Other Cultural Characteristics

Other cultural characteristics that influence international organizations are language religion, attitudes social organizations and education. Some countries such as India, are characterized by linguistic pluralism meaning that several languages exist there. Other countries rely heavily on spoken versus written language. Religion includes sacred objects, philosophical attitudes towards life, taboos, and rituals. Attitude towards achievement, work and people can all affect organizational productivity. For example, a recent study found that the prevalent American attitude that treats employees as a resource to be used (an instrumental attitude towards people) can be a strong impediment to business success in countries where people are valued as an end in themselves rather than as a means to an end (a humanistic attitude) US companies sometimes use instrumental human resource policies that conflict with local humanistic values.


A cultural attitude marked by the tendency to regard one’s own culture as superior to others.

Ethnocentrism which refers to a natural tendency of people to regard their own culture as superior and to downgrade or dismiss other cultural values, can be found in all countries. Strong ethnocentric attitudes within a country make it difficult for foreign firms to operate there. Other factors include social organizations such as status systems, kinship and families, social institutions and opportunities for social ,mobility. Education influences the literacy level, the availability of qualified employees and the predominance of primary or secondary degrees.

American managers are regularly accused of an ethnocentric attitude that assumes the American way is the best way. At an executive training seminar at IMD a business school in Lausanne, Switzerland managers from Europe expressed a mixture of admiration and disdain for US managers. They admired the financial results, but when they met managers from the United states they saw that even these educated, affluent Americans don’t speak any language besides English, don’t know how or when to eat and drink properly and don’t know anything about European history let alone geography. Take the quiz in this article managers shoptalk box to see how much you know about cross cultural communication and etiquette.

As business grows increasingly global, US managers are learning that cultural differences cannot be ignored if international operations are to succeed .For example Coke withdrew its liter bottle from the Spanish market after discovering that compartments of Spanish refrigerators were too small for it. Wal Mart goofed by stocking foot balls in Brazil a country where soccer rules. Companies can improve their success by paying attention to culture. Consider how addressing cultural differences helped McDonald’s thrive in France even as the corporation’s US business stalled.

In January of 2003 McDonald’s posted it first ever quarterly loss (for October – December 2002) announced the closing of 175 outlets worldwide.Yet, during that same time period a new McDonald’s restaurant was opening in France every six days.

Managers who responded to cultural and social differences rather than trying to transfer the American fast food concept wholesale have McDonald’s French subsidiary booming. Consumer in France were initially resentful of the US based chain and one anti globalization activist was hailed as a national hero for razing partially built restaurant. Denis Hennequin the French subsidiary’s CEO responded by running a series of edgy advertisements depicting apt, ignorant Americans who couldn’t understand why McDonald’s France used locally produced food that wasn’t generically modified. Hennequin believed a sense of humor was the best way to address the French opposition to bio-engineered food and their distrust of all things American.

Recognizing and managing cultural differences can help organizations like McDonald’s be more competitive and successful. However, differences in cultural and social values can create significant barriers to successful communication and collaboration for all companies operating internationally.

Excerpts from Richard L Daft

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