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Managing Across Cultures

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1. What is culture? Is there such a thing as a cultural universal or cultural universals? If so, give an example of a cultural universal. If not, explain why there is no such thing.
2. Can Hofstede's cultural typologies help managers better understand cultures outside their home country? If so, explain how, and if not, explain why not.
3. Explain the self-reference criterion. Find at least two examples of product failures that might have been avoided through the application of the SRC
4. What is the difference between a low-context culture and a high-context culture? Give an example of a country that is an example of each type, and provide evidence for your answer.
5. Consider the equation Y = f (A, B, C, D, E, F, G), where Y stands for consumption of soft drinks and D is the variable for cultural elements. How would this equation help a soft drink marketing manager understand demand for soft drinks in global markets?
6. A Latin American republic had decided to mod¬ernize one of its communication networks at a cost of several million dollars. Because of its rep¬utation for quality, the government approached American company "Y". Company management, having been sounded out informally considered the size of the order and decided to bypass its regular Latin American representative and send its sales manager in¬stead. The following describes what took place. The sales manager arrived and checked into the leading hotel. He immediately had some diffi¬culty pinning down just who his business contact was. After several days without results, he called at the American Embassy, where he found that the commercial attaché had the necessary up-to-the-minute information. The commercial attaché listened to his story. The attaché realized the sales manager had already made a number of mistakes, but, figuring that the Latins were used to American blundering, he reasoned that all was not lost. The attaché informed the sales manager that the Minister of Communications was the key man and that whoever got the nod from him would get the contract. He also briefed the sales manager on methods of conducting business in Latin America and offered some pointers about dealing with the minister. The attached advice ran somewhat as follows:
- You don't do business here the way you do in the States; it is necessary to spend much more time. You have to get to know your man and vice versa.
- You must meet with him several times be¬fore you talk business. I will tell you at what point you can bring up the subject. Take your cues from me." (At this point, our American sales manager made a few obser¬vations to himself about "cookie pushers" and wondered how many payrolls had been met by the commercial attaché.)
- Take that price list and put it in your pocket. Don't get it out until I tell you to. Down here, price is only one of the many things taken into account before closing a deal. In the United States, your past experi¬ence will prompt you to act according to a certain set of principles, but many of these principles will not work here. Every time you feel the urge to act or to say something, look at me. Suppress the urge and take your cues from me. This is very important.
- Down here, people like to do business with men who are somebody. "Being some¬body" means having written a book, lec¬tured at a university or developed your in¬tellect in some way. The man you are going to see is a poet. He has published several volumes of poetry. Like many Latin Ameri¬cans, he prizes poetry highly. You will find that he will spend a good deal of business time quoting his poetry to you, and he will take great pleasure in this.
- You will also note that the people here are very proud of their past and of their Span¬ish blood, but they are also exceedingly proud of their liberation from Spain and their independence. The fact that they are a democracy, that they are free, and also that they are no longer a colony is very, very important to them. They are warm and friendly and enthusiastic if they like you. If they don't, they are cold and withdrawn.
- Time down here means something different. It works in a different way. You know how it is back in the States when a certain type blurts out whatever is on his mind without waiting to see if the sit¬uation is right. He is considered an impa¬tient bore and somewhat egocentric. Well, down here, you have to wait much, much longer, and I really mean much, much longer, before you can begin to talk about the reason for your visit.
- There is another point I want to caution you about. At home, the man who sells takes the initiative. Here, they tell you when they are ready to do business. But most of all, don't discuss price until you are asked and don't rush things.

The next day, the commercial attaché introduced the sales manager to the Minister of Communications. First, there was a long wait in the outer of¬fice while people went in and out. The sales man¬ager looked at his watch, fidgeted, and finally asked whether the minister was really expecting him. The reply he received was scarcely reassur¬ing "Oh yes, he is expecting you, but several things have come up that require his attention. Besides, one gets used to waiting down here." The sales manager irritably replied, "But doesn't he know I flew all the way down here from the United States to see him, and I have already spent over a week of my valuable time trying to find him?" "Yes, I know," was the answer, "but things just move much more slowly here."

At the end of about 30 minutes, the minister emerged from the office greeted the cornmercial attaché with a double abrazo, throwing his arms around him and patting him on the back as though they were long-lost brothers. Now, turning and smiling, the minister extended his hand to the sales manager, who, by this time, was feeling rather miffed because he had been kept in the outer office so long.

After what seemed to be an all too short chat, the minister rose, suggesting a well-known cafe where they might meet for dinner the next evening. The sales manager expected, of course, that, considering the nature of their business and the size of the order, he might be taken to the minister's home, not realizing that the Latin home is reserved for family and very close friends.

Until now, nothing at all had been said about the reason for the sales manager's visit, a fact that bothered him somewhat. The whole setup seemed wrong. He did not like the idea of wast¬ing another day in town. He had told the home office before he left that he would be gone for a week or 10 days at most, and made a mental note that he would clean this order up in 3 days and enjoy a few days in Acapulco or Mexico City. Now, the week was already gone and he would be lucky if he made it home in 10 days.

Voicing his misgivings to the commercial at¬taché, he wanted to know if the minister really meant business, and if he did, why could they not get together and talk about it? The commercial attaché by now was beginning to show the strain of constantly having to reassure the sales man¬ager. Nevertheless, he tried again: "What you don't realize is that part of the time we were waiting, the minister was rearranging a very tight schedule so that he could spend tomorrow night with you. You see, down here, they don't delegate responsibility the way we do in the States. They exercise much tighter control than we do. As a consequence, this man spends up to 15 hours a day at his desk. It may not look like it to you, but I assure you he really means business. He wants to give your company the order; if you play your cards right, you will get it."

The next evening was more of the same: much conversation about food and music, and about many people the sales manager had never heard of. They went to a nightclub, where the sales man¬ager brightened up and began to think that per¬haps he and the minister might have something in common after all. It bothered him, however, that the principal reason for his visit was not even al¬luded to tangentially. Every time he started to talk about electronics, the commercial attaché would nudge him and proceed to change the subject.

The next meeting was to be held over morn¬ing coffee at a café. By now, the sales manager was having difficulty hiding his impatience. To make matters worse, the minister had a manner¬ism that he did not like. When they talked, he was likely to put his hand on him; he would take hold of his arm and get so close that he nearly spit in his face. Consequently, the sales manager kept trying to dodge and put more distance between himself and the minister.

Following coffee, they walked in a nearby park. The minister expounded on the shrubs, the birds, and the beauties of nature; at one spot, he stopped to point at a statue and said: "There is a statue of the world's greatest hero, the liberator of mankind!" At this point, the worst happened. The sales manager asked who the statue was of and, when told the name of a famous Latin American patriot, said, "I never heard of him," and walked on. After this meeting, the sales manager was never able to see the minister again. The order went to a Swedish concern.

1. What impression do yon think the sales manager made on the minister?
2. How would you critique the quality of the communication between all parties in this case?
3. Is a high-context culture or a low-context culture at work in this case? Explain your answer.


Solution Preview

1. What is culture? Is there such a thing as a cultural universal or cultural universals? If so, give an example of a cultural universal. If not, explain why there is no such thing.
The word culture comes from the Latin root colere (to inhabit, to cultivate, or to honor). In general, it refers to human activity; different definitions of culture reflect different theories for understanding, or criteria for valuing, human activity. Culture is traditionally the oldest human character, its significant traces separating Homo from australopithecines, and Man from the Animals, though new discoveries are blurring these edges in our day. It is learned behavior of people, which includes their belief systems and languages, their social relationships, their institutions and organizations, and their material goods - food, clothing, buildings, tools, and machines.
Universal culture develops from six needs; it exists to a limited extent though not fully. The six needs are:
The need to make a living: men and women must have food, shelter, clothing, and the means to provide for their off springs' survival.
The need for law and order: from earliest times, communities have had to keep peace among their members, defend themselves against external attack, and protect community assets.
The need for social organizations: for people to make a living, raise families, and maintain law and order, a social structure is essential. Views about the relative importance of the group and the individual within it may vary with any such social structure.
The need for knowledge and learning: since earliest times, humankind has transmitted knowledge acquired through experience, first orally then by means of writing systems. As societies grow more complex, there is increasing need to preserve knowledge and transmit it through education to as many people as possible.
The need for self-expression: people have responded creatively to their environment even before the days when they decorated the walls of Paleolithic caves with paintings of the animals they hunted. The arts appear to have a lineage as old as human experience.
The need for religious expression: equally old is humanity's attempt to answer the "why" of its existence. What primitive peoples considered supernatural in their environment could often, at a later time, be explained by science in terms of natural phenomena. Yet today, no less than in archaic times, men and women continue to search for answers to the ultimate questions of existence.

2. Can Hofstede's cultural typologies help managers better understand cultures outside their home country? If so, explain how, and if not, explain why not. Hofstede's cultural typologies are power distance, uncertainty avoidance, individualism, masculinity and Confucian dynamism.
Hofstede's cultural typologies can help managers better understand cultures outside their home country and do better business there.
In Hofstede's cultural typologies combination of uncertainty avoidance and individualism reminds us of Douglas' taxonomy of Grid and Group. "Group" clearly corresponds to individualism, in the sense that high Group (ego increasingly controlled by other people's pressure) represents the collectivist end of the scale. "Grid" resembles uncertainty avoidance: high Grid ...

Solution Summary

This solution defines the word culture, discussing its meaning and traditional use, the social needs included in culture, Hofstede's cultural typologies and self-reference criterion in approximately 2000 words.