economies, it became obvious that the four dimensions would not be adequate. Perhaps a strong point of Hofstede is that his work is evolving over time and this is a good example of a theory being extended to fit changing patterns of organizational life. Together with Michael Bond, Hofstede developed the idea of Confucian Dynamism.

This is a complex dimension, for westerners at least, since Confucianism is in itself complex. Essentially, Hofstede and Bond have identified some highly important and relatively important characteristics, which are listed below:

Highly important

  • Persistence and perseverance
  • Ordering relationships by status and observing that order
  • Thrift
  • Self-effacing attitudes

Relatively important

  • Personal sturdiness and stability
  • Issues of ‘face’
  • Respect for tradition
  • Reciprocation of greetings, favors and gifts

Although some of my Chinese colleagues consider that these characteristics are changing as China develops economically, especially a growing tendency towards individualism, they can be seen in action in many Chinese-foreign interactions. The formal rules are important, not only in everyday situations but also in negotiations.

HOFSTEDE’S VALUE DIMENSIONS BY COUNTRIES

Anglo cultures (US, GB, Australia)

  • High on individualism and masculinity, low on power distance and uncertainty avoidance

Latin European

  • High uncertainty avoidance

Nordic

  • Low masculinity

Far Eastern

  • high power distance, low individualism

The four dimensions are summarized by area; in fact, Hofstede’s results present certain clusters of countries which display similar characteristics. Nordic countries tend to be feminine, whereas the US and the UK tend to be more masculine.

Posted by lisa
Categories: International Management Culture

CAVEATS AND CAUTIONS

July 25, 2007 0 comments

"Stereotyping <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stereotyping>"_

"Ethnocentrism <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ethnocentrism>"_

"Cultural relativism <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cultural_relativism>"_

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We note that there is a great danger of generalizing too much when we discuss cultures. We know that in many cultures there exist sub-cultures which, although sharing much of the identity of the main culture, evolve important differences shared only by that sub-culture. Also, whilst we are all members of cultures and may therefore identify with the main dimensions, we are all individuals and interpret societal issues in our own way.

It is only too easy to stereotype all people within a culture to certain types of behavior (most stereotyping occurs at the artefact level). So we may represent the French as smelling of garlic or English football fans as always misbehaving. Stereotyping is easy - that is why people and elements of the press often do it - and it essentially misrepresents the truth because other cultural dimensions are also important.

Another problem found in some cultures is that of ethnocentrism: considering that one’s own culture is best and that other people should adapt to elements of it. Colonial powers tend to be ethnocentric when dealing with subject nations and, arguably, we see elements of this today when nations try to influence the political thinking and activities of other societies.

Thirdly, we have to be careful, when comparing cultures, that we are not just comparing artefacts but also looking at the deeper elements of society. It has been argued that this is where fundamental differences exist and where understanding is most difficult.

Note any instances of stereotyping or ethnocentrism that you have experienced or observed recently. How does this compare with your developing knowledge of culture and the reasons for cultural differences?

Quite often, then, we work with stereotypes rather than deep knowledge; that is, we represent cultures at a simplistic level of behavior that somehow symbolizes that culture. This is not only a trait displayed by individual people. Governments, political groups and other organizations often resort to stereotyping to increase the impact of their message. An example of this is evident in times of war or political unrest.

Posted by lisa
Categories: International Management Culture

Nature of Culture

July 25, 2007 0 comments

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The nature of culture can be divided into six main areas for discussion purposes:

  1. Culture is learned.

Most writers concentrate on culture as a socialization process; that is, it is not a physiological entity. This is generally true, although one could argue that there are certain human physiological factors that contribute to cultural issues, such as skin color, facial differences and stature, but generally we concentrate on the learning aspect of culture. Take a very young baby from one culture to another and by the time adulthood is gained, little if anything would remain of the initial culture.

  1. Culture is shared.

For culture to become a phenomenological entity, there has to be interaction and since cultural values, beliefs, etc. belong to a certain group, they are shared within that particular community.

  1. Culture is trans-generational.

Cultural values are handed down from generation to generation and are therefore cumulative. Parents educate and bring up their children to ideas and values that they find important in the main. In some societies, this bringing up of children is strongly controlled and variation from previously defined standards of behavior is met with significant levels of punishment. In others, changes in ideas are more liberally treated and, frequently, trends revert to previously held values over the long term.

  1. Culture is symbolic.

Culture is based on the human capacity to symbolise. A certain number of symbols can represent a particular culture, even a comparatively primitive one. National flags, national anthems, photographs or effigies of heads of state and national dress or even animals are all examples of cultural symbols. If one wishes to show displeasure against a nation or culture, that displeasure may be made more representational by burning the flag or a picture of the president and so on. Symbols may include values or ideas, capabilities or acts, things or possessions. These symbols are idiosyncratic to the group or individual and are usually easily identifiable.

  1. Culture is patterned.

Culture is patterned because it consists of tangible and intangible components, in which change in one may cause change in another, i.e. it is structured and integrated. This interdependence of cultural components is of fundamental importance, as cultural change necessarily affects more than one component and therefore change is more difficult to sustain.

  1. Cultures are adaptive.

Cultures change over time but only slowly, as fads and fashions come and go, and some aspects are wedded to the culture and others rejected. However, over the long term, there seem to be modifying influences that prevent continuous large-scale changes in society. When change does come, it is the artefacts of culture which change easily and may be cyclic in nature; it takes more fundamental change to affect values and assumptions.

Select a culture (your own or another) and examine each of the above elements in the context of that culture. For example, what are the important symbols, what has changed in the culture and how has this change affected other elements of that culture?

Comparing cultures

When we wish to compare cultures, there are several dimensions that can be used.

Assessing Cultural Factors

  • Language
  • Religion
  • Education
  • Social Systems
  • Level of Development
  • Behavior

Educational differences may be manifest in the structure and length of compulsory education (if it exists) together with the format of education (whether formal or informal).

Social systems include the structure of society, family and neighborhood structures, organization of social support and charity work, social and pressure groups and so on.

The level of development must be considered, i.e. whether the society is developed or less so, and finally aspects of the behavior of members of that culture, both verbal and non-verbal in nature.

Selecting two countries with which you are familiar, outline the major differences between them, using the criteria above.

Posted by lisa
Categories: International Management Culture

Understanding Culture

July 24, 2007 0 comments

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  • What is culture and where does it come from?
  • Culture at 3 levels of explicitness - artifacts, values, assumptions
  • Culture at 3 levels of organization - societal, organizational, individual
  • Some cultural differences
  • Do cultures change?
  • Explanation of why culture is important in International Management
  • Organizational culture

Culture exists at various levels, divided here into artefacts, values and assumptions. This is not the only method but is useful for our particular purposes. We will look quickly at culture at three levels of organization, taking into account the interface between national culture and organizational cultures. We will then move on to discuss cultural differences, the impact of change on culture and its effect on the management of international operations. Following a case study, we proceed to discuss some practical issues in selected areas of managerial activity.

Definition

The word ‘Culture’ comes from the Latin ‘cultura’, which is related to cult or worship and in turn is derived from the Latin word for farming =‘to cultivate’: “colere”.

In English, the word "culture" is used in a number of different ways; for example, we say a person is cultured if he or she possesses a wide appreciation of the intellectual things in life. We speak about culture in terms of classic paintings, plays and other art forms. The word "culture" is also used in science, particularly in biology and botany when we talk about culturing cells.

General issues of culture are defined by national and social characteristics. In this sense, culture is the acquired knowledge that human beings use to interpret experience and generate social behavior. This knowledge forms values, creates attitudes and influences behavior. Culture then defines a complex and inter-dependent whole, which consists of knowledge, belief, art, morals and other capabilities acquired by individuals as members of society.

Hofstede (1984) defines culture as the collective programming of the mind, which distinguishes the members of one human group from another; in this sense, values are among the building blocks of culture.

Definition

The collective programming of the mind which distinguishes the members of one human group from another....Culture, in this sense, includes systems of values; and values are among the building blocks of culture (Hofstede 1984)

Furthermore, it has been described in a general context as

‘everything that people have, think and do as a member of their society’ (Ferraro 1990).

Holt (1998) defines culture as

‘an anthropological concept that relates to a shared system of beliefs, attitudes, possessions, customs and values that define group behavior’.

Someone once counted the number of definitions of culture in the management literature and concluded that there were upwards of 345 different ones! We have to live, therefore, with several different perspectives but, as one study found, there are no universally agreed definitions – each one is unique (Copeland and Griggs 1997).

Our Own National Culture

Our own national culture is something we rather take for granted and this is quite natural. After all, we do not have to think about the way we behave every time we consider an action or an event. Consequently, it is quite difficult to describe one’s own culture for the benefit of strangers.

Take a blank sheet of paper and note down what you consider are the major elements of your national culture. At the beginning, this can be a very difficult task. But after learning some aspects of culture, this task will become easier and easier.
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Culture at 3 Levels of Explicitness

Some authors describe culture in terms of levels.

  • Artifacts

On the surface, that can be ‘sensed’ easily. Behaviors, appearances, etc.

  • Values

That people in the culture can recognize and/or articulate.

  • Assumptions

Hidden - ideas that are not/cannot be articulated, but provide the foundation for values and artifacts.

Artefacts are the surface demonstrations of culture, speech, forms of writing, dress, music, etc. and can change relatively easily over time. Values are basic assumptions about how things should be in society, convictions of what is right and wrong, good and bad. Assumptions deal with the deepest form of culture, usually not verbalized because it is assumed that everyone knows what to do. Understanding this aspect of national culture is the most difficult and even years of experience with another culture may not reveal all its dimensions.

Value Priorities Below is the outline between some value differences between USA, Japan and Arab Countries.

United States Japan Arab Countries
  1. Freedom
  1. Belonging
  1. Family Security
  1. Independence
  1. Group Harmony
  1. Family Harmony
  1. Self-Reliance
  1. Collectiveness
  1. Paternalism
  1. Equality
  1. Age/Seniority
  1. Age
  1. Individualism
  1. Group Consensus
  1. Authority
  1. Competition
  1. Cooperation
  1. Compromise
  1. Efficiency
  1. Quality
  1. Devotion
  1. Time
  1. Patience
  1. Patience
  1. Directness
  1. Indirectness
  1. Indirectness
  1. Openness
  1. Go-between
  1. Hospitality

Understanding these values is important because they fundamentally affect the way people behave; transgressing these value perceptions can lead to difficulties in business situations.

Value Differences and Similarities Across Cultures

Differences

U.S. managers value tactful acquisition of influence Japanese managers value deference to superiors Korean managers value forcefulness and aggressiveness Indian managers value no aggressive pursuit of objectives Australian managers value low-key approach with high concern for others

Similarities

Strong relationship between managerial success and personal values Value patterns predict managerial success Successful managers favor pragmatic, achievement-oriented values while less successful managers prefer static and passive values

Taking up the latter point reminds us that it is not only the differences which are important - we also need to consider areas of agreement as these, often provide a springboard for understanding the differences.

Write down what you see as the values of your own culture and any conflicts with those values which you have met in visiting or living in other countries.

Considering the similarities and differences in cultures you've selected, write down some situations in which these differences might affect a foreigner from one of the other societies, if he or she had to work in another of the countries mentioned.

In Conclusion

Values help insiders to determine how they should behave in society. For example, in terms of clothing, ladies in Arab countries are not allowed to reveal their ankles. One office furniture company found this out too late to prevent the modification of their furniture for the Arabian market, a costly mistake.

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We can examine culture at different levels of organization in the macro-business environment. Up until now, we have largely been discussing culture at the societal level but we can also consider organizational cultures and personal cultures.

Culture at Three Levels of Organization

  • National/Societal Culture

    Hofstede’s dimensions of “national” culture -- Power distance, Uncertainty Avoidance, Individualism-Collectivism, Masculinity-Femininity National subcultures (e.g., ethnicity, profession, gender)

  • Organizational Culture

    Artifacts, values & assumptions that distinguish one organization from others. Organizational subcultures (e.g., dept., function, profession)

  • Individual culture

    Thinking/behavioral tendencies resulting from socialization Individual subcultures (mindsets)

Business cultures are those that exist within a particular sector or line of business; for example, automobile traders possess aspects of culture which they share with others in that industry.

Occupational cultures are shared by people who carry out similar jobs, academics sharing a culture of research and teaching, for example, and civil engineers having professional links with others in the profession, no matter where they work.

As you can see, culture is shared with others. Furthermore, people learn about their own culture (and others) all through their lives and act within the boundaries of this learned culture. It is learned through the education system, laws, family influence, etc. We are also becoming more aware that people around the world act and behave differently, the increasing level of information that we are all experiencing fostering this awareness. Yet it is true that many people have relatively little knowledge of the deeper processes that underpin local cultures and we will discuss the effect of this factor later.

Culture & Behavior

How does culture arise, and how is it manifested?

Comes from human interactions with the environment and each other.

We develop practices that increase the probability of survival &/or increase satisfactions.

Practices are shared between people having common time, space & language, then transmitted across time periods and generations

Thus Ecology to Culture to Socialization to Personality to Behavior

We have mentioned the interactive nature of culture and its embeddedness in people. Among other factors is the ‘survival’ nature of culture, which we can often see manifest in primitive areas of the world but which still exists in developed cultures, if only rarely identified. In times of war, for instance, the survival and resilience dimensions of culture become more prominent.

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Categories: International Management Culture

A Broad View on Culture

July 20, 2007 0 comments

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As we have already inferred, culture is a complex concept, there being many views of culture and cultural differences. One method of portraying these is to classify the various schools of thought under three headings: convergent, divergent and universal.

Convergent.

This strand of debate concentrates on those aspects of culture that are becoming broadly similar around the world. Kenachi Ohmae, in his book ‘The Borderless World’ argues that, because of increase in the amount of information now generally available in developing countries, market demands are now becoming globalized and cultural differences are thereby diminished. For example, if one looks at youth culture, there has been a tendency to copy U.S. fashions. There is a general fashion to own electronic devices and kids’ toys are becoming increasingly international. (And, of course, hamburger and fried chicken joints are everywhere.)

Mead (1998) argues that the spread of information technology is having a convergent effect; this is in line with Levitt (1983) who surmised that markets were converging through the impact of technology on marketing practices. As goods become more generally available and the associated tastes of consumers change, this will impact on cultural dimensions.

Divergent

This school emphasizes the important differences between cultures. In some areas, there is evidence of specific measures to protect cultures from outside influence, thus crystallizing those differences. Since culture can be defined in terms of the ideas, beliefs and values that have shaped the lifestyle of an individual society, this experience becomes the source of solutions to many problems.

Although psychological needs are reasonably similar across boundaries, citizens have evolved their own range of solutions to problems which themselves become part of the cultural picture. Religion, moral codes and laws also project differences, such as that between Islamic and Christian cultures.

Universalist

This approach to culture utilizes certain cultural elements found in many, if not all, significant societies. For example, homicide is generally seen as an act of wrongdoing and there is a universal sense of the need for the training of children. Most societies have some sort of representation or symbol which denotes that society, be it a flag, a picture of the head of state or otherwise.

A truly universalist picture, while impossible, provides some insight into the basic similarities of deep–personal codes of practice throughout the world. It is perhaps the implementation of those deep issues which gives rise to the many cultural differences experienced in the business world.

One thing is certain: because an industrial routine works effectively in one country, there is no guarantee that it will work in another.

As some American firms have learned to their not insignificant cost, HRM routines are not wholly transferable between the U.S.A. and China, because Chinese people work together in different ways and so their work-related needs are very different from those of the average American citizen.

The following discussion is structured around a set of slides entitled as

"Cultural issues in International Management <http://lisaconsulting.com/culture4/>"_

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Categories: International Management Culture

Cultural Differences on Marketing Functions

July 20, 2007 0 comments

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Take a few minutes to pause and reflect on the potential impact of cultural differences on marketing functions. You might consider problems with advertising, communications and market research, for example.

If a firm is to succeed in local markets and/or produce goods in another country, it is necessary to know more about that country, its particular tastes and demands and, of course, how the workforce can be managed effectively. There is a rich litany of failure in this area, ranging from botched advertising campaigns, poor working relationships with colleagues overseas and failed negotiations. Thus the stakes are high and failure in these areas can be very expensive, not only in monetary terms but also threatening the standing of the company in particular markets.

Mismanagement of cultural differences can also cause frustration on the part of otherwise very capable managers, with the attendant threat to the firm that they may take their knowledge and expertise elsewhere. When successfully managed, cultural differences can be a potent competitive weapon as well as delivering increased profitability. Thinking about this competitive element reveals some obvious areas of contributory competences vis-a-vis competitors. If your organization can manage negotiations, international complexity and alliances more effectively than competitors, it may be more successful.

Why is this important in a business setting? Well, I do not think that anyone would argue that international products are not on the increase.

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Taking a blank sheet of paper and giving yourself about twenty minutes, note down the country of origin for (a) your clothes and (b) a selection of the contents of your flat or house. How many of these were produced (1) in your country by domestic firms (2) in your country by foreign owed firms and (c) imported? You should find that many products originate abroad or are produced in your country by foreign firms.

Does this matter and why?

In our daily lives, we take much of what represents our domestic culture for granted; after all, we live with it every day. It is so much part of that daily existence that people quite often find it very difficult to define their own culture, as we shall see later. It can be defined much more easily in a comparative way, by denoting differences between cultures. When we travel abroad, it is the cultural DIFFERENCES that we notice most. The differences that we do notice are quite often surface things - it is only when we get to know people more intimately that we begin to learn about the more deep-seated aspects of their culture. Surface differences are often presented in the form of stereotypes but true cultural understanding goes much deeper than this.

Many people consider cultural issues to be important only to businesses engaged in selling or manufacturing in foreign markets, i.e. an outward internationalization of the firm. However, this view is rather restrictive, as many organizations (and individual consumers) now purchase goods and services outside their home country (so-called inward internationalization). So even if your firm serves only your country’s market, there may still be a need to learn about other cultures, if only to manage negotiations on price and supply.

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Aim

This material is an introduction to critical issues related to culture and their practical application in a series of international business situations.

Outcomes

  1. Outline the main elements of culture and the effect of values, beliefs and attitudes on behavior among different people
  2. Contrast Hofstede's five dimensions of cultural differences and explain how cultural differences affect international management
  3. Evaluate the impact of cultural differences on selected elements of management behavior in multicultural environments
  4. Explain the impact of culture on negotiating processes and practices.
  5. Examine the cultural dimensions of various management activities involved when working abroad and in setting up and operating strategic alliances.

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Categories: Business Entrepreneurship International Management Culture

Cultural Aspects in International Business

July 20, 2007 0 comments

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In today’s increasingly globalized business environment, it is not only efficiencies that companies have to be concerned with. Increasingly, measures of effectiveness are most important, dealing as they do with such behavioral aspects of organizations as innovation, sharing good practice and learning in a complex international system. It follows that, in considering international business processes, the human factor is a vital element of the system, for example, in negotiations, managing international workforces and managing in new international organizational forms.

“People are increasingly having to interact, negotiate and compromise with people from different cultures. The potential for management frustration, costly misunderstandings and even business failures increases significantly when dealing with people whose values, beliefs, customs and first language are different from your own. However, when understood and successfully managed, differences in culture can lead to innovative business practices and sustainable sources of competitive advantage.”

Lisa Hoecklin, 1994

These values, beliefs, customs and language all form part of national culture. Culture is therefore one of the fundamental areas of international business and we will meet aspects of culture in a number of settings throughout this course. As we have seen, international firms by definition have to operate in different cultures and this factor can add a good deal of complexity to the process of management, so much so that Peter Drucker has argued that the fundamental bases of management are insufficient in managing across borders.

International managers plan, direct, organize and control just like any other manager but the context in which they discharge their duties is much more complex than if they were managing purely domestic activities. For this reason, multinational management should be culturally sensitive in its business practices and should learn to bridge the cultural gap that exists between its methods of management and business and those of the host country. In making these adjustments, management must be aware that cultures vary and are learned, and that cultures influence behavior.

One shall meet a good many research issues related to culture -- issues which are often complex and detailed. It is necessary to develop an understanding of cultural effects in managing internationally putting one's emphasis on practical, applied issues.

You may have discovered the importance of culture through study. In International Marketing, cultural differences significantly affect marketing strategies, promotion, distribution channels and communications, for instance.

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Categories: Business Entrepreneurship International Management Culture

Strategic Management of Change

July 19, 2007 0 comments

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AIMS:

  • To give an overview of the many, frequently disagreeing, schools of thought in strategic management and to develop the ability to critically reflect on theories as well as to combine them flexibly for practical analysis.
  • To enable readers to develop a deep understanding of the concepts, techniques and practices associated with the development of strategic change in organizations.

OUTCOMES:

Readers will be able to:

  1. recognize the diversity of approaches to issues in strategic management
  2. develop effective organizational and environmental analyzes
  3. advise on approaches to the crafting of creative strategies at the business and corporate level
  4. evaluate the assumptions underlying different approaches to the management of strategic change
  5. analyze the problems of bringing about significant strategic and organizational change.

SYLLABUS

Approaches to Strategic Management:

Introduction to the different approaches to strategic management: ontological and epistemological assumptions. Deliberate or emergent, profit maximization and pluralistic approaches, prescriptive or classical, evolutionary or environmental, processional and systemic or cultural.

Organizational Environment:

Organizational purpose, stakeholder expectations and organizational culture. Auditing resources and capabilities, comparative analysis, value chain and core competence analysis, financial and portfolio analyzes. Understanding the nature of the external environment: simple static conditions, dynamic or complex. The role of planning and control at the strategic level: cybernetics, the law of requisite variety, systems dynamics, chaos theory and complexity science. Macro -environmental analysis. Industry and competitor analysis. Scenario planning.

Choice at the Business and Corporate level:

Strategic Choice: Generic Strategies: Cost advantage: sources of cost advantage. Differentiation: drivers of differentiation. Focus strategies. Resource based strategies and core competence. Industry context; industry evolution versus industry creation. The growth of the multi-business organization; strategic choice at the corporate level: portfolio management versus competence and related perspectives. Growth strategies: acquisition and diversification. Networks, alliances, partnerships and joint ventures.

Analyzing Strategic Change:

Models of organizational change: planned versus contextual accounts; top down versus bottom up approaches. Metaphorical analysis and its limitations. Understanding organizational culture. Flux and transformation in organizations.

Producing and Managing Change in Organizations:

Measuring Organizational Performance. Organizational configurations and structures, strength & weaknesses of structural changes. Producing organizational culture change. Benchmarking, Total Quality Management, Business Process Engineering, Strategic Leadership; ordinary and extraordinary management. The role of power and politics in strategy formulation. Organizational learning and learning organizations.

Supportive reading

de Wit, B & Meyer, R, (1998), Strategy Process, Content & Context. 2nd Ed, West.

Mintzberg H, Ahlstrand, B. & Lampei, J., (1998) Strategy Safari: "A guided tour through the wilds of strategic management". Prentice Hall.

Stacey, R, (2000), Strategic Management & Organizational Dynamics, Pitman, London.

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Categories: Business Entrepreneurship Operations Management

Creative Communications

July 19, 2007 0 comments

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I. Introduction

Success at work is based not only on your ability to perform, but also on your personality. In fact, in any situation requiring contact with other people – personality is a key fact.

In this age of competition, the ability to cooperate – to work smoothly with others – is in danger of becoming a lost art. But look at the cooperation as a bank account. It is an investment that may not pay immediate dividends. Yet, if deposits are made, the dividends will eventually come both frequent and of high rate. Like a bank account, too, cooperation may demand the sacrifice of immediate conveniences for later reward.

Cooperation is actually an expression of self-interest and unselfishness. It demands that you adjust your immediate pleasure to the best interests of others. The reward of immediate sacrifices is a reputation that will contribute to your success. The team work is based on cooperation. Your ability to be friendly with everyone is a pillar to fit in and get along with your co-workers. Be slow to confide with the others. Be a listener instead of a confider. Keep the confidence of others, and keep your own confidence to yourself.

II. Opening Channels to Communicating

Imagine, you are trapped in a giant bubble. No one can hear you: you can hear no one. Another bubble comes into your vision. Someone is trapped just like you. Can you talk to that other person? Can you become friends? Do you want to establish a contact or just escape?

Numerous studies have shown that babies who are not communicated die within a year. Communication is, literally, a lifeline.

II. A. Overcome Barriers to Communication

What you say and write must mean the same to your listener as it does to you.

1. Poor Choice of Words

The first barrier can be overcome by choosing your words carefully. Choose words that will not be misunderstood.

Words must have the same feeling tone to the other person as they do to you.

2. Prejudice

Most of us want to skip the unpleasant things in life, especially if they are threat to the way we like to think of ourselves, our beliefs, and our prejudices. Each of us has had an experience of trying to persuade friends to abandon foolish ideas in favor of our sensible ones. As a result, the friends do not hear our arguments. We have the equal access to this devise. We read what we want to read, we hear what we want to hear.

3. Acceptance

On one of my husband’s lectures, a woman asked him a question that what she could do if she could not stand to see her face in the mirror; and then she started talking that other people could not accept her either.

The answer was that first she should learn to accept herself. She could not succeed with others if she cannot accept herself. My husband told her that first, she should accept herself no matter how she looks and then she will see that others will accept her too.

Generally speaking, if we see issues with others, we probably have the same weaknesses ourselves. Otherwise, how on earth should we know that someone is not perfect?

a. Accept yourself.

Do not dwell on your faults. Just accept them. This will no be helpful. As long as you defend yourself, make excuses, blame your troubles on others, you will be unable to change.

We become better only if we develop our strong points, and then our weaknesses will not matter.

Do you know what happens when you accept yourself and the way you are? With acceptance comes ability to change and the willingness to change.

b. Accept others

After you learned to accept yourself looking directly at your own faults, without criticism, you probably will be able look at shortcomings of others without trying to change them.

For instance, someone is angry at you. Relax, you are not a target. This situation can be caused by something else and you most likely have nothing to do with this.

When you stop defending yourself, you simply accept people the way they are. Your attitude will tell others that you are still their friend. When they see your accepting attitude, in spite of what they have said or done, they will be able to release the brake that holding them back. They will be able to change.

Remember, people are very sensitive.

Have you ever found that when you are hesitant or you are very emotional inside, people around you also feel tension? When you are calm inside, no matter what happens, it passes and you gain understanding and support from others.

4. Improve your awareness

a. Awareness When you Work in Groups

Awareness is a quality that is especially important when you work in groups. It means you need to be aware of the feelings and personalities of the people you work with.

Keep control of the situation. Ask appropriative questions when needed; keep silence when a person wants to be along. Be are aware of people’s moods are expectations. Speak with people only what is pleases them and avoid topics that might upset them.

b. Awareness of the Flow of Authority

Awareness has another side, as well.

Be aware of the flow of authority in the firm. You will “go through” channels.”

Take all your questions to your immediate manager. He will carry them to the next level of management, and so on. If you should go over the head of your immediate supervisor, you fail to show respect for this position.

Study the organizational chart that lists the officers of the company, heads of departments and so on. This shows how the whole organization works. You will also have a clear picture of your position. This will show you the pass for directions, information and suggestions.

II. B. Art of Persuasion

1. Develop a friendly attitude

A friendly personality is an asset anywhere. If you were born with liking people, you should do well.

Take every opportunity to say “thank you” with a smile. Follow rules of good etiquette, and you will actually feel friendly.

2. Study psychology

Why do people act like people? The more research has done on this subject, the more questions arrive while the soul of every person stays the mystery. There are some psychological principles that are useful in business:

  • “Yes” works better then “No”
  • Help the Other Person Feel Important
  • Ignore the Negative
  • Reward the Positive

a. “Yes” works better then “No”

If you want to persuade someone to do something, you will succeed if the discussion is positive and pleasant. That is simply because people are more wiling to listen to what you say.

b. Help the Other Person Feel Important

You never succeed if you build yourself up at the expense of others. If you pride yourself on how well you are doing, others may feel doubtful about their own success. The typical example is when people got married and one of the spouses starts dominating the other. This relationship might eventually break because one person will feel miserable while the other might feel that his partner is not as bright as expected.

If you say your listener, “You may not understand this, but …” you probably will make your listener smaller. Another statement that might put your listener down is if you say “I ought to be perfectly clear”.

To make others feel tall and important is to ask their advice, to get their point of view, and especially to make them a part of decision you make. Look for opportunities to give recognition, build others up, and make them feel ten feet tall.

Smart sales people play the second fiddle. Their relaxed manner helps customers to make decisions what to buy.

c. Ignore the Negative

When others complain about your actions or job performance, let them talk. Listen attentively. As you listen, ignore the part of conversation that sounds as if it is directed at you personally. Negative statements are best forgotten this way.

d. Reward the Positive

When someone says something positive about you or your company, respond warmly.. Such a response is rewarding to the other person.

Always practice to say something good to the person who compliments you. Always show how the compliment of the other person made you feel. Accepting compliments warmly takes practice, and this is never to later to begin.

II. C. Listening to Comminute

5.Concentrate on the Speaker

In face-to-face listening you find yourself planning your reply instead of concentrating what speaker is saying. This exact same tendency occurs when you listen to a lecture.

In addition, some people even find their minds wandering to personal matters. To avoid such destructions listen to hints as to speaker’s organizational plan.

6. Take Notes in Outline Form

A better plan is to listen a lot and write a little.

Listening is a receiving part of communication. Understanding is a key. Understand the main points what speaker is saying. If you spend all time writing down the words, you probably will miss some points.

7. Daydreaming

The enemy of daydreaming is activity. When you feel your attention is wandering, begin to write industriously.

Look at the speaker, be focused anticipate what he is saying and think of examples.

8. Destructions

You surroundings may destruct your attention. It can be anything – noises in the corridor or those coming from the street, latecomers or whispering in audience. Try to turn to deaf ear.

In my experience, the best thing is to sit as closer to a lecturer as possible. This way there is less destruction.

II. D. Creative Listening

Listening now becomes a creative process. There are ways to develop creative listening.

  1. Watch the person who is talking. There is so much to be learned from the expressions. Put yourself in a speaker’s shoes and try to feel what a speaker feels.
  2. Organize in your mind what speaker is saying. If you are being told of something what you have to do, write it down. Put the important statements made by a speaker in logical order. (Get back to your notes later if it is impossible during that time)
  3. Show that you are interested in what is being told you. Such responses as “That is a good suggestion” or “I’ll get right at it” will help the speaker and also will help you.
  4. In all aspects of conversation, whether of speaking or listening, success depends on co-operation.

III. Conversation as Communication

Communication is best achieved through simple planning and control.

  • you must make your message understood
  • you must receive/understand the intended message sent to you
  • you should exert some control over the flow of the communication

III. 1. Ambiguity Avoidance

As you (concerned with getting things done) your view of words should be pragmatic rather than philosophical. Thus, words mean not what the dictionary says they do but rather what the speaker intended.

Suppose your manager gives to you an instruction which contains an ambiguity which neither of you notice; and results in you producing entirely the wrong product. Who is at fault? The answer must be: who cares? Your time has been wasted, the needed product is delayed (or dead); attributing blame may be a satisfying (or defensive) exercise but it does not address the problem. In everything you say or hear, you must look out for possible misunderstanding and clarify the ambiguity

A second problem is that some people simply make mistakes. Your job is not simply to spot ambiguities but also to counter inconsistencies. Thus you should seek out (perhaps humorous) books on entomology (creepy crawlies) you would deduce that the word should have been etymology. More usual, however, is that in thinking over several alternatives you may suffer a momentary confusion and say one of them while meaning another. There are good scientific reasons (to do with the associative nature of the brain) why this happens, you have to be aware of the potential problem and counter for it.

Finally, of course, you may simply mishear. The omission of a simple word could be devastating. For instance, how long would you last as an explosives engineer if you failed to hear a simple negative in: "whatever happens next you must [not] cut the blue wi..."?

So, the problem is this: the word has multiple meanings, it might not be the one intended, and you may have misheard it in the first place - how do you know what the speaker meant?

Rule 1: PLAY BACK for confirmation

Simple, you ask for confirmation. You say "let me see if I have understood correctly, you are saying that ..." and you rephrase what the speaker said. If this "play back" version is acknowledged as being correct by the original speaker, then you have a greater degree of confidence in you own understanding. For any viewpoint/message/decision, there should be a clear, concise and verified statement of what was said; without this someone will get it wrong.

Rule 2: WRITE BACK for confidence

But do not stop there. If your time and effort depend upon it, you should write it down and send it to everyone involved as a double check. This has several advantages:

  • Further clarification - is this what you thought we agreed?
  • Consistency check - the act of writing may highlight defects/omissions
  • board from which to proceed
  • Evidence - hindsight often blurs previous ignorance and people often fail to recall their previous errors

Rule 3: Give Background for context

When speaking yourself, you can often counter for possible problems by adding information, and so providing a broader context in which your words can be understood. Thus, there is less scope for alternative interpretations since fewer are consistent. When others are speaking, you should deliberately ask questions yourself to establish the context in which they are thinking. When others are speaking, you should deliberately ask questions yourself to establish the context in which they are thinking.

III. 2. Practical Points

As with all effective communication, you should decide (in advance) on (1) the purpose of the conversation; and (2) have the plan for achieving it.

There is no alternative to this. Some people are proficient at "thinking on their feet" - but this is generally because they already have clear understanding of the context and their own goals. You have to plan; however, the following are a few techniques to help the conversation along.

a. Assertiveness

The definition of to assert is: "to declare; state clearly". This is your aim. If someone argues against you, even loses their temper, you should be quietly assertive. Much has been written to preach this simple fact and commonly the final message is a three-fold plan of action:

  • acknowledge what is being said by showing an understanding of the position, or by simply replaying it (a polite way of saying "I heard you already")
  • state your own point of view clearly and concisely with perhaps a little supporting evidence
  • state what you want to happen next (move it forward)

Thus we have something like: yes, I see why you need the report by tomorrow; however, I have no time today to prepare the document because I am in a meeting with a customer this afternoon; either I could give you the raw data and you could work on it yourself, or you could make do with the interim report from last week. You will have to make many personal judgment calls when being assertive. There will certainly be times when a bit of quiet force from you will win the day but there will be times when this will get nowhere, particularly with more senior (and unenlightened) management. In the latter case, you must agree to abide by the decision of the manager but you should make your objection (and reasons) clearly known. For yourself, always be aware that subordinates might be right when they disagree with you and if events prove them so, acknowledge that fact gracefully.

b. Confrontations

When you have a difficult encounter, be professional; do not lose your self-control because, simply, it is of no use. Some managers believe that it is useful for "discipline" to keep staff a little nervous. Thus, these managers are slightly volatile and will be willing "to let them have it" when the situation demands. If you do this, you must be consistent and fair so that you staff know where they stand. If you deliberately lose your temper for effect, then that is your decision - however, you must never lose control.

Insults are ineffective. If you call people names, then they are unlikely to actually listen to what you have to say; in the short term you may feel some relief at "getting it off your chest", but in the long run you are merely perpetuating the problem since you are not addressing it. This is common sense. There are two implications. Firstly, even under pressure, you have to remember this. Secondly, what you consider fair comment may be insulting to another - and the same problem emerges. Before you say anything, stop, establish what you want as the outcome, plan how to achieve this, and then speak.

Finally, if you are going to criticize or discipline someone, always assume that you have misunderstood the situation and ask questions first which check the facts. This simple courtesy will save you from much embarrassment.

c. Seeking Information

There are two ways of phrasing any question: one way (the closed question) is likely to lead to a simple sound in reply (yes, no, maybe), the second way (the open question) will hand over the speaking role to someone else and force them to say something a little more informative.

Suppose you conduct a review of a recently finished (?) project with Mr. Fast and it goes something like this:

  • "Have you finished project X?"
  • "Yes"
  • "If everything written up?"
  • "Nearly"
  • "So there is documentation left to do?"
  • "Will it take you long?"
  • "No, not long"

Before your fingers start twitching to place themselves around Mr. Fast’s neck, consider that your questions are not actually helping the flow of information. The same flow of questions in an open format would be: what is left to do of project X, what about the documentation, when will that be completely finished? Try answering Yes or No to those questions.

Open questions are extremely easy to formulate. You establish in your own mind the topic/aim of the question and then you start the sentence with the words:

WHAT - WHEN - WHICH - WHY - WHERE - HOW

d. Let others speak

Of course, there is more to a conversation (managed or otherwise) than the flow of information. You may also have to win that information by winning the attention and confidence of the other person. There are many forms of flattery - the most effective is to give people your interest. To get Mr. Fast to give you all his knowledge, you must give her all your attention; talk to her about his view on the subject. Ask questions: what do you think about that idea, have you ever met this problem before, how would you tackle this situation?

Silence is effective - and much under-used. People are nervous of silence and try to fill it. You can use this if you are seeking information. You ask the question, you lean back, the person answers, you nod and smile, you keep quiet, and the person continues with more detail simply to fill your silence.

e. To finish

At the end of a conversation, you have to give people a clear understanding of the outcome. For instance, if there has been a decision, restate it clearly (just to be sure) in terms of what should happen and by when; if you have been asking questions, summarize the significant (for you) aspects of what you have learnt.

III. 3. Meeting Management - Preparation

In any organization, "meetings" are a vital part of the organization of work and the flow of information. They act as a mechanism for gathering together resources from many sources and pooling then towards a common objective. They are disliked and mocked because they are usually futile, boring, time-wasting, dull, and inconvenient with nothing for most people to do except doodle while some opinionated has-been extols the virtues of his/her last great (misunderstood) idea.

Your challenge is to break this mould and to make your meetings effective. Meetings should be planned beforehand, monitored during for effectiveness, and reviewed afterwards for improving their administration.

A meeting is the ultimate form of managed conversation; you can organize the information and structure of the meeting to support the effective communication of the participants. Some of the ideas below may seem a little too precise for an easy going, relaxed, semi-informal team atmosphere - but if you administer to gain a reputation for holding decisive, effective meetings, then people will value this efficiency and to prepare professionally so that their contribution will be heard.

a. Should you cancel?

As with all conversations, you must first ask: is it worth your time? If the meeting involves the interchange of views and the communication of the current status of related projects, then you should be generous with your time. But you should always consider canceling a meeting which has little tangible value.

b. Who should attend?

You must be strict. A meeting loses its effectiveness if too many people are involved: so if someone has no useful function, explain this and suggest that they do not come. Notice, they may disagree with your assessment, in which case they should attend (since they may know something you do not); however, most people are only too happy to be released from yet another meeting.

c. How long?

It may seem difficult to predict the length of a discussion - but you must. Discussions tend to fill the available time which means that if the meeting is open-ended, it will drift on forever. You should stipulate a time for the end of the meeting so that everyone knows, and everyone can plan the rest of their day with confidence.

It is wise to make this expectation known to everyone involved well in advance and to remind them at the beginning of the meeting. There is often a tendency to view meetings as a little relaxation since no one person has to be active throughout. You can redress this view by stressing the time-scale and thus forcing the pace of the discussion: "this is what we have to achieve, this is how long we have to get it done".

If some unexpected point arises during the meeting then realize that since it is unexpected:

  1. you might not have the right people present,
  2. those there may not have the necessary information, and
  3. a little thought might save a lot of discussion.

If the new discussion looks likely to be more than a few moments, stop it and deal with the agreed agenda.

The new topic should then be dealt with at another "planned" meeting.

d. Agenda

The purpose of an agenda is to inform participants of the subject of the meeting in advance, and to structure the discussion at the meeting itself. To inform people beforehand, and to solicit ideas, you should circulate a draft agenda and ask for notice of any other business. Still before the meeting, you should then send the revised agenda with enough time for people to prepare their contributions. If you know in advance that a particular participant will either need information or be providing information, then make this explicitly clear so that there is no confusion.

The agenda states the purpose of each section of the meeting. There will be an outcome from each section. If that outcome is so complex that it can not be summarized in a few points, then it was probably too complex to be assimilated by the participants. The understanding of the meeting should be sufficiently precise that it can be summarized in short form - so display that summary for all other interested parties to see. This form of display will emphasize to all that meetings are about achieving defined goals - this will help you to continue running efficient meetings in the future.

III. 4. Meeting Management - Concluding

Whether you actually sit as the Chair or simply lead from the side-lines, as the manager you must provide the necessary support to coordinate the contributions of the participants. The degree of control which you exercise over the meeting will vary throughout; if you get the structure right at the beginning, a meeting can effectively run itself especially if the participants know each other well. In a team, your role may be partially undertaken by others; but if not, you must manage.

a. Maintaining Communication

Your most important tools are:

  • Clarification - always clarify: the purpose of the meeting, the time allowed the rules to be observed (if agreed) by everyone.
  • Summary - at each stage of the proceedings, you should summarize the current position and progress: this is what we have achieved/agreed, this is where we have reached.
  • Focus on stated goals - at each divergence or pause, re-focus the proceedings on the original goals.

b. Code of conduct

In any meeting, it is possible to begin the proceedings by establishing a code of conduct, often by merely stating it and asking for any objections (which will only be accepted if a demonstrably better system is proposed). Thus if the group contains opinionated wind-bags, you might all agree at the onset that all contributions should be limited to two minutes (which focuses the mind admirably). You can then impose this with the full backing of the whole group.

c. Matching method to purpose

The (stated) purpose of a meeting may suggest to you a specific way of conducting the event, and each section might be conducted differently. For instance, if the purpose is:

  • to convey information, the meeting might begin with a formal presentation followed by questions
  • to seek information, the meeting would start with a short (clear) statement of the topic/problem and then an open discussion supported by notes on a display, or a formal brainstorming session
  • to make a decision, the meeting might review the background and options, establish the criteria to be applied, agree who should make the decision and how, and then do it
  • to ratify/explain decisions, etc

As always, once you have paused to ask yourself the questions: what is the purpose of the meeting and how can it be most effectively achieved; your common sense will then suggest a working method to expedite the proceedings. You just have to deliberately pause. Manage the process of the meeting and the meeting will work.

d. Support

The success of a meeting will often depend upon the confidence with which the individuals will participate. Thus all ideas should be welcome. No one should be laughed at or dismissed ("laughed with" is good, "laughed at" is destructive). This means that even bad ideas should be treated seriously - and at least merit a specific reason for not being pursued further. Not only is this supportive to the speaker, it could also be that a good idea has been misunderstood and would be lost if merely rejected. But basically people should be able to make naive contributions without being made to feel stupid, otherwise you may never hear the best ideas of all.

Avoid direct criticism of any person. For instance, if someone has not come prepared then that fault is obvious to all. If you leave the criticism as being simply that implicit in the peer pressure, then it is diffuse and general; if you explicitly rebuke that person, then it is personal and from you (which may raise unnecessary conflict). You should merely seek an undertaking for the missing preparation to be done: we need to know this before we can proceed, could you circulate it to us by tomorrow lunch?

e. Responding to problems

The rest of this section is devoted to ideas of how you might deal with the various problems associated with the volatile world of meetings. Some are best undertaken by the designated Chair; but if he/she is ineffective, or if no one has been appointed, you should feel free to help any meeting to progress. After all, why should you allow your time to be wasted.

If a participant strays from the agenda item, call him/her back: "we should deal with that separately, but what do you feel about the issue X?"

If there is confusion, you might ask: "do I understand correctly that ...?"

If the speaker begins to ramble, wait until an inhalation of breath and jump in: "yes I understand that such and such, does any one disagree?"

If a point is too woolly or too vague ask for greater clarity: "what exactly do you have in mind?"

If someone interrupts (someone other than a rambler), you should suggest that: "we hear your contribution after Gretchen has finished."

If people chat, you might either simply state your difficulty in hearing/concentrating on the real speaker. or ask them a direct question: "what do you think about that point."

If someone gestures disagreement with the speaker (e.g. by a grimace), then make sure they are brought into the discussion next: "what do you think Gretchen?"

If you do not understand, say so: "I do not understand that, would you explain it a little more; or do you mean X or Y?"

If there is an error, look for a good point first: "I see how that would work if X Y Z, but what would happen if A B C?"

If you disagree, be very specific: "I disagree because ..."

IV. Conclusion

The tower of Babel collapsed because people could no longer communicate; their speech became so different that no one could understand another. We need to communicate to coordinate our own work and that of others. The key is to treat a conversation as well as any other activity: by establishing an aim, planning what to do, and checking afterwards that the aim has been achieved. Only in this way can we work effectively with others in building through common effort.

V. Practical Application

The aim of this workshop is to provide the listeners a fundamental understanding of what constitutes creative communications.

Listeners will

  1. develop awareness of professional approaches in relation to their attitudes, actions and communication skills;
  2. learn more about professional approaches to oral and written forms of communication;
  3. work with others as effective members of a team, demonstrating understanding of the importance of co-operative behavior;
  4. prepare and deliver effective meetings getting your message across loud and clear.

VI. Suggested Readings:

Curran, J.C., Verbal and non-verbal communication (cpd Ltd, 1988)

Hague, P. & Roberts, K., Presentations and Report Writing, (Kogan Page, 1994 Subjects: Business presentations Business report writing Marketing research

Hargie, O.D.W., "A handbook of communication skills, 2nd ed., (London: Routledge, 1997) <http://books.google.com/books?hl=en&lr=&id=K4k9t3FMclcC&oi=fnd&pg=RA1-PA289&sig=dh9O0DjAznCvzfpGbnwayibrfkQ&dq=%22Hargie%22+%22The+Handbook+of+Communication+Skills%22+#PPA359,M1>"_

Klepper, M.M. & Gunther, R.E., I'd rather die than give a speech, (Irwin, 1994) Written in an engaging and readable style, this practical guide is a must for both beginners and seasoned professionals

Rawlins, K., Presentation and communication skills: a handbook for practitioners, (MacMillan, 1993)

Russon, A. & Wallace H., Personal Development for Work (South-Western Publishing Co., 1981)

Siddons, S., Presentation skills, (Institute of Personnel and Development, 1998)

Turk, C., Effective Speaking: communicating in speech, (Spon, 1985)

Videos

Smith, D., Powerful presentation skills: how to get a group's attention, Vol.1, 2 and 3, (Careertrack, 1997)

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Categories: Operations Management Thoughts and Arguments Managers, Employers, Leaders - Creative Approach Building Your Personal Development Portfolio