Magazine article Management Review

TESTING Cultural WATERS

Magazine article Management Review

TESTING Cultural WATERS

Article excerpt

Considering a cross border partnership?

Beware of the cultural divide.

When managers decide to move business into a foreign country, they base their decision on two factors: There is a good market for the product, and the chosen country is politically stable.

They don't really worry that much about cultural differences.

Until they can't avoid them anymore.

Ask the managers at Deutsche Bank [public.deutsche-bank.de], which just absorbed Bankers Trust, to get a sense of what they're dealing with. "German bankers have a culture of long-term commitment,especially when they work in a retail banking environment like those at Deutsche Bank," says Terry Garrison, a professor at the Henley Management College in Oxford, UK, who specializes in cultural confiict issues. "They are having some trouble understanding American investment bankers, who think of themselves as 'hotshots,' who really don't look beyond 'the deal' of the moment."

For managers considering a move into a foreign market, it is often difficult to find a practical way to anticipate cultural confiicts. How can managers know what to expect? Certainly, there is an ocean of academic literature on the subject, from Geert Hofstedte on down, and no lack of consultants to explain how to drink tea in Japan and why negotiations with Italians take so long.

But reading Hofstedte or learning the tea ceremony won't help a manager who needs a simple, practical way to get at the cultural differences that affect her business. She needs a method to determine why her executives will not get along with those of the target company and what management styles to adopt so that the two groups will work efficiently together. Ultimately, she must help executives from the home country and the targeted market learn to communicate across the cultural divide; each must understand that the other perceives and interacts in a fundamentally different way.

Across Cultures

Garrison has invented a practical solution, a kind of "due diligence" for culture. Called the Triangle

Test, the technique surveys the executives involved to understand their attitudes toward a range of business and management issues. The results allow the observer to pinpoint quite clearly where and how executives from one country will conflict with those of another. The test is designed to measure these factors in the context of everyday business.

"The Triangle Test is a good tool to have," says Prabhu Guptara, director of organizational learning at the Union Bank of Switzerland in Zurich and a longtime specialist in intercultural matters. "[It] provides a more specific lens with which to view the new market."

Garrison is the first to admit that his work is not rigorous science. "The areas I deal with involve anthropology, sociology, psychology, economics and politics," he says. "Yet, I feel that a strictly academic approach would be too confining. I work at applied solutions, not research. Most of what I do would not be considered proper research in the social sciences."

Indeed, Garrison's work has been studiously disregarded by academics. None of it has appeared in any academic journal, and his books are not reviewed in them. But business has paid attention, and Garrison has done consulting work at Motorola, Sony, BASF, Bank of New York and British Gas. He is a longtime expert in European management and author of European Business Strategy, a textbook now in its eighth edition. Garrison runs the international management faculty at Henley and also teaches at the Universita degli Studi of Turin, Italy, the Indian Institute of Management at Calcutta, and the Centre de Recherches et d'Etudes of Paris.

National Attitudes

An example is perhaps the best way of showing how the Triangle Test works. In 1997, John Vickerman, human resources director for the London-based telecommunications provider

Cable & Wireless [www. …

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