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The world today is characterized by a high level of integration and interaction among people of different cultures. This phenomenal increase in cultural interaction and integration has been caused by the huge advances made in transportation and communication technology. Gudykunst & Mody (2002) reveal that because of these developments, the world has witnessed globalization, which is the process of major integration of economies and cultures. Individuals from varying cultural backgrounds are constantly finding themselves working with each other. International companies are employing foreign staff to benefit from their expertise and exposure. While this has the potential to greatly benefiting the company, it might lead to some challenges due to cultural differences.
Defining the Problem
Several specific things went wrong during Ms. Myers’ stint with SK Telecom in South Korea. To begin with, Ms. Myers was not provided with the necessary guidance needed to orient herself with her new environment. This lack of guidance led to a feeling of isolation on her part, and she failed to comprehend how the organization worked from the very start. The next problem is concerning the style that Ms. Myers adopted. Green (2011) reveals that Myers engaged in a “straightforward American style” (p. 125). While this style had effectively served Myers in previous occupations, it was at odds with style adopted by the Korean organization.
Ms. Myers made assumptions about the role that she would be playing in the company. From her perspective, she was going to be an agent of change for the organization. She had many ideas about how she would go around implementing these changes to make the organization more efficient and effective. However, the roles she had envisioned for herself were different from the roles that her new employer expected her to play in the company. This lack of understanding of the role that Myers would play in SK can be blamed on the recruitment process. Ms. Myer’s negotiation process for the new job was not very efficient, and she admits that the interview process involved the use of email communication and telephone conversations that were, at times confusing (Green, 2011). Despite this confusion, Ms. Myers still proceeded to accept the position since she considered it a very good opportunity.
Analysis of the Problem
The problems encountered during Ms. Myers’ tenure can be explained by using Hofstede’s five dimensions of culture. These five dimensions are an important tool for distinguishing various cultures in the world (Hofstede, 2001). The first dimension is power distance, and it refers to the extent of inequalities existing in a particular culture. This dimension reveals the attitude that culture has towards the inequalities between individuals with power and those without power in the organization (Jandt, 2009). South Korea has a high Power Distance score underscoring the emphasis placed on hierarchy in this society (The Hofstede Center, 2013). In this society, there is a strong acceptance of the unequal distribution of power, and every person has his given place in the organization. High Power Distance means that the subordinates are expected to do what their superior requires with no opposition. With this consideration, Ms. Myers should have been prepared for a rigid hierarchy in the company where each employee knew their place in the system. She would also have braced herself for the fact that employees only talked to people who were at their level in the company hierarchy. Due to her American background, Ms. Myers was used to a society where the power distance was low, and people regarded themselves as equals.
The second dimension is individualism, and this dimension articulates the degree to which people have ties with the other members of society (Hofstede, 2001). The US has high individualism, and people often look out for themselves and their interests. On the other hand, South Korea is a collectivistic society where people maintain a close commitment to groups, and they look after the interests of each other (The Hofstede Center, 2013). In a collectivistic society, people conform to set norms and standards, and they value teamwork and group achievements. Myers did not make an effort to forge friendships with the local community, and she was therefore excluded from any grouping. She was unable to gain the deep loyalty of her staff since she did not belong to any group.
The third dimension stipulates that societies can be classified as masculinity vs. femininity. In a masculine culture, typically masculine characteristics such as material success and assertiveness are given high value and encouraged among society members. A feminine culture places a higher value on “feminine traits such as interpersonal relationships, quality of life, and concern for others” (Jandt, 2009, p. 171). South Korea has a score of 39, meaning that the culture is driven by a concern for the well-being of others rather than personal achievements (The Hofstede Center, 2013). Ms. Meyer was from a masculine culture, and she was keen to succeed in her commitments. She was enthusiastic about the opportunity that SK offered her and wanted to make a mark on the company. She did not demonstrate the values that the feminine oriented South Korean culture favored.
The fourth dimension is uncertainty avoidance, and this dimension highlights the degree to which society members are willing to take risks. In high uncertainty avoidance societies, leaders are likely to follow old practices that have been proven to work and avoid experimenting with new ways. In low uncertainty avoidance cultures, the leaders are open to new ideas, and they demonstrate a willingness to take risks and appreciate informality in the workplace (Jandt, 2009). South Korea has a high uncertainty avoidance score meaning that the society is likely to avoid taking risks by maintaining rigid codes of conduct. This society does not appreciate novel ideas, and bureaucracy is appreciated in the workplace.
In contrast to this, the US is a low uncertainty avoidance culture. People in the US culture appreciate taking risks and trying out novel and unorthodox ways. Ms. Myers’ attempt at introducing change and adopting an open and informal work environment was met with resistance in the high-risk avoidance culture of South Korea.
The fifth dimension is a long-term orientation (LTO), and it looks at the degree to which a society values long-standing traditions and shows pragmatism (Hofstede, 2001). South Korea has a very high LTO score, and society is more concerned with its long-term future rather than short-term successes (The Hofstede Center, 2013). The US has a low LTO, and traditions are not given high priority. Novel ideas are appreciated, and short-term success is applauded. Ms. Meyers’ management style showed low LTO, as it did not regard the traditions and values of the company. The company’s top management was therefore opposed to her methods since South Korea has a high LTO.
Myers should have respected the hierarchical nature of the company. Instead of trying to bridge the distance between herself and the employees under her, she should have perpetuated the power distance existing in the South Korean culture. This would have ensured that she commanded the appropriate respect and authority to the employers.
Ms. Myers should have avoided proposing any radical changes in the company. In recognition of the fact that novel ideas and high innovation are not appreciated, she should have kept away from introducing new practices and policies to the organization. Instead, Myers could have focused on increasing the efficiency of the already present methods of doing things in the company. This would have appealed to the South Korean culture, which has a high-risk avoidance dimension.
Myers should have tried to establish relationships with her employees outside the work setting. Instead of solely forging friendships with the rest of the expatriate community, she should have made friends with her local staff. This would have given her access to a group and enabled her to be a part of the collectivistic culture. Myers’ opportunities to learn more about the South Korean culture would also have been enhanced if she had made more local friends.
This paper has analyzed the case of Ms. Myers to highlight the role that culture and environment play in management. The paper began by identifying the problems faced by Ms. Myers and proceeded to analyze the problems using Hofstede’s five dimensions of culture. The paper has demonstrated how the differences in the American and South Korean culture can affect an institution and its management. An understanding of these differences can assist a manager in diverse cultural environments.
Green, S. (2011). The would-be pioneer. Harvard Business Review, 89(4), 124-126.
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Gudykunst, W.B. & Mody, B. (2002). Handbook of International and Intercultural Communication. NY: Sage.
Hofstede, G. (2001). Culture’ consequences: Comparing values, behaviours, institutions, and organizations across nations. London: Sage Publications.
Jandt, F.E. (2009). An Introduction to Intercultural Communication: Identities in a Global Community. NY: Sage.
The Hofstede Center (2013). South Korea’s Hofstede’s five dimensions of culture Score. Web.