Cultural Dimensions In People Management

Cultural Dimensions In People Management

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Cultural Dimensions in People Management
For any international organization, it is of extremely significance to understand cultural differences and make good use of them in the global context. Through insight into a culture perspective, the article analyzes the role and impact of culture.

It starts by introducing prerequisite concept of socialization and then deals with four cultural dimensions on the national level. Finally, it copes with corporate culture.

 Socialization
Socialization, referred here, is the way in which a person is conditioned by environment(s). It is the process in which individuals get involved in the society, communicate and learn with each other. Before being socialized in a corporation, people are influenced by family and school. This process, so called pre-socialization, has more impact on personal behavior than socialization does.

The four elements in socialization are symbols, heroes, rituals and value.
1) Symbols, serving as bridges among feeling, thoughts and action, help people communicate and share their frames of thoughts.
It may be exemplified in a case study of nurses on a hospital rehabilitation unit who had requested a change in dress code. Pratt and Rafaeli (1997) discovered that the nurses’ social identity was at the heart of the discussion. When nurses were talking about street clothes vs. medical scrubs, they were actually talking about underlying philosophies related to their patients, their work, and their professional identities. The nurses used the symbol of organizational dress to represent and talk about the conflicting identities.

2) Heroes, on the organizational level, it can be the ideal manager or the founder. These people always have the deepest influence on the company. The selection of ideal managers depends on the organizational culture. If the company is conservative, there is no need to find a manager to be ambitious; it will find a cautious person instead.

3) Rituals are always set for a long time, and seem to vary widely by culture. For example, in the non-task stage in a negotiation, Americans generally spend less time than Mexican and Japanese do. In those countries, cultural norm that forming a good interpersonal relationship with business partners is likely to determine seal of a deal lead to the non-task stage playing a critical role. When it comes to contract, Americans tend to prepare long and detailed one while in Japan, it would be short and rough. In addition, contracts are always signed in a formal setting such as an office or conference room in America while in Japan, it is possible that a deal would be made during dinner or golf game.

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4) Value is the deepest in the process of socialization. Values are considered subjective and vary across people and cultures. Types of values include ethical/moral values, doctrinal/ideological (political, religious) values, social values, and aesthetic values. It is debated whether some values are innate.

Four Cultural dimensions

As value is the root of socialization, the research projects were designed on the value level which reflects national cultural differences.

1. Individualism versus Collectivism
This dimension focuses on the degree the society reinforces individual or collective achievement and interpersonal relationships. Different socializations flow between the two extremes. A high individualism ranking indicates that individual rights are paramount within the society. Individuals in these societies tend to form a larger number of looser relationships. On the contrast, a low individualism ranking typifies societies of a more collectivist nature with close ties between individuals.

The degree of individualism in different countries can be seen in the operation of a multinational enterprise in today’s world. To put this into a simple way, Chinese employers regard their enterprises as home, paying very attention to organizational loyalty and obedience while western staff attach great importance to their individual rights and interests, best exemplified by contracts noting the exact working time and content. Therefore, if Chinese enterprise doesn’t know this difference, conflicts are often caused by this culture contradiction.

2. Power Distance
Power Distance Index (PDI) focuses on the degree of acceptance of inequality among people in society. A High Power Distance ranking indicates that inequalities of power and wealth have been allowed to grow within the society. These societies are more likely to follow a caste system that does not allow significant upward mobility of its citizens. The opposite indicates that the society de-emphasizes the differences between citizen's power and wealth. In these societies equality and opportunity for everyone is stressed.

Conflicts triggered due to this dimension could be seen in the following conversation between Mr. Wang, a Chinese in the US and the receptionist in a popular restaurant.
Receptionist: Good evening, may I help you?
Mr. Wang: Yes, my wife and family are here for dinner.
Receptionist: Certainly, your name please?
Mr. Wang: I am Mr. Wang.
Receptionist: I’m sorry but I don’t see your name on our reservations listing.
Mr. Wang: I don’t have reservations, but I can make them now.
Receptionist: I’m sorry, but this evening’s dinner reservation list is completely full.
Mr. Wang: No ... I disagree. This restaurant is not full. I see empty tables.
Receptionist: Yes, but these tables are reserved for those people who have reservations for this evening.
Mr. Wang: I will make reservations right now.
Receptionist: I’m sorry, but the evening is completely full.
Mr. Wang: I can see that it is not full. I want to see the manager right now! I am here to have dinner!
In his native culture, Wang probably would have been seated in the restaurant even though he did not have a reservation. In the United States, however, one’s occupational role will not ensure any special favors outside that occupation.

4. Masculinity versus Femininity
This dimension focuses on the degree the society reinforces the traditional masculine work role model of male achievement, control and power. A High Masculinity ranking indicates the country experiences a high degree of gender differentiation. In these cultures, males dominate a significant portion of the society and power structure, with females being controlled by male domination.

When loyalty in Japan faced with the harsh reality that they might not have a male heir, a recommend that the American-imposed Imperial Household Law of 1947 be revised to allow a female line to hold the throne ignited a furious debate over the most delicate of subjects - the imperial system and its significance to Japan - and over topics as varied as the status of Japanese women, the merits of the concubine system and the purity of the imperial Y chromosome. Compared to Japanese, it’s normal for westerns to accept a queen. This case maybe also explains why there are few females high on the executive ladder in countries with a high MAS.

4. Uncertainty Avoidance
This dimension indicates to what extent a culture programs its members to feel either uncomfortable or comfortable. Cultures that avoid uncertainty try to minimize the possibility of unstructured situations with strict laws and rules and security measures. For instance, most foreigners don’t understand or feel uncomfortable to put their bags into certain lockers when enter supermarkets in China. To Chinese thinking, we must nip crimes and evils in the bud. We hope to avoid uncertainty as much as possible, so we try to build legal regimes to realize this goal. On the other side, foreign people negate or distrust people only when they do something wrong.

From the chat, we can find that every ethnic group has obvious, different trend towards uncertainty. As we can see, Americans tend to have the spirit to take risks while French people are less tolerant of opinions that things are different from what they used to be, which is best showed in French’s labor contract strictly stipulating details such as dismiss ion and protection of employees. Hence, it is hard for Chinese corporations to operate in France.

Chart Geert Hofstede Culture dimension score(100=max, 50=mid)
country Power distance Uncertainty avoidance Individualism masculinity Long-term oriented
China 89 44 39 54 100
America 30 21 100 74 35
Britain 21 12 96 84 27
France 73 78 82 35 --
Germany 21 47 74 84 48
Japan 32 89 55 100 --

 Organizational Culture

The understanding that organizational cultures vary results in the related research carried out in several companies in various fields. The research mainly focused on the practices instead of values. All these aspects were effectively presented as potential factors such as demographic criteria and workplace socialization that may affect the results had been eliminated. There are six dimensions based on the research.

1. Process-oriented versus results-oriented
Process-oriented Results-oriented
Focus Means Ends
Risk Avoid Feel comfortable
Effort Least Maximal
Result Quite same every day New challenge
Type of Units Production department;
Large office operations Research development units;
Departments dealing with clients

* The history and leadership of a unit also play a role.
This dimension is related with the strength of the culture. Whether the strength is strong or weak can be measured according to the homogeneity of employees’ answers on the questionnaire: If the answers are the same, the corporate culture is strong; if the answers vary, their culture is weak. Furthermore, if the unit has a strong culture, that means it has distinct values shared and agreed by its employees. Apparently, this type of unit shows the tendency of results-oriented features, thus dynamic and vigorous.

2. Employee-oriented versus job-oriented
Employee-oriented Job-oriented
Consider Personal problems Only work
Decision-making Committees or groups Individuals
Type of leaders Manager-type (budget fulfillment) Entrepreneur-type (profits)

Employees may feel happier and securer under an employee-oriented culture than a job-oriented one. However, the job-oriented culture is like to produce a sense of achievement and high reward despite great pressure, sometimes even frustration.

3. Parochial versus professional
Parochial Professional
Identity Belonging to the organization Profession
Employment Background Competence
Attitude Not to think far ahead Think years ahead
Education Less formal education Well-educated

In sociology, this pair is known as “local and cosmopolitan”. In a sense, the professional possess a more positive, independent attitude and may have a broader vision.

4. Open system versus closed system
Open system Closed system
For outsiders Open and easy to fit in Closed and secretive; hard to fit in

Newcomers should always try to get accustomed to the corporate culture no matter it is open or closed. This might take into account the socialization in the new environment. If he/she is sociable but happens to be in a closed system, it is crucial to realize the new situation and behave properly.

5. Tight control versus loose control
Tight control Loose control
Cost Conscious Do not care
Attitude Punctual; Serious Keep Meeting time roughly; Make jokes
Types of units Precision-demanding;
Risky outputs Innovate;
Unconditioned activities

6. Pragmatic versus normative emphasis towards client
Pragmatic normative
Orientation Results Procedures
Attitude towards ethics Flexible Honest; Highly ethic
Types of units Units under competition Monopolistic units;
Units related with laws

The fifth and sixth dimensions represent internal and external functioning respectively, from which evidence can be found that a specific corporate culture leads to its employees’ attitude and behavior.

Multicultural organizations shall obtain the capability of managing corporate culture internally and mater a profound understanding of cross-cultures externally.

For personnel management, two extremes as “the devil” and “the deep blue sea” shall be avoided. It is of importance that space shall be left for employees so that they can take their initiative in an optimum manner; policies shall be carried out according to the local situation. In the meantime, to maintain the core corporate culture is extremely significant because the very spirit and value binds people together and guarantees the organization to stay competitive.

For shelving cultural difference, according to the study, two types of roles are emphasized: top managers and corporate diplomats who serve as bridges between headquarters and oversea subsidiaries.

To have the proper people available when they are needed, the organization could:
Timely recruiting of future managerial talent from different nationalities
Career moves through planned transfers in view of acculturation in corporate ways
Cultural awareness training for business experts
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