An Empirical Investigation of the Values of Iranian Executives: Traditional versus Global Market-Based Orientations

Article excerpt

This study offers rare insights into the practices and values that shape business performance in the Iranian business environment. The values of a sample of Iranian executives are examined in the context of the unique Iranian business culture. Based on the results of this study, it appears that the values of those who lead Iranian business organizations are changing from a traditional, religious-based to a global market-based orientation. Perhaps this is a reflection of the openness, which has characterized the Iranian society in recent years. Business executives from developed countties seeking to establish strategic partnerships with their Iranian counterpaits are beginning to experience this change more and more in the last few years.

Introduction

Today's business organization is becoming increasingly technology-driven. Advanced technologies are used to enhance the efficiency, productivity and customer focus of the business organization. However, the human factor still makes or breaks any business organization. Business executives draw on their values, experience, and leadership abilities to chart strategic courses for their organizations. Thus, understanding the motivation, values and leadership characteristics of executives is the key to understanding the dynamics of successes and failures which define the moves and counter moves of business organizations in the competitive global marketplace. Therefore, research addressing the values of executives in a cultural context has practical as well as theoretical significance. On the practical side, such research facilitates the abilities of executives to understand each other, despite their cultural differences. On the theoretical side, such research is instrumental towards building unified theoretical frameworks, which facilitate empirical testing of relationships among constructs pertaining to effective leadership in cross-cultural business contexts.

What makes this line of research challenging is that "the concept of leadership itself is fraught with cultural meaning... Some cultures have no corresponding word for leader or leadership" (Alexander and Wilson 1997). In a global marketplace, business leaders must have a firm understanding of their own culture and how it is likely to be viewed by others. On the other hand, they also must have a strong sense of their place within their own culture, and whether their personal values represent or run counter to that culture. Thus, executives operating in global environment must be able to see the world from the perspective of the different cultures in which they operate, without losing their own cultural moorings (Alexander and Wilson 1997). Therefore, leadership concepts in different business cultures require careful study to understand the subtle measures which define proper behaviors and expectations. As James O'Toole (1995) states, "Most of what people believe to be true is subjective; and most of our factual knowledge is in fact influenced by our social conditions and environment." What we believe we know of other cultures is always "filtered" through our value systems. In this context, Peter Vaill (1996) speaks of the role of "cultural keys." "A cultural key is an understanding of the meaning of a given situation from the point of view of those cultural representatives who are involved in it in any way, both those of the culture in which the situation is occurring and those of other cultures."

The effectiveness of Iranian business organizations, not unlike their counterparts all over the globe, is influenced by the economic and political realities of the country, and the cultural values of executives who lead them. However, since the Islamic Revolution in 1979, empirical research addressing the impact of economic constraints, political realities and executives' values on the performance and effectiveness of Iranian businesses has been slow in forthcoming. The objective of this study is to shed some light on the realities and dynamics of the Iranian business culture and the values of its executives. …