The concept of culture is surrounded by controversies in regards to its definition and conceptualization. This is because it means different things to different people. Many anthropologists, sociologists and psychologists have given their views in regards to what actually constitutes culture and what does not. Even though various authors usually have a different definition of the concept, most of them seem to agree that culture is generally defined as the people’s way of life. However, the concept is best understood by looking at it from three levels namely the universal, the subgroup and the individual level. Many authors have however presented the concept as a homogenous entity, giving the impression that people who share culture usually have similar personality traits and attributes. However, this position has been challenged especially by structuralists, who argue that even though culture implies shared values, beliefs and norms, these largely manifest themselves as perceptions but when it comes to the practical behaviour, people may not necessarily match it with their cultures. Major cultural theories include diffusionism, evolution theory of culture, the ecological perspective, historical particularism and structuralism. The various authors who have made their contribution to the debate on culture include Emile Durkheim, Franz Boaz among others. The discussion is concerned with how cultural differences affect the efficiency of expatriate managers.
This paper is a dissertation based on the topic of culture. The objective of the dissertation is to critically analyse the impact of cultural differences on the efficiency of Arabian managers working at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Singapore. The research aims at looking at whether cultural differences have an impact on practical behaviours of individuals working as expatriate managers. This aim is based on two research objectives namely whether culture is a homogenous entity or it varies from individual to the other and whether all people of the same culture experience it the same way. The paper starts with a literature review, which looks at the available literature on the field of culture. Specifically, the review looks at the concept of culture, the phenomenon of culture shock, the various theories of culture, the Hofstede’s five cultural dimensions and organisational culture in the management of organisations.
From the literature review, it emerges that culture is a very dynamic and abstract concept, which must be approached with caution. Culture composes of those values, beliefs and norms which are passed from generation to the other mainly through language. The five cultural dimensions of Hofstede are probably the most cited works in explaining cultural diversity. However, they have been criticised especially for their assumption that culture is a homogenous concept.
When people move from their own culture to another, and especially expatriate managers, they usually experience what is referred to as culture shock, which is a feeling of disorientation. This culture shock interferes with their ability to discharge their duties effectively. However, with time, they usually get accustomed to the culture and start functioning effectively and efficiently. Cultural differences between two countries also affect the relationship between the employees and the management and there is a need for the management to establish a cohesive organisational culture, in which all the employees of the organisation feel part and parcel of the organisation irrespective of their cultural backgrounds. This is to say that even though culture may impede good relationships at the work place, the same culture may be modified through learning and motivation to make all the employees of an organisation feel comfortable while discharging their duties.
After the literature review comes the chapter on methodology, which focuses on how the research was conducted. Basically, the research relied on information obtained by interviewing the Arabian managers at the mandarin oriental hotel in Singapore. Information was also obtained about the cultural differences between the two countries. This information was based on Hofstede’s five cultural dimensions.
The other chapter is about the findings and analysis of the information about the impact of cultural differences on the efficiency of Arabian managers in Singapore. The last chapter is a conclusion, which sums up the paper by citing the major arguments. Also included are recommendations on how expatriate managers can overcome culture shock and the challenges of managing a culturally diverse workforce. The paper uses various academic resources including books, journal publications and information obtained from various websites. The paper concludes that there is a need for expatriate managers to be equipped with training on cultural diversity for them to get knowledge of what they should expect from their new places of work. This would reduce the impacts of culture shock as well as boost their managerial skills.
This chapter is a discussion of the literature on culture. The section uses the literature which is relevant in answering the objectives of the topic of study. The theoretical models used in the literature on culture are the phenomenon of culture shock, the diffusionism theory, the ecological perspective, the functionalism perspective, the cultural evolution theory and the structuralists’ perspective. Also included in the discussion are Dr Geert Hofstede’s cultural dimensions which include Power Distance Index (PDI), Masculinity versus Femininity (MAS), Uncertainty Avoidance Index (UAI), Individualism versus Collectivism (IDV) and Long Term Orientation (LTO).
The aim of the literature review is to discuss the concept of culture as presented by various theorists and whether culture is homogenous or not, which forms the basis of the research questions of the research.
The Concept of Culture
The word culture is derived from two Latin words namely ‘cultura’ meaning tending and ‘colera’ meaning to cherish. As per these two words, therefore, culture comprises those things that are cherished or are important to us as people. It’s defined as people’s ways of life and of doing things. It is the accepted and patterned ways of behaviour of people. It’s a body of common understanding, which encompasses attitudes, values, and a history shared by a group of people through language, history and music. Culture exists in three levels namely the societal level, the subcultural level and the cultural universal level (Pennsylvania Bureau of General and Academic Education, 1969).
At the societal level, each person will most likely identify him or herself with a given society distinct from others in terms of language and tradition, among other aspects. When people speak a certain language like Zulu, Spanish or French, they are referring to shared medium of communication and symbolism which sets each of them apart from the other (White and Dillingham, 1973).
At the subcultural level, people from different backgrounds live together in complex, diverse and multi-ethnic societies but maintain their original cultural traditions. Because of this, they are likely to be part of an identifiable subculture in the new society, that is, the shared cultural traits reveal their subculture and set them apart from the rest of the society. For example, Indians living in Africa (William, 2010).
The members of a subculture share a common identity, food, tradition, dialect, history or religious beliefs. With time, the external differences between members of a subculture and the dominant culture blur and effectively disappear and the subculture cease to exist except the group’s name and the claims to common ancestry (Bentley, Doherty and Doty, 1974).
At the universal level, there is the argument that despite the fact that there are many differences among people, there are some learned behaviours shared by all human beings irrespective of where they live in the world. Some of these cross-cutting practices include means of production or economic activities, language, the use of age and gender as criteria for classifying people, the institutions of family and marriage, the sexual division of labour or what are referred to as gender roles, rules to regulate sexual behaviour, body ornamentation, rituals and ceremonies (Reeves-Ellington and Yammarino, 2010).
One characteristic of culture is that it is an adaptive mechanism. This means that people are able to survive in different climatic conditions mainly due to the adaptive nature of culture. This is what has made it possible for people to live in temperate or very cold regions of the northern hemisphere. Over time, people have been able to invent fire, warm clothing, warm housing, efficient hunting skills, agriculture and commerce. This has made it possible for humans to inhabit areas which were previously not habitable. Therefore, culture gives human beings a major selective advantage in the competition to survive in various environments than other species and has made man the most distractive large animal of the land. It has made it possible for more human beings to survive, consequently leading to scarcity of resources, immigration, high population and crime (Nanda and Warms, 2011).
Another characteristic of culture is that it is learned. Babies are born with a genetic capacity to learn and absorb the surrounding environment. They are born without any culture but their genetic predisposition makes it possible for them to learn the language and other cultural traits. It is for these reasons that babies are said to have no tribe, ethnic group or race but they are socialised to be members of a given ethnic group or race (Weinshall, 1993).
The other attribute of culture is that it is dynamic, meaning that it is constantly changing as new cultural traits are acquired and some old ones are lost. For example, many traditional practices in many African societies like female genital cutting have been lost while other values like education for the girl child have become very popular. Many cultural changes occur as a result of invention or diffusion of cultural traits from other societies. This diffusion may be direct, that is when two societies interact through trade or intermarriage. People also adopt some practices of their neighbours, a process called acculturation which is a form of diffusion in which contact is a must. On the other hand, diffusion may be forced, that is when culture is enforced usually by a dominant group to a minority group. Diffusion can be indirect when say for example ethnic group A is influenced by ethnic group B through ethnic group C, or A influenced by C through B. It can also occur through mass media as well as the electronic and print media.
Culture can also be said to be ethnocentric, which is a tendency to look at one’s own culture as superior to others and to apply one’s own cultural values in judging the behaviour and believes of other people. The way we interact and do things in our culture seems quite natural of us. In fact, we are unaware of our cultures since we are too close to them; this has been explained using the saying that expecting somebody to be aware and sensitive to his own culture is like expecting a fish to be aware that it is wet. For example, most Africans practice male circumcision, but there are some groups that do not do it and they find it very odd. Similarly, most Western industrialised societies find polygamy quit unacceptable while most Africans and Muslims find it very acceptable. Eating dogs in South East Asia shocks many Europeans and Americans who keep the dogs as pets (Geertz, 1973).
Within a given culture, there are usually differentiation and specialisations. In virtually all societies, there are bodies of knowledge that are limited to particular social classes or groups of people. There are also gender-based specialisations, that is, roles excepted to be performed by boys as opposed to girls, men and not women, and so on. In traditional society, some people specialised in certain occupations. Men for example specialised in medicine, rainmaking, and as blacksmiths among others. In modern society, men specialise in law, medicine, and engineering among others while women specialise in social work, sociology and the languages. Also, people specialise in different modes of production (Weinshall, 1993).
Different cultures allow different kinds of behaviour and therefore something permissible in one culture is forbidden in another. Culture regulates how various activities should be carried out, what is expected of men, women, girls, boys, husbands and wives. The rules that govern the behaviour are usually flexible. What different cultures allow as permissible behaviour can lead to a clash of cultures.
Cultures do not exist in isolation. In the world today, there are virtually no societies living in isolation due to the integrative role of the state, improvement of infrastructure, and cultural reorganisation which has enhanced unity among different cultures. Many groups previously living in remote areas unaware of what is happening are no longer there. Western Europe and America and lately China have been extremely influential in shaping the cultural levels and economies of the world.
Culture has got several elements. One of them is the material element which includes tangible traits such as tools, utensils, buildings and artefacts used by a group of people. Cultures also have laws which govern social relationships. There are some rules and guidelines on the property, the structure of government, relationship with families, clans, and religions. Some sentimental elements of culture include social values, norms, and behaviour standards and they are principles in which beliefs are placed. Cultures approve and disapprove of certain things. For example, the approval of personal cleanliness, kindness, respect of the elderly by the young and the disapproval of things like theft, robbery, killing and incest (Egger, 2008, p. 26).
Theories of Culture
The concept of culture is very elusive has attracted the attention of many theorists. Some of the theorists who have made contributions to the debate of culture in terms of its constituents include Emile Durkheim, Franz Boaz, Clifford Geertz, and Ruth Benedict. Most of the theorists have expressed interest in the definition of the concept and its scope.
In this regards, there are many theories of conceptualizing culture. Some of the theories are old while others are contemporary. The central argument of the debate on culture is based on the question of whether culture is a homogenous concept or it varies from individual to individual. Many theories tend to argue that people of the same culture usually have similar traits in terms of behaviour, norms, beliefs and values. However, there are those who are of the view that culture manifests itself differently in all individuals and that the mental constructs of culture are not necessarily manifested in the individuals’ practical behaviour, to mean that what may be seen as universal characteristics of a group of people may not be necessarily true because culture manifests itself from the universal level to the individual level through the subcultural level.
In order therefore for one to understand culture properly, one must look at it from the universal level then to the subcultural level and finally at the individual level. If this is done, it would be found out that culture is really not homogenous as many theorists tend to point out but rather, it is a varied concept which is experienced differently by different people, meaning that people who belong to the same culture may have different traits in spite of belonging to similar historical background, economic and social status as well as political and religious ideologies. This debate is concerned with analysing the different theories of culture in relation to the argument that culture is not a homogenous entity but rather a phenomenon which manifests itself differently in different individuals. It will be shown how the theories come close to the argument and how far they go in effectively analysing culture up to the individual level.
One of the theories of culture is what is popularly known as diffusionism. This theory originated with early anthropologists, who explained culture as a phenomenon which was composed primarily of certain traits, which diffused from one society to the other, thus making many people belong to the same culture. Their argument was that all cultural attributes of a given society are acquired through diffusion (Thompson, 1994). The critics of the theory, however, put the theory at the task for its failure to explain why some cultural traits were acquired and others were not, or simply put, why did some attributes diffuse faster than others. Therefore, the theory failed to explain effectively what culture is by only giving a very broad and wide explanation, without narrowing down to study what happens at the individual level.
The other theory is that of cultural evolution theory, which contends that culture, has some relationship to the evolution stages of human species. In a bid to explain why different people have different cultures, the theory classifies societies as belonging to different cultures by looking at the social complexity of some societies and then putting people of same social complexity to a particular culture. The theory has however been criticised for assuming that the acquisition of cultural traits is synonymous to human development, which has been seen by many as moving from primitive to modern societies (Carneiro,2003). This is not a correct position because even in the modern societies, there are some people who still exhibit some traditional cultural traits; to mean that culture is not only a continuous process but it may be discontinuous as well.
The other theory of culture is the ecological theory, whose proponents argue that the environment in which people live plays a crucial role in determining the culture of a particular group of people (White, 2007). If for instance, a group of people live proximal to a lake or sea, they are presumed to be fishermen. Likewise, if people live near a mountain, they are presumed to be hunters and gatherers. But this is not always the case because there are cases where people living proximal to a lake engage in other economic activities like beekeeping. This theory there falls short of explaining culture at the individual level (Sutton, 2010).
Another theory of explaining culture is the structural functionalism theory. According to this theory, culture is a system of beliefs and norms which is used to strengthen social institutions such as family, school and governments. The argument of the structural functionalism theory is that societies are naturally stable due to the harmony which exists between its constituent parts. This harmony according to them is brought about by shared culture (Schultz, 1995). However, they have been criticized for failing to explain why there are conflicts in the society, meaning that the fact that people belong to the same culture does not necessarily mean sharing the same values, interests, norms and beliefs, and that is why conflict exists within the society.
According to historical particularists, culture is a product of people’s history. But they are not able to explain how and why culture changes to deviate from some historical norms of a particular society (Aswathappa and Dash, 2008). On their part, structuralists are interested in deriving universal mental processes and patterns from the relationships between various cultural constructs of different societies. However, these theorists argue that such mental processes and patterns may be related or not be related to the practical behaviour of such individuals. This theory is therefore considered as liberal in its attempt to explain culture. This is because it acknowledges the existence of differences in personality traits among people of the same cultures (Piaget, 1971).
Modern anthropologists have shifted the debate of what culture is and what it entails from following the so called elusive cultural laws based on historical, economic and political forces to the focus on social order and how various individual traits within a society shape the social order of a given society.
From this literature review, two research questions arise. They include whether culture is a homogenous entity or it is subjective and whether it manifests itself the same way in all people of the same culture. These research questions are answered in the section of findings and analysis.
The Phenomenon of Culture Shock
As explained earlier, culture is something which is internalised, meaning that it is part and parcel of individuals. This makes it hard for individuals to see things from the viewpoint of other cultures but like to see them only from their cultural point of view; in other words, culture is always resistant to any change because the human nature is such that it makes people comfortable with what they know, even if it’s bad then what is new or strange to them (Delanoy, Köberl and Tschachler, 1993).
Due to this, many people find it very hard to adopt, adapt and appreciate new cultures. When people are transferred to work as expatriates, or when they relocate due to insecurity, seeking for education or for holiday reasons, they usually have a feeling of disorientation due to the experience brought about by their relocation to the new places. This feeling is what is referred to as culture shock. It manifests itself differently in terms of time and intensity among different people, meaning that some people experience the disorientation immediately while others experience it after some time. The same applies to the manner in which the individuals adapt to the new culture. Some adapt very easily, others take time to adapt while others fail to adapt at all but they stick to their own culture and find means of surviving in the new environment.
The symptoms of culture shock include sleep-related problems, anger, being homesick, withdrawal from the society and feelings of helplessness, boredom, hostility or negative attitude towards the host nationals, an increase of weight due to compulsive eating, feeling irritated, yearning to meet home friends, being overly concerned with health and cleanliness and stagnation in terms of adaptation. Culture shock takes place in four district stages. These are disused below (Marx, 2001).
Phases or Stages of Culture Shock
The honeymoon stage
As the name implies, the stage is usually filled with excitement, joy and curiosity to know about the new culture. Individuals are usually very appreciative of the new culture as opposed to their own culture. They like the food, the habits of the local people, and the general way of life and routine. They are also very keen to make some observations and discoveries about the new culture and sometimes they get fascinated by these observations. They like associating or relating to people who are polite to them and also prefer speaking to those who know their language. Just the way a honeymoon comes to an end, the period ends in a matter of several weeks to around three months (Samovar, Porter and McDaniel, 2010).
After the honey moon stage, things start becoming real to the individuals. The joy and excitement in the honeymoon stage are replaced with feelings of discomfort, frustrations and anger. These bad feelings may emanate from such things as differences in public hygiene, accessibility to food and drinks, traffic rules and regulations, language barriers, and other events and routines which the visiting individuals may perceive as offensive or in contrast to their own culture (Neuliep, 2006).
The unpleasant feelings may also emanate from lack of effective communications skills and difficulties in accessing treatment or other basic services like transport, and purchasing of some basic commodities, which may have different names in the host country. Language barriers worsen the problem by making it hard for individuals to establish relationships with people of the host country. Some people become lonely during this stage.
After the problems of the negotiation stage, the individual enters the most important stage of adjustment. For most people, this starts after a period of six months. During this stage, the individual gets accustomed to the local culture by developing some routines. The adjustment is made possible by the ability of the person to know what he or she should expect in different situations and this makes him or her feel not as a stranger anymore. The new culture starts making sense to the individual as he or she develops skills of dealing with problems associated with the new culture. Life becomes normal and the individual is no longer concerned with adjustment issues but only concerned with basic living just like anybody else. He or she is able to be in touch with the issues which bother the locals and starts seeing things from the perspective of that culture.
During this stage, some people may be unable to be integrated with the new culture due to their resistance. When this happens, they usually isolate themselves and live in places where there are others who are like them. This category of people also have problems in getting used to their own culture when they go back home. Other people may fully integrate and become accustomed to the new culture. They know the local language, local ways of life and even become business people. Some of them may stay in that country forever not to return home. Other people accept some aspects of the new culture but reject others. They usually have their blended culture, which contains some elements of their culture and elements of the new one. These people usually have no problems with reintegration once they return to their home countries.
During this stage, the individuals are able to live comfortably and get fully involved in the new culture. They are at par with the hosts in terms of understanding all the issues which are of concern to the country and they sometimes get into leadership positions. They also establish very strong relationships with people of the host country. Some even marry or get married while others have very strong social networks. While they master the new culture, they also retain some distinct aspects of their culture such as accent, language and old friends from their home country.
Hofstede’s cultural dimensions
In a bid to explain the culture, anthropologists, sociologists, as well as psychologists, use theories as guides in developing their arguments about culture. There are many theoretical models of culture depending on the aspect of culture being explained or investigated. This means that a particular theory may be applicable in explaining or understanding aspect A of culture but inapplicable in explaining or understanding aspect B of culture (Usoro and Kuofie, 2006, pp.16-25). Some of the theoretical models which have been widely used in explaining cultures for different countries are the Hofstede’s cultural dimensions, which were coined by the renowned anthropologists cum psychologists Dr Geert Hofstede. He defined culture as ‘a collective programming of the mind which distinguishes one group from another’ (Jones, 2007). In his research, he came up with five dimensions of differentiating cultures for different countries which I have already outlined above (Itim International, n.d.).
These theoretical models are most applicable in international business because they analyse each country’s five (5) cultural dimensions and gives the business owners and investors an overview of what they should expect when doing business in a particular country (Itim International, n.d.).
Power is a concept used to refer to the possession of the ability to direct or influence others either through coercion or dialogue to behave in a certain manner. Power Distance Index (PDI) focuses on the equality or inequality between people in social institutions and the extent to which the citizens embrace or do not embrace it. High PDI means that there are a lot of inequalities in wealth and power distribution within the society as well as that the society has a high degree of embracing or endorsing such inequalities. This is characteristic of many caste systems in which social upward mobility is very low. On the other hand, a low PDI signifies that there are minimal inequalities in the distribution of power and wealth within a society. It also means that the citizens do not embrace inequality but fight for equality (Singh, 2005.pp.170-171).
According to Hofstede’s cultural dimensions, the world’s average ranking in the power distance index is 56.6%. What this means is that the world is generally characterized by disparities in the distribution of power and wealth, especially between the rich and the poor or the developed and the developing countries. However, with the massive campaigns against inequalities by grassroots movements and the vibrant civil society, the world is likely to witness a small power distance in the near future, which will reduce the gaps in wealth and power distribution in social institutions.
The other model for differentiating cultures is the level of Individualism (IDV) amongst the citizens of a country. This model looks at how people emphasise individual or collective success and achievement. A high ranking in IDV signifies that individuality is paramount in that society and that the individuals or citizens tend to form very loose interpersonal relationships. A low ranking in the same means that the people are more cohesive in nature and that they value collective success more than individual success. These societies are mostly found in those communities which still value extended familial arrangements, in which everything, work and success included, is perceived as a responsibility and a product of the collective effort of the people rather than of an individual or few individuals (Itim International, n.d.).
Masculinity (MAS) is the other model presented by Hofstede. This looks at the extent to which gender differences affect the distribution and control of power and wealth among citizens of a country. It also looks at the extent to which men embrace feminine roles and values as well as how the women embrace masculine roles and values. According to Schermerhorn, Hunt, and Osborn, this model is technically used to “reflect the degree to which organisations emphasise competition and assertiveness versus interpersonal sensitivity and concern for relationships” (Schermerhorn, Hunt, and Osborn, 2004). In countries where MAS rankings are high, roles are highly differentiated along gender lines whereby there are those roles and jobs which are performed or done by women and those which are performed or done by men. The reverse is true for a country with a low MAS ranking, meaning that both men and women have similar roles and values, which are not highly differentiated (International business centre. n.d).
According to Hofstede’s cultural dimensions, the world’s average ranking in masculinity is 51%. This is an indication of a society which is almost homogenous in terms of male and female roles, values and perceptions. However, this does not in any way mean that those with a feminine approach to leadership will be more effective in leading nongovernmental organisations but it rather means that both males and females will have equal opportunities to serve the nongovernmental organisations in any capacity irrespective of sex (Hofstede and Minkov, 2010). It could however mean that more women than before will be ascending to positions of power and leadership both in public and private sectors. At this point, men will no longer feel intimidated by women’s leadership but will rather appreciate it and perceive women not only as women but also as leaders (Hofstede and Minkov, 2010).
Uncertainty avoidance index (UAI)
The fourth model of cultural differentiation is the Uncertainty Avoidance Index (UAI) which focuses on the degree to which the society can tolerate any ambiguous or uncertain situation or event. A high UAI ranking means that the country is guided by clear rules and laws, which are clearly written down and known to everyone, and therefore does not tolerate any ambiguous situation, unclear or uncertain issue.
A low ranking in UAI means that the country is open to different opinions, which may not be rules, regulations or laws governing that country. This means that the society accepts change readily, which may put it at risks associated with some changes which are not part of the countries’ laws, rules and regulations (International business centre, n.d).
Long term orientation
The fifth model for cultural differentiation is Long Term Orientation (LTO) which looks to the extent to which a society emphasises or fails to emphasise long term dedication to forward-thinking, traditions and values. A Country with a high ranking in LTO implies that it acknowledges hard work and traditions as a basis for the establishment of long term benefits. This means that an outsider may have difficulties in establishing and stabilising his or her business due to the adherence to traditions by the people which may impede any change within the system. On the other hand, a low ranking in LTO means that the country does not embrace traditional values which may impede change. This means that the country is open to new ideas and innovations which may make a business to thrive even for an outsider (Hofstede and Minkov, 2010).
The table below illustrates how the two countries (Saudi Arabia and Singapore) compare on the five cultural dimensions as well as the worlds’ average rankings for the five dimensions of cultural differentiation as researched by Dr Geert Hofstede and documented by the international business centre
|Cultural Dimension||Saudi Arabia||Singapore||World’s Average|
|Power Distance Index (PDI )||80%||70%||56.6%|
|Uncertainty Avoidance Index(UAI)||68%||3%||65%|
|Long Term Orientation (LTO)||36%||42%||48%|
From this table, it is very clear that the two countries have different behaviours, attitudes and beliefs. It is these differences that the research has relied on in studying the effects of cultural differences on the work environment at the Mandarin Hotel in Singapore.
Culture Differences between Saudi Arabia and Singapore
Power Distance Index
The high ranking in PDI for the Arabian culture at 80% compared to 70% for Singapore and 56.5% for the Worlds’ average is an indication that employees in the Mandarin Oriental hotel may be very tolerant to inequalities and disparities in earnings. Due to this high tolerance to inequalities, the management is likely to have an easy time with the hotel staff because they are less likely to be bothered by issues of what powers or authority they have. This is due to their belief that power and authority should be centralized and should be held only by those who are qualified to do so. Therefore, it is more likely to find most of the Arabian employees working either at senior management positions in the hotel or as junior employees.
The low rankings in individualism for the Arabian culture at 38% and Singaporean culture at 15% against the worlds’ average of 64% is an indication that the Arabian culture is complemented by the Singaporean culture in shaping the organisational culture at Mandarin oriental hotel. These rankings are an indication of an inclination towards a ‘we’ attitude towards work as opposed to an ‘I’ attitude.
This attitude towards work is synonymous to cohesive organisational culture. The employees of the hotel are more likely to be guided by collectivism, which makes people embrace team or group work instead of individual work. The cohesive organisational culture is likely to increase the productivity of the hotel due to group synergy.
The Arabian cultures’ ranking of 52% in masculinity is an indication that Saudi Arabians are mid-way between feminism and chauvinism. It means that the roles played by men and women are more or less similar, thus there is no high role differentiation. When complemented by the Singaporean ranking of 42%, it is likely that the hotel staff is less vertically and horizontally segregated because of low role differentiation among males and females. Therefore, it is more unlikely to find many or few Arabian employees at the top or the bottom of the organisational hierarchy, than it is for the Singaporeans employees.
Uncertainty Avoidance Index
The high ranking of Arabian culture at 68% in UAI is an indication that they are strict with rules and procedures and follow them strictly due to their high intolerance to ambiguous or unclear circumstances. The employees of the hotel who are of the Arabian culture and especially those who are at the top management positions are more likely to subscribe to the bureaucratic ideology as opposed to the Singaporeans at 3% ranking in UAI, who are more likely to be flexible in decision making. This is a potential source of conflict among the two cultures.
Long Term Orientation
The below world’s average ranking in LTO (36%) of the Saudi culture and 42% of Singaporean culture is an indication that Saudis and Singaporeans do not stick much to traditions and cultural values which can impede their ability to do business with others who are of different cultures. In the context of the hotel, the implication of these rankings is that most of the employees in the hotel are not conservative but are open to organisational change or adjustments (Hofstede and Minkov, 2010).
Criticism of Hofstede
One of the criticisms of Hofstede is in regards to his definition of a culture where he says that it is something which is ‘programmed’. This word implies that somebody is born with some cultural predispositions. The critics argue that culture cannot be programmed but rather it is a gradual process which starts from birth and involves a lot of learning of values, beliefs, understanding symbols, imitation and participating in certain rituals (Jones, 2007).
The other criticism is that Hofstede used the survey method in carrying out his research on various cultures of the world. Critics argue that the survey method is not an appropriate instrument for measuring such a diverse and abstract concept like culture and therefore if it has to be used, it should be complemented by other methods of inquiry (Jones, 2007).
The other most popular criticism of Hofstede is his assumption that communities are homogenous entities, with universal attributes. However, this is not the case because there are some countries which are composed of a multiplicity of ethnic communities, with each of them having its own distinct characteristics and subcultures. This assumption makes the work of Hofstede to be inapplicable in understanding and studying the cultures of such countries (Jones, 2007).
The other problem with Hofstede’s study is that he used nations as the entities of his research. According to him, culture is something which can be restricted within national boundaries and thus, people of one nation have similar cultures simply because they live within the boundaries of that particular country.; however, this is not a correct position because as discussed earlier, culture is heterogonous and can exist in different parts of the world irrespective of the national boundaries. The point is that a particular culture can be found in more than one nation at any given time (Jones, 2007).
There are also concerns about the validity of the results especially those pertaining to masculinity and uncertainty avoidance index. Critics point out that those results may have been politically influenced given that the research was carried out at a time when Europe was recovering from the cold war as well as the memories of World War II. Several parts of Asia, Africa and Europe were also undergoing through what was referred to as a communist insurgence. Also, in many third world countries, there was political instability and thus the sample used by Hofstede may not have been as representative as it should have been (Jones, 2007).
Critics have also cited the issue of using one multinational corporation to study the effects of culture in the workplace. This may again be invalid given that organisations are unique in terms of polices, goals, objectives and resource base. The study has also been explained as out-dated because there are a lot of changes which have been brought about by globalisation, which has made it possible for cultures to diffuse across national boundaries. The critics have also cited the number of dimensions as very few, arguing that a concept like culture should be analysed using as many dimensions as possible not only five dimensions (Jones, 2007).
Culture and management in organisations
As mentioned above, culture influences the values and norms of a people which vary greatly. It is these variations in values which make expatriate managers have difficulties in fitting into new business and organisational environments. Their managerial skills, strategies and organisational styles may be affected by the variations in cultures which may make it difficult for them to match their skills and competencies to diverse cultural backgrounds (Melkman and Trotman, 2005).
Some cultures value hard work while others do not. Others value honesty, equality, fairness and justice in the distribution of resources within the society while others do not adhere to such values. Religious orientations may also affect management for expatriate managers. Some religions have rules governing the days and hours of work. The days and hours of work are not universal and may therefore affect managers posted in new work environments in different countries. Therefore, there is a need for expatriate managers to be briefed about the cultural aspects of the country in which they are to work. This may be of help to them in anticipating any challenges which may be associated with the national cultures for various countries in the world (Trusted, 2002.pp.65-66).
The culture of a country is greatly reflected in the culture of organisations. Organisational culture refers to shared beliefs, values, norms and practices which characterise an organisation. Organisational structure refers to how the organisation is structured, how power and authority to make decisions are distributed along with the structure of the organisation, and who should take what direction or instructions from whom and when (Robbins, 1996).
Organisational culture is a very important aspect in any organisation which aspires to realise its vision and mission. This is because organisational culture determines whether the organisation is able to work together towards the realisation of the vision. Organisational culture is closely related to organisational structure in that the manner in which decisions are made by the top management influences the relationship between the top management and the other employees, which consequently determines the culture of the organisation (Brown, 1998).
Just like culture, organisational culture is learned implicitly through interaction within the organisational setting. The employees learn it through imitating others who they find in the organisation. This imitation happens unconsciously due to the human instinct to adopt behaviours which make him or her fit in the social environment which he or she finds himself or herself in. Through communication and interaction with each other, employees may coin some terms or codes which are unique to the organisation (Schein, 2010).
Employees also learn organisational culture through conditioning and reinforcement. For instance, if a certain behaviour is rewarded by the management of an organisation, the employees will tend to perfect that behaviour which eventually becomes part of their culture. Likewise, if a certain behaviour is negatively sanctioned by the management, then the employees will tend to avoid it, thus becoming one of the don’ts in the organisation (Vance and Paik, 2011).
A strong organisational culture is found in organisations in which the employees are committed to their work and discharge their duties with little or no supervision while a weak organisational culture is found in organisations in which the employees have little commitment to their duties and are closely supervised so as to discharge their duties effectively (Silber and Kearny, 2010).
There are various models of organisational culture. One such model is the power culture which is characterised by centralisation of power to some few people within the organisation. This person(s) is usually very influential in the organisation and therefore everybody else tends to foster a good relationship with the person(s). In this culture, employees are motivated to the degrees into which they emulate that central person(s). In this type of culture, decisions are made easily, because there are no many hierarchical positions in the structure of the organisation (Gordon, DiTornaso and Farris, 1991.pp.18-23).
There is also role culture, which is characterised by doing things as per one’s position, meaning that an employee only cares for what is of concern to him or her or what lies under his or her docket. This culture is also characterised by rigidity in decision making because of the bureaucratic nature of the organisational structure which leads to inefficiency (Fey and Denison, 2003.pp.686-687).
Task culture is characterised by the formation of groups which are composed of people with some expertise or knowledge to perform some specific tasks. Therefore, in this type of culture, group work is very important and authority, as well as supervision, play little or no role because the teams are trusted by the management with their tasks (Murray, et al, 2006. pp.45-69).
Lastly, there is a person’s culture which is characterised by a feeling of superiority among the employees, who think that they are very valuable to the organisation. In such a culture, unity and cooperation among the employees may be rare because each employee thinks that he or she is the best and therefore not ready to share what he or she knows with others without extra remuneration by the organisation for the same (Murray, et al, 2006. pp.45-69).
Cultural diversity is a variety of human cultures or societies which live in different parts of the world. It can also refer to the static representation of several cultures in a place and at a particular time, which must be interacting in carefully selected patterns. Cultural diversity is characterised by the minimisation of differences and inequalities as possible and the maximisation of sameness and equality as much as possible. Due to globalisation, today’s society is becoming more culturally diverse day by day, meaning that we are moving towards sameness each day and moving away from differences as days move on (Chrysanthopoulos, 2010).
There are various authors who have written on cultural variations between different nations of the world. Examples include Dr Geert Hosftede and Fon Trompenaars. In his research on the influence of culture on values in the workplace, Dr Geert Hofstede came up with five dimensions of differentiating cultures for different countries. For each country, he analysed and gave a report on five dimensions of cultural differentiation. He also gave the average rankings for all the dimensions of cultural differentiation. These dimensions include individualism vs. collectiveness, masculinity, power distance index, long term orientation and uncertainty avoidance index (International business centre, n.d).
On his part, Fon Trompenaars came up with seven dimensions outlining how people interact and what drives their interactions. These dimensions include universalism contrasted with particularism, neutral contrasted with affective relationships, individualism contrasted with collectivism, specifically contrasted with diffuse relationships, achievement contrasted with ascription, and time orientation (Gullestrup, 2006, pp.43-44).
The cultural differences between people of different countries are sometimes extended to the work environment, especially in regard to how different people perceive work in terms of its importance to them and how to balance or separate work and personal lives. While citizens of some countries like the United States find it very easy to separate work with personal lives and emotions, others like the French find it very hard to do so (Steers, Sánchez-Runde and Nardon, 2010).
Research involves the collection of data, facts and information for various social, political and economic purposes. In the collection of data, various research designs are utilised. The qualitative method uses samples of the population to represent the whole. Data collected is non-numerical and descriptive in nature. Quantitative research method on the other hand is concerned with quantification of social phenomena, and usually deals with large or whole populations. Data is collected in statistical or numerical form. Qualitative and quantitative research designs are sometimes used as a continuum in that they complement each other (Newman and Benz, 1998).
Qualitative research is used to understand people’s attitudes, behaviours, value systems, concerns, motivations, aspirations, culture and lifestyles. Therefore, the qualitative method provides results that are usually rich in details, offering many ideas and concepts. The qualitative method can tell you how people feel and what they think and the connection between their feelings and thoughts and their actions or behaviour. In some cases, qualitative research results may not be reported in percentages or subjected to statistical analysis because they originate from a small group of participants and not all participants are asked the same questions, meaning that the results may not be generalised to a larger population.
The methodology used was that of interviewing. This involved the mailing of questioners to the Arabian managers in the Mandarin Oriental hotel in Singapore through their email addresses. The questionnaires were designed so as to get the views of the managers in regards to the question of whether the cultural differences interfered with their efficiency in discharging their duties as managers in the hotel.
The interview comprised ten managers, either current or former employees of the hotel. Their names and contacts were obtained from the company’s employee’s data base. After getting the names and their contacts, they were requested to participate in the interview at their will, which they consented to. They were explained about the purpose of the interview and assured that the information was to remain confidential, and would not be used to accord or deny them any privileges as employees or former employees of the organization. They were also guaranteed anonymity in the analysis of the information which they gave. This was done so as to ensure that they participated in the interview without any form of biases. A copy of the questionnaire attached as an appendix.
Why I chose the methodology
The methodology was the best for answering the research questions because it was possible to prepare the questions in a manner that it made it possible to extract the information from the participants. Since the research questions which emerged from the literature review was whether cultural differences manifest themselves similarly for all people or not, the methodology was believed to maximize the chances of getting the answers to this question, more than using any other methodology.
This particular method was also used because it was the most viable to get the information required for the research. Since it did not involve any face to face interaction, it ensured that the interviewees participated in the interview at their own pace and thus they were not rushed to answer the questions. This maximized the response rate as opposed to if the interview involved face to face interaction with the interviewer.
The method was used also because of its high standards of confidentiality. This is because they gave the information through their personal email addresses and therefore, they were not exposed to publicity and this enhanced their participation in the research.
The method was also preferred because of its low costs. This is because it just involved the salutations and greetings and then attaching the questionnaire, then entering the email addresses for all the participants and sending to them. This took a relatively short time.
Limitations of the methodology
One limitation of the method was that some questions were retuned unanswered, especially because the participants did not understand them. This was because there was nobody to give clarifications on the questions and also to probe to get the meaning of the participants.
The other limitation was that some of the participants did not receive the interview because it went to the spam instead of the inbox. Due to this, three out of ten participants did not actually participate in the interview. This compromised the validity and reliability of the survey.
Finding and analysis
This chapter discusses the findings of the study on the Arabian culture in Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Singapore by looking at how cultural differences between Saudi Arabia and Singapore affected the efficiency of the Arabian managers working at the Mandarin Hotel in Singapore. The findings are based on the information obtained from the seven participants, who were either former or current managers at the Hotel. It also analyses and discusses the cultural differences between Saudi Arabia and Singapore in terms of Dr Hofstede’s cultural dimensions.
After getting the questionnaires back, they were analysed so as to get the findings. From the responses of the participants, it emerged that majority of the participants acknowledged that there were cultural differences between Saudi Arabia and Singapore. The majority also acknowledged the fact that they experienced culture shock which lasted for a maximum of two months on average.
However, when it came to the question of whether the cultural differences interfered with their efficiency and effectiveness as managers, the majority said that they were able to discharge their duties without any problem except for the first few days which were of course for orientation.
The majority also said that saw no reason why cultural differences should bar managers from working in foreign countries, which they alluded to the fact that with adequate training and education and the impact of globalization and cultural diversity, they were able to adapt easily to those new cultures. They also said that they were ready to work as expatriates in other countries. Similarly, the majority said that they had a lot to like in the Singaporean culture than dislike.
These findings have some implication on the research questions derived from the literature review. The implication is that culture does not manifest itself the same way in all people, but rather, it manifests itself differently and the individuals react or respond differently to foreign cultures.
This shows that culture is not a homogenous entity as argued by many theorists but rather, it is a dynamic and diverse concept, which should be studied by looking at the individual level, not at the group level. This is because looking at the group or universal level leads to generalizations, which usually are prone to many biases. The fact that the majority of the participants said that they were able to function efficiently is a prove that cultural differences largely manifest themselves as perceptions but when it comes to practical behaviour, things are different. That is why the majority of the managers were able to discharge their duties efficiently despite their acknowledgement of cultural differences between their culture and that of Singapore.
The methodology used made the survey very efficient because the participants responded in a timely manner and without inconveniences. However, the research was limited by the fact that three of the participants did not participate in the research because their questionnaires went to their spam instead of the inbox. But since the research was qualitative in nature, the results were generalized to represent all participants.
Conclusions and Recommendations
What I learned from the research is that the concept of culture is usually mispresented in terms of its definition and conceptualization. Many theorists tend to present and conceptualize it as a homogenous concept, or as a concept which is experienced the same by members of a society or a particular group. However, this is not a correct position because it has emerged from the research that even though people are conscious of the cultural differences, these differences largely exist as mere perceptions but when it comes to actual interactions between people of various cultures, the cultural differences play a minor role. That is why the Arabian managers in Singapore were able to function efficiently despite the cultural differences. The fact that some others were not able to function efficiently shows that culture is not homogenous and that is why culture shock varies from individual to the other in terms of intensity and the time people take before adapting to the new culture. If culture were a homogeneous concept, then the managers from Saudi Arabia could have responded uniformly to all the questions. Therefore, this calls for the study of culture to be done and analysed not at the universal level but at the individual level. This is because culture is diverse and not static.
Globalization has played a major role in fuelling cultural diversity. People are now able to study in any part of the world, do business and also marry or get married. This cross-cultural interactions have led the idea of studying culture at the universal not only irrelevant but also illogical. However, the research was not able to uncover the mystery of why some people adapt to new cultures with ease while otters do it with difficulties, with others refusing to adapt at all. This is an area I would recommend other scholars to research on in the future.
Throughout the discussion, it has emerged that culture is a very abstract and wide concept. The concept usually has a different meaning to different people. However, what is agreeable is that culture constitutes the way of life of given people. Culture exists at three major levels namely the societal, the subcultural and the universal levels. It is learned and passed on from generation to the other though language and other mediums. Culture is also heterogenic, meaning that it may be composed of various aspects of different cultures. It is also dynamic, meaning that it keeps on changing from time to time due to globalisation and other issues like immigration and shifting interests.
One of the famous models of explaining culture is that of Dr Geert Hofstede, who presented a five-dimensional model of studying and understanding the cultures of various countries of the world. Those dimensions have however been criticised especially for their assumptions that cultures of countries are homogenous.
Saudi Arabia and Singapore have different cultures. Due to those differences, managers from Saudi Arabia usually have difficulties adjusting in the new culture, and to this regard, they undergo what is referred to as culture shock. The differences in the two cultures make the management have difficulties in effectively discharging their duties as managers. The biggest challenge for Arabian managers in Singapore was a language barrier, but the managers usually build rapport with the employees and got accustomed to the culture.
One of the strategies which can be used to manage a culturally diverse workforce is the creation of awareness on cultural diversity within the workforce. This makes the employees embrace the diversity and see it as a strength rather than a weakness for the organisation which in turn increases their productivity (Deresky, 2002)
The other strategy is to do a regular assessment of the environment in which the employees are working in with special attention being given to diversity issues. This assessment should be aimed at identifying any difficulties encountered by employees as they are intact with others who have different beliefs, faiths, values and morals. The managers should ensure that they make the necessary changes so that the employees can work in a free and friendly atmosphere (Dowling and Welch, 2008).
Managers should also make a point of interacting freely with employees from various cultures with a view of learning and understanding those cultures in terms of the similarities and differences. They should in turn see how they can transform the similarities or differences in cultural backgrounds of the employees to benefits for the organisation without making any section of the workforce feeling marginalised (Holden, 2002).
Lastly, the managers should be regularly trained in various cultures of the nations of the world. This should be aimed at equipping them with a general overview of various cultures for various nations so as to be in a good position to manage a culturally diverse workforce. They should more specifically be trained on the five dimensions of cultural differentiation for various countries as studied by the renowned psychologists Dr, Geert Hofstede mentioned above (Rivera-Vazquez, 2010, p.26).
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The questionnaire contained the following questions which were qualitative in nature.
- Did you have any training on cross cultural management, if yes, please give some details of the nature of the training ……………………………………………………………………………
- Do you agree that there are cultural differences between Saudi Arabia and Singapore, with choices ragging from I strongly agree to I strongly disagree…………………………………………………………….
- How is or was your experience working as an expatriate manager in Singapore; answers ranging from extremely good to extremely bad……………………………………………………………..
- What did you like about the Singaporean Culture…?
- What did you dislike about the Singaporean Culture…?
- For those who said that there were cultural differences between Saudi Arabia and Singapore, they were asked this question; did the cultural differences affect your efficiency in discharging your duties as a manager?
- If yes, please explain………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………
- Do you think that cultural differences should bar managers from working in foreign countries, please explain………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………
- How long did you take before getting used to the Singaporean culture at the mandarin oriental hotel, if at all you got used to it? ………………………………………………………….
- Would you like to work as an expatriate manager in the future in a different country, please explain why or why not…?
- How different was your experience in working as a manager in Singapore from working as a manager in Saudi Arabia ……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….