The importance of appreciating other cultures in business.


In my Human Resource Management class yesterday, we discussed a British company called Hotel International that took over a hotel in China called the Roaring Dragon Hotel.  The H.I. team was determined to change the relaxed and pressure free working atmosphere at the hotel (workers took long breaks whenever they wanted) to one that promoted much more professionalism and quality customer service that would be provided at a five star establishment.  While many of the ideas that H.I. implemented at the Roaring Dragon would definitely be beneficial in many businesses, the way that H.I. went about implementing its new policies were ultimately unsuccessful due to the different norms and expectations of the Chinese culture.

The first thing H.I. should have done upon deciding that it would take over management of the Roaring Dragon was research the Chinese culture to determine what the business norms are for their country.  Perhaps Chinese workers expect to be able to relax at work and not have to stress about being professional and at the beck and call of every customer.  If this is the case, then H.I. could have eased into the changes much more slowly and made many more compromises rather than making the drastic 180 degree turn from a relaxed to a high-paced working environment.

I think this is an important lesson for anyone who ends up going into an international business: different cultures have different customs and expectations, and in order to conduct successful business, once must appreciate these differences and make the appropriate adaptations and compromises.  In Denmark, there is nothing ruder than showing up to a meeting late; however, in France, people are almost expected to be late.  In Denmark, there is a very flat hierarchical structure in businesses, whereas in other countries this are very steep hierarchical structures.  While these may seem like silly examples to give, they show that while in one country something might be permissible or expected, in others it may be unacceptable.  Before dealing with a company in another country, whether it is a one time thing or a merger/acquisition, it is important to look into the cultural norms so that no one feels insulted or that their expectations were not met.

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4 Responses to The importance of appreciating other cultures in business.

  1. eeewald says:

    This reminds me a a presentation I had to attend last year about engineering in a global setting. The main topic of the presentation was the same as you mention here, that before you conduct business in a new country, you need to understand the differnt industry norms in their culture. The speaker used the example of bribes to make his point. In the U.S. bribes are a huge no-no and our engineering code of ethics expressly forbids offering or accepting bribes, but in other parts of the world, bribes are the norm and most large engineering projects would not proceed without multiple bribes to regulatory agencies, competitors, government officials, etc. It’s interesting how much industry practices can vary from culture to culture.

  2. knriggins says:

    I’m glad you brought up the point about bribes in business. I recently read an article about doing business in Russia and how it was usually expected to offer bribes. Because of this, McDonalds had a hard time penetrating the market there. The article talked about McDonalds making the transition to Russian location. There were so many aspects of the business they had to change to make the McDonalds franchise successful in Russia. It wowed me that something as simple as a fast food business would have to change so much in order to cater to local regulations and the culture! For example, Russians had no understanding of what a McDonalds does. They had a hard time understanding the concept of fast food. Because of this employees needed lots of training on the time-tested assembly line pattern of making food. When the first McDonalds opened there were tv screens that customers watched as they waited in line. The program taught a customer how to order, how to pay, how to hang their coat over their chair, and how to hold a big mac. These things seem silly but when we think about it, if you never went to a McDonalds the whole process might come off as very strange. Russian cars also didn’t have cup holders at the time so drinks were scarcely bought in the drive through line. I just thought this was an interesting instance of the differences in culture.

  3. Slade says:

    I think that learning more about the culture of a new work place, especially abroad, is very important to consider, as it is essential for the success of your business. You might have to put in a lot of effort to have people trained, only for them to disagree with your new way of managing things or carry out your plans incorrectly. It is also important to realize that, whether or not the employees might follow your ways, the consumers may dislike how you conduct your workplace and you could end up with no business at all. As the comments above have also stated, knowing the culture of the place that you are settling your business can have a very large impact on how well the business picks up, if even at all.

  4. Joe Kissee says:

    You make a great point in this post. I came across your blog because my current class, Communication and Ethics, is discussing a very similar topic to the one you explore here. You make a great point about how people need to take the time to learn about another culture before they make any decisions. This is true for business and for just life in general. Consider this passage from our text, “At the same time, this deep self-enrichment is made possible only by our taking up an attitude or posture towards difference: we learn to shift from the initial uncertainty, fear, and hostility that deep cultural differences often inspire, to a posture that is more open to and actively interested in such differences, both as they define the Other as Other.” (Ess, p. 111)

    The author of our book, Charles Ess, is capturing exactly what you are referring to in your post. The only way that we are going to be work cross-culturally is if we truly appreciate and understand the differences that we have. We can’t assume that everyone in the world would run a business the way that we would. That’s naive and ethnocentric. I also think in a way it’s lazy, I would argue that there are probably a lot of people that understand this is what needs to happen, but they don’t want to take the time to learn about another culture. They would prefer to just operate the way they always have and hope it works out.

    Joe Kissee
    Drury University
    Ess, C. (2009). Digital Media Ethics. Cambridge: Polity Press.

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