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'Anglo-German Business Communication' is a research report on the challenges
and potentialities inherent in Anglo-German Business Communication. I have conducted this research in 2004. A dozen German and British managers have been interviewed by me on this occasion. The report is essentially a succinct summary of the findings from the analysis of this sample.
Anglo-German Business Communication
A Research Report
In order to understand Anglo-German business communication problems it is necessary to explore their origin and communication dynamics. The collective mental programming of interacting Anglo-German managerial mindsets comprises cultural, structural, corporate culture and subculture as well as professional socialization components.
This study focuses on societal and corporate culture and subcultures as determinants of Anglo-German business communication. Other components are accounted for in as much as they impact inter-cultural corporate interaction.
The purpose of this research report is to find out, whether there are any Anglo-German business communication problems or critical areas of interaction, to identify them in business communication transactions and to explore to what extent they can be explained in classical, mostly Hofstedian intercultural dimensional terms.
This study relies mainly on qualitative information, obtained during guided interviews with four British and four German managers, drawing on practical management experience at the Anglo-German intercultural management interface. Most of the interviewees were managing directors of German subsidiaries of British parent companies operating in the areas of high-tech sales and design.
In the lead-up to my research I could identify
- a research gap
- a knowledge gap
- a training gap
REVIEW OF ANGLO-GERMAN INTERCULTURAL RESEARCH
A number of authors refer to a research and knowledge gap. There is cross-national management research on top and middle management in both countries, focusing on structural issues and managerial socialization. They remain descriptive of two systems. They do not explore the potentials and pitfalls of critical and creative interaction. Ghoshal, Bartlett and Birkinshaw (2003, p161) have summarized the state of the art by synoptically presenting elements of the following superimposed layers in a single matrix:
- Hofstede’s UAI X PDI matrix
- Stevens’s implicit organizational models
- Mintzberg’s configurations of organizations (Hofstede, 2003, p.152)
- Stuart et al.’s managerial behaviour observation (Stuart, 1994, p.87)
Bundling available information doesn’t provide information about managerial interaction between the two cultures. It is comparative rather than interactive. The GLOBE study findings – generally not validated by my eight British/German interviewees - are no exception here. To complete this research areas of difference and critical issues of interaction need to be
- understood in terms of culture, in order to
- reconcile and synergize the value preferences in follow-up research
Intercultural training providers and the director of a specialized library stated that there is neither professional literature, nor demand for UK culture trainings. My preliminary research provided the following explanations for the three types of gaps: research, knowledge and training gaps.
MUTUAL CULTURAL AWARENESS
German perception of UK
- Assumption of similarity and knowledge of British culture on the German side results in a near zero demand for inter-cultural training. Even the managerial class seems to equate holiday experience with cultural competence.
- In the German educational system Britain enjoys a privileged position. But with the focus on ‘culture one’, ‘culture two’ issues are ignored. This reception of the other culture reinforces the assumption of knowing, acting as a barrier to the acquisition of intercultural competence.
- As nobody would learn the language of a negatively connotated culture, educational policy, the media and politics jointly promote a positive image of the UK. But apart from a vocational training project there are no intercultural training and management initiatives.
UK perception of Germany
- In the UK a negative image is promoted by the media and politics, connecting the present to the memory of the past, which conditions an analogous perception and anticipation. This vicious circle might explain the distrust of Germany expressed in the ‘Thatcher memo’ of 1990 (Price, 2000, p.160).
- Research on stereotypes confirms a more negative perception of Germany – even in management literature - vs. positive German stereotypes of the UK
- J. Nash (Nobel Prize Laureate in Economics, in my personal interview in 1995) emphasized a British split between European and overseas orientation. Hampden-Turner and Trompenaars (2000, p97) explain Britain’s ‘reluctant Europeanism’ by strong British individualism vs. continental communitarianism.
Bridging the gap? Mutual perceptual imbalances since the latter half of the 20th century are put in a wider historical frame by former BBC expert Weidenfeld (1999, p55) who summarizes Britain’s relationship with Germany as ‘fruitful cultural and economic partnership and competition’ since the 19th century and earlier. A British manager referred to King James II, to bridge the perceptual gap since WWI, reconciling medium-term past by long-term past orientation.
Classification of culturally significant managerial responses to interview requests
- Ethnocentric: two thirds
50% assumption of similarity, denial of difference (‘we are not aware of differences ’)
50% minimalisation (‘professional culture is more important’)
- Ethnorelative: one third
Flexible, negotiated British response translating as IDV concern
Assurance seeking German response translates a UAI concern
A striking feature was the outright denial of difference and any problems by global firms, interpretable as a high-level of self-protection, an unwillingness to assume the behavioural consequences of diversity, connected to an unawareness of the diversity - creativity – innovation cycle.
One third of the managers, mainly German, voiced reserves about disclosing information without parent company approval, interpretable as hierarchical obedience (PDI) or internalised consensus-oriented feature of British individualism.
COMPARISON OF MUTUAL COUNTRY CULTURE AND ORGANIZATIONAL CULTURE IMAGES
Time orientation seems to be a key to mutual perception: English national culture is more past-oriented (up to WW1), resulting in a more negative perception of Germany. German national culture is less past-oriented, positively reinforced by all social subsystems, resulting in a positive perception of UK.
Corporate culture, particularly knowledge-intensive firms are more present and future-oriented. However, the majority are still at varying ethnocentric stages of Bennett's IDM model or at the beginning of the inter-cultural awareness – knowledge - skills development cycle.
INTERVIEW-BASED RESEARCH RESULTS
ANGLO-GERMAN ORGANIZATIONAL MODELS
Implicit organizational models compared
Do implicit organisational models of ‘village market’ vs. ‘well-oiled machine’ require correction? The assumption that the British organizational model is neither centralized nor formalized may need some rectification, because firms invest millions in software for control and formalization of procedures such as Customer Relations Management. A computer-controlled environment with a simultaneous presumed absence of rules and procedures is a contradiction, as formalization of procedures is one of the objectives pursued thereby. Stevens’s and Hofstede’s research need nuancing in the light of automation. With regard to formalization, the gap between the two implicit organisational models seems to be narrowing. This reduces critical areas of interaction, particularly in the light of numerous mergers, which promote similarity through transfers of organizational features. Numerous firms addressed by me had changed ownership recently.
Anglo-German implicit organizational models and organizational design
HQ design communicates assumptions about management and leadership of the past, present and future. The fact that German HQ design reflects territorially defined hierarchy in the design of the managerial environment by reserving a special floor for Senior Management suggests a stronger notion of hierarchy and power distance than Hofstede’s and Stevens’s research indicate. It points to a more centralized, hierarchical, authoritarian and territorially defined notion of power - a more conservative organisational culture - than the more innovative British design, which does not allocate space in terms of hierarchy but rather in terms of functional relevance, more pragmatically. The spatial language of hierarchy is a nuancing corrective to supposedly identical Anglo-German PDI scores. The language of space can, additionally, be translated into a corporate culture’s management of time and communication flows. The spatial data of hierarchical compartmentalization also explain a compartmentalization of time (LC), more rigid and slower communication lines in the German model and more functional and flexible ones in the British.
There is also a distinct language of colour in both corporate designs, reflecting a British sense of uniqueness of its IDV orientation referred to as horizontal individualism by Triandis (2002, p25) vs. a more functional German task-orientation.
ORGANIZATIONAL CULTURE AND NATIONAL CULTURE
Is there a connection between national and corporate cultures?
The British legal and political system is based on precedent, compromise and negotiation (Mole, 1993, p.98) reflecting low UAV/PDI and high IDV scores: There is no written constitution or legal code of law, corresponding to the weak centralization and formalization of the ‘village market’. Conversely, Germany’s written constitution and law reflect a higher UAI and LTO, mirrored in the decentralized/formalized implicit organizational model.
Some authors (Stuart, 1994, p.67) argue, however, that the British corporate structure is ‘more formalized than the German, but more malleable, whereas the German would be less regulated, as German employees would have internalised the rules and purposes. The latter – internalisation of rules, control and purpose, referred to by Hofstede as internalised superego - results in a lower need of person- and rules-vested authority.
In both countries, national and corporate cultures are a continuum reinforcing each other and boosting the overall importance of culture. Successfully interfacing managers therefore have to satisfy both standards, societal and corporate, simultaneously.
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