U05:  A fish out of water

Larry had been with the company for 17 years and held leadership roles in a variety of functions across the business so it was no surprise when he was named Vice-President of Production which included a three-year assignment in Europe. Larry was excited for his new role and was aware there would be challenges but welcomed them with a youthful optimism. He was nervous about relocating his family to France because of the stereotypes that the French did not work hard, that they had negative attitudes and that they were not open to new ways of working. He was also very concerned with the number of work-related accidents that had taken place over the previous eighteen months and he knew that he would have to address this quickly upon his arrival. Once relocated, Larry spent his first month observing his direct reports interact with their teams and with each other and was able to dispel some of his initial concerns although the safety issues remained. He scheduled weekly team meetings and discovered that his management team had worked together for many years and were clearly aligned in their thinking and problem-solving approach. By definition, they were a group because of their interaction and interdependence with each other and because their goals were aligned toward a particular end state (PSU L11, 2019) which included not only the company’s objectives, but their personal objectives. Larry noticed their cohesion, the bond that linked them together, right away as well as the unique culture of the group due to their shared values and the length of time they had been working together.

In his second month, Larry began to get involved in the business, shared his objectives and expectations, and asked for input from the group as they addressed some of the major production and worker safety issues. As he did this, he began to encounter some withdrawal from key members of the group which he found peculiar. To help, Larry researched Hofstede’s model which defined several dimensions in cultural differences along a spectrum. Definitions and individual country scores can be viewed by visiting Hofstede Insights to learn more. Prominent differences that Larry found were power distance which deals with hierarchy and the recognition that all individuals are not equal, is much higher in France which was affecting how people reacted to Larry’s position in the group. Another distinct difference was France’s score on uncertainty avoidance which measures the level of discomfort with the unknown or ambiguous. In this case, France scores very high which means as a society they value structure and planning – this was a surprise to Larry but something he felt was important to know since he could use it as he introduced new changes to the organization. Finally, long-term orientation, which looks at desire to maintain a link to its past while dealing with the challenges of the future, was a surprise for Larry since he made an incorrect assumption that France would be low in this dimension, because of the country’s pride with its history, when they actually scored higher than average – this also changed Larry’s plans in how he should approach his team members.

Larry also noticed in his early months that the ethical climate with regards to safety was lacking. When he arrived, safety was not a primary concern and workers would look the other way while a coworker took part in an unsafe act because they didn’t want to get involved. This was in direct conflict with company values and was a main reason the facility had the worst safety record in the company, Larry immediately introduced additional safety measures and invested in specific safeguards that emphasized a safety mindset as a company priority. This helped workers better understand the expectations and adapt their behaviors so that over time, the ethical climate could be strengthened and worker safety improved – using Victor and Cullen’s model, the culture shifted from individual egoism to cosmopolitan benevolence which means it went from employees focused on their own needs and wants to a organizational focus that kept employee safety as a focal point. He also modeled the way by setting a good example of safe work practices and calling attention to unsafe acts whenever he witnessed them. This helped workers better understand the expectations and adapt their behaviors so that over time, changes could be made and worker safety improved. It took time but the culture slowly began to shift and Larry noticed that even when it was difficult, a worker would call attention to an unsafe act. With repeated recognition, workers began to embrace this new way of working and the safety record began to stabilize.

After fifteen long months and with some adjustments in his approach, Larry earned the trust of his team and was able to implement some effective changes in the French operations. As a result of their increased performance, Larry also created a global program that connected French team members with their peer counterparts in other countries. He was happy to see his team members share their experiences and collaborate in a way that led to additional improvements in their respective business areas. Larry recognized that this collaboration was demonstrating globalism and multiculturalism because it was connecting his various workgroups from around the globe to “exchange of ideas from one region of the world to another”  (PSU L12, 2019) and was giving all of his employees a varied perspective that they would not otherwise have. Larry realized he could have done a better job of preparing himself for the cultural changes that are part of working in another country but he was still satisfied with his ability to make effective changes and recognized that it was mainly due to his willingness to learn and adapt, like he had expected his French workers to do.

 

References

Hofstede Insights (2019). Retrieved from https://www.hofstede-insights.com/models/national-culture/

PSU. (2019). L11 Small Groups. Retrieved from https://psu.instructure.com/courses/1963919/pages/l11-introduction?module_item_id=25808523.

PSU. (2019). L12 Globalism. Retrieved from https://psu.instructure.com/courses/1963919/pages/l12-globalism?module_item_id=25808536.

3 Comments

  1. Juwan Levine April 21, 2019 at 11:24 PM #

    Hello Dana, it sounds like Larry’s stereotypes about the French sort of set him up for failure. It is definitely hard to come into a new group and environment and try to implement a new change. As Penn State notes, the French definitely sound like a group with strong goals and rules that they have stuck to for a long time (2019). I think it was a good idea that he spent the first month waiting to make a change and to see how everything worked first. It is crazy to think that leaders would let their employees disregard safety at the company. That may be a shortcut to get the job done but then why would you risk an injury. That would just inconvenience the company and the injured employee. The employee may not be able to work and damaged for life and the company will have to pay out to the employee. There is no way I see this as beneficial to the company. It sounds like Larry going to the company was the best thing that could have happened to them. If he decided to make change any earlier I think he would have definitely had more push back. Having taken his time and understand the system helped his new teammates accept the change. It would not be seen as such an abrupt change from an outside source. It is always easier to change a group from within than from the outside. If it’s from the outside there may be too much resistance, especially within a group like this. They worked together and had solidarity. Do you think there is any way to make a change without first building solidarity with a new group that you’ve started to lead?

    Resources
    PSU. (2019). L11 Small Groups. Retrieved from https://psu.instructure.com/courses/1963919/pages/l11-groupings?module_item_id=25808524

  2. Jessica Ruth Mohn April 21, 2019 at 11:12 PM #

    Hi Dana,

    Nice work on the blog post for unit 05. It’s so interesting to apply Hofstede and Hofstede’s scale of cultural dimensions to different groups in order to see how their scores translate into their work and their ethical approaches and decision making. In your example, you point out how the French are generally high power distance, high uncertainty avoidance, and a high score related to long-term orientation (Hofstede & Hofstede, 2001). These scores are actually right in line with what I would guess the French culture to be. As an American stepping into a role to oversee a team in another country (any country), this scale would be incredibly helpful to lay the groundwork of what kind of people and personalities you will be dealing with. In your example, the team leader recognizes these differences and then adjusts his approach to work with the cultural traits rather than against them. This strategy for working with teams from different cultures and countries could work in many different situations as evidenced by your mention of the rollout of some of the policies and procedures in other countries. This example is particularly interesting because I feel like the typical American approach to leading a team in another country would be to take on an authoritarian role and assume that the way things are done in the US is the right way and all other countries should get on board with this. By taking into account the different culture and working with it instead of trying to stifle it, the leader takes a much more ethical approach to inciting positive change.

    I think it’s also interesting how in your scenario you outline how the team leader recognized the existing ethical climate and then worked to adjust it where he thought appropriate. When studying the lesson material related to ethical climate, I mainly focused on what ethical criteria and loci of analysis combined to create the current ethical climate and not on the potential to change these inputs in order to influence a change in the overall ethical climate. I was viewing the ethical climate as fixed when in reality it should be able to be influenced from leadership and other changes within the organization.

    References

    Hofstede, G. (2001). Culture’s consequences: Comparing values, behaviors, institutions, and organizations across nations. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

    PSU. (2019). PSY 833: L13 Ethical Climate. Retrieved from: https://psu.instructure.com/courses/1963919/pages/l13-overview?module_item_id=25808544.

  3. Jessica Marie Koons April 21, 2019 at 1:34 PM #

    Hi Dana – thank you for sharing your insights with Larry’s experiences. I’m sure moving to an unfamiliar country can be tough and present new challenges that one wasn’t faced with previously. I feel like Larry did the right thing when he took the first month to see how the site operated to observe areas of improvement. One thing I feel like new management makes the mistake of doing in their first few weeks is coming in with guns blazing. In my experience, I have seen new leaders join the company with the idea that they can fix all the issues and improve the culture right away but realistically, changes in any organization is typically slow. Taking the time to get a feel of the environment, especially because he was in a different country, gave him the ability to gain some of the employees’ trust as well. Multiculturalism is defined as “several cultures coming together” (PSU, 2019). When multiculturalism occurs, there is an opportunity for conflict to arise like Larry faced in his second month in France. It would have helped if Larry had researched Hofstede’s model prior to moving to gain a better understanding of the cultural values instead of waiting until he started to implement change. Unfortunately though, sometimes we are reactive instead of proactive and at least he was wise enough to acknowledge the issue and research the “why”.
    Another course concept that would apply when dealing with multiculturalism is motivation. What motivates someone in the US may not be the same for someone in France; so knowing this would be beneficial for Larry to know beforehand. An example of this would be that one of the major reasons I stay at my current job is that I get a good amount of time paid off and I will get paid maternity leave in a few months, however, not all companies in the US provide these benefits. While that time off is something I value and motivates me to stay, there are countries who provide a significant amount of time off and paid maternity leave no matter where you are employed. In this case, what is valued would be different.

    Reference:
    PSU. (2019). PSY 833: Ethics and leadership. Retrieved from https://psu.instructure.com/courses/1963919/pages/l12-multiculturalism?module_item_id=25808538

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