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Managing in Asia

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Essay title: Managing in Asia


The beginnings of formal writing on the concept of organizational culture started with Pettigrew (1979). He introduced the anthropological concept of culture and showed how related concepts like "symbolism", "myth" and "rituals" can be used in organizational analysis. Culture has been characterized by many authors as "something to do with the people and unique quality and style of organization" (Kilman et al., 1986), "the way we do things around here" (Deal and Kennedy, 1982), or the "expressive non-rational qualities of an organization".


Various studies have shown that culture plays a significant role in organizations. The study by Kelley and Worthley agree on the Farmer and Richman (1964) model which support the role of culture in the formation of managerial attitudes, compare to the Negandhi and Prasad (1971) model that describe management philosophy as a major independent factor. This is supported by Sullivan and Weaver (2000) that cultures and institutionalized practices within countries can affect the general managerial practices within firms. In line with that, research also shows managers from Asia and from the US develop and apply different strategic orientations ( Hitt et al, 1997).


The emergence of globalization is forcing the businesses to deal with cultural differences on a magnified scale. Doing business in Asia differs from the West. It is illustrated by Lawrence Yeo (2006) in his article, one general manager of a white goods company remarked that doing business in Asia is like watching a duck that appears calm and serene on the surface, but beneath the water is paddling furiously. And often executives in Asia are 'paddling' in a certain direction without having complete information or knowing the true picture of the business situation. East and West tend to have different management systems and cultural values, hence Western firms with operations in the East tend to face greater cultural problems.

Conflicts that emerge between Asians and westerners at work often reflect deep, hidden, and consequently, unrecognized fundamental differences in values and beliefs. Westerners must be given the necessary environment and details to gain a subtle appreciation of fundamental cultural differences. Hofstede (1980a, 1984) emphasized that the system of management must respect continuity with old values and traditions, and that sound management development should take into cognizance cultural differences, or else it will become irrelevant. Bowman and Okuda further stated that showing an interest in others' cultures is to create a climate of understanding and respect. Jensen Zhao (1988 cited in Joy 1989), a university instructor from the PRC doing graduate study in US, says that person from other nations doing business in China gain a real advantage when they show knowledge of local culture. He also states that they are respected and appreciated as persons of great knowledge and that this establishes a positive mood as negotiations begin, leading to an improved potential for success.


America’s managerial practice is influenced by F.W. Taylor (1911) and strongly supports participative management and job enrichment (Herzberg, 1966 et al cited in Kao et al 1999). They practice high individualism behaviour (Hofstede 1980a cited in Kao et al 1999), despite recognition of the key role of human and needs and foster individual rivalry and competition among workers, thus further increasing individualistic attitudes and a high mobility of labour. Same goes to Europeans and North Americans who minimize authoritarian control while maximizing individual autonomy and initiative. For the Western, the best leader is the one-minute manager who communicates clear goals and delegates decisions about how to implement them. The best organization is a fraternity of equals.

East Asian countries such as China have been greatly influenced by Confucianism. The philosophy of Confucius stresses that individuals are not isolated entities but a part of a larger system of interdependent relationships. Therefore, Asian management styles typically subordinate the role of the individual to the greater demands of the group, leading to employee’s hesitation to take independent initiative on task. Achievement is not always considered in individualistic and egoistic terms, as depicted by the Westerners, but constitutes a strong social concern, rather than a matter of individual striving and competition. (Agarwal and Misra,1986 et al cited in Kao et al 1999).

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