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Nearly 50 years ago, in his book The Silent Language, Edward Hall, an anthropologist and leading scholar in the field of cross-cultural research, explained: "When the American executive travels abroad to do business, he is frequently shocked to discover to what extent the many variables of foreign behavior and custom complicated his efforts. Although the American has recognized, certainly, that even the man next door has many minor traits which make him somewhat peculiar, for some reason he has failed to appreciate how different foreign businessmen and their practices will seem to him."
Hall's words are even more relevant today as companies are becoming increasingly global. For example, when interacting in an unfamiliar culture, managers may find themselves asking:
1. Should I give orders to my employees or should I encourage participative decision-making? What do they expect from me?
2. How many risks are my employees willing to take? Can I give them a problem to tackle on their own, especially if I know very little about it? How creative are they going to be in solving it?
3. Should I recognize individuals who have performed exceptionally well each month? Should I set up a reward system, perhaps a plaque on the wall for exemplary work?
The above questions can be answered numerous ways, depending on the national culture in which the manager is working. What may be a wrong answer in one culture may be the correct answer in another.
Source: Inside Supply Management, http://www.ism.ws
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