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Motivating Employees: Japanese Construction Company Case Study

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Updated: Dec 19th, 2019


The case study shows how employees can be motivated by managing cultural diversity in the Japanese Construction Company. The company is Japanese leading contractors with around 300 employees from diverse backgrounds including Japanese, Filipinos, British, Turks, and Nepalese.

The company mainly works for tunnels with the Japanese government and MTR in Hong Kong. Therefore, it can be considered as an international enterprise.

The current problem with the Japanese Construction Company is a mixed culture brought about by the different races among the employees. Employee turnover rate is very high, approximately 25 percent per year. Similarly, there is high sick leave rate for both male and female employees. In addition, there is poor communication among the employees as well as between the management and the lower staff.

The firm cannot provide attractive benefits to the staff, yet they are overworked. No training schemes are put in place and the employees do not see any future career development. Relationship between staff and management is weakening further due to poor working conditions.

Evidently, very few people are joining the company though the firm has advertized new posts. The new employees are not even oriented to the company workings. The management lacks innovation hence cannot meet societal changes.

The need to investigate the relationship between cultural diversity and employee motivation arose from the fact that the problem is escalating, yet nobody seems to bother about it. The firm is losing potential employees and the output per employee is very low. I was employed in the company as the human resource manager on a three-month contract. What I understand is that HRM is critical to any issue pertaining to employees.

Despite weaknesses in other management fields, most of the problems perceived are related to HRM directly. I expect the report from my investigation to change the perspectives and actions of the management for the wellbeing of the employees and the company at large. It is also my wish to put theoretical knowledge about cultural diversity and motivation into practice.

Conceptually, the issue at Japanese Construction Company is multidimensional as the problem suggests. Motivated workforce consists of employees who decide consciously to devote substantial effort to attaining something they perceive value in it. The relationship between cultural diversity and employee motivation emerges in this problem.

Hence, implicit theory of motivation is important since it explains motivation in the cultural context. Likewise, the problem in Japanese Construction Company is related to leadership concept. The relationship is reflected in the definition of leadership as the influence that an individual apply upon the goal attainment of others in the organization context.

The influence can simply be summarized as the ability of an individual to motivate others. Leadership development is not evident in the case of Japanese Construction Company whose workforce consists of employees from diverse cultures. Issues such as high rate of sick leave and turnover suggest lack of influence exerted upon the goal attainment of the employees.

Literature review

Although the issue of motivation seems to revolve around the area of human resource, it actually touches every other business discipline. Indeed, the issue starts to be addressed during the conception of the business plan.

The numerous factors that involve motivation surround organization’s response to aspects such as cultural diversity, organizational culture, performance metrics, and rewards. Evidently, this observation brings the issue back to leadership as the core driver of motivation.

Indeed, leadership is a vital concept that influences motivation in many contexts. It has been a concept considered as the ability of a person to influence, motivate, and make others able to contribute towards organization’s effectiveness and success.

Leadership theories have been used to explain attributes of good leadership, perceptions, and genuine behaviors. Motivation theories have been applied to different settings to assist in understanding how various organizational factors can influence leadership. The explanation indicates the direct relationship between leadership theories and motivation theories.

Implicit leadership theory defines individuals as having viewpoints, assumptions, and convictions about the behaviors and attributes that differentiate leaders from one another (Hartog, House, Hanges, Ruiz-Quintanilla & Dorfman, 1999). The theory leverages the ideals people place on certain attributes and behaviors, and their intentions pertinent to approval and ratification of the leader’s behavior.

Leadership qualities are associated with individuals based on the level of similarity or fit between the behaviors enacted and the leadership concept held by the creditors. The theory manages the leadership exercise, the sanction of leaders, and the discernment of leaders as effective, influential, and acceptable.

Hofstede (1984) argues that the beliefs and ideologies held by members of different cultures influence the level to which behaviors of groups, societies, and individuals within the cultures are sanctioned. They also leverage the level to which they are perceived as effective, satisfactory, and justifiable (Hofstede, 1984).

Hofstede’s version of this theory includes four core dimensions of cultural principles and values: Power Distance-Power Equalization, Masculinity-Femininity, Individualism-Collectivism, and Tolerance-Intolerance. The dimensions underline the cultural variations that exist in organizations. They are therefore essential in understanding other cultures and knowing how to work with people from different cultures.

At the same time, implicit motivation theory is a model of non-conscious motivations. It argues that the crucial nature of human motivation can be apprehended through three unspoken motives: affiliation, realization, and power. Implicit motives contrast the conscious ethics and behavioral intentions by being extrapolative of motives in a long span of time.

The theory normally explains the factors that establish employee motivation in a complex environment while predicting on the long-term behavior, adaptation, and enactment of the preferred leadership. In the cultural perspective, the theory predicts the way members of the societies can be motivated and the meticulous leadership that can apply to those cultures and allow for continued enthusiasm.

Studies such as that conducted by Shahin and Wright (2004) indicate that the factors that determine the ideal leadership style differ across countries. The explanation is that the leadership styles are not universal. Indeed, there are variations among cultures pertaining to attributes such as power distance, uncertainty avoidance, and masculinity-femininity.

Nevertheless, attributes like prudence, motivation arouser, accountability, communicative, appealing, confidence builder, and energetic are considered to contribute to ideal leadership. For example, studies on leadership styles demonstrate that transformational leadership style predicted different attributes in some cultures unlike transactional leadership style (Walumbwa, Lawler, & Avilio, 2007).

Therefore, the leadership styles may not be appropriate in all countries, but as long as any of the style is used appropriately and in the proper environment, the response of the followers will be positive.

Motivational techniques that uphold employee involvement in the company’s operations are considered very effective (Taleghani, Salmani & Taatian, 2010).

Essentially, employee involvement in Japanese Construction Company can be reinforced by differential rewards allotment; allowing workers to participate; approaching individual workers; charismatic leadership; and highlighting on the intrinsic motivation. The meaning of each technique depends on the cultural ideals evident in the self.

Worker appraisal of the reward system in addition to motivation potential can be shaped by the two core principles of power distance and collectivism in opposition to individualism. In an individualistic culture, people make use of independent personal principles to review the effect of motivation incentives on their sense of comfort and confidence.

Conversely, a group-focused culture employs interdependent, group-based ideologies. In cultures characterized by high echelons of inequality or power distance, companies ensure that the staff has strong respect for their leaders and circumvent criticizing. Hofstede, Neuijn, Ohavy and Sanders (1991) note that there are large disparities in status symbol, rewards, and quality of work-life.

Three allocation philosophies guide compensation systems for companies characterized by cultural diversity. They include the key ideas of equality, equity, and need. The ideologies fluctuate across cultures and symbolize the outcomes of preferences between collectivism opposed to individualism and high power differential opposed to egalitarianism.

Equity leads to individual incentive plans based on individual valuation of employees’ performance. Performance that establishes the benefits assigned to a particular member of staff by the company. In societies of collectivism or low power differential where teamwork is promoted over personal attainment, the tuneful canon is that of equality.

Allowing employees to participate vigorously in a company has been associated with three emotional factors. First is the motivational aspect that satisfies intrinsic work motivation properties by allowing greater control, accountability, and independence.

Secondly, cognitive aspect of sharing information is aided by open communication amidst all group members. Finally, group participation develops a vibrant process that wields pressure on staff to augment group decision.

Cultural ideals often leverage adherence to the group. In some groups for example, worker participation is leveraged by cultural identities and is attached to the cultural arrangement that supports certain ideals. Hence, worker participation in a company stresses on harmonizing with cultural standards, but in the shape of participation via representatives.

Assurance to the team’s goals is dictated by group solidity, which is exposed to cultural constraint such as cultural taboos and viewpoints. Erez, Earley and Hulin (1985) explain that such essentials have sometimes constrained individual employees from becoming totally dedicated to all group activities.

Besides, the challenges of integrating human capital strategy into the culture do not look like other cultural transformation initiatives. These challenges begin with the guarantee from leadership and if the leader is not dedicated, the effort is hardly considered a priority. To great failure, leaders who do not perceive to lead the diverse teams fail to involve every member in the daily processes of diversity management.

Data and sources

The methodology for the case study involved a comprehensive investigation of secondary sources that could be acquired. The human resource department that I work in became the major source of information. I began by reviewing the opinions, suggestions, complaints, and advices posted through the suggestion box located at the entrance to the department premises.

I then reviewed documents within the department particularly the HRM strategies, policies on training and development, and company’s business plan. The information from these sources was very helpful, though I considered it incomplete and targeted different settings. The next sources were company’s advertisements for new jobs and government policies on construction contracts.

The reason for engaging in extensive research was to eliminate biasness in the information. Cultural diversity is a sensitive issue that would require the opinion of different parties. My aim was to acquire information on the areas that the employees feel the company has failed as much as the effort that the firm has put towards addressing the ethnicity issue.

Moreover, I considered it important to get information on government input towards workforce diversity. The information acquired was comprehensive and detailed as the sources from different origins could be compared. However, as a new staff in the company, the reliability of the information from the company could not be guaranteed.

It took several weeks after request to get the documents from the head office. I concluded that a senior staff was not willing to release them. Therefore, I decided to analyze the information using qualitative content analysis technique as an effort to validate the information.

My focus was on diversity and cultural aspects such as discrimination, inequality, racism, slavery, my business, colleagues, nationality, gender and so on. I investigated in details the reasons, themes, and situations that led to the emergence of these aspects.

The case

Leaders who uphold an individualistic culture lead the Japanese Construction Company. The company however has its operations in a culturally diverse region. Concerning power distance, the company leadership is not focused on impressing employees with low power distance.

The company has a hierarchical organization and the management style is not supportive. The working environment in the company is not friendly and cooperative. It lacks sound structured selection and recruitment process, performance appraisal system, clear goals for employees, and standardized service mapping. The service mapping is not modified according to the culture of the respective employees.

The uncertainty avoidance for the company is extremely rated and the employees do not receive enough training on team working. Individualism is high and the leadership sometimes has to focus on collective achievement. The company has extreme masculinity and therefore exist different opportunities for male and female employees.

Stakeholder relationship is not the important value for the company. In addition, the company does not look for long-term and short-term orientation. Conclusively, the company leadership is characterized by high power distance, high individualism, extreme uncertainty avoidance, extreme masculinity, and short-term orientation.

Japanese Construction Company operating on a national scale has culturally diverse employees and customers. Hence, it should emphasize on giving the greatest value by focusing on their diverse cultures. To ensure success of the business, leadership development should account for cultural differences.

However, the diverse culture, views, and ideas of all employees and suppliers are not taken into consideration. The management does not understand that the gusts hail from some cultures where certain practices or behaviors are considered as taboos.

In order to get the best from the organization’s cross-cultural employees, enterprises have learnt as much as possible about the manner in which cultural principles are applied. The management in this case lacks the knowledge about the culture it interacts with as much as possible. In addition, it does not trust preconceived stereotypes or perceptions.

All learning involves some level of culture shock and is an important factor in any successful strategy (Connerley & Pedersen, 2005). Organizations that have acknowledged that the differences among cultures can benefit them in many ways have allowed for the development of a wide range of leadership skills. The best leadership is about empowering and motivating others to cultivate for a common goal.

That leadership can be achieved regardless of the barriers created by cultural diversity. Unfortunately, the Japanese company lacks clear understanding and recognition of a society’s unique procedures and standards hence the leaders are unable to get value from the employees.

In addition, respecting different cultures is not an important step in developing leadership skills across cultures for the Japanese Construction Company. Cultural aspects such as ethnicity, race, religion, and nationality do not often shape individuals although it is important to adjust and accommodate them accordingly. Cultures acknowledge and explore cultural issues in a manner that they are at ease.

For example, some cultures that use a hierarchical structure will perceive the leadership style of another society as being weak. Cultural-conscious organizations apply the most appropriate approach to ensure a leadership that avoids cultural collisions, ensures equality among the employees, and promotes workforce diversity.

Cross-cultural misunderstanding in the Japanese Construction Company is not minimized by improving communication skills. Despite the leaders having the role of ensuring that all people understand any message conveyed, the essential communication lacks in the company.

Cross-cultural leadership within the firm lacks a clear understanding of the differences that exist among cultures that embrace direct and indirect communication. The leaders are unable to understand the cultural differences, hence do not adjust their behaviors and techniques accordingly.

Unlike many businesses that attend to culturally diverse employees, the Japanese company does not consider the needs and expectations of the host community. It is important to know the perceptions and understanding of the communities in construction business and recognize that culture will probably have contradictory fads (Wassler, 2010).

The reaction of host communities depends on the cultural differences and the benefit the response brings to the organization. The observation in our case is that different personalities have different implications on the relationship among the employees. Their perceptions and expectations differ.

The company does not acknowledge that the best response to the differing needs and expectations is that which will bring satisfaction and promote employee relationship. Ap and Compton (1993) proposed a model that can lead to such a response as to include four strategies: embracement, tolerance, adjustment, and withdrawal.

The company does not embrace the differences of the employees through the cultivation of positive feeling about the impacts. Management does not tolerate the impacts and motivate the employees in order to cultivate acceptance. Likewise, the employees neither adjust to the changes emerging from diversity nor encourage the others to adjust. Therefore, negative perceptions are allowed to take over.

Likewise, employee expectations will differ according to cultural variations. They also influence the effectiveness of management strategies. Management of these expectations in the Japanese Construction Company is not focused on identifying the specific expectations as well as developing strategies to meet the expectations.

The process does not involve planning where the management anticipates the employees next move; communicates the expectations with stakeholders; and develops initiatives to meet the expectations. The most important idea here is team working where the employees can encourage and support each other in order to meet the diverse needs and expectations.

Productive work groups that nurture good team working are essential to an effective workplace culture. The company’s diverse community ideally means a culturally diverse workforce. Failure to ensure that the work teams developed are culturally diverse has negative outcomes.

The teams do not contribute to high performance since they lack the potential to identify problems from a range of perspectives and to enhance problem solving as well as decision-making and innovation.

For successful organizations, team development starts by establishing benchmarks for diversity that will lead to the proper selection of team members. A good example is observed in Ford Company whose natural groups of operators based on geography, process, size, reporting relationships and so on, work together to achieve a common goal.

The Sluggish performance of the construction company is an outcome of careless planning, an edge on team structures, disloyal senior management, ignorance, incomplete training, and lack of reward programs.

Diversity goals are not included in the appraisal systems and performance plan. In fact, these weaknesses heighten the situation when they align with the service policies, practice, and procedures. Leaders in the company ignore cultural diversity and do not even ensure a sustained process, especially when ‘the moment of truth’ sets in.

Conclusion and recommendations

Managing cultural diversity generally refers to the acceptance of the workforce as that consisting of people from diverse backgrounds. The diversity may consist of visible and non-visible variations that include aspects like sex, age, personality, nationality, ethnicity, race, and the working style. It is based on the idea that harnessing these variations will build a productive environment.

An environment in which all people feel valued, where talents are nurtured, and organizational objectives met. Through proper and effective approach to this dilemma, the organization can rationalize the relevant training and development strategies and policies. The involved workers may perceive respect from the organization and the management can notice and bring satisfaction to the employees.

In order to manage cultural diversity in the workforce, the construction company can engage various activities. In this respect, the organization can create a strong involvement culture, where workers are developed, encouraged, and empowered to work as a group.

Structuring diversity initiatives in a manner that emphasizes on previous discriminations or differences has a negative outcome on the aptitude of the company to manage cultural diversity effectively (Cooper & Burke, 2010). Stressing on integration and learning view has a rousing outcome on both the employees and management and ensures an enduring success of the policy.

Similar to other strategies for organizational change, the company management should show commitment to cultural diversity. It is very accountable to ensure that diversity strategies are implemented successfully within the organization.

Williams, Champion and Hall (2011, p.249) lament on the polarizing effect a strategy has on the staff members if the strategy focuses on one demographic group. Managing cultural diversity in the company must involve valuing the cultural differences of all members to fuse them under a common banner.

Developing working teams and emphasizing their solidarity facilitates integration and communication of work as well as creating pride and trust. Evaluation of the effectiveness of change strategies ensures that cultural barriers that exist are identified and addressed earlier before they accumulate into a bigger problem.


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