Does National Culture Induce a Style of Management? or Is Management Style the Product of Economic Necessity? This Article Considers the Arguments for and against the Culture-Contingent Explanation of Managerial Diversity

By Reihlen, Markus | European Business Forum, Spring 2001 | Go to article overview

Does National Culture Induce a Style of Management? or Is Management Style the Product of Economic Necessity? This Article Considers the Arguments for and against the Culture-Contingent Explanation of Managerial Diversity


Reihlen, Markus, European Business Forum


Over the last four decades, ideas about management styles have been dominated first by the American management model and later by the Japanese. The underlying assumption has always been the existence of a country specific management model as a result of the national cultural heritage. Does it seem viable to claim that management style is highly influenced by deep rooted cultural forces of a nation? Do the French in general manage their enterprises differently from the Danes? Two main standpoints have evolved that can be called the culture-free and the culture-contingent position (Child/Kieser, 1997 and Osterloh, 1994).

Proponents of the culture-free position argue that management style is a result of the deeper logic of industrialism generating essentials of an economic and technological nature. As to how firms manage their personnel is less a result of the country's cultural contingencies, but rather dependent on the size, technology and industry environment of the organisation. The logic of a venture firm competing on their superior know-how and learning skills calls for a management model supporting these conditions. It is well known that firms competing on innovation use a more professional and participative management style in contrast to traditional mass producers of screws, plastic toys or hamburgers. This seems to be evident around the globe. Likewise, the management of fast food chains does not seem to differ much in various cultural settings.

The opposite viewpoint is the culture-contingent position. Advocates argue that societies exhibit distinct and relatively persistent cultures embedding widely shared patterns of thought and manners. The cultural heritage of a country is reproduced by its members as any new generation is socialised with the beliefs and values of the former. Although firms compete in industries under different conditions, they all face the same cultural contingencies within a country leading them to adopt similar structures and leadership styles appropriate to cultural forces. Studies of comparative management demonstrate evidence the Japanese manage their firms quite differently from the Americans. Therefore national culture might be a reason for the diverse styles of organising and managing firms. Culture matters for management, but it might not be the dominating factor influencing management style. When thinking about European management styles, one should always remember these two positions. European management models--whether the Italian, German, Swedish, French or English--are idealised types. All forms of idealisation have one great disadvantage, they do not always match with reality. Moreover, nobody can reasonably expect one person to describe a country's management in a way that will cover all relevant issues.

European Cultural Diversity

Today it is quite astonishing that European countries are still culturally heterogeneous despite having shared such a lot of their history (Hofstede, 1993; Munch, 1993). European integration has released unusual economic forces, but culture, languages, world views and traditions are still very different. Europeans are far away from having a distinctive culture as it can be claimed for the United States or Japan. Hence diverse approaches have been used to cope with pressing problems of our time. There are more national differences in solving problems of economic growth, technology development, pollution control and drug policy than uniformity in comparison to non-European countries.

Europe will have to cope with a number of languages and corresponding cultural identities. Evolving uniform ways of thinking, life styles and attitudes that can be recognised in Europe are rather a result of the global cultural exchange, especially with North America, than a product of an emerging European culture. The European Union is an economic power house, but lacking sufficient political government capacity, internal identity and solidarity. …

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Does National Culture Induce a Style of Management? or Is Management Style the Product of Economic Necessity? This Article Considers the Arguments for and against the Culture-Contingent Explanation of Managerial Diversity
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