In the present-day business world striving for globalisation, organisations do their best to benefit from cost-saving technical expertise in other countries (Thomas 2008). This creates a specific kind of business environment necessitating ongoing cross-cultural interaction. Managers have to deal with teams that are scattered across the globe and consist of people with different cultural backgrounds (Krishna, Sahay, & Walsham 2006). Thus, their professional communicative skills and broad, innovative thinking can contribute a lot to the overall success of global projects thereby enhancing the competitiveness of businesses (Moran, Abramson, & Moran 2014).
Communication in any of its forms (whether it occurs personally, by email or by telephone) is one of the most demonstrative domains in terms of cultural differences. Misinterpretation of messages underlying verbal expressions may trigger problems of technical, financial, and organisational nature (Luthans & Doh 2009). Therefore, despite the possibility to use culturally diverse teams to the best advantage, cross-cultural interaction can undermine the success of the business posing additional risks because of different values of the employees and misunderstanding that arises from this discrepancy (Low & Shi 2011). It orders to prevent failures, managers should be more flexible in their approach to leadership. Their task is to foster tolerance, understanding, teamwork, creativity, and cultural exchange (Griseri & Seppala 2010). Culturally sensitive management requires both the knowledge of the accepted theories of intercultural communication and the ability to use personal skills to successfully implement these theories in practice (Thomas & Mengel 2008).
The paper at hand is aimed to highlight the evolution of cross-cultural management through critical evaluation of studies published 10 years apart. In the second section of the paper, some recommendations will be given for a hypothetical expatriate to prepare successfully for working in another country. The conclusion is going to summarize the ideas from both sections and make suggestions for future cross-cultural management studies.
Comparison of Cross-Cultural Management Studies
Harrison, GL & McKinnon, JL 1999, ‘Cross-cultural research in management control systems design: a review of the current state’.
The given article attempts to review the studies in management control systems (MCS) for the app. 15 years. The authors’ primary goal is to identify the major strengths and weaknesses of these studies in terms of their methodology and total contribution to understanding the role of culture in MCS. They also try to find the common and divergent ideas proposed by different researchers. The study is qualitative and is done basically in the form of a literature review with further analysis and comparison of the sources involved as well as speculations upon the possible directions of future research. Almost all the selected surveys used questionnaires as the predominant method with the difference of location (the USA, Thailand, Singapore, Indonesia, Australia, Japan, Malaysia,etc.), position, and a number of the respondents. The authors conclude that there are four main weaknesses shared by all the analyzed studies (Harrison and McKinnon 1999):
- a tendency to neglect the holistic nature of cultural domain: most researchers use only a limited number of cultural dimensions for their theoretical speculations whereas other aspects remain unattended; this leads to non-correspondence of theoretical specifications to the results of empirical surveys as their participants reflect the totality of their backgrounds including the omitted dimensions;
- a tendency to ignore the difference in intensity of cultural values; most authors suppose that all constituents of culture are equally significant in their impact on human behaviour and choices of managerial approach;
- a tendency to oversimplify culture and perceive it as a restricted number of components; moreover, it is commonly assumed that several dimensions and their nature are the same for each culture, which is far from being true;
- a tendency to rely heavily on the component of value, which implies the representation of culture from a functionalist perspective.
Gerhart, B 2008, ‘Cross cultural management research assumptions, evidence, and suggested directions’.
Gerhart’s primary objective is to find all the hidden assumptions that direct most studies in cross-border management. The article questions and analyzes the widespread assumption that national culture can hinder management practice. The author proves the inconsistency of this view as the empirical evidence shows that such perception of the role of the national culture in management is inadequate. The research methodology is mixed: the author uses both statistical data and qualitative analysis. Like the previous article, this study is organized as a literature review.
The researcher concludes that, since there is no empirical support to the theory, the value of quite a several works in the field remains highly questionable. The point is that to be able to impose limitations on management, national culture should be characterized by internal integrity and lack of differences whereas the differences between counties must be considerable, which is a rare case. Thus, the author suggests stepping away from the traditional approach and choosing another direction of cross-cultural management investigation (Gerhart 2008).
The two articles are similar in their attempt to highlight limitations and gaps existing in the research in the field. They use the method of literature review of the other researchers’ findings; however, the second article is more concerned with statistical juxtaposition. The first research is broader in scope as the authors look for divergences and convergences of different works without trying to attach special significance to one of the aspects. On the contrary, the goal of the second article is to provide a rationale for the alleged importance of the role of the national cultural values in the process of management as well as its constraining impact. Although both articles provide recommendations for future research, the ones given in the first paper mostly concern the method and the scope of studies, whereas the second article also criticizes their entire content, direction, and methodology. The author not only advises future researchers but also provides clear guidelines on how to avoid erratic scientific behaviour, which increases the practical value of the material.
Thus, a conclusion can be drawn that the difference in 10 years has not managed to eliminate the major problems of cross-cultural studies: the same as it was before, they are still detached from practical implementation. Both articles prove that theoretical assumptions and quantitative analyses of culture are highly demanding tasks that do not leave any space to rough generalization – each cultural dimension must be studied in its entire complexity. Otherwise, all the attempts to understand its significance for management and give practical recommendation on how to use culture for your benefit are futile.
Recommendations for a Hypothetical Expatriate Coming to Work in the UAE
If a person comes to work in the UAE, the following five recommendations can be given to him/her to perform the job successfully in terms of non-violation of cultural norms:
- Do not forget that the culture of the UAE is deeply rooted in religion. It implies that a lot of strict laws limiting your behaviour stem from the beliefs. For instance, if you are not a Muslim, you can drink alcohol only in special territories but you must not enter a mosque or take Qu’ran in your hands, etc. Friday and Saturday are days-off. During the Ramadan, it is highly important not to eat or drink in public as Muslims have to fast (Deresky 2014).
- Always think of our appearance. The way you dress is very significant in this culture. You have to pay tribute to local understanding of modesty and decency though you do not have to cover your body as it is traditionally done (Gannon & Pillai 2013). Businessmen usually wear long pants, classical shirts, ties, and jackets without any jewellery. Women conceal their bodies to the maximum (Browaeys & Price 2011).
- Be as much private as possible. A lot of seemingly innocent issues are punishable in the UAE. For instance, no drugs or drunk driving are allowed. You cannot swear and offend anyone in public either (dancing and singing in the street is also considered to be strange). Neither can you photograph people without their permission (Fisher, Lovell, & Valero-Silva 2013)?
- Pay attention to details. Some signs may be misinterpreted by the foreigner. For example, it is normal for men to go hand in hand – it demonstrates their good relationships, not homosexuality (Crane & Matten 2010). It is vital to follow the example of the locals in such cases when they remove their shoes when they enter someone’s house, do not use their left hand for greeting, gesturing or eating (it is considered to be dirty), do not discuss politics or any other hot topics, do not point at anyone, etc. Unawareness of these details may bring about serious trouble (Browaeys & Price 2011).
- Remember about the particularities of men-women relationships. The UAE is a male-oriented culture. However, you should know how to treat people of both sexes. Men usually shake hands whereas women touch cheeks. Unless a woman shakes your hand, you cannot be the first to initiate this greeting (French 2007). Married people are allowed to walk hand in hand in public but they cannot kiss or do any other sexual moves. Sex outside of marriage (even if you are a visitor) is not allowed by the culture. Forget about looking at women especially if they are married (Deresky 2014).
If we summarize the messages of the two sections, the following recommendations can be made for future cross-cultural management studies:
- do not oversimplify or generalize the notion of culture;
- analyze culture in its entirety without omitting aspects that are not relevant to the theoretical domain as all constituents of culture express themselves this or that way in practice;
- make emphasis on practical skills that are required for management across borders;
- increase awareness of businessmen of cultural differences that directly influence international projects;
- do not neglect the importance of intra-cultural variations as it would be wrong to treat representatives of one culture as similar or equal;
- do not rely heavily on previous studies as they often lack correct methodology, which distorts the results;
- differentiate between the country effect and the culture effect;
- analyze real case studies of success and failures of intercultural communication in management;
- consider the influence of time and globalization on the cultural pattern of even the most conservative cultural communities;
- do not ignore cultural diversity as in every society there are also minority groups with their own set of values and beliefs.
Browaeys, MJ & Price, R 2011, Understanding cross-cultural management, Pearson, London.
Crane, A & Matten, D 2010, Business ethics, Oxford University Press, Oxford.
Deresky, H 2014, International management: managing across borders and cultures (texts and cases), Pearson, London.
Fisher, C, Lovell, A, & Valero-Silva, N 2013, Business ethics and values, Pearson, London.
French, R 2007, Cross Cultural management in work organisations. Sage, London.
Gannon, MJ & Pillai, R 2013, Understanding global cultures: metaphorical journeys through 31 nations, clusters of nations, continents, and diversity, Sage, London.
Gerhart, B 2008, ‘Cross cultural management research assumptions, evidence, and suggested directions’, International Journal of Cross Cultural Management, vol. 8, no. 3, pp. 259-274.
Griseri, P & Seppala, N 2010, Business ethics and corporate social responsibility, Cengage Learning, London,
Harrison, GL & McKinnon, JL 1999, ‘Cross-cultural research in management control systems design: a review of the current state’, Accounting, Organisations and Society, vol. 24, no. 5, pp. 483-506.
Krishna, S, Sahay, S & Walsham, G 2006, ‘Managing cross-cultural issues in global software outsourcing’, Communications of the ACM, vol. 47, no. 4, pp. 62-66.
Low, SP & Shi Y 2011, ‘Cultural influences on organisational processes in international projects: Two case studies’, Work Study, vol. 50, no. 7, pp. 276-285.
Luthans, F & Doh, JP 2009, International management: Culture, strategy, and behaviour. McGraw-Hill Irwin, New York.
Moran, RT, Abramson, NR & Moran, SV 2014, Managing cultural differences, Routledge, London.
Thomas, D 2008, Cross-cultural management: essential concepts, Sage, Thousand Oaks.
Thomas, J & Mengel, T 2008, ‘Preparing project managers to deal with complexity – advanced project management education’, International Journal of Project Management, vol. 26, no. 3, pp. 304-315.