Management in context Essay

A. Conceptual Frameworks of Cultural Analysis and their Relevance in Helping International Managers to Understand Different Behavioural Patterns and Ways of Doing Business in Different Countries

Culture, used to mean “the intellectual side of civilization” at the beginning of the 19th century, and the “collective customs and achievements of people”, from some 60 years later, has been progressively taken up as an intensive and increasingly multidisciplinary focus of study for the last two hundred years (Gannon, 2004). Consisting of a diverse panorama of constituents like written and spoken language, religion, faith, art, music, ideas and beliefs, tradition and customs, superstitions and taboos, tools and techniques, and rituals, ceremonies and symbols, culture has played and continues to play an integral and pivotal role in the evolution of human civilization (Gannon, 2004).

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Study of Culture

Early efforts at studying different cultures and engaging in cross cultural analysis were primarily anthropological in nature; they focused on culture being an outcome of evolution with all societies moving through broadly defined stages of savagery and barbarism, before moving into the era of civilization, which was characterized by the use of phonetics and the written word. Morgan’s classification of cultures in his book Ancient Society (Leeds-Hurwitz, 1993) provides a broad idea of the various stages of human evolution that led to the formation of cultures. Whilst social scientists followed anthropologists in taking up the study of cultures, their investigative efforts tended to focus on the study of distant peoples and of tribal societies even as changing social, economic, and political circumstances, advances in communication and travel technology, and expansion of trade and business necessitated the understanding of people from various advanced cultures and the formulation of effective modes of communication between them (Lewis, 2000). Although anthropologists like Clifford Geertz focused on symbolic culture, researchers like Edward Hall attempted to explain cultural behavior through the theory of time, context and space, and social scientists attempted to explain cultural similarities through the study of instinctive behaviour, culture experts like Trompenaars and Geert Hofstede put forward path breaking theories on cultural behavior and cross-cultural analysis, drawing from areas as diverse as anthropology, sociology, communication, and  psychology, to explain the differences between individual cultures, to formulate ways for bridging cultural gaps and to engage in cross-cultural communication (Gudykunst & Kim, 2003).

Modern Day Models of Cultural Differences

Geert Hofstede, a well known Dutch expert on the interaction between national and international cultures bases his framework for assessment of different cultures and national work related values on an “onion” model, where culture, like a four layered onion, can be peeled layer by layer (Redding & Stening, 2003). Arguing that cultures between nations and societies can be distinguished in 4 dimensions, namely power distance, individualism/collectivism, masculinity/femininity, uncertainty avoidance, as also a 5th dimension for long term/short term orientation, Hofstede postulated that nations and regions tend to have cultural groupings across these dimensions that persist over time and explain cultural behavior and differences (Hofstede, 1997). (Please see Appendix 1)

Trompenaars, another Dutch culturist who specializes in international culture, has put forward two models for assessing cultural differences. The first is a simple 2X2 model, which works on four cultural manifestations, e.g. person vs. task and centralization vs. decentralization of authority, and explains issues like relationships between employees, attitudes towards authority, ways of thinking and learning, attitudes towards people, and managing change. The second model, which was developed by Trompenaars in association with Hampden-Turner, and works towards understanding individuals rather than stereotyping country behavior, stipulates that culture can be differentiated into seven dimensions (Gannon, 2004).

·         Universalism vs. Particularism (importance of rules or relationships?)

·         Individualism vs. Communitarianism (function is in a group or as an individual?)

·         Neutral vs. Emotional (are emotions displayed or kept in check?)

·         Specific vs. Diffuse (extent of involvement?

·         Achievement vs. Ascription (is status achieved or is it given because of being part of a structure?)

·         Attitude to Time (Are things done one at a time or several things at once?)

·         Internal vs. External Orientation (Are efforts made to control the environment or cooperate with it?) (Gannon, 2004)

Cultural Challenges for International Managers

With numerous medium and large companies expanding and globalizing their operations, international management is becoming one of the foremost responsibilities of modern day managers. International management is all about journeying across borders deals with the internal and external diversity that managers (and organizations as well) experience when venturing outside their country (Rugman, 2000). Apart from dealing with issues like technology transfer, communication, and finance, it is closely associated with environmental and cultural management, a management process that is integral to functions involving (a) dealing with overseas governments, politicians, bureaucrats, consultants, and media, (b) coordinating and communicating with overseas colleagues, managers and other employees, as well as overseas buyers and suppliers, and (c) operating in positions of managerial responsibility in overseas locations thus making it necessary to function with superiors, peers, and juniors from different cultures (Thomas, 20000. Apart from such occasions, international management also incorporates appointment of local representatives, franchisees, joint alliances and acquisitions of foreign companies, all of which need proper handling of cultural issues and factors for success. Improper handling of such cultural differences or wrong perceptions about foreign cultures could lead to miscommunication, misunderstanding, conflict and ultimately suboptimal work and underachievement (Thomas, 2000).

Cultural analysis enables managers to study and understand the reasons for differences in cultures between people from different societies and different countries and allows them to choose the most appropriate approach for handling and solving work and environment related issues in such contexts and locations (Brislin, 2000). Some critics however argue that these theories are out of sync with ground realities because cultures do not have strict physical boundaries and borders like nation states and their expression and core beliefs can assume many permutations and combinations. Again Hofstede and Trompenaars hold divergent views and are strong critics of each other.

Despite the limitations of these models and the criticism to which they have been subjected, they remain in wide use for purposes of research and application in international management situations because of their utility in understanding, quantifying, and responding to cultural differences between societies and nations.

B. Cultural Characteristics of Sweden and India

Sweden and India are practically like two ends of the world. Separated by thousands of miles, Sweden, a small, (though not by European standards) mainly white, predominantly Christian country in Northern Europe, and India, a huge multi racial, multi religious melting pot in South Asia could not be more dissimilar. Despite their huge economic and cultural differences, the two countries enjoy an extremely cordial relationship, evinced in part by the increasing number of Swedish tourists to India, the presence of a vibrant Indian diaspora in Sweden, and the significant number of Swedish owned industries, like Alfa Laval and SKF Bearings that operate out of India.

With culture being shaped by a number of factors like climate, religious influence, and progression of written and spoken language, and evinced by customs, traditions, religious practices, language, attire, symbols, methods of greeting and communication, beliefs and taboos, the differences in causes as well as manifestations of culture between the two countries are significantly different.

Causal Factors in Shaping of Swedish Culture

A sparsely populated and extremely cold country, Sweden has a history that goes back 1500 years to the age of the Vikings. Marked by the introduction of Christianity in the 9th century, the growth of Protestantism in the medieval age, and the trappings of Empire and military expansionism in the 17th and 18th centuries, Sweden has had an eventful history and has gone through periods of economic affluence as well as desolation in its rise to its current position as a global leader in liberal thought, education, research and industry (Dewitt, 2004). Escaping the rigors and devastation of the Second World War by remaining neutral, though biased towards Nazi Germany, the country has one of the highest (16th) living standards in the world and is a known champion of environmental issues and disarmament.

Sweden has long been an open and accepting society and international influences have shaped and enriched Swedish culture.

The Swedish are by and large considered to be punctual, law abiding and respectful of rules and regulations. Queuing is common and systems have been installed in many larger shops and most banks and post offices, wherein customers take numbered tickets from a dispensing machine and wait until their number comes up on a display. The preference for queuing is possibly a manifestation of the egalitarianism in thought and practice, which, appears to have permeated most aspects of Swedish society. Women are well represented in politics, government and business and discrimination on basis of gender, race or age is practically absent. “Lagom” i.e. moderation in everyday life, and “Jantelegen”, in other words, the common man is the hero, are important words of their lexicon (Dewitt, 2004).

Whilst egalitarianism is also reflected in the custom of people paying for themselves when eating in groups, the Swedish are private people; they tend to be reserved and extremely punctual in their appointments. Business meetings tend to be formal, Swedes like to get to the point as soon as possible, and the meeting agenda is followed strictly. Interaction with Swedes is distinguished by pragmatism and practicality; they love to “anchor” things, are modest and low key in their approach and believe in integrity, honesty and fair play (Dewitt, 2004).

Their need to be alone and independent is matched by their enthusiasm for technology and their keenness to maintain a work life balance.

The Complexity of Indian Culture

India, on the other hand is a huge amalgam of different people living in a sub-continental land mass in South Asia. Despite having a history that goes back more than 4000 years and being one of the richest countries on earth even a couple of centuries ago, two centuries of colonial subjugation have led to economic poverty and backwardness. Cultural and historical richness is balanced with a society that is divided on lines of caste, language, and religion, deeply superstitious and prejudiced against women and people of lower castes (Shah, 1994). The country has more than 27 developed languages, at least six widely followed religions, and a society where the very rich and the middle class live side by side to the desperately poor.

Very obviously India has a complex and varied culture and it would be somewhat naïve to stereotype the behavior of Indians into one shoe fits all slots. With a number of classes that range from martial to business to those interested in education finding universal cultural traits is difficult. Most social scientists do however agree that Indians, despite their enormous diversity, do share a few cultural characteristics. By and large they are fatalistic in their approach and believe that the happening of good and bad things is decided by fate (Shah, 1994). Indians also believe in arranged marriages, are taught to respect their elders, have very strong family attachments, and are expressive of their emotions. Collectivism is another trait that is shared by most Indians and binds them to other Southeast Asian civilizations.

Application of Hofstede’s Theories

In terms of Hofstede’s theories of culture, “Power Distance” is accepted far more in India than in Sweden’s egalitarian society. “Individualism” is the dominant trait in Sweden whereas “Collectivism” rules Indian culture, While Swedish society would tend to be more “Masculine” than India’s family oriented culture where elders are respected because of their position in society, it is difficult to gauge whether any discernible differences can be traced in “Uncertainty Avoidance”, especially in today’s world. Whilst uncertainty avoidance proclivities should be higher in India, considering its traditional culture and hierarchical society, such an impression could well be wrong because of the speed at which Indian society is changing and the enormous challenges it faces. Again, whilst Indian society is changing very fast it is safe to conclude that its orientation is likely to be more long term than Swedish society, which is enthusiastic about technology, scientific progress, and change.

3. Occurrences of Conflict and Misunderstandings between People of these Two Countries on Account of Cultural Issues

Geert Hofstede’s pioneering work has made international managers aware of the issues that can arise, the misunderstandings that may occur, and the conflicts that could happen between people of two countries with strong cultural differences, as also the fact that success in international working between two countries depends strongly upon the management of such cultural differences.

Causes for Conflict and Misunderstandings

Hofstede’s model of cultural differences, which lists five specific causes for cultural differences, namely Power Distance, Uncertainty Avoidance, Individualism vs. Collectivism, Masculinity vs. Femininity, and Long Term vs. Short term Orientation, states that most incidences of cultural conflict and misunderstandings are likely to arise out of these issues Hofstede, 1997).

With Swedish and Indian culture being significantly apart on most of the listed causes, the scope for misunderstandings and conflict is significant and can lead to working disharmony if not properly addressed at the initiation of contact between executives of these two countries. Perceptions about Power Distance are for instance significantly different between the two countries. Indian society is characterized by the caste system, rural feudalism, hierarchical family structures, and discrimination against women. Most Indian businesses tend to be run authoritatively by the owners and Indian managers, whether in Indian or MNC (Multinational Corporation) settings do not take kindly to juniors stepping out of line, showing extraordinary initiative or speaking unless asked to at meetings. Younger people even tend to remain quiet during social interaction in the presence of senior family members or workplace officials and whilst the situation is gradually changing with increased education and globalization, Indian society is still characterized by much greater Power Distance than that of Sweden.

Swedish culture, on the other hand, is among the most egalitarian in the world. Without the trappings of the caste system and with feudalism being dispatched to the remote recesses of history, the Swedes glorify the idea of the common man, think of women as equal to men in every respect and expect juniors to contribute in business meetings and discussions. Interaction between Swedes and Indians could lead to misunderstandings because of differing perceptions abut Power distance. Whilst Swedes could look askance at Indian managers who are quiet in the presence of their seniors, Indian managers could well view junior Swedes who are forthright with their views as upstarts who need to be kept in their places. Unnecessary negative perceptions on both sides could lead to negative reactions and behavioral changes that could lead to conflicts and misunderstandings.

Perceptions about Uncertainty Avoidance are expected to high on both sides, albeit for different reasons. With Swedes brought up in Nordic Europe’s grandmother culture, where the state is expected to look after citizens from their cradles to their graves, and Indians used to the umbrellas provided by a benevolent patriarchal system and the ages old caste structure, members of both these societies could well be averse to taking undue risks and are likely to share common ground on this issue.

Swedes, with their low marriage rates, gradual negation of organized religion, increasing incidence of single parent units, love for technology, reserved attitudes, and penchant for privacy, are far more individualistic than Indians who thrive in the collectivism of joint family life, huge collaborative religious and cultural festivals, arranged caste based marriages, strong and vibrant networks of friend and relations. These differences can lead to misunderstandings because of the Swedish desire for independent action dictated by the facts of the situation and the Indian need to consult, check with other people, and wait for the development of a relationship before taking action. Indians might find the Swedes to be too eager and fast whereas Swedes might consider the Indians to be too vacillating, perceptions that could well progressively become deal breakers in the absence of understanding on both sides.

Another major cause for misunderstanding can be the monochronic and polychronic nature of the people from these two countries, a concept introduced by Edward Hall

 People from monochronic societies like Sweden are more likely to have linear time perceptions, used to concentrating on one issue at a time and taking their time commitments, their schedules and their deadlines very seriously (Gannon, 2004). Members of polychronic societies, on the other hand have cyclic, rather than linear time perceptions, are happy at doing a number of things simultaneously and whilst working with time frames do not consider them sacrosanct

On the contrary polychronic societies do not have a linear but rather a cyclic time perception. They do not mind doing several things simultaneously and whilst considering schedules and time frames to be useful, do not treat them as sacrosanct or not get upset if they cannot achieve them. Indians are polychronic and notoriously loose about their time commitments. Flights and train departures are often delayed without much complaint from passengers until and unless they become excessively inconvenient. Appointments with bureaucrats are routinely delayed and guests walk into dinner parties anytime between 8pm and midnight, practices that could be infuriating to the time conscious Swedes with limited access to daylight, and a deep-rooted desire not to irritate others, take up their time and otherwise inconvenience them by keeping them waiting needlessly. One of the most persistent and widespread complaints that westerners have about Indians relate to the casualness with which Indians treat time and leads to perceptions about inefficiency and ineptitude.

Ways and Means to Overcome Cultural Problems

Differing cultural perceptions can build up into serious causes for misunderstandings and conflicts and lead to disagreements and unnecessary negative perceptions, developments that need to be consciously avoided in today’s globalized and connected world where cooperation and understanding between nations and people’s has become essential for trade, business, and economic advancement (Lewis, 2000). Such situations can be overcome by conscious efforts by visitors, be they on business or tourism trips, or on other assignments, to understand the cultural dimensions of their host countries, grasp the reasons for such differences, and try to adjust to as well as to overcome them (Lewis, 2000). This applies both to Swedes and to Indians when they visit each others countries.

Orientation courses, which describe the target countries traditions, customs, and culture, as well as expected behavior from visitors, can go a long way in ironing over irritants, making people more understanding, and making cultural interaction more fruitful and rewarding (Kohls, 2001).

Word Count: 3000, apart from Titles/Headings and References


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Appendix 1

Hofstede dimensions to distinguish between cultures

The five dimensions Hofstede uses to distinguish between national cultures are:

·         Power distance, which measures the extent to which members of society accept how power is distributed unequally in that society.

·         Individualism tells how people look after themselves and their immediate family only in contrast with Collectivism, where people belong to in-groups (families, clans or organizations) who look after them in exchange for loyalty.

·         The dominant values of Masculinity, focussing on achievement and material success are contrasted with those of Femininity, which focus on caring for others and quality of life.

·         Uncertainty avoidance measures the extent to which people feel threatened by uncertainty and ambiguity and try to avoid these situations.

·         Confucian dynamism. This Long-term versus Short-term Orientation measured the fostering of virtues related to the past, i.e., respect for tradition, importance of keeping face and thrift.

(Sinha, 2007)



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