Strategies HMR teams can adopt effective cross cultural training

A Critical Evaluation of the strategies human resource management teams can adopt for effective cross-cultural training? A case study on Infosys Technologies.

Literature Review

Human resource management is the most valuable asset of an organization (Kleynhans 2006). Employees are vital for the effective functioning of an organization. Due to this factor the human resource management which was given a second class status before is now the most important function of an organization (Griffin 2007). Before two to three decades HRM was mainly meant to conduct company picnics, retirement parties, scheduling vacations etc. This has changed to a very large extend and today this is the critical function that could contribute in enhancing employee productivity (Decenzo 2009).

Human resource management has undergone an intense makeover moving from defensive to proactive approach (Deb, 2006). Globalization is triggering this change and organizations have to come up with strategies to manage this. New systems of management are being designed by Human Resource Management in order to ensure effective utilization of human talent. HRM must be seen under a global perspective and placed in a wider business context in order to meet the upcoming needs (Price 2007). Out of the four main functions of HRM, i.e., recruiting, selecting, training and managing the human capital of a company, management is the most important and challenging function for the department. However managing the employees in an organization is not simply governing the payroll processes, providing training as well as preventing legal cases. A totally different outlook for the human resource management is necessary to keep up the status as a major factor for organizational success. Productive and innovative people who are able to work in flexible environment are therefore vital for an organization (Mathis & Jackson, 2008).

For a management to function efficiently in a company, they are not only meant to perform the economic and technical operations but also should be able to deal with the different cultural environments the company is functioning. Thus the management of the company should be able to cope up with multicultural conditions. Culture is the most decisive factor in the successful conduct of international business and international HRM (Briscoe & Schuler 2004). Every country is different to another in many perspectives. It could be history, values, beliefs, language or even laws that provide a unique identity to a country. But all this can be called under a single name- culture. According to Magala (2005), “Culture can be viewed as practical, useful software which helps generate blueprints for individual and collective action and which patterns our interactions.” As business environment is expanding so are the companies. Many organizations have extended their business operations to more than one country. Globalization has demanded the employees to work on international assignments (Early & Gibson 2002). The human resource management faces some fundamental challenges in the international business context (Denisi & Griffin, 2005). They can be both general and specific.

A large amount of research has been conducted by eminent scientists in the field of cross cultural training (Primecz, Romani, Sackmann, 2009). There are various web based forums that aids in the interaction between various researchers and other groups. These groups of people are mainly involved in the purpose of spreading the different views on carrying out businesses in other countries or other parts of the world and help them operate well international markets.

After the colonial era there was heavy opposition from different areas regarding consideration of Western norm as normality. (Kwek, 2003; Fougère & Moulettes,2006), and also the imbalance in power among the west and the other countries due to management discourses (Westwood,2006; Jack et al., 2008; Westwood & Jack, 2009).

CROSS-CULTURAL ISSUES FACED BY MULTINATIONALS

The HRM policies and practices of multi-nationals will be having a major impact on their employee morale and future career prospects. This is mainly because a large portion of their employees come from outside the home country. Due to this reason, the employees from the host country and the expatriates have varied job expectations (Tayeb 2005). Thus it is the duty of the management to devise the policies in such a way that both the parties are satisfied (Dowling et.al 2008). Hence it’s not exaggerating to say that the global success of almost every company depends upon the policies and procedures implemented by its HR department (Vance & Paik 2006).

Expatriate management is a major issue of most multi-nationals. Hence this topic gains considerable importance in International Human Resource Management (Sparrow et.al 2004). Expatriates are the most expensive employees of an organization and it’s very difficult to measure their performance. Due to this fact, there is direct impact of these issues on the view point of organization on expatriates and also can be considered as a challenge for international mobility. Thus expatriate management has its own pros and cons (Shenkar & Luo 2008). The primary task ahead of most expatriate researches is to find a fit between environmental demands and the characteristics of expatriate employees during an overseas assignment (Sparrow 2007). Due to increased decentralization and downsizing over past few years, most MNCs have lost their proficiency over expatriate management. This may be also due to increasing number of expatriates (Scullion & Starkey 2000).

This situation demands new approaches that would:

Connect expatriate management with the much wider international human resource strategy.

View at the strategic position of mobility at the MNCs and the consequences for employees of this mobility.

Corporate governance is highly affected by the challenges of cultural disparities (Shonhiwa 2008). Cross-cultural challenges are the most important issue organizations have to tackle while expanding their business across borders. Multi-national companies of this age are into cut-throat competition with their rivals on the competencies and talents of their human capital. The employees of these organizations thus have to work across their national borders on many cross-national job assignments. Such international assignments can be quite challenging for these individuals as they are outside their comfort zones. They may also be having language issues or would be finding it difficult to adapt to culture of host country (Stahl & Bjorkman 2006). The two specific HR functions that promote cross-cultural effectiveness among expatriates are selection and training and development.

Cross cultural management emerged after the second world-war when the multinational companies started to be interested in effective management of their workforce in other countries (Behrens 2009). Mead in 2005 defined Cross-cultural management as “Development and application of knowledge about cultures in the practice of international management, when the people involved have different cultural identities. These may or may not belong to the same business unit.” Therefore it explains the organizational behavior across and within nations and cultures (Adler & Gundersen 2008). For working as an expatriate, an individual must possess some skills that would influence his work performance over there. A skill is defined as “The ability to demonstrate a sequence of behavior that is functionally related to attaining a performance goal” (Torrington, 1994). The cross-cultural management skills would equip an individual to cope up with cultural challenges that could be faced when working on an international assignment.

There are a number of cultural dimensions that affects a company’s international operations (Armstrong 2006). The most popular model were proposed by Hofstede and Trompenaar (Luger 2009). Hofstede’s dimensions include:

Equality versus inequality

Certainty versus uncertainty

Controllability versus uncontrollability

Individualism versus collectivism

Materialistic versus personalization

The following are Trompenaar’s dimensions (Binder 2007):

Universalism versus Particluarism

Individualism versus Communitarianism

Achievement versus Ascription

Neutral versus Affective

Specific versus Diffuse

The cultural differences are also reflected in each and every function of HR (Harris et.al 2003). The following instance is a good example for it:

“A performance management system based on openness between manager and subordinate each explaining plainly how they feel the other has done well or badly in a job, may work in some European countries, but is unlikely to fit with the greater hierarchical assumptions and ‘loss of face’ fears of some Pacific countries.”

The above example shows how the performance management function is being affected by the cultural differences.

The various theorists (Hall,1989 Hofstede, 1986) of culture feel that there exist ethnocentricity among people of all cultures in different degrees. Thus people have a meaning and understanding of their own culture as well as a judgment about other cultures. And majority of people consider their culture and beliefs superior to others (Daft & Marcic 2008). Cross cultural training in cases help people to think in the right way about the different cultures.

The culturally heterogeneous group performs almost the similar way to culturally homogenous group. But in case of a heterogeneous group there will certain communication issues and barriers that need to be solved in order to bring in more cooperation. Studies have revealed certain ways by which the heterogeneous teams can be made more efficient, they include coordinating mechanisms that bring people together, certain period of scheduling, making a rule that participation in team is compulsory and also developing an identity for the team (Gelfand, Erez and Aycan 2007).

There are various situations where in the employees when relocated can result loss of valuable employees (Collins and Kirsch 1999). For the purpose of relocating employees the company should make sure that they are given enough cross cultural training. The training given may not only include cross cultural but also the training regarding change in technology. An ineffective training could result in employee turnover (Cassidy, Kreitner & Kreitner 2009). Most of the time there is rate of attrition when there is transfer of employees to a different region. This kind of an employee turnover ratio will be harmful for the company as a whole (Allen and Alvarez 1998). In financial terms this kind of loss of employees is also very disturbing and heavy loss for the company (Mendenhall 1991). In order to retain employees in proper way there needs to be a god HR strategy which will help reduce attrition (Agarwal and Ferratt 2001). Thus to attain cross-cultural effectiveness more focus must be given to job training, employees must be properly educated as well as the organization must give emphasis to development (Moran et.al 2007).

Problems

The existence of power relations in management is reduced to certain extend by way of cross-cultural management. In case of a cross -cultural management, cross culture training is provided based on the employee’s cultural background. The training program and materials used in it must be devised according to the socio-cultural knowledge and background of employees (Chrisler & McCreary 2009). In many companies there is a common situation where the employee gender is overshadowed and things are taken for granted. There is situation in companies where the women employees are not considered. An example that can be sighted in this respect is: when a women employee is sent to an Arab country the cultural environment that they face. Women are also alleged of not having any international career options and aspiration thus there is always a gender based challenge that exists in companies (Caligiuri & Cascio, 1998).

The organizations need to think comprehensively before going to explore international opportunities (Mcfarlin & Sweeney, 2008). Management should perform an analytical study on these opportunities weighing the internal strengths and weaknesses. The human factor should also be considered during this. Ignoring the people-related complexities and complications could cause irreparable issues in the future.

WAYS OF MANAGING CULTURAL DIFFERENCES AT COMPANIES OPERATING IN MULTICULTURAL ENVIRONMENT

Management has an important and inevitable function of solving various issues and problems related to cultures and also the individual company. One of the partner companies will take up the responsibility providing the right kind of skills and cultural training; they also influence the present organizational culture. While a company tries to bring a difference and make the environment favorable the companies can try to bring all their activities together (Nový et al., 1996).

Cultural dominance

Taking the case of cultural dominance, the prime objective is to build a single common culture within the business functions that could be daughter companies or divisions. The term “global organization culture” becomes important at this juncture where stress is given to enforcement of universal values, norms etc. within the organization. Sister concerns are considered as an inevitable part of the mother company’s culture. This is especially true when the organization has to integrate the activities of itself and the daughter company and gain advantages out of it. This approach would be easier if the daughter company is recently built. Otherwise this could be problematic.

Plurality of cultures

Polycentric culture means having a number of cultures. Plurality of cultures would result in cultural compromise. The basis for this is building a separate culture for every daughter concern. This can result from the traditions of local surroundings and must give due respect to universal goals and approaches to the minimum. The main reason behind adopting a polycentric culture is because the organization has to operate in more than one locations.

Synergic model

This is also referred to as geocentric culture. It means involving the particular features of individual cultures to create a common culture that represents the integration of all regional centers of an international firm. A company is incorporated from inside even when there is a difference in national culture. Hence it is very critical to select employees who could meet the demands of a work outside their comfort zone in a totally different environment. Such employees will be having the intercultural competence and would prove more productive in a foreign land. In case the employees have little interest in the merge of cultures of companies that are cooperating and followed a simple execution of values, behavior, misinterpretation, conflict and even decline in business. Even if the cooperating companies come together with the aim of gaining strategic advantage, there would be misunderstandings. The major reasons behind this are culture shock, resistance to change etc. (Larsson, Risberg, 1998, Gancel, Rodgers, Raynaud,2002, Nový et al., 2001). In case the differences in culture are not handled properly, then it would result in misunderstandings, disillusion, conflicts, reduction in employee morale and productivity etc. Hence the customer is given less regard in such a situation and this naturally will have an impact on business efficiency. Culture in which an individual is born and brought has a major impact on his values, beliefs, norms and behavioral patterns. National culture is common for every citizen and hence the organizational culture should be forming a judicious blend between the individual’s personal and national culture. Then only would there be emotional wellness amongst the employees. Even then the organization must maintain a unique identity and culture for itself based upon its history and tradition. It is the duty of the employees to identify this culture and make efforts to protect. The results of mergers and acquisitions can be devastating if the cultural differences are not given due regard. Gancel, Rodgers and Raynaud (2002) described the following categories of causes on the basis of their experience in advisory practice:

1. Insufficient awareness of existence of differences – this involve managers who are ignorant of the existence of the dimensions in culture with regard to management.

2. Insufficient understanding – here the managers will be having some knowledge about the culture but their lack in depth awareness of its impact and ways to tackle it.

3. Insufficient willingness – in this case, the manager knows about culture and its impact but purposefully decided not to take any action on it. This may be due to the below given reasons:

– Management of the cultural dimensions is not of high priority for them in that situation. They may be aware of cultural impact but feel it’s not that urgent to handle it.

– due to this reason, they concentrate in dealing the economic and technical issues and also get less time in handling cultural differences.

– they have the fear of unknown. This means they feel that handling the financial issues is more safe and easy since they only have to deal with n numbers. And this is a lot better than dealing with people and their emotions which may result in anxiety, discomfort and uncertainty.

– they consider cultural integration as less attractive when compared to solving financial problems. The main reason behind this is that it’s difficult to measure cultural integration and hence they cannot show others how much they have succeeded. While solving the financial or technical issues helps them to display their talents in front of superiors and colleagues and helps them to gain rewards.

4. Insufficient level of abilities and skills – the manager might be aware of the importance of culture and may be even trying to do something about it. But they fail in this initiative due to lack of sufficient skills and knowledge.

CROSS-CULTURAL TRAINING FOR EXPATRIATES

“Expatriation involves the transfer of parent country nationals, host country nationals and third country nationals- and often their families- for work purpose between two country locations, and for a period of time that requires change of address and some degree of semi-permanent adjustment to local conditions.”(Hartl 2003). There are some specific reasons why companies send employees abroad (Golz 2007).The four main motives behind it are: – Compensation Motive, Development and Career Motive, Control and Leading Motive, Know-how transfer. Krippl et.al (1993) has given a elaborate description about these motives.

Employers have lot of problem dealing with their employees, when they are sent abroad for work. Cross cultural training is said to be helpful in case of managers and other employees who are sent abroad for work (Stahl & Caliguiri, 2005). Most of the time employees return from the place they went because they must have encountered problems due to the cultural differences. Culture shock is an important issue that happens in most employees sent to another country for any assignment. Most of the time the employee will be home sick, they show poor performance in their work etc. Most companies provide language training course for the employees who are sent abroad. Many organizations also provide other forms of cross cultural training to help the person interact well with the people in other countries. Such interactions are important for any business thus its expatriates must be able to deal with other people of different cultures (Bhawuk & Brisline, (2000), Lievens, Harris, Van Keer & Bisqueret, (2003).

Cross cultural training is given to people so that they come to know more about the different styles of communication and also the value systems in the particular country. The training usually deals with making the employee learn the culture and value in writing as well as by way of speaking and interaction.

Cross culture misunderstandings are reduced by way of this training were the right kind of interaction is provided. The training session includes training with the help of video, orientation program and also other training sessions. Computer aided cross cultural training is also done which trains the employees by giving them the scenarios and challenges; it is also called cross cultural critical incidents. A cross cultural training involves emphasizing of the communication, cultural awareness, cultural skills etc.

Littrell, Salas, Hess, Paley and Riedel (2006) studied the effectiveness of cross cultural training. Their results revealed that the cross cultural training is highly effective in making the employees outside work efficiently even in a different culture.

According to Hofstede (2001), the cross-cultural skills that are needed for being effective as an expatriate are:

The capability to converse with respect

The ability to be tolerant

The capability to recognize relativity of one’s awareness and insight

The capacity to exhibit empathy and compassion

The ability to be flexible

Forbearance for uncertainty

Cross-cultural training was defined in 2000 by Zakaria as “”Any intervention aimed at increasing an individual’s capability to cope with and work in foreign environment”. Due to this reason, cross cultural training can involve any method like lectures, simulation etc. that could help an individual to get familiarized with a new surroundings. The training methods employed in such training are also defined as “”Formal methods to prepare people for more effective interpersonal relations and job success when they interact extensively with individuals from cultures other than their own” (Brislin and Yoshida, 1994).

Before starting the training, the organization must try to prepare the employee for working in multi-cultural environments. The preparation and selection of workforce for overseas assignments depends upon the level of collaboration between the cooperating companies which the workers represent. When there is a looser cooperation, like in business contracts, the preparation would be made at the individual level. But in closer cooperation, just as in merger and acquisitions, the company controls the foreign activities directly and the workforce selection and preparation is done at an intensive manner.

Processes of overcoming cultural differences

Each and every worker who works in a foreign environment regardless of the time period should be aware of certain basic set of rules that would help their job in the new environment easier. In order to overcome cultural differences it’s necessary to know one’s own culture completely including its complexities. A major drawback in this is the fact that within an individual’s culture there exist an approach to interpret other cultures and hence doesn’t cause huge problems. Also in spite of globalization, the profundity of culture, behavior and standards affects perception and assessment of obtained knowledge. The beginning of handling intercultural standards is recognizing the strength of own culture and identifying the cultural background of partner. According to Schroll-Machl, Novy et al. (2001), there exists an uncomplicated process for thriving cooperation in a multicultural environment which consists of three steps:

1. Good knowledge of foreign culture- the first step involves conceding and accepting that there exist cultural differences. This involves disparities related to perceptions, values, norms etc. that are created due to different social situations. These differences need to be identified, described and understood in detail. Recognizing the partner’s culture is the first condition for mutual consideration and proper coordination.

2. Respect of a foreign culture- this mainly means to acknowledge and accept the cultural differences without any prejudice. One cannot claim his culture to be perfect and better than other cultures. Every culture is different to one another in its own way and is the best possible manner for an individual member to manage his life in a situation where he had lived from his birth.

3. Helpful steps in the relationship to a foreign culture- the final step in this process is to find a single solution, mutual consideration and simplifying the sophisticated and challenging way of conducting oneself in a strange environment.

These three steps don’t intend to throw away one’s own cultural background but recommends them to utilize their knowledge about own culture to obtain knowledge about partner’s culture. Also it’s always easy to give up something that isn’t important to us but it may be very much crucial for the other culture. The most important part is being aware of the partner’s culture in detail. Also one must have good understanding and respect for partner’s culture in order to have successful collaboration globally. The employees who are selected for overseas assignments must be introduced to this process and its simple steps so that they could avoid the possible issues regarding culture in their work environment. These suggestions could be helpful for members working in foreign as well local cultural conditions.

The process of assimilation with a foreign culture is not taught to every expatriate. This process is needed only for those employees who need to work in a foreign land on a long-term basis. Weber and co. (1998) explained that this process is very much alike for most workers operating in multicultural environments and it can be expressed by four phases:

1. Observation phase

2. Collision phase.

3. Consolidation phase

4. Departure phase

METHODS OF CROSS-CULTURAL TRAINING

The methods of training must be individual specific i.e it must be according to the socio-cultural knowledge and requirements of employees. It may also vary according to the profession. For example, most researchers prefer dedicated training workshops and person-to-person training (Gobaldon 2005).

The various cross-cultural method as explained by Bhawuk and Brislin (2000) are:

Cultural assimilator: this technique incorporates a number of real life situations that needs cross-cultural interactions. These situations that could be regarded as critical incidents would help to solve many issues that could have possibly happened between the host and expatriate workers. This way both the parties would have a pre-determined idea about the consequences of a possible issue that could have come up during their work.

Contrast American method: this method involves display of certain behaviors and mannerisms that are against the current context of culture. The method got its name from Stewart who used it for training Americans going abroad.

Self reference criterion (SRC): there could be situations where an individual unconsciously refers about his culture while communicating with a person of another culture. Lee (1966), developed a method which consists of 4 procedures that would help to overcome this self-reference situation. The first step comprises of defining any issue in terms of expatriate’s culture followed by that of host culture. In the third stage, the preconception created by SRC is evaluated and withdrawn followed by finding out the solution to the now simplified problem.

Area simulation: simulation means creating a replica of the natural surroundings and making the expatriate interact with the people from different cultures. This can be made possible with the help of actors who perform according to a pre-defined script.

Cultural self awareness model: this model makes use of video tapes and role plays. This way the trainee is made aware of how his culture is different from other cultures and thus would be able to communicate better in real life situations. The trainee could also gain knowledge regarding the other cultures and would accept the differences.

Caliguri et al in 2001 referred the study by Brislin et al. (1983) and outlined the most common cross-cultural training methods during early 90s:

Fact-oriented training

Attribution training, which is associated with culture assimilator so that trainees could adjust to the host culture in a better way.

Cultural awareness training involves studying on trainee’s home culture and its impact of his behavior so that he could learn the nature of cultural differences.

Cognitive-behavior modification that would help the trainees to obtain rewards and avoid punishments in the new cultural environment.

Experiential training which involve active learning by the trainee about the host culture.

Interaction learning that enables the trainees to be more comfortable with the host nationals and study in detail about life in that country.

Language training tools helps to demonstrate an attitude that attempts to learn about the host culture which enables a person to be well-mannered in a different environment. It also permits understanding within the trainee.

Littrell, Lisa N et al (2006) and Waxin et al. (2005) also described these methods. Littrell et al. also identified six approaches for conducting cross-cultural training programs. These approaches are as follows:

Attribution Training: The objective of this training approach is to enable the expatriate to interpret the behavior of a host culture national from their own point of view.

Culture Awareness Training: The usage of T-groups (cultural sensitivity training) is the major feature of this approach. T-groups are used to steer the investigation of expatriate’s culture. This requires exploring into the cultural biases and values and is on the basis of the fact that having a deep knowledge of expat’s culture would help in better understanding of intercultural interactions.

Interaction Training: the trainee learns from an experienced expatriate who already is working in an overseas assignment. This on-the -job training is more beneficial since the expatriate could understand the mindset of the trainee better.

Language Training: understanding the language is a very important factor while adjusting with a different cultural environment. It is always advantageous to be fluent in the local language but at least making some effort to speak even a few sentences would generate high opinion among the host nationals.

Didactic Training- this method helps the expatriate to set up a lifestyle in the new environment by providing practical knowledge in living conditions, job and other requirements, as well as on the host culture and how much it’s different from the expat culture. Littrell et al. also says that it provides “a framework for evaluating new situations that will be encountered [and]… enhances the cognitive skills that enable the expatriate to understand the host culture.” This approach is performed using lectures, written works, cultural assimilators etc. Cultural assimilators would involve the usage of various incidents that require cross-cultural interactions. This way the trainee will be having less adjustment problems while working at the new environment.

Experiential Training- This approach aims at improving the communication skills in an intercultural environment. The techniques used for this purpose are simulations, role plays etc that makes the trainee feel and go through the situations that can happen in the new environment. As the name suggests, it involves learning by doing. According to Wax

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