In a contemporary business environment, organizations are recruiting and deploying people from different nationalities, cultural orientations, and ethnic backgrounds. The diversion has created a challenge for management on how to handle cultural differences among their human workforce. Culture affects someone’s behavior, attitude, performance, belief, and understanding; with diverse cultures, managers have to develop policies that mitigate against any risks brought about by employees’ cultural differences. Other than risk mitigation, management should enact strategies that utilize the diverse cultural strengths of the good of their firms (Mead 90). When developing human resources policies, companies must consider the effects of cultural differences among their team. Cultural intelligence theories and programs have been enacted to boost managers’ understanding and management of cultural differences among their workforce. However, management has the role of understanding their personnel and developing policies that gain from cultural differences of their workforce. Such policies should address effective communication, strength-weakness combinations, conflicts resolution, and cultural differences management (Andrews and Nartnalin, pp. 12-56). This paper discusses the relationship between cultural differences and people management; to handle the topic, the paper will discuss differences/dimensions mentioned by the various cultural differences theorists.
Human culture is shaped by the socialization they underwent; when dealing with people from different regional, geographical, technological, or religious arena, differences in their culture is evident. Diverse human capital has a different culture based on their values, beliefs, political systems, ideologies, religion, technological environment, and the artistic culture instilled in during socialization (Schein, p. 67). For example among Bahrain/Muslim culture, Fridays should be days of worship. The belief in collecting together for players; the day they have chosen is different from other religions for example the Christians (Sabbath denomination) believe that they should play on Saturday, these attributes are deeply rooted in the people that they can affect once production in that particular day. I believe that on Friday from four to six, I am not supposed to work; on the occasions that I have worked, I have messed up. The Friday belief was instilled by my Muslim parents and I am stubborn to change the belief. If I am working with a Sabbath Christian believer, I would be very comfortable working on Saturdays and resting on Fridays; management should understand such parameters to manage their companies effectively. The exposure that someone has determines the degree to which he is likely to cope with the working environment. For example, children from developed countries are exposed to technology at early ages; they are likely to appreciate tasks in that line (see appendix 1) (The Islamic Affairs Department)
Personnel managers have the role of improving their organization’s emotional cultural intelligence Quotient to create room for the development of an orchestrate team; when they are addressing diversity, there are expected to understand the scope that the diversity is likely to be attained as well as the definition of diversity within their organizations (Adler, pp. 23-65). For example, PepsiCo Inc, the world’s second-largest carbonated beverages industry, has a workforce of approximately 285,000 people, the workforce comes from approximately 200 nationalities. Within a team, different ethnicity reach up to 42; to manage such a diverse team, the company has to enact effective culture intelligence programs that address issues and differences that are likely to emanate from them. Some of the policies that the company has enacted include multiculturalism programs, culture intelligence programs, and embracing a common global organizational culture.
The importance of culture and of appreciating cultural differences
Although cultural difference has been perceived by some scholars as obstacles to effective human resources management, effective and efficient managers perceive them as instructions to innovations. They appreciate the differences and the strengths that different people have and blend them with those with whom they can work well. When psychologists are giving their voice in cultural differences and people management, they suggest that certain character traits (that are subject to one’s socialization) and work better when combined with certain traits. Business managers should perceive their human capital as the most variable asset they have thus they should endeavor to combine them in such a way that they can gain the highest return from them (French, p. 67).
With differences in culture company’s gets different sets of “generic coding,” generic coding means different beliefs perceptions, intellectualism, intelligence, and exposure. At no one point should a company perceive the generic difference as a challenge to its business but should embrace the generic variety for its good. One challenge that businesses with diverse cultures have is enacting effective communication systems that will facilitate a general and common understanding of messages sent.
With an understanding of the cultural difference within organizations, managers can know the right channel to pass information. management gurus have established a close link between components of culture (beliefs, values, attitudes, and perception) to communication effectiveness, conflict management, rapport, and productivity. Proper understanding and having cultural identifiers or coachers will play a critical role in enacting effective communication channels within an organization.
Understanding cultural differences within an organization helps in developing an achieving team; an orchestrated team is made when culture intelligence practices are put in place. Cultural intelligence policies are strategic management tools within organizational psychology that look into taking advantage of personnel cultural differences. The strategy emphasizes the need to understand individual, group, communal and national culture to enhance strategic management. When enacting human resource policies and strategies, personnel managers should realize that cultural differences influences the capacity for a business to engage successfully in a certain environment.
Major organizational and management models
Different management gurus and writers have developed theories to explain how cultural differences affect organizations as well as how the differences can be used for the benefit of an organization. The theories have been developed from different studies, exposures, and experiences.
Trompenaars model as identified by Fons Trompenaars creates an insight understanding to business leaders on how culture affects their organizational decisions; according to the model, some people believe that they have the capability of making decisions and developing rules and standards for everyone; he referred to these people as universalisms. When having such kinds of employees it is important to place them in areas that require fast and quick decisions; some countries whose people have been noted to have such culture include the US, Australia, Germany, and Switzerland. In contrast with the universalisms are particularisms that are peopling who like having wide consultation before making a decision. Trompenaars model recognizes about three main culture extremes that a company should observe and manage; Affective versus neutral, Achievement versus ascription, and Universalism versus particularism, the model emphasis that by observing the employees behaviors and cultural backgrounds, they can be placed in the right positions and given tasks that rhymes with their cultural beliefs. When deploying people to different tasks, Trompenaar’s model calls upon managers to note the strengths of different nationalities and cultures.
Edward T. Hall classifies culture within an organization as either high context and low context cultures; there is a need to understand the kind of diverse culture that operates within an organization to be able to handle different situations. People with high context culture are thought to be keen and detailed; they hardly have a certain system of handling issues but consider different situations with their merit. They are more interested in the result. When managing one organization, it is important to note people with such traits and give them tasks that need keenness and personal decision-making. Low context culture is defined as people who hardly like taking responsibility in the event of a wrong, they like hiding in groups and teams. When having such an employee it is important to organize him in a group where decisions will be made collectively.
Hofstede’s model is the most recent theory of culture management; it continues to be of significant influence in managing organizations. Although the theory has an emphasis on the socialization different that person might have had, there is much emphasis on the culture that grows within an organization. Hofstede’s model tries to prove that the work values by the people in an organization are not universal but can be molded to fit a certain organization (Kaynak 67). Since the theory is the most recent and address contemporary business environments, this paper will look into the four main cultural dimensions as brought out by the theory:
Power Distance Dimension
According to t Hofstede model some cultures find large disparities in power as a norm in their communities; there is much regard on how much power someone has. Nigerians are people who are known to have high regard for power, they believe that prestige can be pegged to the power that someone has; such cultures are more likely to make decisions that can favor them and increase the power gap; they find power as the tool of success. When having employees with high power difference culture, there is a tendency that leaders (the high power difference one) will adopt a management-by-objectives (MBO) system or other forms of participative goal setting. According to the power distance dimension; human behavior is to a large extent an element of their culture, consumer behavior, attitude, beliefs, suppliers, and country of origin perception thus for a rewarding business, there is a need to understand the differences and how to handle them (Samovar, pp. 43-56).
In those cultures that have low power differences, leaders within such organizations are open to discussion with their subordinates on the right path to success. When having such kind of cultured people, human resource management should embrace the team-management method of doing business. This will facilitate communication among them and improve production (Hofstede, p. 12). The Muslim culture has much emphasis on respecting one’s leader, the culture of the people requires that decisions made by the leader be respected without much questioning. Despite this belief they are aggressive and can overturn things fast; when having such a working force, it is important to respect their views and have a strong leadership style. Among Muslims, the month of Ramadan is considered a holy month, according to religious beliefs, people are not expected to work for more than six hours; even a company has its majority workforce as Muslims, the management need to look for a method that will see the company continue its production in the month. The human resources in the company can for instance adopt some casuals during the month who are not Muslims or plan production that the month’s production will be minimal that the workforce can handle. On a personal level, in the month of Ramadan, I would like to be on leave; I would like to closely reflect on my life and my relationship with Allah. In the event I am in an organization that does not respect my stand, during the month my production can be very minimal; again in a restaurant that sells pork and alcohol I cannot work (The Islamic Affairs Department)
The power distance dimension is crucial in the contemporary business environment as much emphasis has been given to leadership quality and employees empowerment. The dimension supports the need to have strong leadership dimensions and styles for competitiveness in modern business environments.
I believe that I should be involved in decision making; when I believe when consulted and involved in decision making I am appreciated; mere asking me what I think or what my take world be on the certain situation is enough motivation to research and come up with the right solution. The belief has been molded by my parents who embraced dialogue in our family; an effective manager can manage and tap my intellectual power by only consulting me.
Individualism versus collectivism
According to individualism culture, people with the culture tend to make decisions without much consultation, they are people with much belief and high esteem in the decisions they make. Let us take the case of first-born man employees who have grown in a Christian society, they are more likely to have been given the role of managing their family at a certain tender age, with such an employee he is likely to make decisions single handily. They are known to be effective leaders but undermine consultation (Schneider 12-90). With an organization, individualism people tend to enjoy individual-based performance appraisals and incentive systems; to manage such kinds of people it is important to place them in areas that need personal input. When in such places blame and praises are expected to accrue to them; in most individualism cultured people, the main motivator is outdoing themselves, thus when planning the structure of an organization, such people should be placed in areas where their decisions can be felt directly (Scarborough, p. 5).
In collectivist cultured people, they tend to enjoy completing tasks as a team; they are high team players who tend to be motivated by seeing their teams work effectively. The Asians are known to be people who make decisions after having made consultation, they hardly work alone and have strong ties to their families. When such traits are noted in an organization, the management should take advantage of their favorable attitudes toward teamwork and team spirit. The mode of motivation and rewarding should be group-oriented; they tend to enjoy outdoor activities like team buildings (Mead and Tim, p. 11). Emphasis should be focused on making a favorable working environment that encourages consultation; systems like communication channels should be dependable (see appendix 3).
The dimension of Individualism versus collectivism comes at the time that management gurus are focusing on effective team management to attain corporate goals and objectives; the dimension supports the need to have won and orchestrated teams that are created by management. The dimension thus is of paramount use in the modern challenging business environment (The Islamic Affairs Department).
When having Bahrain employees, although the majority of them are Muslims (Muslim 70%, Sunni Muslim 30%), they have some slight differences; for instance, they have high respect for women’s leadership and decisions. Women are aggressive and the culture allows them to air their voice; thus in the event a company has Bahrain Women as employees, the management should understand that they need to be given space to practice their intellectualism, not like other Muslims in other regions. This brings the issue of women’s empowerment in different places of the world; human resources managers should understand the degree of empowerment in different countries. The Bahrain culture has high regard for people; they are social beings and they like working together, they give gifts for birthdays, Ramadan, Eid, and Hajj; thus managers should be sensitive to such needs. Such people can make good teams and collective responsibility is a virtue. Another culture of Jews; meat should be slaughtered using the Kosher Slaughter; if an employee is working in a restaurant that does not abide by such, then the employee is likely to be de-motivated (The Islamic Affairs Department).
I believe that women can make quality decisions; when managed by a woman, I believe I can perform better as the experience that I have had with my parent and community, in general, seems to prove that women can also be good decision-makers. In the event I am working in an organization with women and men leaders, I believe management should be wise enough to know my belief and allocate a woman supervisor.
Some cultures tend to have high degrees of risk-taking, they are not comfortable with the way things are normally are; for example, the Chinese are having their values deeply rooted in Confucianism and Taoism, they have strong beliefs in improving current positions within their area of operation. When management has such kind people, it should place them in areas that require creativity, innovation, and entrepreneurship; When having such kinds of employees, it is important to place them in challenging areas where they get challenging new environments that can trigger their innovativeness (Hall, p. 90). For example in the banking industry, many challenges are offered by the internet; such employees can perform well when managing such areas as they are likely to look and seek solutions to the changing environments (Hofstede 78)According to Hosfede theory some people are quick to be contented with the status quo ( for example the Ugandan and Tanzanian), they are more willing to follow procedures and hardly challenge the system; when having such individuals, it’s important to place then in areas where repetition is the norm.
The reason why the reflection brought about by the Uncertainty avoidance dimension of culture by Hofstede is important in contemporary business environments where companies have to deal with employees from more than one nation. It offers a window through which multinationals perceive certain nationalities and get the general picture before the actual traits of an individual have been attained (Tayeb, p. 34).
For example, Chick-Fill-A, American fast food with much advocacy on chicken products, needs to understand the culture of its human capital that forms approximately 56 nationalities. When dealing with Hindus, the management should know the perception that the community has on animal products and thus place an individual in an area that will not contradict his culture. The same case happens with Muslims and their belief in pork; a company in the hospitality industry will be de-motivating its Muslim employees if they are given the task of serving pork to cultures. Understanding the larger and the inner culture of one’s staff is the advocacy that cultural intelligence management emphasizes; it goes further and looks into the need to understand the psychodynamics in a labor market; the understanding will assist in decision making for a successful business (Kwintessential).
As a Muslim I believe that pork should not be eaten, it is prohibited in Koran thus if I was to be employed in the hospitality industry, my manager would better respect my stand and not give me tasks that will make me sell the meat. When a company is operating in more than one country, the management needs to understand the diversity of the people. For example, since pork is forbidden to Muslims and meat is supposed to be slaughtered in the Islamic way (Halal); employers should be sensitive to such issues of culture when dealing with their customers and people in general. Let’s take another example of a Muslim working in a Christian restaurant (the Muslim might have been employed to serve the Muslims customers), he or she will be more sensitive to the way food is served to other Muslims and maybe demotivated to see meat served which is not Halal Certified or food served with red wine sauce. What will follow is a demotivated staff that is not sure whether to side with the employer or customers (Kwintessential). The above example brings issues of ethical business and the need to understand and conform to some cultural practices of the people and the employees (see appendix 2 for an illustration of how Muslims believe about alcohol).
Implications of cultural differences for managing organizations
With global labor markets, human resource departments have the role of establishing the differences of beliefs, races, intellectualism, and ideas among the team and creating policies that will enhance the growth of orchestrated teams. Proper strategies that can combine strengths and weak points offered by diversity should be implemented. Differences in culture are likely to bring culture shocks and conflicts among teams; management should be sensitive to such moves and enact different culture intelligence programs that facilitate team members’ communication for the good of the company. When managing a diverse team, management should be fast to blend their personnel through processes like coaching, mentoring, and training; team players should be trained on how they should respect the views and beliefs of others, they should be meant to understand that people are different, thus their opinions, standpoints, and views may be different. In even some differences occur, management should be fast to determine how to handle the situation before its gets out of handwork (Kim, p. 45).
With globalization companies are employing people of different nationalities and cultural backgrounds/orientations; to manage the diverse human capital effectively, personnel managers within an organization should enact policies that facilitate the growth of cultural awareness in their firms. Cultural differences in the organization have become a challenge to management as developing the right policies to manage them is challenging. Every person feels that his culture is superior and should be respected; everybody thinks the way he or she takes issues should be the right manner. Management should thus have policies that promote respect for each other’s culture to avoid challenges of cultural differences. Some programs that organizations should invest in include culture intelligence programs, ideological re-education programs, and diversity management programs. An organization with effective cultural differences management programs has employees who are innovative, inventive, and creative.
- Adler, Nancy. International Dimensions of Organizational Behavior. California: PWS Kent Publishing Company, 2007.Print.
- Andrews, Tim, and Nartnalin Chompusri. “Lessons in cross-vergence Restructuring the Thai subsidiary corporation.” Journal of International Business Studies 32.1(2001): 77–93. Print.
- French, Ray. Cross-Cultural Management in Work Organisations. United Kingdom: CIPD, 2010. Print.
- Hall, Edward. Beyond Culture. New York: Doubleday, 1976. Print.
- Hofstede, Geert. Cultures and Organizations: Software of the Mind. United Kingdom: McGraw-Hill, 1991. Print.
- Kaynak, Erdener. International Business in the Middle East. Berlin: De Gruyter, 1986. Print.
- Kim, Gudykunst. Theories in Intercultural Communication. Newbury: Sage, 1998. Print.
- Kwintessential. Bahrain – Language, Culture, Customs and Business Etiquette. Bahrain Government. 2010.
- Kwok, Chuck, and Solomon Tadesse. “National culture and financial systems.” Journal of International Business Studies 37(2006): 227–47. Print.
- Mead, Richard. International Management: Cross-Cultural Dimensions. Blackwell Publishers: Oxford, 2009. Print.
- Mead, Richard, and Tim Andrews. International Business: Culture and Beyond. New York: John Wiley & Sons Ltd, 2009. Print.
- Samovar Porter. Intercultural Communicataion. Belmon: Wadsworth. Scarborough, Jack. “Comparing Chinese and Western cultural roots.” Business Horizons 41.6(1998):15–24. Print.
- Schein, Edgar. Organizational Culture and Leadership. San Francisco: Jossey Bass, 2004. Print
- Schneider Barsoux. Managing Across Cultures. London: Prentice Hall 2003. Print.
- Tayeb, Monir. International Management: Theories and Practices. London: Pearson Education, 2003. Print.
- The Islamic Affairs Department. Understanding Islam and Muslims. The Islamic Affairs Department, The Embassy of Saudi Arabia, 2011.