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Parochialism and Simplification

Parochialism is the tendency to view the world through one’s own eyes and perspectives. This can be a strong temptation for many international managers, who often come from advanced economies and believe that their state-of-the-art knowledge is more than ade- quate to handle the challenges of doing business in less developed countries. In addition, many of these managers have a parochial point of view fostered by their background.6 A good example is provided by Randall and Coakley, who studied the impact of culture on successful partnerships in the former Soviet Union. Initially after the breakup of the Soviet Union, the republics called themselves the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). Randall and Coakley found that while outside MNC managers typically entered into partnerships with CIS enterprises with a view toward making them efficient and profitable, the CIS managers often brought a different set of priorities to the table.

Commenting on their research, Randall and Coakley noted that the way CIS managers do business is sharply different from that of their American counterparts. CIS managers are still emerging from socially focused cultural norms embedded in their history, past training, and work experiences which emphasize strategic values unlike those that exist in an interna- tional market-driven environment. For example, while an excess of unproductive workers may lead American managers to lay off some individuals for the good of the company, CIS man- agers would focus on the good of the working community and allow the company to accept significant profit losses as a consequence.

Simplification is the process of exhibiting the same orientation toward different cultural groups. For example, the way in which a U.S. manager interacts with a British manager is the same way in which he or she behaves when doing business with an Asian executive. Moreover, this orientation reflects one’s basic culture. Table 5–2 provides an example, showing several widely agreed-on, basic cultural orientations and the range of variations for each.

Asterisks indicate the dominant U.S. orientation. Quite obviously, U.S. cultural values are not the same as those of managers from other cultures; as a result, a U.S. manager’s attempt to simplify things can result in erroneous behavior.

Understanding the culture in which they do business can make international man- agers more effective.9 Unfortunately, when placed in a culture with which they are unfa- miliar, most international managers are not culturally knowledgeable, so they often mis- interpret what is happening. This is particularly true when the environment is markedly different from the one from which they come. Consider, for example, the difference between the cultures in Malaysia and the United States. Malaysia has what could be called a high-context culture, which possesses characteristics such as:

  1. Relationships between people are relatively long lasting, and individuals feel deep personal involvement with each other.
  1. Communication often is implicit, and individuals are taught from an early age to interpret these messages accurately.
  2. People in authority are personally responsible for the actions of their subordi- nates, and this places a premium on loyalty to both superiors and subordinates.
  3. Agreements tend to be spoken rather than written.
  4. Insiders and outsiders are easily distinguishable, and outsiders typically do not gain entrance to the inner group.

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