Managing Cross Culturally

Americans tend to think everyone is the same. It is dangerous assumption. One way managers prepare for foreign assignments is to understand how the country differs in terms of the Hofstede and GLOBE project discussed earlier in this article. These values greatly influence how a manager should interact with the subordinates and colleagues in the new assignment. For example the United States scores extremely high on individualism and a US manager working in a country such as Japan, which scores very high on collectivism will have to modify his or her approach to leading and controlling in order to be successful . The following examples illustrates how cultural differences can be significant for expatriate managers.


In relationship oriented societies which rank high on collectivism such as those in Asia, the Arab world, and Latin American leaders use a warm, personalized approach with employees. One of the greatest difficulties US leaders have had doing business in China, for example is failing to recognize that to the Chinese any relationship is a personal relationship. Managers are expected to have periodic social visits with workers inquiring about morale and health. Leaders should be especially careful about criticizing others. To Asians, Africans, Arabs, and Latin Americans the loss of self respect brings dishonor to themselves and their families . One researchers tells of a Dutch doctor managing a company clinic who had what he considered a frank discussion with a Chinese subordinate. The subordinate who perceived the doctor as a father figure took the criticism as a savage indictment and committed suicide. Though this is an extreme example, the principle of saving face is highly important in some cultures.

Decision making:

In the United States mid level managers may discuss a problem and give the boss a recommendation. On the other hand, managers in Iran, which reflects South Asian cultural values expect the boss to make a decision and issue specific instructions. In Mexico, employees often don’t understand participatory decision making. Mexico ranks extremely high on power distance and many workers expect managers to exercise their power in making decisions and issuing orders. American managers working in Mexico have been advised to rarely explain a decision lest workers perceive this as a sign of weakness . In contrast managers in many Arab and African nations are expected to use consultative decision making in the extreme.


Motivation must fit the incentives within the cultural. A recent study, for example confirmed that intrinsic factors such as challenge recognition and the work itself are less effective in countries that value high power distance. It may be that workers in these cultures perceive manager recognition and support as manipulative and therefore de-motivating . In places like the United States and the United Kingdom by contrast, intrinsic factors can be highly motivating. The British outpost of global giant Microsoft incorporates intrinsic factors to keep people inspired and engaged as described in the Unlocking Creative solutions through People box. In Japan which highly values collectivism, employees are motivated to satisfy the company. A financial bonus for star performance would be humiliating to employees from Japan , China, or Ecuador . An American executive in Japan offered a holiday trip to the top salesperson, but employees were not interested. After he realized that Japanese are motivated in groups, he changed the reward to a trip for everyone if together they achieved the sales target. They did. Managers in Latin America, Africa, and the middle East improve motivation by showing respect for employees as individuals with needs and interest outside work.

Source: New Era Management