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Cultural baggage and the adaptation of expatriate American and Japanese managers.

Abstract

* This study examines the degree to which expatriate managers' adaptational difficulties in a foreign culture are influenced by the cultural patterns they encounter in the host country vis-a-vis the culturally learned patterns expatriates carry with them as members of their home cultures.

* The research focused on the adaptation of American managers to Japan, Japanese managers to the United States and both American and Japanese managers to Thailand.

* Results indicate that Japanese and American managers differ significantly in their attitudinal satisfaction with living in a foreign culture, perceived effectiveness in functioning well in a foreign culture, and judged intercultural abilities in managing stress, communicating effectively, and developing satisfying relationships in a foreign culture. These findings support the notion that the cultural background of the expatriate sojourner may be more important than the particular country-specific environment in influencing cross-cultural adaptation.

Key Words

* International business, cross-cultural management, intercultural/cross-cultural effectiveness, cross-cultural adaptation, expatriate sojourn, expatriate managerial adaptation, Japanese/American management effectiveness.

Introduction

The intercultural' abilities of managers on overseas assignments are increasingly recognized as important to bottom-line' performance of multinational businesses (Dowling and Schuler 1990). As a result of this growing awareness, investigations focusing on the dimensions of managerial cross-cultural effectiveness have emerged as one area of inquiry that has received increasing attention within the international management field (Kealey and Ruben 1983, Tung 1981). Literature in this area has dealt with a number of matters related to the sojourn assignment, including compensation, adaptation, selection and training of expatriate managers (Earley 1987, Mendenhall, Dunbar and Oddou 1987, Mendenhall and Oddou 1985). This work is part of a larger body of research on sojourners in general dealing with cross-cultural training (e.g., Gudykunst and Hammer 1983, Landis and Brislin 1983a, 1983b, 1983c) and sojourner adaptation (see reviews by Benson 1978, Church 1982, Furnham and Bochner 1986, Kim and Gudykunst 1987, Stening 1979). A number of writers have pointed out that cross-cultural difficulties can inhibit successful overseas managerial performance, as evidenced in increased organizational costs, problems in coping with life in a foreign environment, culture shock, and even premature return home (Black 1988, Feldman 1976, Harris and Moran 1987, Henry 1965, Lanier 1979, Schaaf 1981, Tung 1982). Various investigations have confirmed that the predominant reason for ineffective managerial performance is not due to the technical competence of the managers (which is typically quite high), but to the dynamics of the intercultural experience (Brislin 1981, Dinges 1983, Kealey and Ruben 1983, Tung 1982).

One question that has remained largely unexplored is the relative importance of the characterteristics of the host culture vis-a-vis the cultural background of the expatriates themselves. That is, to what extent are expatriates' difficulties a function of the cultural patterns they encounter in the host culture and to what extent are they determined by the culturally learned patterns expatriates carry as members of their home cultures? The aim of this study was to offer a preliminary investigation of this important issue. To this end, the research sought to assess the level of success in adaptation experienced by expatriate managers from two cultures, each working in the other's culture and both working in a third country. Specifically, this study examines the cross-cultural adaptation of American managers in Japan, Japanese managers in the United States and both American and Japanese managers in Thailand.

Before proceeding to a discussion of the methods employed in the study, the choice of expatriate groups and assignment locations deserves brief explanation. At the practical level, the choice of Americans and Japanese as the two expatriate groups was straightforward: these groups are, in number of persons and in revenue generated through international trade, the most important groups of their kind. At the theoretical level, the choice of these two culture groups was based on the work of Hofstede (1980), who derived four dimensions of cultural variability based on data obtained from managers in 53 countries employed by a large multinational firm. The identified dimensions are: (1) Power Distance, the degree to which unequal power distributions are accepted; (2) Uncertainty Avoidance, the degree to which cultures have a higher tolerance for uncertainty and ambiguity; (3) Individualism, the degree to which individuals' goals take precedence over group goals; and (4) Masculinity, the degree to which cultures place a higher value on things, power and assertiveness versus people, quality of life and nurturance. The 'scores' obtained by Hofstede (1980) for the US on each of the four dimensions are: (1) power distance = 40; (2) uncertainty avoidance = 46; (3) individualism = 91; and (4) masculinity = 62. The scores obtained by Hofstede for Japan are: (1) power distance = 54; (2) uncertainty avoidance = 92; individualism = 46; and masculinity = 95. As a point of comparison, the mean scores on each dimension for the thirty-nine countries in the Hofstede study are: (1) power distance = 51; (2) uncertainty avoidance = 64; (3) individualism = 51; (4) masculinity = 51. Further, the rank positions of Japan and the United States among the thirty-nine countries on each dimension were, respectively, as follows: (1) power distance, 21 and 25; (2) untertainty avoidance, 4 and 31; (3) individualism, 22 and 1; (4) masculinity, 1 and 13. Though there are certain cultural similarities, particularly with respect to power distance, overall these scores reflect clear differences in cultural patterns between the two countries, providing a theoretical basis for selecting Japanese and American managers in examining the influence of culture' on adaptation.

While assessments of the degree of adaptation of Japanese managers in the United States and American managers in Japan provides one kind of comparison, it does not permit as rigorous an examination of the influence of culture as desired. That is, it would be difficult to determine, if differences were found in adaptation between these two groups, whether the observed differences were actually due to cultural background or to differences in the cultural environments in which adaptation occurred.

Therefore, it became necessary to examine the adaptation pattern of Japanese managers and American managers in a 'third' cultural setting which would represent as closely as possible an 'equally difficult' cultural environment for managerial adaptation. In this respect, Thailand is an acceptable choice as it has been identified as culturally dissimilar to both the United States and Japan (Runglertkrengkrai and Engkaninan 1987), a conclusion supported by the work of Hofstede (1980). The scores obtained by Hofstede for Thailand on the four dimensions of cultural variability are: (1) power distance = 64; (2) uncertainty avoidance = 64; (3) individualism = 20; and (4) masculinity = 34, indicating that Thailand is closer to Japan on power distance and individualism and closer to the United States on uncertainty avoidance and masculinity. Further, Hofstede's analysis integrating the four dimensions shows that Japan forms a cluster of its own ("More Developed Asian"), the United States is part of the "Anglo" cluster, while Thailand is part of another cluster ("Less Developed Asian"). Thus, while it would be going too far to argue that Thailand is equidistant from Japan and the United States, it does fulfill the criteria for a third', independent cultural environment.

Methods

Sample

The study is based on the responses of 62 American managers in Japan, 70 Japanese managers in the United States and 36 American and 123 Japanese managers in Thailand. All the managers surveyed were male. Using lists of expatriate managers compiled from information obtained from the American Chamber of Commerce in Japan, the Japan Business Association of Southern California (Los Angeles), the American Chamber of Commerce in Thailand and the Japanese Chamber of Commerce in Thailand and the Japanese Chamber of Commerce, Bangkok, questionnaires were mailed to a sample of 150, 150, 90 and 250 senior and middle-level expatriate managers in these locations, respectively. The response rates ranged from 40 percent (American managers in Thailand) to 49 percent (Japanese managers in Thailand) and can be considered to be quite satisfactory, especially when compared to similar studies.

The pertinent characteristics of each sample are provided in Table 1. In general, each of the four sample groups appear to be similar on most background characteristics examined. These include age; marital status; whether the manager was accompanied by his spouse; whether the manager and spouse had any children; number of children; educational attainments;,number of months on assignment in host culture and previous experience in the host culture. A difference did exist in previous overseas work experience; eighty- three percent of the Americans in Thailand had previous experience in other countries compared to 36 percent of the Japanese in the United States and 29 percent of Americans in Japan and Japanese in Thailand. Also, the Americans in Thailand had spent a somewhat longer time working in other cultures than the other Japanese or Americans in the study. Overall, the typical' respondent was between 41 and 46 years of age, married and with children. The respondents' spouse accompanied the manager on the overseas assignment. The respondent had a college degree, little work experience in other countries, and no previous experience in the host culture. The respondent had been working on his present assignment, however, for three years or longer.

[TABULAR DATA OMITTED]

Research instruments

Measures for perceived effectiveness, perceived satisfaction, ability to establish interpersonal relationships, ability to manage stress, and ability to communicate effectively were based on the work of Hammer and his associates (Gudykunst and Hammer 1984, Hammer 1987, Hammer, Gudykunst and Wiseman 1978, Hammer, Nishida and Jezek 1988). In the original study, Hammer et al. (1978) examined 24 personal abilities thought to be important in sojourner effectiveness. Through factor analysis, three dimensions of intercultural effectiveness were identified: (1) ability to manage psychological stress; (2) ability to effectively communicate; and (3) ability to establish interpersonal relationships. Subsequent research using Japanese and American samples (Abe and Wiseman 1983, Gudykunst and Hammer 1984, Hammer 1987) confirmed the three-factor model. The present research, based upon this conceptual model, employs a slightly modified version of the measures of intercultural effectiveness developed by Hammer et al. (1978). Specifically, in the present study, the following items from the Hammer et al. (1978) study were employed: (1) intercultural stress scale: ability to deal effectively with frustration, ability to deal effectively with stress, ability to deal effectively with different political systems, and ability to deal effectively with anxiety; (2) intercultural communication scale: ability to initiate interaction with a stranger, ability to enter into meaningful dialogue with other people, and ability to effectively deal with communication misunderstandings between myself and others; and (3) intercultural relationship scale: ability to develop satisfying interpersonal relationships with other people, ability to maintain satisfying interpersonal relationships with other people, ability to accurately understand the feelings of another person, ability to empathize with another person, and ability to effectively work with other people.

For each of these items, respondents were asked to rate their ability on a six-point scale (1 = very able; 6 = not at all able). To assess satisfaction and perceived effectiveness, respondents were asked to rate themselves on a six-point scale (1 = greater satisfaction and greater perceived effectiveness, respectively; 6 = less satisfaction and less perceived effectiveness, respectively). The questionnaire also asked respondents to provide various items of background information on themselves.

While the questionnaires for the American managers were, naturally, in English, those for the Japanese managers were in Japanese and, to ensure equivalence with the English language version, had been translated and then back-translated (see Abe and Wiseman 1983).

Accompanying the questionnaire was a cover letter (in Japanese for the Japanese managers) explaining, in broad terms, the purpose of the study, and a stamped addressed envelope in which to return the completed questionnaire.

Results

Table 2 presents a summary of the scale reliabilities analysis (coefficient alpha), means and standard deviations for the intercultural stress scale, the intercultural communication scale, the intercultural relationship scale, and the satisfaction and effectiveness items for each of the four groups studied. Reliabilities for the stress, communication and relationship measures were generally satisfactory (0.65 or higher) with the coefficient alphas for group 3 (Americans in Thailand; N = 36) for the stress and communication scales being somewhat low (0.60 and 0.50, respectively).

[TABULAR DATA OMITTED]

Overall, all four groups had generally positive ratings of their attitudinal satisfaction and perceived effectiveness in living in the host cultures as well as their abilities to manage intercultural stress, communicate effectively, and develop satisfying intercultural relationships.

Table 3 presents Pearson coefficient correlations for all variables examined for each of the four groups. Correlations among all the variables were significant p<0.05) for GI (Japanese managers in Thailand) and G4 (Japanese managers in the US). For G2 (Americans in Japan), only the correlation between communication and satisfaction (0.07) was not significant. For G3 Americans in Thailand), correlations between stress and relationships (0.13); stress and effectiveness (0.25); communication and relationships (0.03), satisfaction (0.19), and effectiveness (0.18) were not significant. In general, moderate intercorrelations exist among the variables.

[TABULAR DATA OMITTED]

Table 4 presents the results of one-way analysis of variance used to test the influence of cultural background versus host culture environment on managers' effectiveness. Results on attitudinal satisfaction reveal significant differences among the means of the four groups (F 3,288 = 9.67, p < 0.05). Further analysis (Duncan's Multiple Range Test) indicates that the Japanese in Thailand (G1) were significantly less satisfied with living in the host culture that the other groups (G2, G3 and G4).

For effectiveness, significant differences among the means were found (F 3,288 = 6.48, p < 0.05). Additional analysis indicates that the Japanese in Thailand (GI) perceived themselves as significantly less effective in functioning in the host culture than either of the two American groups (G2, G3), and the Japanese in the US (G4) rated themselves as significantly less effective in living in the host culture than the Americans in Thailand (G3).

Significant differences were found among the four group means on the three ability dimensions (Stress: F3,288 = 7.05, p<0.05; Communication: F 3,288 = 3.42, p < 0.05; Relationship: F 3,288 = 4.54, p < 0.05). Additional analysis reveals that: (1) the two Japanese manager groups (G1, G4) rated themselves significantly lower in their ability to manage stress than the American groups (G2, G3); the Japanese managers in Thailand (G1) rated themselves as significantly less able to effectively communicate compared to the American managers in Thailand (G3) while the Japanese in the US (G4) rated themselves significantly lower in their ability to communicate effectively than either of the two American manager groups (G2, G3); and (3) the Japanese managers in Thailand (G1) viewed themselves significantly lower in their ability to establish intercultural relationships than the American managers in Thailand (G3), while the Japanese managers in the US (G4) rated themselves significantly lower in their ability to establish intercultural relationships than either of the two American manager groups (G2, G3).

Discussion

This study provides evidence that Japanese and American managers differ significantly in their attitudinal satisfaction with living in a foreign culture, perceived effectiveness in functioning well in a foreign culture, and judged intercultural abilities in managing stress, communicating effectively, and developing satisfying relationships. This particular pattern of results offers preliminary support for the notion that it is the cultural background of the individuals which may be more important than the particular country-specific environment in influencing stress, communication and relationship skill enactment. That is, there was greater similarity (less variance) in Japanese manager responses in two different country-specific contexts (Thailand and the US) and in American manager responses in two different country-specific contexts (Thailand and Japan) compared to responses from expatriate managers (Japanese and American) in Thailand or in the others' host culture (i.e., Japan or the US). For instance, it was argued earlier that the Thailand experience was fairly similar for both the Japanese and American managers. Yet in spite of this apparent country-specific similarity of experience, the American (G3) and Japanese (G1) managers in Thailand differed significantly in their responses on all variables assessed, while there were no significant differences between the two American manager groups (G2, G3) nor between the two Japanese (GI, G4) manager groups (with the exception of the satisfaction measure) despite the two very different cultural contexts lived in by the American and Japanese managers.

These findings also suggest that, from the respondents' own assessments, the Japanese managers had a generally less favorable attitude toward their intercultural experience and their social skills compared to the American managers. From a training standpoint, these results may suggest a greater self-perceived need for cross-cultural preparation efforts for the Japanese managers. Further, these findings would seem to indicate that at least some focus in the training may be profitably directed toward increasing the managers stress management, communication and relationship skills. Leaving aside the possibility of response bias in the data for the moment, one might be led to conclude that those studies (e.g., Tung 1982) which have commented very favorably on the success' achieved by Japanese firms in managing their expatriates may have used as their criteria (for example, proportion of early returns to the host culture), variables which, by the nature of the pressures imposed by Japanese society, reflect better on Japanese firms than American firms, and which may mask difficulties and anxieties felt by individual expatriate managers.

There are two potential alternative explanations for the findings obtained in the present study that need to be discussed. First, it is possible that the generally lower scores of the Japanese managers reflect a response bias rather than an actual difference in perceived satisfaction, effectiveness and judged ability in managing stress, communicating effectively, and establishing intercultural relationships. While this is always a danger in conducting cross-cultural research, there is evidence from other studies (e.g., Stening and Everett 1984) to suggest that it is not a serious problem when seeking to compare the responses of expatriate American and Japanese managers.

A second possible explanation for the findings concerns the potential con- founding influence of the organization' in influencing the degree of cross- cultural effectiveness obtained by the Japanese and American managers. This argument would have greater force if one of the outcome measures of cross- cultural effectiveness concerned job performance. However, the three measures of effectiveness used in the present study were concerned with aspects of cross-cultural adaptation that occur outside of the immediate influence of the particular organizations involved. Further, while there is a wealth of literature illustrating the differences between American and Japanese management philosophies and practices, structurally the corporations within which the American and Japanese managers in this study worked were very similar in the sense that they were predominantly very large, multinational corporations.

To conclude, a specific implication for cross-cultural training and three suggestions for future research in this area appear warranted. Typically, culturespecific cross-cultural training programs are designed with the assumption that increased understanding of the target culture will lead to improved adaptation in that culture. Our findings suggest that standardized culture-specific training (e.g., the area studies models) may be insufficient because the cultural background factors (e.g., values, non-verbal expressiveness) are not adequately accounted for. For example, culture- specific training for Thailand-bound expatriates should be different for Japanese than for American managers.

Research needs to examine further the influence of cultural background on the cross-cultural effectiveness of Japanese and American managers using other host-culture environments. In this regard, the theoretical work of Hofstede (1980) provides one useful approach for conceptualizing cultural variability. Second, previous research by Ruben (1976), Ruben and Kealey (1979), Hawes and Kealey (1981), Nishida (1985) and Hammer and Clarke (1987) demonstrates that intercultural skills are highly predictive of a number of intercultural effectiveness and adaptation outcomes, including attitudinal satisfaction with living in a foreign culture and perceived effective functioning in a foreign culture. Further, the work by Hammer and his associates (Gudykunst and Hammer 1984, Hammer et al. 1978, Hammer 1987, Hammer 1989) indicates that the stress management, communication and relationship skills assessed in the present study are viewed as important by both the Japanese and Americans in facilitating their effective functioning in a foreign culture. Therefore, future research needs to begin to specify a model of intercultural effectiveness which incorporates the three intercultural skill domains of stress management, communication and relationship maintenance. One intriguing question that needs to be investigated, therefore, is: to what degree are stress management skills, communication skills, and relationship skills predictive of the managers attitudinal satisfaction and perceived effectiveness in functioning well in the targeted foreign cultures? Finally, further work is clearly required to link the self-report data of studies such as this to other, possibly more objective, measures of adjustment and performance.

[TABULAR DATA OMITTED]

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Author:Stening, Bruce W.; Hammer, Mitchell R.
Publication:Management International Review
Date:Jan 1, 1992
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