The FIVE most important competencies for managing internationally in my country, Hong Kong, for these three American managers of TDS are:
Interpersonal Skills – If this is not the most important skill of all, it is the crucial one. This skill helps the expatriate managers to establish relationships, coordinate with others, satisfying the needs for friendship and intimacy when they are abroad. It also helps in building trust and form relationships with the people around them. The expatriate managers are often experiencing uncertainties and getting stressed when dealing things with work and personal life in a new environment.
So with good interpersonal skills will be able to reduce the stress coming from every angle. Referring to a recent book (Schneider & Barsoux, 2003, 190-1), the primary selection of many companies for the expatriate managers in practice is their track records on reaching their targets or getting their jobs done. Companies also would like to send those that are eager to climb further on their career ladders or those with technical or conceptual abilities instead of those with interpersonal skills abroad.
These expatriates are often too focused on their personal agenda to make things happen and ignore the pressure that are given to the local staffs which would create tension at work. Moreover, feelings of mistrust and resentment of the local staffs towards the head office will also be exacerbated. Therefore, interpersonal skills should be taken into account when the American managers are being chosen to manage in a foreign country like Hong Kong.
Motivation to live abroad – It is a key factor for the expatriate managers and their families to adapt into the local culture successfully (Schneider & Barsoux, 2003, 192). Basically they should have real interests in the country they will live in, in order to have the curiosity to get to know it better and experience it well. It is the desire that makes them easier to understand the culture with ease.
Patience and respect – Different countries have different cultures so it is necessary that the international managers have the patience and respect when dealing with the new culture. It takes time to cope and learn the differences between the culture at home and the culture of the new place so the international managers should be patient (Schneider & Barsoux, 2003, 193). They also need to have respect for the local of how the things happen in some ways when dealing with different circumstances in any aspects.
Cultural empathy – This is a not skill that can be easily acquired because it is deeply rooted in someone’s character to have the mentality of empathy for others with cultural differences (Schneider & Barsoux, 2003, 193). It is required in order to respect the local staffs by the international managers to be a good listener to focus on what they have to say. Being non-judgmental is also important for those managers to be able to understand others’ points of views.
The psychological development of a human being allows narcissism to be evolved to a point that interfere the capacity for empathy (Kets de Vries, M. and Mead, C. 1992). Managers that are narcissistic usually are self- centred and think that others are paltry or just the extensions of their own. They make the values of others hard to be recognized, let alone appreciate, because they see others as objects or tools for them to get what they want in order to achieve their goals and they also think of others as the mirrors to reflect their own glory. This type of managers would use all their efforts to prove their worth instead of considering the needs and the existing values of the other staffs.
Flexibility, tolerance for uncertainty and ambiguity – These managers also need to have the flexibility, tolerance for uncertainty and ambiguity. Changing circumstances that are unexpected makes the managers face with thread of uncertainty and ambiguity because the reactions and the behaviors of the local staffs may be unpredictable. Managers are intended to reinforce greater controls and restrict on the information flow when they face this kind of tread especially during an international assignment (Schneider & Barsoux, 2003, 192-3).
It often results in a stereotypical response and not well adapted to the situation on hands. Although it is difficult for the managers that are usually awarded by being in charged and staying on top of things, expatriates need to ‘go with the flow’ and let go of control. Everyone doesn’t always need to go by the book because actions are often taken base on insufficient, unreliable or/ and conflicting information.
Controlling model and Adapting model are the names and characteristics of two specific models of strategy related to cultural assumptions and approaches in adapting to external environment as discussed in the literature.
The differences between controlling and adapting approaches are described below:
Controlling model is based on active search that is focused and systematic. The planning system of the controlling approach is formalized and centralized using expert consultants to assist in devising strategy. The information being used by the controlling method is objective, quantitative and impersonal also interpreting information relies on formal models and methods like strategic forecasting with scenario planning. The people involve in this model are those from the top management or the experts of the particular area.
The decisions for the controlling approach would be made by the top management and pass down to be implemented. The strategic goals and action plans are clearly defined, articulated and it would be explicitly measured and rewarded in this controlling method. As it assumes that the environment is known to reduce environmental uncertainty. This approach is usually sequential and short term (Schneider & Barsoux, 2003, 124).
Adapting model is broad, sporadic, decentralized and mostly based on monitoring. It is the opposite from the controlling model, informal and decentralized. The adapting approach is personal, subjective and qualitative; the information would be interpreted by some informal methods with discussions and debate. It would have the employees involved from all across the ranks. The decisions for the adapting approach would be made by the front lines staffs, neither the people from top management nor the experts. The strategic goals tend to emerge and action plans are broad, implicit and vaguely monitored. Also it assumes that the environment cannot be readily known or controlled. This approach is long term and simultaneous (Schneider & Barsoux, 2003, 124).
The model of adapting approach is more appropriate in this situation with TDS because TDS is new to town and not quite familiar with the culture and environment in Hong Kong. Also the environment cannot be controlled or readily known, it would be wise to have the responsibilities to be diffused throughout the organization to make all the staffs from different ranks to get involved. Strategic direction tends to emerge when different people come with different perspective on the business point of view.
The implementation should be locally determined to keep it within this strategic frame. Strategy can be refined on an ongoing basis and the adjustments can be made to any unexpected circumstances. TDS should be flexible in order to deal with any sort of unforeseen events or sudden change in any situation. A broad scan is needed in case of any subtle change in the environment and also accountability should be assigned to the collective too because everyone is involved to contribute to make things happen.
The Five methods of discovery that I would recommend to the three American managers transferring into my country, Hong Kong, are:
Architecture and design – According to a recent book (Schneider & Barsoux, 2003, 24-6) the most obvious artifact is the architecture and design of the building when you enter the organization. In the United States, most of the office design would be opened space with partitioned off by half walls with each individual cubicles personalized by personal interested items such as photos, plants or aphorisms. By not being able to see each other directly allows a sense of privacy to be established.
Also opened doors are usually signaled as accessible and available while closed doors are indicated as a sign of privacy desire in the United States. To the contrary, Japanese prefer to have some of the walls knocked off so informal communication would not be inhibited. On the other hand, Germans experience difficulty to work in an open-plan office due they feel it is lack of privacy. Although Hong Kong has a majority of 95 percent Chinese people according to a website (The American Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong, 2008), and was also a British colony for over 150 years, the main business partner of its own is still the United States as shown by the figures provided from the Business Expectation Statistics Section, Census and Statistics Department, (2007a) (2007b). Therefore, most of the office design in Hong Kong is followed to the same style as those in the United States.
Greeting rituals – In the United States, the greeting rituals are tended to be paid less attention according to a recent book (Schneider & Barsoux, 2003, 26-7). But for the other countries, the protocol is taken quite seriously. There are different forms of way in greetings such as showing respect by exchanging and inspecting business cards in Japan, greeting individual by name, shaking hands and making eye contact by French. The degree of body contact expected in greeting creates a fair amount of confusion in another part of the rituals too.
In the United States, people might greet others with a hug even when the acquaintanceship is ordinary. In some countries like France, kissing hello and goodbye are common while people from countries like Hong Kong might feel uncomfortable and uneasy about it. According to a website (The Economist Newspaper Limited, 2008), handshaking followed by an immediate swapping of business cards is the most common form of greeting in Hong Kong.
Dress Codes – It is another cultural artifact varies from the degree of formality. Schneider & Barsoux (2003, 29) pointed out that Anglo and Asian managers do not want to get too much attention or stand out by the way they dress while the Latin managers really care about their personal style. Moreover, corporate dress seems to be color coded in some countries. For example in the United Kingdom, some women are advised not to wear suits and dresses in bright color to work such as red and some bankers of a Dutch bank even avoid to wear suits in brown.
It also signals task orientation. In the United States, rolled up shirt sleeves is considered as a signal of hard working while in France means ‘relaxing on the job’. Not to mention that some US companies have designated days to encourage people to appear in casual clothes at work such as Fridays. According to a website (World Business Culture, 2008), dress codes differ base on the size of company and industry sector in Hong Kong. Men mostly wear dark suits, shirts and ties while women wear conservative suits and dresses. Trousers and causal wear are tended to be worn only on informal occasions or designated days.
Written versus verbal contracts – In different parts of the world people have different definitions toward the sealed business agreements as mentioned in a recent book (Schneider & Barsoux, 2003, 30). In some places, one’s word means more than a legal document while others need to put down all the details on a paper in black and white. Problems would appear when the contracts are expected by the head office to be signed, sealed and delivered from a place where one’s reputation and honor are way more valuable than some legal documents.
Figures from Schneider & Barsoux (2003, 30) for the estimated numbers of lawyers per capita of some countries like United States, United Kingdom, Germany, France and Japan reflect the differences on expectations. American managers will bring it to the legal department to retrieve whenever a business deal has been fell through while some other countries would sort things out through the relationship. Since Hong Kong is a Common Law Jurisdiction like most of the United Kingdom, Ireland and the United States (Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 2008a), people most likely to expect to have a written contract over a business deal.
Criteria for success – It depends on the importance of stakeholders whether it is the benefit of the shareholders, the customers or the employees. Beliefs and values differ when there are different stakeholders; there are different criteria for success. Schneider & Barsoux (2003, 31) claimed that American companies only exist for the benefit of the shareholders. This might be disagreed in Japan or even shock the Japanese as they believe customers have the divine rights. Some countries in Europe such as Germany or Sweden believe that the employees have the divine rights instead. Although all these factors are crucial to the business success, you still need to have a closer look to the cultural preferences in different countries like Hong Kong.
In my opinion, the key functions for managing people and human resource management are recruitment and selection, compensation and rewards, employee relations, and career development.
Recruitment and selection – This can be the most challenging and important function for managing people and human resource management. It is because finding ‘the right people for the right job’ is essential. It is often a challenge as well especially when the nature of the local labor market or the available human resources is not familiar. The company needs to understand how to access the local labor pool in order to get the equivalent people to work for the company.
So finding those candidates who have the abilities and requirements to finish the task and get the job done is also hard and essential, not to mention to get those who seem to likely match with the existing corporate culture. Moreover, the standard profile of one country might be very different from another in terms of representation and the differences in education systems also play a part to make the selection difficult in selecting which person fits the profile for the job (Schneider & Barsoux, 2003, 151).
Compensation and rewards – The cultural differences play a role when it comes to determine the terms of reward and who gets it. Different cultures have different type of value in relations to the reward and vary to the extent in the belief that reward should be collective or individual. Pay for performance is assumed to be based on contribution or ‘equity’ instead of the belonging to the group or ‘equality’ (Eretz and Early, 1993). In the contractual view of employment, the notions of equity, ‘you get what you deserve’, are embedded while the notions of equality, ‘you deserve what you get’, correspond to the social view (Pennings, 1993).
According to Susan & Barsoux (2003, 165), the current trend of linking salary payment to working performances is especially suspect to be cultural related. It has been discovered that in some countries like France, it would be shocked for the French executives to have clearly stated quantifiable objective relating increased performances to increased bonus. It is because the French executives found that discussion about money and finance is such a turned off. It also provoked outcries when the merit pay was attempted to be introduced in Japan.
It created uproar as the Japanese executives were scared that it would ruin the harmony of the group and might also encourage short term thinking especially when the employees only focus on the performance in order to get the bonus. On the other hand, the dominant influence in American managerial thinking is the principle of equity that each one should be rewarded based on the solely contribution by that particular person. Nowadays in the view towards team management that demands group cooperation instead of competition among individuals finds the merit-based pay in the United States demotivating (Susan & Barsoux, 2003, 167). The preference between financial or non financial incentives is also related to the culture.
The motivating potential of money, status, vacation time is also affected and changed across countries. Swedish would prefer to have some time off rather than a bonus because they are more concerned with the quality of life and monetary rewards are less motivating while giving time off might seem to have not much point in Japan when most of the employees only take half of their holiday entitlement (Susan & Barsoux, 2003, 167). So the internationally operated companies should learn to appreciate the different values and evaluate the potential impact as well because the remuneration package is a very strong indicator of the culture and the behavior expected and also can be used in order to encourage cooperation or competition, risk taking or conservatism, and information sharing or information hoarding.
The remuneration package is also a very important signal when it comes to aspiring recruits. When the company wants to attract local elite, it can choose to align itself with the local norms or the alien one when the preference of the company changes to attract the less mainstream or adventurous or those that are frustrated with the local practices and looking to be rewarded for their efforts and success (Susan & Barsoux, 2003, 168).
Employee relations – It is important to have a good relations and mutual understanding between the management and the staffs of the company. Any staff grievances of the company should be dealt with and well listened to in order to promote a harmony environment. An open dialogue is needed to be promoted between the management and the unions of the company to eliminate any conflicts or fictions that may occur between the staffs and the management specially when there is a new implementation of company policies.
Also the employees’ political standing should be respected and well listened to especially when it is toward the company policy and issues. Good employee relations help increasing the engagement of the employees to the company so as their commitment and involvement as well. It also helps with the staff retention which is necessary for a company setting up in a new country like TDS (CIPD, 2008).
Career development – National culture has an impact on career development and the natures of the managerial tasks on what management should do or be are depended on assumptions of being versus doing. The determinants for success varies across cultures when some places have it based on achieving results like the United States while in the United Kingdom having good interpersonal skills and personal connections are the keys for success at the career front. Favored career paths also differ culturally and it is bound up with cultural assumptions regarding the importance of the individual versus loyalty to the company, doing versus being, and tolerance for uncertainty. So a multinational company should make sure that the perceptions of what it takes to get to the top and the patterns of career development would include people with different skills, abilities, knowledge and perspectives (Susan & Barsoux, 2003, 168 -70).
With the references to managing people and HRM, I feel the four department managers, two from the United States and two from Hong Kong, should focus on during their first three months is selection because it is vital to get the right people for the right job in any organization (Schneider & Barsoux, 2003, 151). Local talent may have different types of abilities, skills, knowledge and strength owing to the national values differences placed on the education so it is also a challenge to get the right people who fit the requirement for the particular job and also fit with the company culture.
The managers should consider the differences in attitude towards the hiring practices in Hong Kong and also the cultural differences will influence on how to recruit as well. So getting access to the local labor pool to get the people that match with the job criteria is important too. Therefore, selection should be focused by four department managers for the first three months to get the right people in place and help them to adjust and fit into a new culture and way of life in order to make the launch of TDS in Hong Kong a success.
The trade unions in the United Kingdom has a culture as a collective bargaining tool with management while the one in the United States has more of a hire and fire culture. In Hong Kong, there are four trade unions and the largest one among them is the Hong Kong Federation of Trade Unions and their main slogans are patriotism, solidarity, right, welfare and participation (Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 2008b).
Although the unions in Hong Kong are focused on the rights and welfares of the workers as much as those in the United Kingdom and the United States but they are still at the stage of establishing as the largest unions in Hong Kong was founded in 1948 while those in United Kingdom have been existed for over 100 years like the General Federation of Trade Unions (UK) (Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 2008c) and so as those in the United States like the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations was founded in 1886 (Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 2008d). Since the United States is the biggest trade business partners of Hong Kong, most of the companies would contain the culture of the United States to remain individual.
The benefits of creating and working within the context of a multicultural team are given the larger complexity and speed of change in the international business environment. It seems obvious that bringing people together from different cultures enhance the quality of decisions taken. These multinational cultures contribute a greater range of perspectives and options with even more successful marketing strategies and ideas to attract different types of customers. It can also provide a different or new way of looking at the old or existing problems and help to promote the chances for greater innovation and creativity with the cultural differences as well (Schneider & Barsoux, 2003, 218).
Combining people from different cultural backgrounds also benefits the organization integration and learning so as the managerial development. It improves lateral networks for the communication and information flow. Also when bringing the people with the different cultural backgrounds together, it can be a solution to help minimize the risk of uniformity and pressures for conformity which can appear in the company when there are too many like minded people working at the same company together at the same time (Janis, 1971). Also teams that are composed by members with different profiles are far more effective than teams that are made by the best and the brightest performers or with the members who are having the similar profiles. Teams that have included a mixture of members with profiles of different areas performed better as they have the balance of roles.
Different cultures have different assumptions toward the business issues and also have different ideas about the reasons of teams. So that to share information and discuss about any problem at work with people from different cultural background would often generate greater results in a dynamic way. Furthermore to the benefit of the combination with people from different cultures background would enhance the productivity for the organization.
The challenges of creating and working within the context of a multicultural team are that bringing people together from different cultures is given more ambiguity and uncertainty in decision making. Also it would be much more complex in the organization from the procession to implementation due to the cultural differences in assumptions. People with different cultural backgrounds work together might create interpersonal conflict and communication problems at work.
Also it would create greater potential for frustration and dissatisfactions that might lead to higher turnover of team members within the group (Schneider & Barsoux, 2003, 231). The choice of language using within the multicultural team might also creates friction and misunderstanding especially when the native language for the three American managers is English while the native language for the local managers is Chinese, there is a huge scope for misunderstandings that could hamper the cohesion and effectiveness of the team no matter how fluent the local managers could speak in English (I-change, 2008). According to the personal upbringing and values, technical background and training, and also the national backgrounds can distort and filter the messages in many layers of meaning within a multicultural team that can lead to further misunderstanding and frustrations.
Barriers would also be created for the multicultural team due to the direct versus indirect communication; trouble with accents and fluency; differing attitudes toward hierarchy and authority and so as the conflicting norms for decision making (Brett, Behfar & Kern, 2006). Direct versus indirect communication is that in western cultures, the communication is typically direct and explicit. The listener does not need to know much about the speaker in order to interpret the context because the context of the meaning of the conversation is on the surface while the meaning of the conversation is embedded in the way the message is presented in many other cultures.
Although the language of international business is English, the trouble with accents and fluency may lead to deep frustration and misunderstanding because of nonnative speakers’ accents, problems with translation or usage and lack of fluency would also influence the perceptions of status and competence.
A challenge inherent in multicultural team with differing attitudes toward hierarchy and authority is that by design, teams have a rather flat structure. But team members from some cultures that people are treated differently according to their status in an organization probably are uncomfortable on flat teams. If they defer to higher status team members then their behavior will be seen as appropriate when most of the team members are came from a hierarchical culture; but they may damage their stature and credibility and even face humiliation if most of the team members are came from an egalitarian culture. Cultures differ enormously when it comes to decision making due to the conflicting norms for decision making particularly on how much analysis is required beforehand and how quickly the decisions should be made. American managers like to make decisions very quickly and with little analysis relatively when compared to the managers from other countries that may also be the challenge too.
The four profiles are
- Village Market
- Well oiled machine
- Family or tribe
- Pyramid of people
- Managers and companies need to access how different spheres of cultural influence contribute to ethnical behavior.
Ethical considerations could include such things as ‘harsh capitalism’ which could include laying off workers, breakdown of psychological contract, corruption, codes of conduct, and the Sullivan Principles. Common rationalizations in explaining unethical behavior can be:
- It is not really illegal or immoral
- It serves the best interest of the individual or company
- It is safe because it will never be found out or publicized
- The activity helps the company and therefore it will be condoned and protected
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Business Expectation Statistics Section, Census and Statistics Department. (2007b). Hong Kong Statistics – Statistical Tables [online]. The Government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region. Available from:
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Eretz, M. and Early, P.C. (1993) Culture, Self-identity, and Work, New York: Oxford University Press.
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Schneider, S.C. and Barsoux, J.L. (2003), Managing Across Cultures 2nd edition, p.31, Prentice Hall.
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