Different countries have different managerial styles. These differences mainly spill over to the managerial styles adopted by different groups of managers in cross-cultural management.
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This report outlines the differences between the cross-cultural management practices between Brazilian and American managers by exploring how both groups of managers compare through power distance/hierarchy, uncertainty avoidance, employee perception and collectivism vs. individualism management attributes
Today, many multinational enterprises parade the flags of different countries to symbolize their globalized nature. This domination of global enterprises in today’s society is symbolic of the global village, which is taking over the world’s corporate space. However, with the growth of the global village, millions of consumers and employees from different cultures, histories, and religions interact.
However, this dynamic inevitable creates an opportunity for cultural conflict, ethnocentrism, and the misinterpretation of different cultural dynamics (Chich-Jen, 2009). Because of the complexity of this conflict, many businesses and managers have failed in cross-cultural management.
For example, Chich-Jen (2009) reports a high failure rate, of about 40%, in global joint ventures because of poor managerial skills in cross-cultural management.
The failures in cross-cultural management mainly arise from the weaknesses of managers to consider the impact of cultural differences in their management practices. It is, therefore, important for multinational enterprises to support organizational efficiency by recruiting managers who have excellent cross-cultural management skills.
This way, they may easily meet the demand of global competition (Chich-Jen, 2009). Certainly, the vitality a global enterprise resonates through cultural vibrancy, and occasionally, through a strong national culture that helps it to overcome the challenges and frustrations that characterize global operations. Different countries, therefore, have different cross-cultural management strategies, depending on national cultures and attitudes.
Among the few countries that have gripped the attention of researchers, who have contributed to cross-cultural management studies, is Brazil (because of its multicultural population). In the past few years, Brazil has cut a niche in Latin America for being among the world’s greatest emerging economy.
This reputation emerges from the fact that Brazil holds the position as the eighth largest economy in the world and equally the largest economy in South America (Islam, 2012). Considering Brazil’s position in the global economy, few economists dispute the fact that Brazil will be a formidable economic force in the 21st century (Islam, 2012).
However, at the center of Brazil’s successes lie its management strategies and the comparison of these strategies to other strategies adopted in other countries. From this understanding, this paper focuses on evaluating the cross-cultural management strategies in Brazil by comparing them to the same strategies adopted by American managers.
Brazil is a very diverse country that shares an equally diverse heritage. Initially Brazil was characterized by African, Portuguese, and indigenous populations, but as time passed, the country’s culture became culturally mixed because of external European influences from Italians, Germans, and occasionally, Asians (Islam, 2012). This cultural intermixing increased the country’s cultural diversity.
This diversity later spilled into the Brazilian way of life and its work environment (including managerial practices). However, this development has made it difficult to find homogenous managerial practices across Brazil. Relative to this assertion, Islam (2012) says, “Some existing work, for example, has shown significant regional differences in work values across regions in Brazil” (p. 1).
This diversity manifests in different managerial behaviors like uncertainty avoidance, individualism, collectivism, employee perceptions, and power distance. This paper uses these measures to outline Brazil’s unique cross-cultural management practices, viz-a-viz American managerial styles of cross-cultural management.
Differences in Managerial Styles
The concept of power distance refers to the acceptance by lower-level employees about the existence of a power imbalance between upper and lower levels of management (Kundu, 2001). Brazil has a high power distance, when compared to America.
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Within this type of managerial structure, most Brazilian managers consider by-passing the decision of managers when developing organizational strategies as an act of insubordination (Islam, 2012). Therefore, unlike their US counterparts, Brazil tends to have a highly formalized management structure that is highly respectful of upper management authority.
Relative to this assertion, KWET (2013) says, “Brazilians believe that their supervisors have been chosen because they have more experience than those they manage, and it is, therefore, unnecessary, and even inappropriate for them to consult with lower-ranking individuals when making decisions.” (p. 3).
Most Brazilian managers prefer the wide power distance between top-level managers and other employees to protect their authority and uphold their nationalistic culture of formalization.
Therefore, based on the wide power distance that exists in Brazil, KWET (2013) says that it is crucial for employees from other cultures to take more time in building their working relationships with high levels of management if they want to succeed in Brazil. Implicitly, Brazilian managers do not pay a high regard for outsiders, or people from other cultures (KWET, 2013).
Therefore, it is more appropriate to have a third party introduction if someone expects to have a significant business impact in Brazil. However, Islam (2012) says there is a caveat to the above understanding because Brazil’s management practices vary across different geographic regions.
For example, he says managers who work in major Brazilian cities, such as Sao Paulo, are more culturally sensitive because they are accustomed to several international business transactions (Islam, 2012).
Comparatively, managers who work in smaller Brazilian cities are less inclined to be more culturally diverse as they do not have a very huge wealth of experience. Their cross-cultural management strategies are, therefore, more patriarchal.
The importance of employees to have a defined role in the organization boldly manifests in Brazil’s wide power distance (KWET, 2013). This is especially more profound in smaller Brazilian cities because the role of the manager is regarded as paternalistic (KWET, 2013).
In other words, Brazilian managers play a parental role to lower-level employees and more specifically, employees from other cultures. These managerial behaviors support wide power distance strategies. Philippines, Venezuela, and Mexico are examples of other countries that share the wide power distance structure (KWET, 2013).
Comparatively, US managers tend to approach cross-cultural management with lower levels of trait masculinity. This finding is consistent with previous findings, which were done by Hofstede (1980) and associated studies in GLOBE leadership to show that many US managers do not mind if their employees by-pass their authorities when working.
Again, unlike Brazilian managers, US managers adopt a more decentralized decision-making structure that appreciates the input of everybody in the organization, including lower-level employees. Denmark and Israel are examples of other countries that share the framework of low power distance (KWET, 2013).
Kundu (2001) says that the concept of uncertainty avoidance refers to the extent which employees and managers feel insecure about the existence of ambiguity in the organization. In countries where there is high uncertainty avoidance, managers prefer to avoid ambiguity by providing career stability.
Such managers also prefer to adopt a formal organizational structure by eliminating any random ideas or uncertain thoughts regarding corporate governance. Such managers, therefore, prefer to accept absolute truths and the attainment of expertise as their core pillars of governance (Kundu, 2001). Brazilian managers prefer this management style.
Brazilian managers prefer high uncertainty avoidance strategies because Brazil is equally a high uncertainty avoidance country. Singapore, Hong Kong, and Denmark are examples of other countries that equally have a high uncertainty avoidance rate (Kundu, 2001).
Indeed, Brazilian managers are particularly cautious about the possibility of embarrassment and extreme exposure in their cross-cultural management strategies (KWET, 2013).
This fear especially manifests because senior managers do not want to dent their reputation or spoil their credibility in the eyes of other employees by making wrong executive decisions. They are, therefore, particularly hesitant about embracing risky strategies in intercultural management.
Comparatively, the US has a relatively low rate of uncertainty avoidance. The high rate of job mobility in the country supports this claim. For example, in the US, managers perceive their failures in cross-cultural management as a platform for learning.
They, therefore, use this platform to strengthen their position, relative to cross-cultural management, by learning from their mistakes. However, failure in cross-cultural management often has a long-lasting impact in Brazil because it dents the confidence of the managers and the perception that their employees have of them.
The American managerial conduct in inter-cultural management significantly differs from the Brazilian version of the same in the way both groups of managers perceive their employees. Jackson (2003) says Americans and most western countries often perceive people from different cultures as a means to an end, while Brazil and most developing countries perceive people from other cultures as an end.
The concept of perceiving people as resources manifest in this understanding (especially in the American context). The main point of departure between the Brazilian and American managerial styles stem from the way both groups of managers perceive the value of people (this analysis firmly entrenches in the concept of people management, as opposed to human resource management).
In America, Managers perceive people for the value they bring to an organization, as opposed to their personalities (Jackson, 2003). This perception of people often differs from many non-western cultures, including Brazil, which appreciates the position or status of a person (who they are).
Islam (2012) explains that the difference between American and Brazilian cultures manifest in a case where a police officer stops a “senior” person for running a red light. In Brazil, if the police question such a person for breaking the law, the culprit may easily get away with the offense, purely based on their social position.
This situation is inapplicable in the US because authorities use the law to define human rights and benchmark human interactions (with one another and with the state) (Islam, 2012).
Comparatively, in Brazil, managers use authority and the law to prevent progress as opposed to fostering it. Bureaucracies mainly stamp the authority of “who is who” in the society, as opposed to leveling everybody’s interaction.
This conduct has a significant impact on cross-cultural management strategies in Brazil because it tends to attract managers towards informal governance because the parties involved in inter-cultural management may incline more towards social relationships for protection, as opposed to the rule of law.
Islam (2012) says Brazilians know this social philosophy as Jeitinho. Negotiations and interpersonal connections therefore, mainly define how people relate with one another in Brazil.
Collectivism vs. Individualism
Many scholars have studied the differences between Brazil and American cross-cultural management styles by investigating their differences through the differences that exist between the East and the West (Yuen, 2001).
Through their studies, they have shown that most American managers tend to focus more on personal priorities and goals, while Brazilian managers focus more on group priorities (Yuen, 2001). This distinction manifests through the understanding of individualism vs. Collectivist approaches.
Individualistic traits in management mostly surface in cultures that prefer closely-knit social networks where people are more inclined to take care of themselves and their immediate families before they consider the welfare of other people (Kundu, 2001). The US is a classic example of a highly individualistic country.
Since individualism is synonymous with the protestant work ethic, many US managers prefer to adopt this work ethic in their organizations. The same managers also condone individual decision-making and market value promotions. Other countries that have adopted the individualism concept in their management practices include Britain, Netherlands and Australia (Kundu, 2001).
Comparatively Brazil has relatively different management ethos that support collectivism. Collectivism ordinarily manifests where people look out for the welfare of one another (the most common reward for this management style is loyalty). Conversely, unlike the American work ethic, Brazilian managers tend to ignore the Protestant work ethic (Kundu, 2001).
The collectivist approach is, therefore, more dominant among Brazilian managers and it is often synonymous with a passive communication style. For example, intercultural relationships are often common in multinational organizations, thereby requiring managers to adopt an effective conflict-resolution framework that is fair to both parties of the cultural divide.
Brazilian managers tend to adopt a passive communication style that equally reflects in their conflict-handling strategies. The same group of managers also relies on its passive compliance approach to maintain relational harmony among employees of different cultures (Yuen, 2001).
Broadly, America’s individualistic management style differs from the Brazilian model of conflict resolution because competitive and domineering forces often characterize the American management style (Yuen, 2001). In other words, American managers often exude the importance of exerting autonomy, competitiveness, and the need for control in their conflict resolution models, for example.
Many researchers have affirmed the difference between individualistic and collectivist management styles, as exhibited by Brazilian and American managers (Yuen, 2001). Their investigations show a strong consensus in the belief that individualistic cultures assume that organizational interactions mainly occur between individuals and conflict is a normal part of this interaction.
On the contrary, collectivist cultures do not condone disorganization or personal disagreements, as individualistic cultures do (Yuen, 2001). Yuen (2001) says that most countries that share a collectivist culture have vibrant social structures and customs of avoiding disorganization and personal disagreements.
Such countries are, therefore, more concerned with marinating sound social relationships among employees from different cultural backgrounds. Comparatively American managers like to exude assertive strategies in resolving inter-cultural disputes.
The differences between American and Brazilian managerial strategies have led many observers to believe that the collectivist approach is “closest to the pure Hofstede (1980) conception of collectivism, high in conservatism and hierarchy, and low in autonomy and mastery” (Yuen, 2001, p. 5).
Although this paper shows some significant differences in the cross-cultural management styles of Brazilian and American managers, it is also important to show that some studies have demonstrated that mixed results exist between American and Brazilian managers (Yuen, 2001).
In other words, while American and Brazilian managers may differ in their managerial styles, Brazilian managers have also acted more like their American counterparts and American managers have equally acted like their Brazilian counterparts.
Yuen (2001) perceives this phenomenon as “cultural regression.” Therefore, despite the existence of original cultural differences in values and customs, Brazilian and American managers may exude the same managerial styles, especially when they work in an inter-cultural environment.
It is also crucial to say that the above comparison is also subject to interpretive difficulties because most researchers who have explored the differences in Brazilian and American managerial styles have not used a standardized approach.
This paper shows that cross-cultural management strategies between Brazil and America differ. Brazil seems to have a very confined framework for executing cross-cultural management strategies because it is highly formalized and hierarchical. Respect for authority and paternalism, therefore, strongly characterize the managerial practices of Brazilian managers.
However, the limits of the Brazilian cross-cultural management practices do not imply that Brazilian managers are less tolerant of inter-cultural diversity when compared to their American counterparts. Instead, this paper only shows that both groups of managers approach cross-cultural management differently.
For example, this paper shows that American managers are highly democratic, while their Brazilian counterparts prefer not to incorporate a lot of diversity in the organizational decision-making process. Brazilian managers, however, prefer to adopt a more paternalistic approach when incorporating inter-cultural diversity within groups.
Similarly, Brazilian managers often prefer not to see cross-cultural conflict because it does not form a natural part of their business practice. American managers also consider inter-cultural conflict as a normal part of interpersonal relationship. The differences between Brazilian and American managers are therefore apparent, but they do not presume that one group of managers is superior to the other.
This paper also acknowledges that some Brazilian and American managerial styles may resemble because of cross-cultural regression. For example, the managerial practices of Brazilian managers, who work in big cities such as Sao Paulo, tend to resemble the managerial practices of American managers because their nature of business is normally global.
On the contrary, Brazilian managers who work in small cities have a strong inclination to embrace a strong power control in their cross-cultural business practices.
Albeit inter-cultural tolerance in Brazil is apparent, the country’s cross-cultural management strategies significantly differ from the American style because Brazilian managers are uniquely cautious in the way they do their businesses. It is, therefore, unsurprising that Brazilian managers implement changes slowly and cautiously.
Through this understanding, it is correct to say that most Brazilian managers require a lot of time to think, plan, and evaluate their cross-cultural strategies before they announce any serious business decision. Comparatively, American managers are more “free-spirited” in their management approaches. The differences between both groups of managers, therefore, remain apparent.
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Hofstede, G. (1980). Culture’s Consequences: International Differences in Work-related Values. Beverly Hills, CA: Sage Publications.
Islam, G. (2012). Between unity and diversity: historical and cultural foundations of Brazilian management. European J. International Management, 6(3), 265-282.
Jackson, T. (2003). Cross-Cultural Management and NGO Capacity Building. New York: INTRAC.
Kundu, S. (2001). Managing Cross-Cultural Diversity: A Challenge for Present And Future Organizations. Delhi Business Review, 2(2), 44-53.
KWET. (2013). Intercultural Management – Brazil. Web.
Yuen, E. (2001). Individualism-collectivism and Conflict Resolution Styles: A cross- cultural study of managers in Singapore. Singapore: University of Singapore.