Succeed In Business
While multinational organizations had tended to pursue one of the three basic strategies — achieving economies of scale through the centralized management of resources, having a strong (decentralized) national presence, and sharing worldwide a central pool of skills and experience — the problem for the new ‘transnational’ corporations was to combine these three, often contradictory, approaches into a single strategy: “To compete effectively, a company had to develop global competitiveness, multinational flexibility, and worldwide learning capability simultaneously.
” [Bartlett and Ghoshal (1989)] All these changes require an unparalleled degree of organizational interdependence and individual. Control has to give way to coordination, and corporate culture becomes an issue of central importance. Any sizeable organization is likely to have a multiplicity of cultures within it — the traditional rivalry between production and sales departments, for instance — but the situation is clearly more complicated for transnational companies who face national, as well as functional, demarcation lines.
For the multinational, culture has a necessarily homogenizing function; like saline solution before an injection, its role is to ensure that the corporate message passes into the bloodstream of an organization as swiftly as possible. With the transnational it is different: here, culture has to be embracing rather
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‘Planting for a global harvest’, writes Kenichi Ohmae, ‘is a painstaking, iterative process of balancing local needs with shared values and balancing particular growing conditions with the requirements of each crop’. [Ohmae, Kenichi (1994)] A networked culture, like the strategic tenets of transnationalism, which it underpins, is itself heavily dependent on effective communication. This means that we have to be much more conscious of the words we use, their meaning and possible interpretation.
For the transnational corporation, such issues are particularly pertinent: not only must its employees communicate with colleagues spread across different continents and time zones, but they may have to do so in more than one language. Technology now allows national subsidiaries to communicate with one another directly, rather than through a centralized point: ‘each point would become a center on its own, and the distinction between center and periphery would disappear’. [Hymer, Stephen H.
(1979] A company may — and most do — have the equivalent of dialects (the use of management and technical jargon, for instance), but a common native language has important implications which override ‘regional’ differences such as these. To understand such implications, we need to look first at the role which communication, and language in particular, plays in an organization. At the most simple level, communication serves two functions — gathering and disseminating information.
The ultimate purpose of both functions is to precipitate action: a head office might react to feedback from customers channeled via its field sales force; workers on an assembly line may change their working practices in accordance with new guidelines from the operations management. Such actions are not restricted to those officially sanctioned by the organization: information, and the actions which result from its transmission, can be official or unofficial. Indeed, every organization consists of subgroups who have different information needs and channels, and whose reactions to the same set of stimuli differ.
Language is not just the means by which people communicate (that is, the medium in which items of information are expressed); it is also the purveyor of meaning. Language therefore provides a means by which we interpret the relative significance of any information and decide how we will respond. Within an organization, the role of language is therefore analogous to other — and more familiar — aspects of cultural behavior such as myths, rituals and stories. They all provide a context from which we can infer meaning; they therefore largely determine how we interpret information, and this in turn determines how we act.
The greater is the ambiguity of the language, the less controllable or predictable the resulting action. Having a monolingual corporate environment means that we share the same fundamental preconceptions about the world. This may not always be a good thing: a group, which develops a distinct culture and sense of identity, may have problems communicating with outsiders. “A monolingual company will have difficulties dealing with customers beyond its national markets. At a fundamental level, therefore, sharing the same language reduces the level of potential distortion in translating action into language and language into action”.
[Mezulanik, n. d. ] Organizations trying to grapple with the conflicting needs of transnationalism — finding a compromise between central coordination and local autonomy — also need to balance linguistic cohesion with retaining those national languages which, for example, give it direct access to its consumers in local markets. One such approach to multilingualism is to establish one official language for internal communication: the Swiss firm, ABB, has been pursuing a strategy of integrating people of different nationalities at all management levels but the company’s official language is English.
An alternative solution is for an organization to allow a lingua franca to evolve — the peculiar form of English used in air traffic control is one of the most familiar examples of this. The approach which the Caterpillar Tractor Company adopted in the 1970s to overcome the problem of servicing and repairing machine parts in different parts of the world: the company developed a form of pidgin English — Caterpillar Fundamental English (CFE) — a condensed form of English in which engineers could be trained over just 30 lessons.
The service manuals were rewritten using the 800 essential CFE words allowing any engineer to understand them: the language was a wholly written language — engineers were not taught how to speak CFE. [Terpstra, Vern (1978)] Another approach, translation, has the apparent advantage of allowing more than one language to function side by side, with at least the semblance of parity.
It is, however, rarely a uniform process, even within a single organization: a professional linguist translating a long document word for word clearly provides a different translation from someone who summarizes the contents of the same document during a meeting with colleagues from a different country Communication preferences will also be dictated not just by an organization’s particular culture, but by the wider external environment in which it is operating: a high degree of difference between cultures, for example, generates uncertainty and makes the need for information more pressing.
They will also be affected by the bias of any country towards certain modes of communication. There have been studies, for instance, showing that American firms tend to rely more heavily on formal reporting than Japanese firms. [Negandhi, A. R. (1990)] Traditionally the problems of multilingualism have received little serious consideration. Yet, the issue is a complex one. Indeed, managing language is a very important part of managing a globally run business. Works Cited Argyle, Michael “Inter-Cultural Communication”, in Social Skills and Work, edited by Michael Argyle, London: Methuen, 172-94. 1981.
Bartlett, Christoper A. and Sumantra Ghoshal, Managing Across Borders: The Transnational Solution, London: Century, 1989. Elizabeth Kellar, “Wanted: Language and Cultural Competence” in Public Management Volume: 87. Issue: 1. Publication Date: January-February 2005. Page Number: 6+. Hymer, Stephen H. , The Multinational Corporation: A Radical Approach, Cambridge: CUP, 1974. Negandhi, A. R. “External and Internal Functioning of American, German and Japanese Mutlinational Corporations:” Decision Making and Policy Issues, in Multinational Corporations, edited by Mark Casson, Aldershot: Edward Edgar, 557-77. (1990)
Ohmae, Kenichi, The Borderless World: Power and Strategy in the Global Marketplace, London: HarperCollins, 1994. Sonja Brown Stokely, “Fluency in a Foreign Language Can Translate into a World of Professional Possibilities” in Black Enterprise. Volume: 30. Issue: 10. Publication Date: May 2000. Page Number: 125. Terpstra, Vern, The Cultural Environment of International Business, Cincinnati, Ohio: Southwestern, 1978. JIRI MEZULANIK. GLOBALISATION AND ITS IMPACTS ON BUSINESS COMMUNICATION. Silesian University in Opava. School of Business Administration in Karvina – Department of Communication. Czech Republic, (n. d)