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Our world is becoming increasingly connected and global and the role of international business is increasing. Each country has its own set of unique customs and traditions. Each citizen’s beliefs define the cultures by which each citizen abides by in normal everyday life, thus serving as the very foundation of the country. For example, in Saudi Arabia a citizen convicted of stealing will have his hand cutoff. In the United States, a citizen convicted of stealing would possibly receive only short term probation. The American Heritage Dictionary defines culture as, “The totality of socially transmitted behavior patterns, arts, beliefs, institutions, and all other products of human work and thought characteristic of a community or population.” Seemingly minuet gestures or situations which carry different meanings in particular cultures can make or break business deals. Global managers from the United States or from any other nation have to be aware of the various cultural differences. Injecting certain specific skills, such as diversity training for expatriate managers, will bridge the gap between cultural differences such as language, religion, and values.
The language barrier, which is also a difficult hurdle to encompass, serves as one of the most obvious cultural differences. A manager can delegate a task to be accomplished within a US based division and reap the expected results immediately. On the other hand, if an international manager is not familiar with the English language or culture, the same task may yield a different result. Language is the transmitter of both information and ideas. “The key to global competency is to develop the skills to cope, and that means integrating into the dominant culture and realizing how to properly interpret and analyze behavior” (Hayes, 1996). Being bilingual increases the advantage that foreign business partners have in interacting together. It nullifies the need of a third party translator. Business partners tend to be more open and receiving when communicating with bilingual personnel who speak there native language. “An understanding of the language allows the manager to pick up particular points of view, implied meanings, and other information that is not literal” (Moreno, 2006).
One also has to be mindful of unspoken language. Unspoken language includes implied hands gestures, facial expressions, physical greetings, eye contact, and the manipulation of personal space (Moreno, 2006). One great example illustrating the body language barrier between different cultures can be taken from a simple thumbs up. In the US, it is perceived as “all right” or “ok”, but in Italy this gesture is professed as being vulgar! Languages are only the beginning when coming to conclusions about cultural differences, religion also plays a huge role.
The relationship between religion and society is very complex. Religion may be defined as a system of shared beliefs and rituals that are concerned with the real of the sacred (Goodman, 1991). The six most observed religions amongst the thousands of religions in the world are: Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism, and Judaism. Religious beliefs have an enormous role in our deciding of our personal human values. Consequently, every religion has its own specific views about issues such as work, savings, and material goods. These views are critical in determining why companies from certain cultures compete and develop at different rates than other cultures. It also helps us to understand why some countries develop more slowly than others do. Knowing how religion affects business practices is highly important in countries that are primarily controlled by religious governments. It would be financially insane to try to sell alcohol in a country where the religion forbids alcohol or open a fast food restaurant, such as Burger King, in a country where the religion forbids the eating of meat.
The personal values ingrained in every person are derived from the soul of that culture. Personal values truly define who a person is and how they will react to certain situations. To truly be effective as a business manager, one should understand that many foreigners do not have the same values, habits, or ways to analyze problems as an American worker. The American worker tends to be more analytical and logical. These traits can be traced from American excellence in rationality, reasoning, and scientific inquiry. Some foreigners, because of their unique tradition and living environment, think in terms of concrete comparisons.
Expatriate managers will be better equipped to deal with all cultural differences by taking part in diversity culture training. Edward Burman stated “cultural training is essential to avoid potential conflict, and to improve the disastrous failure rate of joint-ventures in the recent past.” For diversity training to be successful in an organization, the management needs to educate, support, and implement the program. Management also is tasked with the job of tailoring the training program to the specific workforce audiences for whom it is designated. The training should be based on factors of education level, demographics, length of service, and responsibilities. The most important factor to provide successful training is to ensure the training is continual by implementing refresher classes. To be fully successful, top level executives should not only support the program, but also attend the training being visible in their attendance and uncompromising in their collective commitment.
The commitment to diversity demands a commitment to a wide range of other progressive employment policies, benefits, and programs. Flextime, telecommuting, part-time work, longer paid maternity leaves, domestic partner benefits, and both child and elder care assistance will all have a positive impact on the diversity effort. Younger and non-traditional workers highly value these programs. Corporate cultures that follow a trend of conservativeness may reject these programs, thus finding true diversity a difficult goal to achieve.
. In conclusion, expatriate managers, who willingly support diversity training, have the competitive edge in the global business world. By recognizing the value a diverse workforce can generate, organizations can open up a vast array of knowledge they may not have leveraged previously. Flexible adaptation to change, competitive advantage in creativity, and critical problem solving skills are the benefits reaped by expatriate managers that embrace diversity training. Finally, a diverse workforce has the potential of encompassing competitive advantages which in return increases profitably and productivity.
Burman, E. (n.d.). Managing cultural diversity in a global world, Management Centre Europe. http://www.mce.be/knowledge/147/42
Hayes, C. (1996). The intrigue of international assignments. Black Enterprise, 26(10), 98.
Moreno, P. (2006). How the differences in culture, affects the international trade business. http://www.angelfire.com/pro/paumoreno/finalessay.htm
Goodman, N. (1991). Introduction to Sociology. N.Y Harper Collings