It is as if the India Country Manager built the slide deck to slam the French Quality Assurance team. Saying nothing, the French Country Manager glares at the Indian Country Manager and waits until he is through talking. At the end of the Indian Country Managers presentation the French Country Manager tells him if he indeed did accomplish Six Sigma production levels there would be no need for French Q.A. To be so rigorous. However, he adds, the Indian subsidiary is performing way below acceptable quality levels on other products. The French manager, obviously angry, rattles off a series of statistics and the near-recall of another medical device. It is getting to the point of a full-on conflict and the VP of Products yells “Stop!” And the entire room falls silent. The VP goes back to the board, this time, banging on it with his hand right on the revenue figure. He reminds the team that their careers at GE are on the line. Either they pull together and make the launch successful or their reputations will be hurt. The room falls silent as the next presentation begins and even though it is clear slides are meant to attack other countries and their teams, the managers refrain and discuss how they could best work together, albeit very reluctantly.
Analyzing the Conflict between Countries in This Meeting
What is going on in this meeting is not as personal as the attendees think yet more culturally-based with the potential for resolution as well. The G.E. VP of Products needs to rely on the Hofstede Cultural Dimensions Model (Hofstede, 1998) to troubleshoot at the cultural level what is going on in this cross-cultural team. Dr. Hofstede created the Cultural Dimensions Model while he was working for IBM, a company known for moving managers rapidly from one location to the next, often experiencing culture shock as well (Hofstede, Neuijen, Ohayv, Daval, Sanders, 1990). The five cultural dimensions include Individualism (IDV), Long-Term Orientation (LTO), Masculinity, (MAS), Power Distance Index (PDI), and Uncertainty Avoidance (UAI). Using this model the VP of Products could have quickly seen that the conflicts between India and Japan are much more culturally-based than personality-based.
Figure 1, Cultural Dimensions Model of India and Japan graphically illustrates this.
Figure 1: Cultural Dimensions Model Applied to India and Japan
Japan has a much greater level of uncertainty avoidance than India, and also is much more longer-term focused. This explains why Japan is so effective with R&D yet does not appreciate and finds stressful a mindset of rapid product development and production efficiency sacrificing quality. The Japanese see years of investment being essential to a new product success and a consistency of production quality to keep to that level of innovation.
Comparing India to France explains why each is so at odds with each other. France, according to the Hofstede Model, has a very high need for uncertainty avoidance. This is a great cultural attribute for quality assurance, yet can significantly slow down a project if the standards are too high.
Figure 2: Cultural Dimensions Model Applied to India and Japan
Using this framework the VP of Products could set more productive goals for the entire team, taking into account the major variations in their cultural backgrounds. Without this insight however and the assumption all of them are the same, it will be very difficult to get to the challenging goals surrounding the new product introduction. Cultural awareness really does make goals more accomplishable.
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