Corporate Culture:
Intercultural Transferability of Management Concepts

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The author: Dr. Roland Rollberg

Technical University, Faculty of Economics

Mommsenstraße 13, D-01062 Dresden

Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, May 26, 1999, page 66

A society has a significant impact on the corporate cultures residing in it. With this in mind, the effectiveness of management concepts should always be discussed within the context of the culture in which they were developed. Successfully transferring these concepts to companies in other societies is possible, but not easy: for just as a society can produce various corporate cultures, a corporate culture can contain elements of various societies - provided that they are functionally equivalent

Employees unconscious attitudes towards the world, man and their company form the basis of corporate culture. These attitudes manifest themselves in values and norms (ideology, mentality, work habits). For the most part, employees are consciously aware of these values and norms.

Corporate culture comes to life in the form of Symbols (architecture, clothing, corporate logos, "corporate-speak" and special rituals), the tangible, concrete aspects of culture, or "symptoms". Because the origins of symbols are deeply embedded in the attitudes of the employees, corporate culture can be changed only through influencing these attitudes. This, in turn, can be accomplished only through influencing the symbols.

In the case that management is not successful in directly influencing employee attitudes, the "culture-bound theory" might apply. This theory identifies society as having the greatest impact on corporate culture.

The strong connection between corporate culture and society is due to the fact that companies are in constant contact with their social environment, e.g. with customers, co-workers, suppliers, competitors or public officials. A new employee brings elements of his former employers value system with him into his new organization. This has a direct and significant influence on the corporate culture. Thus, how a corporate culture develops is dependent on society. A society allows for a certain variation of corporate cultures, as long as their company-specific elements align themselves with the societies basic values. Consequently, the "culture-free theory", which postulates the independence of corporate culture from society, is invalid.

In examining the intercultural transferability of management concepts, the "globalization" and "contingency" theories offer themselves for consideration. Supporters of the globalization theory consider management concepts to be "culture neutral" and immune to societal influence. In contrast, supporters of the contingency theory assert that the success of a given concept is dependent on the society in which it was developed.

The dogmatic stance taken by each side renders both theories questionable. The "equivalence theory" should serve to balance them out. It states that the intercultural transferability of management concepts can be successful if the societies of the affected countries are functionally equivalent but not necessarily identical.

This means that the characteristics of two cultures can differ from each other as long as they have a similar effect on the behavior of their respective populations. When this is the case, similar corporate cultures can develop in different societies and go on to form the basis for the successful application of homogeneous work methods.

One example is team work, a critical success factor for Japanese management concepts that is also practiced by Western companies. In Japan, the concept of teamwork is strengthened by the Confucian ideal of mutual loyalty and human relations. In the West, where individuality is held in high esteem, it is reinforced by unsatisfied social needs. Another example is the Japanese attitude towards wastefulness. This philosophy stems directly from Japans lack of raw materials and is compatible with western societies growing concern for the shortage of global resources.

Since attitudes, values and norms of any two societies are never entirely functional equivalent, foreign management concepts must almost always be modified before being implemented.


Prof. Dr. Hermann Simon

Simon, Kucher & Partners

Bonn, Vienna, Paris, Cambridge/MA