People management skills
In the context of Hall’s HC/LC cultural paradigm, culturally similar channel partners (HC to HC; LC to LC) should be capable of communicating more effectively than culturally dissimilar channel partners (HC to LC; LC to HC). On the similar grounds, when catering to cultural differences among any set of stakeholders, managers need to be extremely careful about the issue that they do not show any personal likings or biasness towards any particular culture or cultural value; an even unconscious act has the tendency to spoil the party on a general note.
These are the two major threats for an organization that the managers need to clearly keep in mind for having efficacy in running the operations of an organization. Multicultural backgrounds of customers can cause severe problems for product development and marketing departments as well. These problems are well understood as challenges by the true managers of today. In many cultural backgrounds, it is prohibited to have certain ingredients for example cow meat is prohibited in certain Hinduism sects, while pig pertinent ingredients are not allowed in the Islamic set-up.
In addition, as per the laws, the ingredients of any product have to be truly stated on the packs. Consequently, the product development departments in the organization have to be sure not to use such ingredients, and if done so, better keep such products away from the pertinent cultural individuals. Otherwise, it is quite likely to bring about cross-cultural issues of the brand with individuals. Similarly, the marketing departments have to ensure that no advertisement campaign of whatever sort is not harming any ethical norms and societal values of any culture prevailing in the target market.
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Controversies generated otherwise are bound to tarnish the repute of the brand on the whole and also have a long lasting impact on the company itself. Marketing history is full of such cases whereby products have literally flopped in culturally diversified regions mainly due to the inappropriate and unsuitable marketing activities. Cultural differences are delicate issues that need delegacy and intelligence address. Managers need to be appropriately trained to address such issues and show absolutely unbiased attitude towards all workforce and customers.
There are several conferences, seminars, and workshops conducted all over the world for similar issues to be addressed. The basic need amongst managers is the in-born sight to see all individuals equal and every customer as important, whether the customer is internal (employee) or external (the conventional customer). If the manager is such who identifies individuals in groups, and looks forward to catering each and every individual on personal basis, then the organization is bound to succeed.
It is so because despite all the managerial skills that can be developed over a period of time through training and education, the in-born leadership style that addresses the concern cannot be developed by any means. It is therefore, that even Harvard graduates fail in being a successful manager, and college drop outs are able to shake the world through their in-born capabilities and skills. People management skills are probably the most important one required in recent times.
This is so because of late there has been a realization that people are the true assets of the firm and human resource is the ultimate resource for an organization that can take the firm beyond the horizons and success over competitors. It has been established as a fact that no competitive advantage is sustainable for long term by any means, only retention of the best human resource can lead into organizations excelling over periods of time.
Building trust, commitment, and cooperation among channel members operating in domestic channels where the partners come from similar cultural backgrounds can be challenging. When the strategic alliance occurs in an international marketing channel context where the cultural backgrounds of channel members are often dissimilar, the challenge will be even greater. In short, when cultures are substantively different, trust, commitment, and cooperation among channel members are more difficult to attain. This study confirms this proposition.
Managers responsible for developing international marketing channels where the partners in the strategic alliance have different cultural backgrounds need to be aware of the issue of cultural difference and the impact that it can have on trust, commitment, and cooperation. Exporters from cultures that are different from their foreign distribution partners will need to take proactive steps to mitigate the impact of that cultural difference. To simply ignore the potential impact of cultural differences may adversely affect the performance of the alliance by undermining trust, commitment, and cooperation in the channel.
The first and most critical step will be for exporters to recognize that cultural differences exist and that they may distort communication across cultures, even at the sub-conscious level. This effect was referred to by cultural anthropologist, James A. Lee, as the self-reference criterion (Lee, 2000). To deal with this issue, an exporting firm may require its employees to gain basic knowledge about the culture of their foreign distributor. This can be done relatively easily through a variety of widely available cross- cultural training books and videos.
Another strategy beyond requiring employees to learn about their channel partner counterparts’ culture is for exporters to appoint bicultural or multi- cultural professionals responsible for leading their international marketing strategies. This approach, first implemented by Dutch-based traders, is now widely used by the emerging web of Chinese businesses operating across many cultures (Kao, 2003). Additionally, exporters might consider investing time and attention in selecting channel partners, especially when cultures are substantively different rather than rush into relationships based on short-term considerations.
If anything, when cultures are different, managers should take as much time as necessary to assure that both partners have learned as much as possible from each other before establishing a relationship. For example, 3M invested more than 7 years in establishing a beachhead in the People’s Republic of China (a high context culture) in the late 2003s. Although in a low context culture this lengthy approach may be perceived as extreme, this is a useful example of what an exporter might need to do to avoid having to fix miscommunications that undermine trust, commitment, and cooperation with their foreign distribution partners.
The effort to communicate cultural differences in international business education has long been fraught with difficulties. Even those who have undergone cultural adaptation themselves, living and working in settings far removed from their place of origin, may have difficulty explaining the change of mindset they underwent and grasping the concerns and thinking patterns of a third culture.
Though some research has made important progress in identifying dimensions of cultural differences [notably the works Hofstede (2000), Ronen and Shenkar (2000), Harpaz (2001), and Trompenaars (2003)], the labels given to dimensions of culture are not so intuitively grasped. Their relevance to deal making and management initiatives is not easily specified, leaving too many business professionals with little guidance but to muddle through their cross-cultural encounters. They usually learn through experience, trial by fire.