Managing cultural differences and internationalization in a professional environment.

What do we mean when we speak about culture? Let’s say culture is concerned with beliefs and values of which people construe experiences and behave, individually and in groups. Culture is the lens through which we view, understand and live within the world, as every one has a different education (school, family and society) everyone see the world through a different scope but there are similarities which are common in everyone depending on the country you have grown in.

As an example, western cultures, promote independent social orientation (self-expression, individual goals, autonomy) whereas Eastern cultures promote an interdependent social orientation such as relatedness, success as a group or harmony.

So, how should we tackle our management style when working abroad?

  1. First and most important point, we have to build trust across cultural boundaries: we do not have to forget that our professional achievements are gained by team playing, therefore, before having a good atmosphere we need to build trust among our team.
  2. Respect differences and be a team-player.
  3. Take advantage of the power of diversity.
  4. Be an effective listener.

New human resources policies.

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Multinational companies which are growing fast and outsourcing operations to other countries have the need to design new human resources policies in order to be successful. The current business environment has made knowledge a key strategic asset for companies. Therefore, knowledge has become a source of competitive advantage for many companies. Knowledge is linked to the people who generate it. The effective international management of human resources is key to the success of any multinational corporation.

The following points are common in multinational companies:

  • The number of operational activities that involve human resources management is higher because we need to deal with staff relocation, for example.
  • Professional profiles are more diverse. The combination of staff of different countries and responsibilities means that we need more career models, which requires the design of different programs for each profile, and to be combined in one HR policy.
  • International projects have a deeper impact on the lives of expatriates assigned. The company has to provide them with additional services and benefits which workers at the home country do not have.
  • The Interaction with external organizations creates diversity, since the company has to deal with alternative ways of doing business in different countries, in which the agents involved impose different conditions to those of the country of origin.

Choosing who will manage the subsidiary.

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One of the most important strategic decisions that a multinational have to do in this area is about choosing between expatriates or local managers to look after its subsidiary.

Recruiting local managers versus expatriates has its advantages as shown below:

  • The wages of local managers are always lower than the wages of expatriates.
  • Expatriation has additional costs (travel, work permit, other special conditions which compensate the temporary loss of not being in your home country).
  • There is no language barrier with the host country, avoiding issues with employees, local authorities or other local stakeholders.
  • They give the multinational a local perspective on business.
  • Local staff career opportunities are not eliminated.
  • Less rotation in positions of responsibility due to the absence of pressure or the desire to return home that expatriates may have.

We can also find some disadvantages on it:

  • Since the local managers will be responsible for interpreting the conditions of the host country, the information transmitted to headquarters may not be complete due to the desire of local managers to increase their power within the company.
  • The direct supervision systems of the parent company are weakened.
  • Local staff have no chance of a career in other corporate units, as management of the subsidiary is the very top.

Expatriation

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Companies are increasing their interest in the planning of international projects and assignments, since their competitive advantage depends on their ability to integrate their foreign operations. Staff are assigned to international destinations in a similar process to that used to fill headquarters’ positions, with the difference that it requires an intensive feedback process to ensure success.

Talking from a technical point of view, recruitment and selection must consider the same requirements as a domestic position. These requirements will depend on the specific job to be performed by the professional.

If we focus on the aspects related to the attitude, we need to assess points such as:

  • Cultural awareness, which involves the ability to detect and adapt to differences.
  • Ability to form and lead multicultural teams.
  • Fluency in the foreign language.
  • Resilience and resistance when facing adverse situations.
  • Strong motivation.
  • Ability to strike an adequate balance between one’s work and personal life.

Expatriation’s stages.

The expatriation period consists of several sub-stages:

1) Honeymoon.

The feelings expatriates experience when they first arrive in a host country are not different from those we have when we go on a short holiday. During the first weeks, we will feel attracted to the new culture and take an interest in exploring the country.

2) Culture shock.

The period of fascination with the country does not last forever and it comes when the feeling of being a tourist becomes the everyday thing.

During the culture shock stage, the most common feeling is that of powerlessness. The rules of the game have changed and the expatriate has the feeling of constantly being offside. This feeling arises when we have to deal with everyday situations that we had not imagined would be so different and unfamiliar. Simple activities such as doing the shopping, using public transport, banking and completing administrative procedures or organizing our free time can become negative experiences.

We need to identify when we are at this stage as it is very helpful in getting through it. We have feelings of insecurity and detect hostility and rejection from locals.

This stage does not usually last long, but very intense culture shock can result in the premature return of the expatriate. The expatriate’s personality will affect the intensity of the shock, as will his or her preparation and personal international experience. Another factor that will reduce the negative effects of culture shock is not going alone.

3) Acculturation.

Acculturation is the phase of adaptation to the new culture. At this stage, we learn to interpret situations correctly and appreciate the new culture.

There are several ways to adapt to a new country. Some people develop an attraction for the destination and establish close ties with the locals, there are others who adapt to their new context without much contact with the locals. Sometimes, expatriate communities live in isolation from the rest of the population and interact only with each other.

4) Mixed feelings prior to returning.

The last stage of an expatriate stay is very similar to the one prior to expatriation, as we also experience a wide range of contradictory feelings. The difference between the two phases lies in the fact that we are more aware in the second stage of what we are leaving behind in the host country and have a rough idea of what we are going to find on our return.

Living and working in the UK, has been one of my best personal and professional experiences. Please, do not hesitate to share your experiences, opinions and comments, as learning from everyone’s point of view is always very helpful.

Source: International Management (UOC).

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