When my time isn’t your time

Posted on April 13, 2009. Filed under: business, cross cultural conflict, cross cultural miscommunication, hispanic culture, time | Tags: , , , , , , , |

Time changes everything. Or how you view time changes everything.  Differences in cultural concepts of time are ALWAYS brought up by a frustrated manager or employee during cross cultural training sessions. I am amazed at how little attention is paid to understanding the concept of time in the workplace, given its profound impact on productivity, employee and customer relations, and worker satisfaction.

Ideas about time range widely:

  • Time is a scare resource.  Manage it carefully!
  • Time is abundant.  Relax!
  • Time is best spent concentrating on one activity, conversation, project, etc., at a time
  • Time is best spent concentrate simultaneously on multiple activities, conversations, projects, etc., at a time.
  • Use time to learn from the past.  The present is essentially a continuation or a repetition of past occurrences.
  • Use time to focus on “here and now” and short-term benefits.
  • Use time to plan for long-term benefits.  Promote a far-reaching vision.

These differences can wreak havoc on the workplace.

I worked with one American company that was having problems with time management of their plant in Mexico, which supplied the raw materials for their factory in the US. “They always miss deadlines, and never at least give us the heads up that they may be late!” “They work so slowly!” “It’s impossible to coordinate with them, because they just don’t stick to our schedule!”

When I asked how they were presently dealing with the situation, the manager said they had sent a team down to Mexico to train the employees on what was expected and managing their time better.

The company did not leave anyone American onsite to oversee production schedules. The problem returned as soon as we left, was their response. Well of course everything went back to Mexican style! Why wouldn’t it? Could you imagine a person from a different culture coming into your workplace and telling you to behave in a manner completely different from your culture? How long would you keep that up, especially if no one from the target culture was on site? Wouldn’t you and your coworkers slip back into your natural way of acting and communicating?

Helping employees understand cultural differences requires constant communication. There is no instant solution. Working successfully across cultures takes time.

Read here about ways to get employees on the same page about time expectations.

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AIG & Universalism –cultural views on contractual obligations

Posted on March 18, 2009. Filed under: American culture, business, cross cultural, cross cultural conflict, cross cultural miscommunication, universalism | Tags: , , , , , , , , |

Although I personally think AIG is beyond reprehensible, greedy, corrupt and incompetent, I am intrigued by the cultural influences of the situation we now find ourselves in.  I considered, specifically, the differences in cultural views on contractual obligations between Universalist and Particularist cultures, and use the US and China as examples.

The idea that  AIG has a contractual obligation to pay out bonuses to the very executives who brought the company to the brink of bankruptcy  is firmly grounded in American culture. America is a Universalist culture–they have rules and laws and contracts that are applicable to everyone equally (supposedly). They believe contracts are legal and binding, regardless of obvious changes in situation.  AIG executives moan that these bonuses were promised to them by contract and contracts, in a Universalist culture, are untouchable. A deal is a deal. Even a raw one.

Chinese culture, on the other hand, is Particularist. Particularists look at each situation, and understand that things may change unexpectedly. For the Particularist, contracts may be amended or adjusted if the situation or context changes. Particularists also spend more time building relationships,  and value personal obligation and “face” more than Universalists.  For Particularists,  a trustworthy person is known to honor the changing circumstances.  The idea is to build a long term relationship and have a win-win situation over time for both parties.

For the Universalist, it is the complete opposite. A trustworthy person keeps his word, abides by the contract, and pays up. Even when it’s ethically, morally, and  poltically wrong.

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Tattoos and Piercings in the Workplace

Posted on February 12, 2009. Filed under: American culture, business, diversity | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , |

Like them or not, tattoos and piercings are here to stay. While they hold a certain stigma for Baby Boomers, their popularity exploded in the 1990s as a common expression of individuality among younger generations. How should employers deal with this trend, and what legal rights does each party have?

Who has them?
Among 18- to 50-year-olds, 24% have tattoos and 14% have body piercings (other than ears), according to the American Academy of Dermatology. Among Gen Y (18-to 29-year-olds) 48% have either a tattoo or piercing. Clearly, it is impractical, and nearly impossible, to have a workforce free of tattoos and/or piercings.

What are an employer’s rights?
Tattoos and body piercing are gaining increasing acceptance, but employers have a right to ban their workers from showing them. An employer has the right to set a dress standard for the company, as long as it doesn’t violate discrimination laws, which only protect employees from discrimination based on age, disability, national origin, race, religion, or sex. A discrimination lawsuit brought by a Costco cashier stated that she was a member Church of Body Modifications and that her 11 piercings were a form of religious expression. The court sided with Costco.

Although employers may be legally permitted to ban them, it is not always in their best interest. An employee who feels accepted and is allowed to express her individuality is more likely to be a dedicated worker.

What should an employer do?
Have a written policy on tattoos and piercings. Create a policy and be sure to communicate it. It is important to be consistent. The policy has to be applied uniformly and to all employees, or that may be a form of discrimination.

2. Try to get buy in from the employees, rather than making unilateral directives. Discuss audience awareness with the employee. How, when and why might it affect interactions at work? Perhaps it is ok to show your body art around the office, but not so when meeting with a new client for the first time.

3. Consider the impact on coworkers or clients. Does the tattoo distract or harass others? Tattoos that create a hostile work environment should be banned. A Winnie the Pooh on your ankle? OK. Swastika on your neck? Not OK.

4. Get over it. As an employer, it is important to ask yourself what, specifically, you are opposed to. If it is just that you personally don’t like tattoos or piercings, is that a valid reason not to hire someone? Are you letting skilled workers get away because of their body art?

What do you think of  showing body art in the workplace?

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CEO compensation – a cross cultural perspective

Posted on February 11, 2009. Filed under: American culture, business, cross cultural | Tags: , , , , , , , |

Everybody knows that executive compensation in America is out of control. What is it about American culture that allowed it to get to this point? (I’m thinking greed.)  How does US CEO compensation compare to CEOs in other cultures?

The US and UK have the highest rates of CEO compensation, which includes base salary, insentives, perks, bonuses, and the like. It is important to differentiate between compensation and salary, to see the real money being spent on a single individual. For example, Apple CEO, Steve Jobs stated in 2006 that he would only take a $1 annual salary. His total compensation package that year? Well over half a billion dollars.

The median European executive earns just 40% as much as his equivalent in America. Europeans are also more likely to tie pay incentives to performance, with French, German and British firms paying the most.  

Pay descrepencies across cultures are enormous.  For example, Japanese executives earn about 11 times as much as the average worker. The American executive? 475 times as much. I was surprised to find that Japan had the lowest pay discrepancy, since it is a rigidly hierarchical culture. However, Japan is also a collectivist culture, and the concept of face is extremely important. (It’s easy to be greedy if you don’t care about face). If your company doesn’t do well, that reflects on you. The boss, who is at the top of the hierarchy, is a role model and example for his workers to follow.

Check out this facinating video about the president and CEO of Japan Airlines.  When the company was in financial trouble, he cut every one of his perks and took a  pay cut, saying he “wanted to share the pain” with his workers.

Could you ever imagine a US CEO saying that??


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