Culture refers to the complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, morals, laws, customs and other capabilities and habits acquired by an individual as a member of a society.
Firstly, culture creates the type of people who become members of an organization. Culture trains people along particular lines, tending to put a personality stamp on them. It is also not necessary that all people are alike in a particular culture. There are sub-cultures within a culture. For, people have their own idiosyncracies and are influenced by heredity, cultural experiences, sub-cultural experiences, family experiences and unique personal experiences.
When people with different cultural backgrounds promote, own and manage organizations, they themselves tend to acquire distinct cultures. Thus, the culture of the Tata group of companies is different from that of the enterprises owned and managed by the Birlas.
Secondly, the attitude of workers towards work is the result of their cultural background. Our workers are known to have a deep-seated apathy towards work. Work is dissociated from results in the belief that results are pre-ordained. Tasks are performed without any interest, dedication or pride. Worse, there is indiscipline, nagging suspicion of fellow workers, basic mistrust of authority, and poor man-management relationships.
Thirdly, time dimension, which influences HRM, has its roots in culture. Time orientation refers to people’s orientation – past, present or future. In some societies, people are oriented towards the past. In others, they tend to be more focussed on the present. HRM people in societies that focus on the present, care more for employees on their rolls. Employees are hired and maintained as long as they are useful to the organization and dispensed with once they cease to be so. Japan is an example of a futuristic society. When Japanese firms hire employees, they are retained for a long time, even for life. The firm will spend a great deal of money to train them, and there is a strong, mutual commitment on both sides. Societies oriented towards the past tend to preserve the acquired heritage. Concepts and actions of the past continue to guide current plans & strategies.
Finally, work ethics, achievement needs and effort-reward expectations, which are significant inputs determining individual behaviour, are the results of culture. The word ethics is associated with moral principles. In the context of an organization, ethics implies hard work and commitment to work. A strong work ethics ensures motivated employees whereas the opposite is true when work ethics is weak. Achievement needs, too, have a behavioural implication. A person with a high need to achieve tends to seek a high degree of personal responsibility, sets realistic goals, takes moderate risks and uses personal performance feedback in satisfying his or her need to achieve.
In HRD, conflict arises because of the following dualities:
· Personal goals vs Organizational goals
· Personal ethics vs Organizational ethics
· Rights vs Duties
· Obedience vs Self-respect
· Discipline vs Autonomy
· Self-confidence vs Arrogance
· Authority vs Accountability
· Leadership vs Followership
· Delegation vs Abdication
· Participation vs Anarchy
· Feedback vs Abuse
· Grooming vs Pampering
· Change vs Stability
· Short-term vs Long-term
These conflicts occur daily in organizations, HR departments are expected to develop and enforce policies in these areas.
Miscommunication across cultural lines is usually the most important cause of cross-cultural problems in multinational companies. Miscommunication can have several sources, including:
Differences in body language or gestures. The same gesture can have different meanings in different parts of the world. For example, Bulgarians shake their heads up and down to mean no. In addition, the way people count on their fingers is not universal: The Chinese count from one to ten on one hand, and eight is displayed by extending the thumb and the finger next to it. The same gesture is interpreted as meaning two in France and as pointing a gun in North America.
Different meanings for the same word. Like gestures, words can have different meanings or connotations in different parts of the world. The French word "char" means Army tank in France and car in Quebec. The word "exciting" has different connotations in British English and in North American English. While North American executives talk about "exciting challenges" repeatedly, British executives use this word to describe only children’s activities (children do exciting things in England, not executives).
Different assumptions made in the same situation. The same event can be interpreted many different ways depending on where one comes from. For example, although the sight of a black cat is considered a lucky event in Britain, it is considered unlucky in many other countries. Dragons are viewed positively in China, but negatively in Europe and North America.
These examples illustrate dissimilarities between cultures that are both large and simple in the sense that they focus on a single cultural aspect that keeps the same meaning regardless of context. As a result, such variations in communication will often be identified on the spot. By contrast, subtle or complex differences are often identified much later in the communication process, when corrective action requires considerable effort and money. Sometimes, this realization takes place so late that there is not enough time to address it, resulting in a missed deadline.
MANAGING CROSS CULTURAL ISSUES
1 Clarify: When in doubt, ask; if not, ask anyway. It’s important to ensure that your foreign colleagues have understood everything you meant to say and nothing else. Ask them to feed you back what you have told them in their own words. This will help you discover and address any major misunderstandings.
2 Get into the details: Although it’s often tempting to agree on general principles and leave details to further discussions for brevity’s sake, this can create major problems at later stages. Indeed, an agreement on general principles may turn out to be empty, if it is not tested through negotiation on the finer details.
3 Summarize: The time taken to summarize the decisions made during a meeting and to issue minutes to all participants is often a good investment. It helps to prevent future challenges of decisions reached at meetings and to ensure that action items agreed to at meetings are actually implemented.
4 Simplify: Use simple words that are easily understood and be consistent. Using synonyms can confuse your non-Canadian counterparts unnecessarily, particularly if they are not native English speakers. For similar reasons, technical jargon should be avoided where possible and explained clearly when it must be used.
5 Cross-cultural training organizations can also shorten the learning curve by delivering training to companies in a timely and targeted fashion. The necessary cross-cultural information should be shared with all employees involved in international ventures, rather than being limited to those who have already had experience with them. Cross-cultural training organizations are experts in the area of cross-cultural relationships and can provide training on many topics.