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Comparative Management Practices in China and the West

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Comparative Management Practices in China and the West

It is true to say that globalisation is a two-way street. As international business and trade continue to grow, models of organisations and approaches to management are beginning to merge; nevertheless it remains imperative for firms to understand and govern across the myriad of cultural differences which still exist. These differences seem most apparent in China, where managerial values are deeply rooted in archaic and powerful culture. Some authors argue that even with a certain degree of convergence between Chinese and Western cultures, such convergence does have its restrictions.

The Hofstede model of national culture differences, based on research carried out in the early seventies, is the first major study to receive worldwide attention. This influential model of cultural traits identifies five dimensions of culture that help to explain how and why people from various cultures behave as they do. According to Hofstede (1997) culture is Щ[ collective programming of the mind? This referring to a set of assumptions, beliefs, values and practices that a group of people has condoned as a result of the history of their engagements with one another and their environment over time. In this study, culture refers to a set of core values and behavioural patterns people have due to socialisation to a certain culture. The authorМј theoretical framework will be applied to compare differing management practices in China and the West. The five measurements of culture identified by the author are:

(1) power distance ( measured from small to large);

(2) collectivism versus individualism;

(3) femininity versus masculinity

(4) uncertainty avoidance ( from weak to strong)

(5) short term versus short term

The first national culture dimension to be identified is the measurement of power distance. This can be defined as the degree of inequality among people built upon what the population of that country accepts as normal. In countries with high power distance like China, individuals are more likely to accept differences in authority or inequality. Management are inclined to be dictatorial, making autocratic and paternalistic decisions, with their subordinates remaining faithful and obedient to them at all times. Often these societies or institutions possess business structures that are typified by close control over all operations. Organisation structures tend to be tall hierarchies with numerous levels within a formal setting. One of the reasons that can be identified for the acceptance of this type of authority in China is derived from thousands of years of political centralisation, which tends to result in a tradition of obedience. A second reason is that the stability of society in China, according to traditional Confucian beliefs, relies on unequal relationships among individuals in a hierarchical social structure. Although dealing with individuals differently, according to their social status is contrary to most egalitarian Western ideals, it is widely accepted in China.

In stark contrast, in western countries with moderate to low power distance, individuals place more emphasis and value on independence. Management are not always inclined to be autocratic and will consult with their subordinates before making decisions, giving the perception of a fairly strong work ethic within which employees remain equal and content. Organisational structures tend to be flatter and informal in nature, implying a more liberal culture, in which employees have some degree of freedom and expression.

HofstedeМј second cultural value reflects a continuum spanning from collectivism to individualism, a dimension that is also supported by the more recent research work by Fons Trompenaars. This cultural value is recognised as one the most important of the cultural dimensions because of the vast differences in tendencies that exist between the east and the west.

China has invariably been identified as a country with a high level of collectivism. According to Rugman (2000) Эwollectivism is, by its nature, an act of balancing the need of the individual against the need of society? In China, it would appear most natural to look upon things as part of something much bigger, where the will of one person is a part of the co-operative will.

Collectivism also places a greater emphasis on group decision making and the building of strong relationships with their collegues. While in Western countries it is believed that all individuals should be different and unique, the Chinese strive for the dissolution of the soul. Therefore, it is very common for individuals of a Chinese origin to converse in a we-form rather than an I-form. This form of unity can also be identified when success is achieved in the organisation, this achievement will be recognised as a collective effort in which no single individual will be praised and a sense of belongingness to the group will be reinforced.

A reason for such strong collectivism within the Chinese culture can be traced back thousands of years. As one of the oldest civilisations in the world, Chinese society has historically been based in agriculture, and their culture, therefore, is tied to land. This basis has developed ChinaМј unusually high collectivism level, the primary reason is due to the historic emphasis on the group relationships which were required to plant, raise and harvest the crop on a communal basis.

On the contrary, western countries advocate individualism, democracy and egalitarianism. These cultures have a tendency to look after themselves first, striving to do there best in order to stand out from the crowd. These countries place strong emphasis on individual initiative and successes and also encourage employees to make individual



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