managing culture

 
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Managing Cultural Diversity

Introduction

Culture refers to beliefs, values, expectations, attitudes, norms, behaviours and ideas that are shared by members of a group (De Bono, Van Der Heijden & Jones, 2008). The group may come from the same region such as village, town or country. They may also be from the same work unit such as a department or organization. Some aspects of culture through which these distinct characteristics can be identified include ceremonies, language, norms rituals and relationships. The challenge that faces most organizations today is not whether they will have to deal with a diverse culture, but whether members are able to understand what diversity is and take advantage by turning it in to an asset (De Anca & Vega, 2007).

Reasons for increased interest in cultural diversity

There has been increased interest in organizations as managers try to find ways of managing the diverse cultures. There are many reasons for this change, but the two main reasons include demographic change and changing expectations.

Demographic change

The population structures of most countries have changed and are continuing to change. This has in turn affected the type of people being employed in organizations, the type of customers supplied with products and the persons from whom organizations buy goods and services. Some of these changes are explained as follows. The number of women joining the labour force and becoming entrepreneurs has increased significantly. There is increased population migration, which has resulted in multicultural and multiethnic populations. Lastly, the average age of the workforce has been changing in various parts of the world. For instance, in the European countries the average age has been increasing, whereby fewer and fewer young people form the percentage of the workforce. On the other hand, developing counties have been experiencing a decrease in the average age of the workforce, whereby most of the working population consists of young people (Laroche, 2003).

Changing expectations

People are increasingly becoming interested in the ethical and social dimensions of their working lives as well as the way they consume goods and services. There is a widely shared belief that companies should treat their employees fairly. Employees’ expectations on management to provide fair treatment have also increased as well as the need to achieve work-life balance. Due to these changes, peoples cultures, needs, values and tastes cannot be taken for granted. In addition, both governmental and non-governmental institutions have developed rules to prevent discrimination. This has forced organizations to put in measures that will ensure that diversity is exploited to the benefit of the organization, the individual and the general society (Peters, 2008).

Generalization and stereotyping

The first important step to managing diversity in the right way is to recognize the different contributions that different people can make. As a result, the manager will be able to integrate the different abilities and view points in to a more general framework. However, there is a challenge of describing the categories without falling in to the trap of generalization and dogmatism (also known as generalizing and stereotyping). Stereotypical views are those that cast everyone from a given culture in the same light. For instance, all Canadians dislike teamwork. On the other hand, generalization describes the overall form of a given culture without focusing on individual aspects. For instance, when eating, convenience and speed is important for most Americans (Holbeche, 2005).

Some of the characteristics of stereotypes include the following. They present a fixed and inflexible image of the group being described. They ignore exceptions, instead, they focus on the behaviours that reinforce the image they are trying to present and are ethnocentric or racial. Lastly, they put both outsiders and insiders on the defensive. Generalizations on the other hand, have characteristics that are the opposite of stereotypes. They are based on a large sample of a group and provide general characteristics based on social and cultural factors. They assume that individuals within a given culture vary in their compliance. Lastly, they help outsiders to identify topics that should be handled with care because of their sensitivity (De Anca & Vega, 2007).

 

When categorizing people it is important to consider that each person views the world differently. Their understanding is always influenced by their culture, gender as well as the personal experience. Therefore, it advisable to talk about the general tendencies that can be attributed to a specific culture, independent of whether such traits are common to all members of that culture or group. The use of stereotypes can result in prejudices and unfair policies, because the different levels of compliance will not be addressed. For instance, not all women correspond to the feminine archetype. There are women who are aggressive and independent just like there are sensitive and dependent ones. In addition, there are cultures that appreciate sensitive men (De Anca & Vega, 2007).

 

Cross-cultural communication

Effective interaction in today’s global business world depends on the ability of the person communicating to pass a clear message, whereby people in different cultures can understand what the communicator intended with his or her message. Business communication is likely to be interpreted differently depending on the cultural orientation of a given country. For instance, in masculine cultures such as the American society, a manager is deemed effective if he communicates assertively, directly and sometimes aggressively. However, in feminine cultures such behaviours will be viewed as arrogant rude and unfriendly. This calls upon the manager to understand the different meanings that each culture they are dealing with attaches to the different communications (Mor Barak, 2010).

Verbal communication

The use of different languages often presents a barrier to effective communication as one or both sides may not be as articulate as they are in their native languages. Therefore, miscommunication may occur because the original intent of the person speaking is different from the meaning received by the other person. For instance, it is completely acceptable and courteous for a French businessman to compliment a female colleague in a business setting. However, an American businesswoman may view the exact same behaviour as inappropriate and my even take it sexual harassment. This shows the significance of culture in verbal communication and the challenge that faces managers who lead people that do not share a common language. In addition, the language barrier may not only be with people from different countries but also from the same country. Therefore, the management must seek to know the meaning of the words they intend to use before the actually communicate to their target audience (Kirton & Greene, 2004).

Non-Verbal communication

This refers to the use of symbols such as tone of voice, gestures, body language, postures and use of objects to convey meaning. It also includes personal adornment and physical setting. In most cases trust and respect is conveyed through non-verbal communication rather than through verbal communication. For instance, in the western societies women are regarded as equal to equal to men. Therefore, a woman can equally perform any ask that is done by a man. As a result, leaving women out of projects just because of their gender amounts to gender discrimination and is a legal offence. On the other hand, the Arabic world has a place reserved for women, which they cannot surpass. For instance, when one goes with a woman to a business meeting, the woman cannot be allowed to shake hands with men. In case that happens, the men will perceive it as disrespectful. Therefore, the leaders managing people with different cultural backgrounds should identify and appreciate the different meanings each culture attaches to the various symbols (Kirton & Greene, 2004).

Managing cultural Diversity within international strategy

Cultural diversity is increasingly becoming inevitable with regionalization and globalization of trade. Multinational corporations are mostly faced with the task of achieving integration between different multinational divisions as well as getting internal multinational teams to work together effectively. How successful the management will be depends on its ability to achieve a cultural fit. Fit refers to a relationship, whereby different cultures are able to work together without unnecessary misunderstandings between their various divisions. The management can employ various strategy options to achieve cultural fit. However, each of them has advantages and disadvantages (Segal-Horn & Faulkner, 1999).

Each of the strategy options fall in either of the following broad choices. First, is whether to have the culture of the parent company dominate the subsidiaries or to strive for a balance of contributions from various subsidiaries’ culture. The second choice is whether to integrate the parent company and subsidiaries’ cultures’ with the aim of attaining synergy or to keep apart the various subsidiary cultures. This second one aims at avoiding conflict as well as reducing the effort committed towards management of culture (Segal-Horn & Faulkner, 1999). The various strategy options are explained as follows

First, there is ethnocentric strategy, whereby all key positions are given to parent company nationals. This policy aims at achieving cultural integration through the dominance of the parent company culture. It is best suited in situations where the MNC has a general superiority in technical expertise. Hence, this can be used to the benefit of the whole company and the subsidiaries. Secondly, there is polycentric strategy, whereby host countries have domestic managers and use domestic cultures, while the parent company nationals and cultures dominate the headquarters. This strategy aims at attaining a balance between the various subsidiaries or divisions. However, it does not seek the integration between the cultures of various subsidiaries or with the parent company culture. For example, one subsidiary might adopt one style of rewarding its employees, while the other might adopt a completely different style (Gardenswartz & Rowe, 1998).

Polycentricism may reduce the opportunities for mutual learning between different cultures. This approach may also result in a poorly integrated and inefficient management system of the MNC as a whole. These are caused by limited communication and duplication of effort as well as competition between the various subsidiaries. In addition, a manager sent to work in an overseas subsidiary may face personal problems because he or she will be exposed to a completely new system of operation. The third option is geocentric strategy, whereby the best people for the job are posted to either the headquarters or the subsidiary regardless of their nationality. This policy aims at integrating the cultures of both the headquarters and the subsidiaries. It aims at achieving the fullest possible cultural fit and is the most suitable in promoting learning between the different constituent parts of an organization (Gardenswartz & Rowe, 1998).

Through synergy, the different elements from each culture are put together to produce an effective management system as well as effective and efficient deployment of resources. This approach is based on the premise that the positive aspects of each culture are preserved, put together and expanded to create a new whole. Cultural differences are not ignored or suppressed in achieving synergy, but time and effort is devoted to discuss them openly. There is a fourth possibility, which is characterized by a conflict between the cultures of the parent company and the subsidiary. This happens when the parent company seeks dominance but fails to secure acceptance or integration. When the headquarters fails to secure adequate cooperation and co-ordination, then tensions and conflict are bound to arise. If such a situation is not handled appropriately, then it can lead to breakdown of the whole organization (Gardenswartz & Rowe, 1998).

Importance of effective management of cultural diversity

As noted above cultural diversity presents various challenges to the management. However, if such differences are managed appropriately, the organization can realize huge benefits. This therefore, shows the importance of effective management of cultural diversity. One of these is the ability to launch operations in different and new market areas. An organization that has employees from different cultures can be able to operate in various regions with little difficulty. Such an organization has in its workforce employees who understand each of the different markets and are able to develop strategies and operations that are suitable to such markets. For instance, an American company will have much difficulty in entering the Chinese market if it has only American mangers than when it has Chinese managers as part of its leadership (Nowak, 2010).

Secondly, effective management of different cultures leads to synergy. An organization that manages to achieve a cultural fit will be able to combine the positive aspects of the different cultures to achieve a whole that is greater than that of employees from the same culture. Different cultures are good in one aspect of organizational management. When these aspects are put together and developed, the organization will have a competitive advantage over its rivals that are only embracing one culture. Effective management of cultural diversity is also a means of survival. Population migration has resulted in multiethnic and multicultural populations. Therefore, the organization has to transform its operations and strategies to be able to survive in such an environment. This is only possible through effective management of the different cultures of the employees, customers or other stakeholders (Nowak, 2010).

Conclusion

Cultural diversity increases the chances of mutual misunderstanding as well as personal offence. On the other hand, the business world today brings together people from different cultures who are supposed to establish a working relationship. In addition, organizations seek to serve different markets that have different cultures and needs. One of the main challenges to attaining cultural integration is cross-cultural communication, which is important in interaction between different cultures. Organizations can adopt various strategies to attain a cultural fit, which will enable people from the different cultures to work together and serve the different markets effectively. Effective management of different cultures will enable an organization to attain synergy from the different positive aspects of those cultures. It will also help the organization to serve different markets that it would otherwise not have served.

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