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Not only since Covid19 do we know that globalisation is a fact. Already in the years before, international contacts between nations, companies but also people have increased. In the time of recovery after the pandemic, this will not change.

Cross-Cultural Management – Success Factor in Business
Andreas Stoffers - Photo Credit:VIR

How does the world look like in the Covid19-year 2020? Supply chains have been disrupted, FDI has come to a standstill, beaches and cities are suffering from a lack of tourists and international business contacts are limited: Not only since Covid19 do we know that globalisation is a fact. Already in the years before, international contacts between nations, companies but also people have increased. In the time of recovery after the pandemic, this will not change. Where people of different origins come together, cultural misunderstandings can arise. Intercultural Management deals with the handling of these intercultural encounters. The aim of this series of articles is to offer a brief introduction to this interesting area where business administration and cultural studies overlap.

In today's world of globalisation and increasing international contacts, it is essential to consider the international dimension in business communication. The following are some examples and questions in the field of Marketing and PR:

•           Corporate Identity: Is the old Corporate Identity fit for a globalized world?

•           Corporate Branding: Does the existing branding need to be adapted?

•           Corporate Reputation: Is the reputation in the host country the same as in the home country?

•           PR: Is the English language proficiency of the PR manager sufficient?

•           Investor Relations: What information do US investors need?And how to address them?

•           Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR): What are the most promising regional or national approaches?

•           Internal Communication: What are local employees interested in?

•           Crisis Communication: What response is expected in the host country in case of a crisis?

Globalisation brings new challenges for international managers, not only in these above mentioned areas. Cross-cultural management is becoming increasingly important in this environment. It is also a success factor for companies that want to survive in this international minefield. Whereas, for example, in the past a due diligence was the key factor in mergers and acquisitions, today it is complemented by cross-cultural due diligence (CCD), which examines whether the cultures of both sides fit together and what can be done to match both with the aim of achieving mutual business success. CCD consists of a cultural analysis to find out where there are similarities, similarities and differences that have an impact on the cooperation and the accomplishment of strategic goals. There are several cases in Vietnam where this CCD was neglected and the strategic cooperation failed precisely because of it, although the “regular” due diligence had given the green light.

Culture in this context can be defined as the characteristics and knowledge of a specific group of people, including religion, language, social habits, art, music and attitude to life. Culture is like an iceberg, of which only the tip is known to be visible and most of which is under the surface. The US social scientist Edgar Schein distinguishes three levels of (corporate) culture:

1. The level of "artifacts", i.e. the visible organisation with its structures and processes these can be seen at first glance, such as the Vietnamese Chua Vinh Nghiemor the Gothic churches in Germany as examples of architecture, or the particular way of greeting in Thailand by the“Wai”, respectively the hugging among friends in France. Here it is still easy for the outsider to spot culture and its differences, as it is obvious.

2. The "espoused values",which include strategies, goals and corporate philosophies. These are not immediately visible, but can be found in the published company guidelines or public statements for example. They are located below the surface, but can be seen when looking closely.

3. The "basic assumptions/truths”. This is where you enter the terra incognita of culture, which is not immediately recognisable and which requires an in-depth study of the culture. It is the level of the subconscious and the perception of the environment.

Culture manifests itself in different areas.These include (i) the professional culture, e.g. of a pilot, (ii) the departmental culture, e.g. the demarcation between the sales and the controlling department, (iii) the corporate culture, e.g. the differences between Citibank, Agribank and Vietcombank, or (iv) the culture of a generation, e.g. Baby Boomer vs Millennials.  Cross-cultural management goes beyond this and deals with the culture of a civilisation, a region or a country.

Cultural differences need not always lead to clashes or confrontations. This is where cross-cultural management comes in to provide support. An important prerequisite is not to see culture as something disruptive or as something that obstructs business success. On the contrary, culture plays an important role in business life. It creates order, identification, motivation, coordination, integration and legitimation. For the individual person, culture - once internalised - provides predictability, reliability and patterns for identification. It helps to create a team spirit and facilitates communication, to name but a few advantages. Of course, a specific culture can also have negative effects. These include isolation and separation, pressure to conform, refusal of criticism, structural conservatism, arrogance or simply "groupthink". This is where aspects of organisational behaviour and cross-cultural management overlap.The latter covers many practical areas and issues, such as

•           Leadership, authority and hierarchy: How does a Vietnamese director see himself as a superior? Does he tolerate open opposition from his staff when he is at risk of making a massive mistake?

•           Organisational cultures and organisational behaviour in a broader and narrower sense: How does the typical Vietnamese family structure of a medium-sized production company in the Centre fit in with the profile of the professional US company looking for a joint venture?

•           Communication methods and systems: When do the German employees of a Vietnamese Bank in Frankfurt/Germany prefer to be invited to a meeting or is information by e-mail sufficient?

•           Motivation and team building: What can a French expat do to motivate his employees at the company's branch in Can Tho?

•           Decision making: Are decisions more likely to be discussed and voted on in the board of directors of a German company or does the Vietnamese chairman decides alone?

•           Conflict resolution: How can a Dutch Chief Country Officer criticize one of his Vietnamese managers in the Da Nang branch, who has made a clear mistake in dealing with a customer’scomplaint?

•           Definition of business success: When negotiating an Austrian-Vietnamese FDI project, where are the red lines for a minimum consensus on both sides?

All these issues, which are related to cross-cultural management, can have a significant impact on the individual manager, but also on the entire company, both operating in a foreign cultural environment that is strange for them. Even within one's own national and cultural borders, dealing with people is not easy. Here, in an intercultural context, any actions are even more complex.

Language barriers, a lack of confidence in compliance matters and in dealing with bureaucracy, a missing local network, insecurity about partners and difficulties in finding qualified and trustworthy employees, these are all problems that a Westerner can face in Vietnam. On the other hand, Vietnamese who are dealing with people or companies from abroad for the first time can encounter similar difficulties. Knowledge of cross-cultural management helps to overcome these hurdles.

In the following parts, different cultural models will be introduced and concrete examples from the field of cross-cultural management will be given. The aim is to provide a practical overview of this topic, which is becoming increasingly important in the course of globalisation and cross-border business activities.

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Short bio:

Prof.Dr. Andreas Stoffers studied Political Science and Economics with a focus on International Relations at University of the Federal German Armed Forces in Munich/Germany. In 1996, he completed his PhD on German – Thai relations. Andreas has 18 years of practical management experience as a banker in Germany and Southeast Asia. In 2014, Andreas became Professor of Business Administration and International Management at SDI Munich International University of Applied Sciences. Moreover, he is a Visiting Professor at University of Malaya in Kuala Lumpur/Malaysia and at the Vietnamese-German University in Binh Duong/Vietnam. Since September 2019, Andreas is on leave in order to work as Country Director Vietnam for FriedrichNaumann Foundation for Freedom in Hanoi.

ANDREAS STOFFERS