MIS is a critical and growing element of many companies in this day of fast-pace computer innovation. As such, it is important for companies to be sure that they make good decisions about which systems to use for numerous reasons. But just as importantly, the choice of MIS components is also symbolic of the level of involvement and engagement across a company. Technological advances introduce new opportunities for employees in companies to share their capabilities and talents and to otherwise engage more openly with others who share the responsibility for making a company succeed. This fact can be amplified in cross-cultural settings that mirror the same kinds of advancement potentials, such as in countries like Australia.
Bob Underwood finds himself in a new leadership position in a subsidiary of a U.S. company located in a deceptively similar nation, Australia. As the article notes prominently, Bob and even his family began their new job and adventure by assuming that they were simply moving to another city in the United States, albeit one that had a noticeably different accent. In fact, they even began their experience by essentially accepting that the time differential was one of the only major changes that they would face. However, after an apparently warm and welcoming beginning, it began to become evident that Bob would not be able to seamlessly transition his typical American business experience to his new country.
Once on the job, one of Bob's first actions was to introduce himself on a professional and stylistic level to his new staff. At this first meeting, during his first week of work, he "outlined his background and industry experience, described his goals for the two years he would be managing the Australian MIS department, and assured them that he had an open door policy and was always available to talk with them on an individual basis" (pg. 2).
It would soon become apparent that his perception of what was happening was different than those of his employees (Ballow, 2005). They clearly had a different perspective on what it meant to have an open door policy, and did not conduct their regular business decision-making processes "on an individual basis." The MedScope Australian component of his business had, among other difference, a much leveler field of authority. As the article notes, "One thing Bob noted immediately was fewer management levels among employees in Australia; in fact, the organizational hierarchy was remarkably flat compared to the U.S. structure (emphasis added). Bob found himself responding to requests and receiving information from technicians as well as managers, and from supervisors as well as heads of departments" (pg. 2).
Accustom as he was to working in a different kind of working environment, Bob responded by using the skills he had to try to facilitate a more efficient level of information funneling. His level of professional expertise suggested to him that he needed to reduce the participatory elements of the company in a way that would allow individual employees to focus more on their jobs. This included by taking them out of the decision-making processes when, in his mind, they were not needed there. In this way, they would be able to become "project" experts who would have the ability to deal with the supervisors, who would then respond to him. Bob was so confident in his understanding that he began responding to his superiors' requests and created a new organizational model apparently founded on his beliefs, which he then shared with his staff. Unbeknownst to him, they were already indicating to him that he was attempting to make changes that they did not agree with. But rather than utilizing his "open door" to discuss their issues, they began to question whether they wanted to remain with the company as it started to change under Bob's direction (DuPraw and Axner, 1997).
2. Bob's limited cultural preparations in Texas did not make him fully aware of the situation he would find himself in at the Australian subsidiary. In fact, it even somewhat blinded him to the fact that just because elements of business in one location "look" like those in another setting does not mean that they are. As one authority on cross-cultural employment and management issues put it, "Ingrained and systemic patterns of cultural behaviours can be so subtle as to completely deny meaningful communications" (Ballow, 2005). Bob found this out the hard way by failing to recognize the similarities and the differences between his American experience with MedicoSupplies and his transitional efforts to MedScope.
The similarities that appear most evident center on the fact that both the corporate office and the subsidiary office were well-run, effective businesses. Each had competent employees who were able to do their work effectively; and clearly, the company as a whole was prepared to move forward toward the future. These elements can be seen, for example, in the importance that MedicoSupplies placed on MedScope and on encouraging Bob to take that position to learn more about international subsidiaries. In addition, the staff at MedScope actively engaged with Bob as he began to integrate himself into the setting, suggesting they had faith in his abilities. And, of course, MedScope had already undertaken some level of preparations for purchasing and adopting a new MIS element.
The differences would soon prevail, however. They revolved around more personal levels of understanding of what it meant to be treated equally and openly in an environment that rewarded individual accomplishment. Australians combine these factors differently than do other Westerners (Communicaid, 2009). Once at the table, it became evident that the team had to feel prepared to move to the next step together so that opinions and expertise was fully and fairly acknowledged and respected. Bob's decision to move forward with the information he had on acquiring Trujex MIS, for example, exemplifies this distinction. The employees may have been given the chance to fill some of the roles but they were not yet ready to move forward with their final acceptance. Bob believed this was not necessary, and in fact that it reflected the wasteful task duplication he was trying to eliminate. It would soon become clear that Bob has underestimated the importance of the similarities and differences.
3. It is very likely that there were two factors of particular importance in why the employees were preparing to leave: one was a fundamental difference in how tasks are accomplished, and the second was a sense of disrespect for their individual value as workers. The combination of these two conditions may well have made it seem like MedScope, and by implication MedicoSupplies would be sufficiently different in the future such that the employee's desires and approaches would no longer be a good fit. As competent employees, they began to prepare for the change in the only way they felt like they could -- by getting ready to find a new job.
Cross-cultural methodological understandings of task completion present complex issues. Still, DuPraw and Axner, though focusing on Asians and Hispanics in general and not Australians, do capture the essence of the challenge well:
A case in point, Asian and Hispanic cultures tend to attach more value to developing relationships at the beginning of a shared project and more emphasis on task completion toward the end as compared with European-Americans. European-Americans tend to focus immediately on the task at hand, and let relationships develop as they work on the task. This does not mean that people from any one of these cultural backgrounds are more or less committed to accomplishing the task, or value relationships more or less; it means they may pursue them differently (DuPraw and Axner, 1997).
Bob brought to MedScope his well-established and well-recognized traditional American task orientation. The employees saw it as a misalignment of their interests with the way they achieve their ends, which they then knew was about to be formalized into the new organizational plan.
Perhaps more importantly, however, was Bob's actions in regard to Jack Strath's request for vacation time. Bob provided a reasonable top-down management justification for his decision to allow Jack to have only two weeks off instead of three: because Jack was needed and because three weeks was considered an exceptionally long request. To Jack, this type of decision was counter to what he and his employer wanted. But more likely he was actually violating some of the tenets of the Australian work and social culture that he did not fully appreciate. Doing Business in Australia (Communicaid, 2009) notes that "Egalitarianism infiltrates all aspects of Australian life and is particularly prominent in the business sphere." It was very likely that Bob's efforts crossed this line and made Jack and others feel they would no longer be treated appropriately.
4. Cross-cultural learning for employees sometimes just takes experience. Bob garnered some of this but did not add sufficient weight so his understanding would match the reality he was reluctant to face. When confronted by his boss Emily Zortan about the request for…