Based on Human Resource Management, 4th edition, by Alan Price
Haire et al (1966) surveyed 3,500 managers in 14 different countries and estimated that
28% of discernible differences in management attitudes were culturally based. They identified 4 main cultural groups:
Nordic-European, Latin-European, Anglo-American and developing nations. This started a trend to try and divide the world's
complex pattern of cultures into neat, analytical groupings - with all the attendant risks of historical inaccuracy and gross
Psychology and culture
Classification difficulties aside, there is no denying that cultural differences can be deeply imbedded.
Chung used the psychology of thinking styles to explain differences between business cultures, arguing that Europeans are taught
to think in a linear way, whereas Asians see things as a whole. According to Chung, Europeans value rational logic while Asians think intuitively
in circles and leaps (This section of Human Resource Management in a Business Context provides a table of comparison based on Chung's views).
(...) Despite the additional insight this model provides, however, we have (once again) a case of two groups of very diverse cultures being
lumped together to suit an argument.
Culture and business behaviour
Asia can be used as an example. Western observers have come to appreciate the diversity of cultures in Asia with features such as:
- national cultures vary widely within the region
- courtesy and politeness are valued highly in all these cultures
- business structure is family-based in some, but not all, of these countries
- there is widespread contact and cooperation between Chinese communities throughout the region
- business practices are changing because younger people are being trained in western-style business schools
Human resource managers have a considerable role to play in preparing
staff for work overseas. Given the range and sensitivity of cultural differences (...) it is clear
that people working in an international context can benefit from tuition in the business customs and social manners
of the countries they will work in. HR managers can play a major part in developing programmes for sales and other staff
whose behaviour must be fully acceptable in target countries.(...) training can encompass language, social behaviour, local business,
structure and practice, and table etiquette.
(...) the most critical area is that of non-verbal behaviour. Stories abound of contracts being lost because of
inappropriate expressions, overeagerness, unacceptable familiarity and general insensitivity. Argyle details a number os jey behavioural features:
proximity, touch and gaze; expressiveness; gestures; accompaniments of speech; symbolic self-presentation; rituals.
Customs or Rules
The way in which business is conducted is conditioned by historical practice and different concepts of morality. Some key issues include:
bribery, nepotism, gifts, buying and selling, eating and drinking, rules about time.
The use of language has critical implications.
For example, in appraisal feedback meetings or interviews people managers must be aware of cultural differences covering:
- Directness Westerners may begin an informal meeting with a joke (well, some of us might).
At this stage in a Japanese relationship such familiarity would be regarded as extremely offensive, expecting
formality until each other's status and authority are clearly understood.
- Politeness All cultures employ polite forms of address which are expected in particular circumstances(...)
Politeness is socially supportive behaviour which maintains harmony and respect between individuals (...)
National and organizational cultures
This section of Human Resource Management, 4th edition provides an extensive discussion of specific contributions to cross-cultural
understanding, including the classic research conducted by Hofstede. He compared several
thousand IBM employees in over 50 countries using attitude questionnaires. He found significant
differences between employees in one country and another, despite their similar jobs and membership of an
organization which is renowned for its strong corporate culture. He identified 4 main dimensions:
- Power distance - how marked are the status differences between people with high and low power.
- Collectivism versus individualism - is a culture focused on individuals or groups?
- Masculinity versus feminity - Hofstede rated aggressiveness (level of individual assertiveness and competition) as masculinity.
- Uncertainty avoidance - a measure of flexibility and need for rules.