Managing in a Global Environment

Managing in a foreign country is particularly challenging. Managers working in foreign countries often face tremendous personal difficulties. In addition, they must be sensitive to cultural subtleties and understand that the ways to provide proper leadership, decision making , motivation and control vary in different cultures. A clue to the complexity of working internationally comes from a study of the factors that contribute to global manager failures. Based on, extensive interviews with global mangers, researchers found that personal traits, the specific cultural context, of management mistakes made by the organization could all contribute to failure in an international management.

Personal Challenges or Global Managers

When managing in a foreign country, the need for personal learning and growth is critical . Managers will be most successful in foreign assignments if they are culturally flexible easily adapt to new situations and ways of doing things. A tendency to be ethnocentric – to believe that your own country’s cultural values and ways of doing things are superior – is a natural human condition. One study found that the best global managers come from countries where people have grown up learning how to understand, emphasize and work with others who are different from themselves. For example, Singaporeans consistently hear English and Chinese spoken side by side. The Dutch have to learn English, German and French as well as Dutch to interact and trade with their economically dominant neighbors. English Canadians must not only be well versed in American culture and politics but they also have to consider the views and ideas of French Canadians, who, in turn must learn to think like North Americans, member of a global French community Canadians and Quebecois. People who have grown up without this kind of diversity typically have more difficulties with foreign assignments but managers from any country can learn to break down their prejudices and appreciate other view points. Although they may never come to understand the local culture like a native they can be sensitive to cultural differences and understand that other ways of thinking and doing are also valid.

Culture shock:

Feelings of confusion, disorientation and anxiety that result from being immersed in a foreign culture.

Most managers in foreign assignments face a period of homesickness, loneliness and cultural shock from being suddenly immersed in a culture with completely different languages , foods, values, beliefs, and ways of doing things . Culture shock refers to the frustration and anxiety that result from constantly being subjected to strange and unfamiliar cues about what to do and how to do it. Even simple daily events can become sources of stress. In addition managers in foreign countries may have to cope with political issues, government corruption, threats of violence and other contextual factors without the kind of support systems they would have in their home country.

Preparing managers to work in foreign cultures is essential . Some companies try to give future managers exposure to foreign cultures early in their careers, when people are typically more open and adaptable. American Express Company’s Travel Related Services unit gives American business school students summer jobs in which they work outside the United States for up to 10 weeks. Colgate Palmolive selects 15 recent graduates each year and then provides up to 24 months of training prior to multiple overseas job stints.

Which two of the following three items go together: a Panda, a banana and a monkey? If you said a monkey and a banana you answered like a majority of Asians: if you said a panda and a monkey you answered like a majority of people in Western Europe and the United States. Where Westerners see distinct categories animals) Asians see relationships (monkeys eat bananas). Although this is not a definitive test, it serves to illustrate an important fact for managers. There are cultural differences in how people think and see the world, and these differences affect working relationships. To be effective on an international level, managers need to interpret the culture of the country and organizations in which they are working and develop the sensitivity required to avoid making costly cultural blunders.

Excerpts from Richard L Daft