Free Report About Managing Across Borders
International mobility, or the ability to accept and execute international assignments, is one of the biggest reasons for career advancement, as revealed in a study (Catalyst 2012, p.1). The study emphasizes that “highly visible projects, mission-critical roles, and international experiences” are hall marks of hot jobs. Expatriates are generally selected based on their high performance levels domestically, but the opportunity costs related with their inadequate adjustment abroad are often quite significant (Harrison, Chadwick & Scales 1996). Though several studies have focused on the training and selection of executives for overseas assignments, the processes and mechanisms that expatriates find most useful in adjusting to living and working in a foreign country are rarely dealt with (Tung 1998). Family adjustment and work design factors influence to a large extent the degree of expatriate adjustment.
Being assigned to an international project is usually a turning point in an executive’s career and more so if the executive is a woman. This Case Study is about Kelly, working as the Programme Manager for a start-up internet services company in Boston who is asked to proceed to Tokyo at very short notice. Though international assignments were not new to her, the Tokyo job threw her career and family out of gear. This Report contains answers, grounded in theory, about the predicament faced by Kelly and her family members in Tokyo, followed by conclusions.
Kelly’s travails at Tokyo
Question 1: Evaluate the clashes in culture, customs and expectations that occurred in the case study, demonstrating your understanding of cross-cultural management theory.
One of the most important factors of success in an international assignment is the ability to adapt to new cultures (Tung 1987). According to Briscoe and Schuler (2004, p.242) and Caligiuri (1997, pp. 120-121) the cross-cultural adjustment is an individual process and not all expatriates experience the same level of anxiety or culture shock. This case study reveals several clashes in culture, customs and expectations of Kelly and Japanese employees as well as the client company’s CEO.
Clash 1: The Japanese employees expected their boss to be a male. When Kelly (a female) turned out to be their boss, they exhibited a feeling of discomfort and disconnect with her. Even while making group presentation, they were addressing to Peter (assistant to Kelly) rather than to Kelly. Subsequently at the client meeting, questions from the client-side posed by the CEO Michio and his two colleagues were again addressed to Peter and not to Kelly. Being a female and that too their boss was the thorn at Tokyo office.
Clash 2: When Kelly asked for a short presentation on ideas for the new account, Japanese were not ready, nor did they ask for more time. On being confronted by Kelly, their answer was silence. Ramsey & Birk (1985) speak about the distinguishing characteristics of Japanese culture – the “restraint”, “guessing and expanding” aspects. Non-Japanese, like Kelly who are interacting for the first time with Japanese, cannot easily make sense of this style of silent communication. Japanese, according to an unpublished source, are homogeneous people and they do not have to speak as much as Americans do in Japan. With one word uttered, they (Japanese) understand ten words, while Americans have to say ten words to understand one. Japanese employees wanted to discuss the new account issue with the entire group and then make presentation, which is explained by their community-oriented culture (collectivist culture, according to Hall, 1976) in which “individual interests may be routinely overlooked if it is in the highest interest of the group” (Varner & Beamer 2011, p.144). Kelly should have invited the entire group to share their ideas about the new account.
Clash 3: During the exchange of Business Cards, Kelly did not pay due attention to the Card given by the CEO of client company Michio and instead asked him his name, while loudly telling her name. This was against the accepted norms in Japan. She should have carefully read the card, which would have revealed the CEO’s name and his credentials.
Kelly ignored the invitation of Michio for refreshments and hurried to present the proposal. Japanese believe in relationship-building and their communication is extremely polite. They pay attention to every detail, exchange of visiting cards, taking refreshments and they value indirect expression. Their way of life is set according to the rules of etiquette. In contrast, Kelly was totally business-minded, focused on saving time, avoiding niceties and went ahead with her presentation. This situation can be explained using Hall’s (1976) dominant cultural dimension called ‘context’ to explore the relationship between ‘culture and communication’. Hall and Hall (1990) integrated three main concepts in the dimension: context, information and meaning, which embeds context as a system of meaning for information-exchanges between groups of people or within a group of people. The spectrum of communication from ‘purely non-verbal’ (Japanese) to ‘purely verbal’ (American) has to be understood in the right context in order to derive meaning. This predicament was summarized by Zakaria and Cogburn (2010): high context is known as ‘content independent’, while low context is known as ‘context independent’. Kelly exhibited typical low context culture prevalent in the United States, which emphasises focus on the issue rather than the environment of interaction. Japan on the other hand is a high context culture (Varner & Beamer 2011, p.101) where the issue discussed fades in comparison to how it is handled. Kelly, though made a good presentation about the new account, ignored the handling side of the issue, which resulted in her not getting the account.
Clash 4: Social connectedness and interaction.
Japanese open up in informal settings and friendly environments. Employees interact with each other socially outside office and such relationships play a role when taking professional decisions. Kelly, unfortunately could not be a part of such social interaction, thus missing an opportunity to bridge the gap between her and Japanese employees.
Question 2 : Culture shock usually progresses through four stages, critically analyze these stages in line with what Kelly’s family experienced. What stage of culture shock is Kelly’s family experiencing?
Callahan (2010), summarizing the works of other authors describes culture shock ‘as a feeling of disorientation or discomfort due to the unfamiliarity of the environment’. This is known to be felt by executives who are inexperienced in global settings or it depends on the host country, with seemingly stark dissimilarities, as we can observe in Kelly’s case. According to Dowling et al (2009), adjustment process consists of four stages: honeymoon, culture shock (crisis), adjustment and mastery (recovery). Kelly and her family unfortunately did not go through ‘honeymoon’ stage, as she has to get to work immediately and Joe was busy in fixing things for children and at the same time looking for a job. But the entire family went through ‘culture shock’ (crisis) stage on the U-curve (Lysgaard 1955). The crisis phase explains the dissatisfaction, confusion, “rootlessness begetting hopelessness” (Holba 2008, p.500) and uprooting from the familiar environment, strain caused by the effort to adapt (Oberg 1960, cited in Marx 2001) by expatriate, her family members and her helplessness in succeeding in the Japanese assignment. The situation in the Case Study talks about their entering the ‘adjustment’ stage, at the same time, the entire family member is reflecting on the hopeless situation and thinking whether Kelly’s decision was right in accepting Tokyo assignment. The question of ‘mastery’ (recovery) stage does not arise in this Case Study, as the family is yet to take a decision whether to continue staying in Tokyo or returning to Boston.
On the W-Curve (Gullahorn & Gullahorn 1963), currently Kelly as well as her family is at the ‘disintegration stage’. Problems like ‘jobless Joe’ (Kelly’s husband), ‘children not being happy with the school and after-school hours’, ‘Japanese executives being uncomfortable with her’ and her failure to get the account from the new client- all these made Kelly to ponder whether she was right in accepting the Tokyo assignment.
Question 3 . Turn back the clock to when Kelly was offered the position in Tokyo. Critically evaluate what should have been done differently, and by whom to ensure a successful international assignment.
Kelly failed in her Japanese assignment due to various reasons, which can be broadly categorized into (a) Organization related; (b) individual related and (c) family related and (d) host-country culture related. Due to constraints imposed by length of the Report, key reasons are discussed.
i) Her deputation to Tokyo was based on her managerial competence –one sided selection criteria adopted by her boss. Unfortunately many organizations do not pay sufficient attention to cross-cultural knowledge and needs of the family of expatriates (Lee 2007).
ii) Children and spouse of the executive should also be screened for adaptability as part of the selection process (Ashamalla 1998). However studies indicate that only 40-52 per cent of the organizations sending executives abroad included their spouses in the selection process (Reynolds & Bennett 1991, cited in Harvey 1996, p.19). Kelly’s spouse was not taken into confidence while choosing her for Tokyo assignment.
iii) Kelly’s situation is complicated in the sense: She has a dual career family, well-settled in Boston, and suddenly her husband’s (Joe) status turned to be ‘jobless’ on migrating to Tokyo along with her. This tied migration was not beneficial, as he did not find a job. The primary reason for expatriate failure, as evidenced by the study of Tung (1987), was the spouse’s inability to adjust. Stroh, Dennis & Cramer (1994) found that a spouse’s adjustment to an international relocation was the strongest predictor of expatriate’s adjustment. In this case ‘jobless Joe’ could not have adjusted to the new situation at Tokyo. Caligiuri et al (1998) emphasized the fact that a global assignment, unlike a domestic position, involves the displacement of the entire family and adjustment of family members accompanying the expatriate becomes a critical factor in determining the overall adjustment of the expatriate. Kelly’s children, Lisa and Sam, are uprooted from their known environs and find themselves in a dissimilar setting – both in terms of language, culture, way of life and climate. Studies have revealed that cross-cultural adjustment is more difficult to achieve with greater cultural novelty (Black 1990; Parker & McEvoy 1993) as experienced by Kelly and her family members. This case study confirms the strong effect the family- and spousal- adjustment has on the overall adjustment and subsequent failure of Kelly in Tokyo.
Question 4. Assuming you are Kelly, analyze and elaborate what you would do to remedy the situation?
I (Kelly) was given only two days to decide about Tokyo assignment. Japan being totally a different turf, and me not knowing Japanese, I would have said a firm NO, in spite of highly attractive package with tempting add-ons. Myself being a married woman with a dual career family and two kids, I would have weighed the implications on myself, spouse and children before taking the decision.
Had it been a country with similar culture and language (or less dissimilarity), I might have said YES; or had it been a short term assignment of two to three months, I might have accepted; or if it involved commuting between Tokyo and Boston, I would have said yes, as it would not disrupt family life, children’s education and spouse’s career.
Accepting an international assignment, without knowing the host country’s culture and language and without undergoing proper cross-cultural training, would be disastrous, for myself, company and family.
Appropriate selection process that involves screening for key managerial and technical competencies, as well as adaptability and cultural awareness and fluency, would reduce the culture shock faced by executives like Kelly. This has to be accompanied by establishing a local, ‘on-the-ground’ network to receive, prepare and absorb the expatriate and her family into the new environs, so as to minimize uncertainties, misunderstandings and culture clashes at work, school and play ground, as has happened in Kelly’s case. Pre-departure briefing, on-arrival assistance and help in getting a job for accompanying spouse would have eased the travails of Kelly during her Tokyo assignment.
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References: 524 words
Questions (1-4) within the text: 103 words. This note: 29 words
Excluding these, total word count is 1908, which is 258 words above the stipulated 1500+10%
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