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LEADING ACROSS CULTURES AT MICHELIN

Introduction

More often, multinational corporations have to transfer talent from their headquarters to subsidiaries and vice versa. The expatriates encounter numerous challenges such as cultural differences that hinder their effective communication. As a result, they are unable to transfer human resource and business practices that are bearing positive results in other nations. The Chalon experience shows that there are cultural differences between the Americans and the French that make it difficult for the manager to handle the subordinates. It forces an executive with more than eighteen years experience of motivating staff to produce results back on the drawing board to understand why the workers found it hard to work with him. The example highlights the importance of training international staff about cross-cultural management to eradicate all communication barriers to facilitate the transfer best business and HR practices.

Case Analysis

Olivier Chalon was a senior executive with Michelin who had managed teams for large corporations in six countries in multicultural environments in a career spanning almost two decades. His transfer to the United States was a natural choice for a manager who had the tradition of turning departments around and making them profitable again. He thought that it would be easy to work with Americans, and was hoping for a smooth transition. He later learns that he was grossly misadvised because many French managers find it difficult to work with American workers and vice versa. Within a few months of reporting to the Michelin offices in Greenville, South Carolina, he began to doubt his leadership style for the first time in his career. He could not understand why the American workers said he was arrogant, cold, and distant.

Jeff Armstrong, the HRM manager for North America, had confided in Chalon that most employees found his leadership style demoralising. Some thought they could lose their jobs within after a few months and some were already seeking other positions within the company to be away from the new manager’s line of duty. This was something new in his career because the highlights of his achievements were motivating employees to attain outstanding results. For example, in his last workstation, he had driven over 1,500 employees of European descent to turn around a business worth more $ 1 billion increasing its profits by more than 50 percent every quarter. It was critical for him to understand the situation and make the appropriate changes to maintain his reputation and turn around the division.

Chalon initial assessment of the American market and the workers was wrong. He used the wrong parameters to measure his competencies. What he considered important was his work in Europe covering countries such as the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, France, and Spain among others where he had immense success. In his opinion, he would do well in the American market because he was fluent in English among other languages and had an American sister-in-law with whom he had a cordial relationship. Notably, according to the Jeff Armstrong report, Chalon was performing well in all aspects concerning the business and his relationships with the customers was excellent. The challenge was how to handle the employees who are crucial players in his agenda of turning around the division. For this reason, Armstrong suggested that he seeks the assistance of an intercultural management consultant to guide him in handling American professionals.

Understanding culture aids in communication

The above analysis shows that the challenge that Chalon was facing was a communication barrier caused by the conflict of the American and French cultures. The two value systems made it difficult for the employees to understand their manager. Chalon was sure that he was a fair but a firm leader who demanded results and accountability from his team of workers. In his experience, he was confident that the best way to achieve results was to demand them and then set high standards for his team to deliver. The approach surprised most of his colleagues who preferred greater effort at building consensus before the manager made some decisions (Burt, Hogarth, and Michaud, 2000). The fact that he could demand rework from some experienced colleagues was discouraging because of the expectations of most American employees is to make decisions, work, and then review. These decisions can change in the course of implementation if better alternatives emerge (De Mooij, 2018). The French experience was to ensure that all the plans were well thought before implementation.

Stereotypes about French managers suggest that they are hierarchical, centralised, and rigid. The perception in some markets such as the United States is that the manager is always right and colleagues cannot question them (Eringa et al., 2015). While Chalon was an entrepreneur and innovator, the element of commanding employees to do as he wished was also common. These behaviours were in contrast with the American system of corporate governance that involves the building of consensus before making critical decisions (Hall and Hall, 1990; Hofstede, 2003). These relationships relate to the way individuals describe to power in their community as suggested by Hofstede framework of understanding cultures. Besides, the American workers are used to leaders who they can relate with regularly. They are also intrusive to the private lives of their workers, which make the French uncomfortable. When the French fail to share their personal experiences, the American workers think that they are individualistic and cannot work in groups.

Culture plays an important in communication and more so for leaders of multinational corporations. Managers who deal with different cultures understand that it is more critical to release the right responses in others than to send what a manager thinks is the right message (Kirkman, Lowe, and Gibson,  2006; Meyer, 2014). Understanding the culture of the nations hosting the organisation makes it easy for the manager to interact with their employees and pass the best practices from their homeland. According to the Hofstede’s power distance dimension, the French are part of the large power distance countries where there are limited interactions between the workers and their leaders (Luthans and Doh, 2012). When these individuals meet with their short power distance counterparts like the Americans, they experience a communication barrier if the leader is from one side and the workers are from the other.

In some cases, the differences in culture are confusing to MNCs managers. For example, most American managers think that the French are hierarchical in their approach to leadership and consider themselves egalitarian (Roberts, Kossek, and Ozeki, 1998; Meyer, 2017). However, the French believe that American managers are autocratic. From the outside, they appear to be individuals who build consensus by involving their employees in discussions about the business. However, they do not consider the input of the rest of the group in making the final decisions (Signorini, Wiesemes, and Murphy, 2009; Steers, Sanchez-Runde, and Nardon, 2010). The moment they make the decisions, the rest of the organisation has to abide. On the contrary, Americans take more time in building consensus, and after making a decision, all the members of the teams play their roles in implementing the resolutions. The meetings of these cultures in an organisation are very confusing, and managers cannot handle them well if they have no training in cross-cultural management.

Conclusion

Cross-cultural management is one of the most critical factors that multinationals have to consider before sending expatriates to countries that have different values from their homeland. The case of the French Manager in South Carolina shows that it is difficult to transfer human resource and business practices that were working in Europe to the United States and the rest of North America. While the executive was highly qualified with more than eighteen years experience in motivating staff, the feedback that he was getting in America he was distant, arrogant, cold, and out of touch with his colleagues. The workers were sure that they were going to lose their jobs and were seeking transfers from his production line. As the human resources manager noted, the challenge was the cultural difference between the Americans and French cultures. Armstrong was sure that with a few lessons from a cross-cultural management consultant, Chalon could transfer the business and HR practices that were effective in turning around corporations in Europe.

Reference List

Burt, R.S., Hogarth, R.M. and Michaud, C., 2000. The social capital of French and American managers. Organization science, 11(2), pp.123-147.

Eringa, K., Caudron, L.N., Rieck, K., Xie, F. and Gerhardt, T., 2015. How relevant are Hofstede’s dimensions for inter-cultural studies? A replication of Hofstede’s research among current international business students. Research in Hospitality Management, 5(2), pp.187-198.

De Mooij, M., 2018. Global marketing and advertising: Understanding cultural paradoxes. London: SAGE Publications Limited.

Hall, E.T. and Hall, M.R., 1990. Understanding cultural differences:[Germans, French and Americans] (Vol. 9). Yarmouth, ME: Intercultural press.

Hofstede, G., 2003. What is culture? A reply to Baskerville. Accounting, Organizations and Society, 28(7-8), pp.811-813.

Kirkman, B.L., Lowe, K.B. and Gibson, C.B., 2006. A quarter century of culture’s consequences: A review of empirical research incorporating Hofstede’s cultural values framework. Journal of international business studies, 37(3), pp.285-320.

Luthans, F. and Doh, J.P., 2012. International management: Culture, strategy, and behavior. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Meyer, E., 2014. Navigating the cultural minefield. Harvard business review, 92(5), pp.119-123.

Meyer, E., 2017. Being the boss in Brussels, Boston, and Beijing. Harvard Business Review, 95, pp.70-77.

Roberts, K., Kossek, E.E. and Ozeki, C., 1998. Managing the global workforce: Challenges and strategies. Academy of Management Perspectives, 12(4), pp.93-106.

Signorini, P., Wiesemes, R. and Murphy, R., 2009. Developing alternative frameworks for exploring intercultural learning: a critique of Hofstede’s cultural difference model. Teaching in Higher Education, 14(3), pp.253-264.

Steers, R.M., Sanchez-Runde, C.J. and Nardon, L., 2010. Management across cultures: Challenges and strategies. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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