Businesses Want Multicultural Managers by Grant Deken

In today’s world the list of qualifications for many management positions is of more and more resemblance to the Renaissance man. Sure you must understand some finance and economics and of course business strategy is a must-have for success. Then throw in some leadership and marketing know-how with a dash of sheer creativity and what do you get? You get someone who still needs to understand how to deal with people from a multitude of different cultures and then capitalize on burgeoning international markets.

The Eastern world, defined as "India and ...

The Eastern world, defined as “India and beyond”, consists of three overlapping cultural blocks: East Asia (green), South East Asia (blue), India and other parts of South Asia (orange), plus the USA (red) Notes: :Though Pakistan geographically lies in South Asia, it is culturally closer to the Islamic world. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Cultural diversity is extremely prevalent in our work force and populations. A company who wants to be successful needs management that both embraces this notion and understands it. The reality is that this is not happening enough. “Many leaders are operating on an old conception of the world around them and of human nature, including the nature of work, the worker, and the management process itself,” John Saee explains.

Further, many international assignments bring along with them high costs, low performance, and social challenges for involved parties. “The predominant reason for such failure is not a lack of managerial technical competence but the dynamics of intercultural experience”. What are these overpaid managers lacking? It turns out that our list of skills just lengthened. “These ‘dynamics’ include differences in cultural perceptions, in values and practices that influence understanding, in attitudinal satisfaction with living in a foreign culture, in relationship development, and in the accomplishment of goals”. In other words many international ventures involve people who cannot adjust to these environments.

As organizations begin to understand these complexities the first step they have taken is for the installment of language training programs for employees. While this is a step forward most make the assumption that speaking a language and understanding culture go hand in hand. The author notes, “Cultural dimensions to communication go far beyond syntax and vocabulary”. He goes on to say “Studying intercultural communication without studying culture is analogous to studying physics without looking at matter”.

Obviously placing emphasis on cultural understanding is important, but how do we become inter-culturally competent managers and people? Saee emphasizes Cultural awareness, the valuing of differences, and being non-judgmental as some of the most significant ways to improve on being culturally proficient.

How we become more culturally competent is important but for arguments sake we need to understand more clearly why it is important to diversify our cultural competency. In one word that answer is opportunity. The world is becoming interconnected. International trade is growing year after year and people want what developed nations have had for decades. It means that as more and more people make more and more money in emerging economies the demand for products and services is going to increase significantly. For example, think of the fraction of the 1.2 billion Indians who can now afford DVD players and Play Stations? What can your company bring to their market? It’s happening now. The companies who are successful in penetrating these markets will be the ones who are culturally diverse and understand how to work with all kinds of people.

This article is a testament in and of itself to the importance of globalization’s role on our accepted business practices and management theory. It is quickly shifting the status quo of what is necessary for success. The list of qualifications may be long for top-tier managers but if you take the time to educate yourself and embrace cultural diversity you may find yourself in a much better place than you thought possible.

Source: John Saee, Int’l Awareness is Key to Int’l Business Success. European Foundation for Management Development 2007

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