“A Concept that is very natural when we see a total stranger is to greet them with a Hello. But this can be a total disaster when we don’t understand their culture.”
This is the age of globalization, the 21st century where there are no borders or boundaries. Globalisation is reshaping our modes of thinking and the way we react to the cultural changes in society. Globalization is attractive and lucrative and also carving a new, multicultural corporate landscape. The synchronizing power of internet and wireless digital technologies provides local companies and indigenous cultural values unprecedented global exposure. It eases and speeds up the way companies manage their global operations. Many companies are now operating in more than one country. We are crossing geographical boundaries virtually and this has given rise to multicultural organization where people from more than one country work. Though this is a new challenging avenue to explore, operating and managing a global business is normally a lot tougher than managing a local company. The main reason for the expansion of companies is to create global competitiveness by reducing production costs and exploiting market opportunities offered by trade liberalization and economic integration. Effective knowledge and use of cross cultural diversity can provide a source of experience and innovative thinking to enhance the competitive position of organizations. However, cultural differences can interfere with the successful completion of organizational goals in today’s multicultural global business community. To avoid cultural misunderstandings, we should culturally be sensitive. We need to understand the working of today’s borderless and wireless cross culture.
People from different cultural backgrounds share the same basic concepts, such as symbols, customs and traditions but, they view and interpret them from a multiplicity of different lenses and perspective. This leads them to behave in particular ways, which others from different culture might find peculiar, alien. If managers and their firms do not effectively promote organisation-wide empathy, and sensitivity to cross cultural issues, it may potentially have a catastrophically negative effect on people’s effect to communicate with each other and ultimately the firm’s reputation and success, both at home and internationally. This is easier said than done. There are a number of barriers to cultural adaptations.
There are people who are having parochialism attitude. At its lowest level is parochialism. This is a tendency to force others to view the world from only one perspective or through a narrow filter, when local needs and goals are viewed as more important than boarder objective and outcomes. The result is functional silos, proactive policies and rules, defining success for what is best for the team. The international operations of expanding organizations are conducted in such an environment whose social system is different from the one in which the organization is based. This new social system affects the responses of all persons involved. The employees posted to a new country exhibit a variety of behaviors which is often true to their citizens and country. They may fail to recognize key differences between their own and other cultures. Even if they do, they tend to conclude that the impact of those differences is insignificant. In effect, they are assuming that the two cultures are more similar than they actually are.
The next barrier is Individualism where some of the workforce may be relatively individualistic. Individualism means people place greater emphasis on their personal needs and welfare. At the extreme, individualism suggests that their action should be guided by the motto, ―look out for themselves before being concerned about others. These people can never take accountability for the work they do and never be good team player.
Ethnocentrism is another common barrier for the easy adaption to another culture. This is a powerful force that weakens human relations Ethnocentrism negatively influences intercultural communication. It occurs when people are predisposed to believe that their homeland conditions are the best. This predisposition is known as the self-reference criterion, or ethnocentrism. One’s cultural orientation acts as a filter for processing incoming and outgoing verbal and nonverbal messages. Ethnocentrism leads to “self-centered dialogue” where interactants use their own cultural standards to evaluate and communicate with others. We human are ethnocentric; we tend to view other cultures from our own cultural vantage point. That is, our culture is the standard by which we evaluate other cultures-and the people from those cultures. Most deviations from that standard are viewed negatively and will be used as evidence of the inferiority of people from the other culture. Even though this type of thinking is natural, it interferes with understanding human behaviour in other cultures and obtaining productivity from local employees. In order to integrate the imported and local social systems, international workforces need cultural understanding of local conditions. Even with this understanding, they must then be adaptable enough to integrate the community of the interest of the two or more cultures involved from one generation to the next.
The other barrier is cultural distance. When an employee moves to another country for him to predict the amount of adoption, it is helpful to understand the cultural distance between the two countries. It is the amount of difference between any two social systems, and this may range from minimal to substantial. Whatever be the amount of cultural distance, it does affect the responses of all persons to business. Employees naturally tends to be somewhat ethnocentric and to judge conditions in a new country according to standards of their homeland. These problems will be magnified if the cultural distance is great.
Another most common issue is cultural shock. This is very common phenomenon which is experienced when people move from a familiar culture or an unfamiliar one. When employees enter another nation they tend to suffer cultural shock, which is the insecurity and disorientation caused by encountering a different culture. They may not know how to act, may fear losing face and self-confidence, or may become emotionally upset. Some individuals isolate themselves, while a few even decide to return home on the next airplane. It is virtually universal. It happens even on a move from one advance nation to another. A typical reaction is to only associate with other expats from home country-existing in a cocoon, avoiding all but chance encounters with the locals.
Cultural faux pas
The next barrier is cultural faux pas. When an employee makes a mistake perhaps while on a business trip or while working together. In short when he or she makes a cultural blunder is cultural faux pas. In many countries people understand and these actions might be harmless. But this is not always the case; in some countries it gives the wrong impression or cause offense. This could damage a relationship or ruin a major business deal. For example, in Japan it’s considered rude to cross your legs in the presence of elders and if you do so this would create a negative impression.
HOW TO OVERCOME THESE ISSUES?
Some particular societies tend to have distinct ways of working, and this may lead to cross-cultural issues while attempting collaboration or may sometimes lead to project failure. To avoid project failure cross-cultural issues need to be handled efficiently.
• In case of a cross-border outsourcing, actively managing client-vendor relationship on both sides is important. Using systems common to both parties would be handy as it would provide equal knowledge and control over the system. Other ways to harmonize the relationship would be use of common processes and common compatible technologies. Use of systems, processes and technology can be overcome, but major issues prevail in norms and values as they are deeply rooted in cultural backgrounds and work style. These require quite a huge effort from both parties to be eliminated. One other way of harmonizing cross-culture relationship is by adjusting to a compromise working culture wherein both parties agree to modify their work behavior to take account of the other’s cultural norms.
• Some movement across other cultures is possible but, one cannot expect expatriates to completely behave like locals. This issue can be handled by involving people who can bridge this cultural gap. Say for example if some company in Switzerland outsources its work to India, then the company should look for an Indian who has been residing in Switzerland for long and understands the culture in the outsourcing destination very well. This helps to successfully oversee complex projects as the individual involved is well acquainted with working cultures of both the places. An alternative solution for the software vendor might be to keep in place a team of mixed cultural team.
• The company can organize basic orientation course to a more focused language and cultural practice. This should not be a one-way learning. Rather, a two-way learning is required (training for employees of both parties involved in relationship) for well-informed understanding of every process involved in the project.
• Schedule periodic off-site meetings to increase connection and collaborations. These meetings are important to mix business with bonding to create opportunities for live connections. These meetings would help in understanding the personal characteristics which is critical for building bonds and discovering areas of connection and with the rest of the team
• When there is a cultural faux pas engage in self-reflection. Apologizing or responding in the moment may facilitate damage control, but the real learning comes when you use self-reflection to transform your mistake into cross cultural lesson
• To tackle the cross cultural issues in this modern day each individual from the organization should put extra efforts to understand the culture. This will not only lead to effective business practice but also, increase cross-cultural understanding
• Cross-cultural proficiency helps managers connect with their foreign counterparts. Seasoned managers attest to the importance of a deep knowledge of culture and language in international business. Managers can achieve effective cross-cultural interaction by keeping an open mind, being inquisitive, and not rushing to conclusions about others behaviors. Employees should acquire relevant facts, skills, and knowledge to avoid offensive or unacceptable behavior when interacting with foreign cultures. They undergo cultural training that emphasizes observational skills and human relations techniques. Skills are more important than pure information because skills can be transferred across countries, while information tends to be country specific.
• Various resources are available for developing skills, including videotape courses, cross-cultural consultants, and programs offered by governments, universities, and training institutes.
• Planning that combines informal mentoring from experienced managers and formal training through seminars and simulations abroad and at home go far in helping managers meet cross-cultural challenges. Although every culture is unique, certain basic guidelines are appropriate for consistent cross-cultural success.
• Acquire factual and interpretive knowledge about the other culture, and try to speak their language. Understand and acquire a base of knowledge about the values, attitudes, and lifestyles of the cultures with which they interact.
• Learn more about political and economic background of target countries—their history, current national affairs, and perceptions about other cultures. Such knowledge facilitates understanding about the partner’s mindset, organization, and objectives. Decisions and events become substantially easier to interpret. Sincere interest in the target culture helps establish trust and respect, laying the foundation for open and productive relationships. This would also help in engaging in informal talks and understanding the common interest.
• Be humble. Admit that you are learning, and encourage people to do the same
• Even modest attempts to speak the local language are welcome. Higher levels of language proficiency pave the way for acquiring competitive advantages. In the long run, employees who can converse in multiple languages are more likely to negotiate successfully and have positive business interactions than employees who speak only one language.
• Avoid cultural bias. Perhaps the leading cause of culture-related problems is the ethnocentric assumptions employees may unconsciously hold. Problems arise when people assume that foreigners think and behave just like the folks back home. Ethnocentric assumptions lead to poor business strategies in both planning and execution. They distort communications with foreigners. They may perceive the other’s behavior as odd and perhaps improper. For example, it is easy to be offended when our foreign counterpart does not appreciate our food, history, sports, or entertainment, or is otherwise inconsiderate. This situation may interfere with the individual’s ability to interact effectively with the foreigner, even leading to communication breakdown. In this way, cultural bias can be a significant barrier to successful interpersonal communication. A person’s own culture conditions how he or she reacts to different values, behavior, or systems. Most people unconsciously assume that people in other cultures experience the world as they do. They view their own culture as the norm— everything else may seem strange. This is known as the self-reference criterion—the tendency to view other cultures through the lens of one’s own culture. Understanding the self-reference criterion is a critical first step to avoiding cultural bias and ethnocentric reactions. Critical incident analysis (CIA) refers to an analytical method for analyzing awkward situations in cross-cultural interactions by developing empathy for other points of view. It is an approach to avoiding the trap of self-reference criterion in cross-cultural encounters. Critical incident analysis encourages a more objective reaction to cultural differences by helping managers develop empathy for other points of view.
• Develop cross-cultural skills.
• Working effectively with counterparts from other cultures requires an investment in your professional development. Each culture has its own ways of carrying out business transactions, negotiations, and dispute resolution. Cross-cultural proficiency is characterized by four key personality traits:
• Tolerance for ambiguity is the ability to tolerate uncertainty and apparent lack of clarity in the thinking and actions of others.
• Perceptiveness is the ability to closely observe and appreciate subtle information in the speech and behavior of others.
• Valuing personal relationships is the ability to recognize the importance of interpersonal relationships, which are often much more important than achieving one-time goals or winning arguments.
• Flexibility and adaptability—many multicultural teams have individuals with unique skills that are beneficial to everyone when uncovered. Don’t ignore these specialized skills. The ability to be creative in devising innovative solutions, to be open-minded about outcomes, and to show grace under pressure.
• Some global cosmopolitans feel poorly managed and misunderstood. As a result, they may not remain loyal to a certain organization. However, if the management provides opportunities for the individual to receive recognition for their multicultural skills, or even recognize them, they can avoid this outcome. Take some time to give the individual that lets them feel appreciated and intellectually stimulated.
• A big part is that any individual should open to feedback. This indirectly shows that they have learning attitude. Getting feedback is the cornerstone of the cultural learning process, because without it, you will never really be able to get outside your head and know if you are doing right.
• If you have any upcoming presentation in another country, you can even do some practice runs and get feedback before you step into the ‘Performance’ Setting. A great example is the way Vivekananda swept America off its feet with his excellent speech. Before his speech he understood their culture. His famous starting ‘Ladies and gentlemen’ is a proof on how he was well ahead of his time in understanding cross culture.
Organizations’ ability to attract, retain, and motivate people from diverse cultural backgrounds, may lead to competitive advantages in cost structures and through maintaining the highest quality human resources. Further capitalizing on the potential benefits of cultural diversity in work groups, organizations may gain a competitive advantage in creativity, problem solving, and flexible adaptation to change. Multi-cultural workforce is becoming the norm. To achieve organizational goals and avoid potential risks, the employees and the management should be culturally sensitive and promote creativity and motivation through flexible leadership.
2.https://www.researchgate.net/publication/290580366_Management_matters- Jacqueline McLean
6. Strategic human resource management and development- Richard Regis