Managing Global Organizations: A Cultural Perspective

Ian Towers and Anabel Ternès (SRH Hochschule Berlin, Berlin, Germany)

Critical Perspectives on International Business

ISSN: 1742-2043

Article publication date: 2 March 2015



Ian Towers and Anabel Ternès (2015), "Managing Global Organizations: A Cultural Perspective", Critical Perspectives on International Business, Vol. 11 No. 1, pp. 110-112.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2015, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Managing any kind of organisation is not easy; managing a global organisation is even more difficult for many reasons, not the least of which is the different ways in which people from different cultures act and think. The goals of the authors of Managing Global Organizations: A Cultural Perspective are to present and explain these differences between cultures and to show their significance for management, so that those in positions of authority in multi-national organisations will become more effective in managing people, which will, in turn, make their organisations more efficient and successful.

The book’s first three chapters provide the theoretical background. Chapter 1 includes a relatively short discussion of the construct “culture” – interestingly, Schein is not mentioned – and while not clearly stated, the authors seem to favour Hofstede’s definition of culture as collective mental programming. Chapter 2 outlines the various frameworks that have been developed to help with the analysis of culture. The next chapter covers globalisation and discusses how Hofstede’s dimensions may provide insight into how globalisation has developed.

The following nine chapters are concerned with how cultural differences affect different areas of management activity:

  1. communication;

  2. negotiation, conflict management and decision-making;

  3. work motivation, job satisfaction and organisational commitment;

  4. work, organisational stress and coping;

  5. group processes and work teams;

  6. leadership;

  7. organisational design;

  8. technology transfer and knowledge management; and

  9. international human resource management.

These chapters generally begin with an overview of the relevant concepts, followed by an analysis of how members of different cultures view the concepts, along with a few practical pointers for managers. The book finishes with a discussion of emergent issues in managing the global organisation – changing employment relationships, demographic change, globalisation and local culture, and others.

The common theme running through the chapters is that of cultural sensitivity: managers need to be aware of cultural differences and recognise that people from other cultures have different ways of behaving and thinking. The aim of the manager should be to accept and understand these differences, and work through and around them to ensure that the objectives are met.

The target readers are students and practitioners and here we feel the authors have rather fallen between two stools. By and large, the coverage of theory in the chapters is good, being comprehensive and up-to-date. The various theories are clearly explained, but too often the authors do not analyse the theory – they merely reproduce it. So, for example, the frameworks for cultural analysis of the usual suspects (Trompenaars, Hofstede, Hall etc.) are present in Chapter 2, but there is very little criticism of them and hardly any suggestions about how and when to use them for analytical purposes. At the same time, the suggestions for practitioners are quite general. The authors mention what some companies have done in the past and are doing now to deal with the issues they have raised, but not at the level of detail that would enable managers to use the book as a resource for any practical steps that they could take when faced with the challenges of cross-cultural management. For instance, the chapter about work teams has few concrete measures that the leader of an international team could actually use. Furthermore, the “managers of the twenty-first century” (p. xv) for whom the authors wish to provide guidelines do not exist alone in a company – they manage staff who themselves have to work with individuals from other cultures and who are, therefore, also faced with cross-cultural challenges. No guidance is provided about how to deal with this very important and difficult area, where problems can arise on a daily basis and profoundly affect the outcome of a project: training is mentioned just once in the index.

The authors limit themselves unnecessarily. Western cultures are no longer monocultures, so companies that are not doing business abroad also face issues in dealing with their own increasingly multi-cultural staff. The managers in such firms face many of the same challenges as managers with supervisory positions in global organisations in terms of motivation, leadership styles and so on. Cross-cultural management is, then, an issue for managers of any company in the West, and not just of multi-national and global corporations. Yet in this book, as in many others, this theme does not receive the attention or emphasis it deserves.

The book could have benefited from more careful editing. There is an unnecessary degree of duplication in the book – Hofstede’s dimensions are discussed and summarised in several chapters. The reader finds assertions that are not supported by references, such as the claim that Africans are risk-averse today because Europeans severely punished those Africans who took risks at the time of the slave trade (p. 5). In addition, several copy-editing mistakes have slipped through, e.g. a description of organisational structures (p. 241) wrongly calls a German managing board the Vostrand, when it should be Vorstand.

Overall, the book will be useful for those looking to have an overview of the many ways in which culture affects the different activities of international companies. But just as theory is presented and not criticised, so too are more profound questions ignored. The implicit view of globalisation in the book is that it is a phenomenon that has (mostly) positive and (some) negative characteristics. It is not seen as something that could or should be challenged or opposed – this lack of reflexivity is apparent in all chapters. The book has an unquestioned Western-oriented, functionalist and managerialist point of view. There is no analysis, for example, of whose interests are being met through having motivated employees, or why is it important to motivate employees – it is simply taken as a given that they should be motivated. Like many books on intercultural management, the underlying question that is being asked is: what can Western managers do to get people from different cultures to do the things they want them to do? This book provides some of the answers.

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