Transcultural Management in HR – 3500 word essay


1.0 Introduction …………………………………………………………………….3

2.0 Description of Transcultural Management and the Power

      Of Ethical Management ……………………………………………….………4

2.1 Historical Traces of Poor Ethical Management…………………………………4

2.2 Alternative management models……………………………………………..…..5 2.3 Western Management style………………………………………………………5

2.4 Importance of Human Investment in an International Context………………..…6

2.5 Management of Cultural Diversity………………….……………………………7

3.0 The Responsibility of the Transcultural Manager…………………….……….9

4.0 Conclusion and Recommendations ……………………………………………….10

5.0 References ………………………………………………………………………12


  • Taking Stock
  • Life Line



This paper argues that the Transcultural Human Resource Leader should focus on more than just acquiring ordinary human resource tools and a few words of foreign language, but focus on the (w) holistic person, which includes not only strategy, systems and structure of the organisation but also the staff, their skills, beliefs and shared values in addition to their spirituality and style. The whole system of values must be analysed rather than simply a few of its individual components.

The use of the western management style in Africa has proven to be unfavourable and inappropriate as it tends not to involve the people at work and their interests.  However, the reality of the dynamics of changing business world, influenced by a persistent trend of globalisation; development in technology; changing economic, social and political status of entities has shaped, and continues to redefine, labour (or employment)  relations and significantly caused a shift in the concept of managing employment relationships (Bratton and Gold 2007: 4; Storey 1995: 34).

It is the usual assumption that the western management style should be used in any organisation in order to maximise resources. Thus, these ideas have led to the marginalisation of human beings at work and the dehumanising treatment of individuals. (Elkin and Sharma: 2007). This view should not be adopted in order to generate maximum output from Human resource as this is the most important function in any organisation. There should be a meeting point between the values of the Human Resource as well as the values of any organisation. Employees need to be treated not as objects or machines, but as irreplaceable parts of the organisation.

Nigeria, where I come from, is one of the world’s most ethnically diverse countries with more than 250 ethnic groups with varying languages and customs, creating a country of strong ethnic diversity. The leadership style, which is still practised till date is one of a ‘servant-master leadership style’. It has often been presumed that this behaviour was adapted from the colonisation days in Nigeria by the British until the 1960’s and is now practiced and people are more receptive to it. Employees in Nigerian organisations are treated in relation to their diversity such as the religious background, tribe, or the “power-backbone” which the employee holds. A whole lot has to be done in this country to redress the poor employee recruitment and selection as well as welfare systems.

This paper will endeavour to take an in-depth research into these issues with the use of relevant literature and try to discuss on information against the theory in the question as well as draw conclusions and recommend improvements for the transcultural manager. It would attempt to bring a close view to best practices to be adopted for a Human Resource Leader in both western and non-western management styles.




2.1 Historical traces of  poor ethical Management

A hard model can be traced historically under the colonialism of the non-western by the Europeans. In the movie, “Colour of Money”, it shows that the Europeans in the 16th and 17th century had ruled and governed the Africans and some countries of the non-western world. They likened non-Europeans as an ‘item to trade’ and to expand European wealth. This subjection ultimately, has continued till date in the work environment. Also gathered from the movie, even Aristotle, the Greek philosopher, noted that “slavery was a natural phenomenon”. Through this period, the western world has been looked on as masters by its so called subordinates. This also developed the western thinking of themselves as masters and superior; treating their employees as slaves and ultimately creating an inferiority complex with the non-westerns. Non-western employees end up being treated with “an iron hand”.

Ignorance may also come into play for non-westerns as in the case of the Jamaicans. In the movie “Life and Debt”, Jamaicans bore the brunt of policies handed to them by their government. Western financial institutions such as the IMF and the World Bank demanded draconian cuts on public spending and privatised public services which caused hardship for the people of Jamaica.  The Jamaican government acted in ignorance of the “iron hand” of the perpetuators as ‘Architects of the reigning economic order’ of lightly put, masters.

People need to treat employees not as slaves, items to trade, objects or machines, but as unique elements in the organisation.



2.2 Alternative management models

There are two basic models which could be used to describe human resource management. These are the hard and soft models. The hard management model tends to treat human capital as machines. The hard model is based on tight strategies and models of employees according to Theory X[1]. The western management style tends to sustain the hard view. Total emphasis is placed on commitment to business goals overriding individual needs and aspirations, where successful employees are seen as an investment but poorer performers are seen as a liability. The hard approach relies on coercion, threats, tight controls and close supervision (an environment of command and control).

The soft model on the other hand, is based on control through commitment and Theory Y. This approach tends to be permissive and seek harmony with the hope that the employees will in return, cooperate when asked to do so. In this approach, employees are treated as part of the organisation and commitment is achieved through challenge, support, motivation and encouragement.

A best fit practice when dealing with employees in a multicultural concept would be somewhere in between hard and soft models.

Paschal Zachary’s argument in the article, which I subscribe to, says that becoming transcultural manager is a process of hybridisation rather than homogenisation. He shows that the manager should learn to hold different identities at the same time and be comfortable with that (Moore: 2006).  I would also add that the manager should also try to accustom himself to different identities but also do this with a keen interest of constructively managing the organisation through soft personal skills.









2.3 The Western management style

The western model even though has been proved to be very mechanistic and not employee friendly, has been successful in the delivery of goods and services to customers. The western management model can be likened to the ‘machine model’ as put forward by Elkin and Sharma.

Basically, the machine model was instituted by Fredrick Taylor and featured a set of mechanical relations (bureaucracy) activities such as routinization of activities,  division of labour, standardization of tasks, creation of command language, focus on optimizing performance, centralization of authority and excess monitoring of staff.

The scientific management model of Fredrick Taylor is very evident in the west. The wellbeing and health of the employee is not the concern of the employer. The employee is not given the opportunity to fully realise his/her potential. He is just an employee to serve the employer. This could be likened to the master-slave relationship of history.

There has been more resistance to the application of western management’s styles in the 21st century than ever before. People of the 21st century want to work in an environment that is respectful to their diverse beliefs and where equality amongst employees is practised. The next generation is looking for the ideal working place that is tolerant, respecting the employee, with room for diversity, innovative, transparent, social, a place where it is okay to make mistakes and experiment, trusting and celebrates success (Hildebrandt, 2008).

Activities of an organization, as well as those regarding decision-making, should be spread around the staff of an organization. This tends to keep the employees involved in the progress of the organization and as well gives them a sense of belonging in that organization. This is very evident in the Scandinavian way of management.

The western model has today in the world view, been presumed to be the neutral language of management as its superiority has been placed before its effectiveness.

Multinationals should learn to appreciate and incorporate the ethical values of employees in the business domain as this is their human right to liberty and should not be blamed for living ‘their way of life’.

If this is not adhered to, there would be unavoidable dimness for the harmonious relationship between staff and management.


2.4 Importance Of Human Investment In An International Context

In this 21st Century, Today, since globalisation has been of essence in organisations from all parts of the world, a major problem of ethical management would take place. How possible is it to achieve a balance between the necessary and cultural diversity in business ethics? How can we suitably find a correlation between strong corporate ethics and cultural diversity? How can managers learn to trust people from a different culture? How can managers be prepared for the very different management styles which they will face? In order to overcome this, it is of essence to take hold of the deep structures – religious, historical, social, ethnic and ethical of cultures. Here, the spirituality, skills, shared values, style and the staff (recruitment and selections) will come in to view. These influence the way the recipient will reason, the way they will react to different management styles, what they expect and how they respond.

Human capital is arguably the most valuable asset we have in organisations today. It is the most intangible asset to manage for a variety of reasons, one being cultural diversity; this is why such a sensitive asset must be managed with optimum care and must not be neglected.

Bratton et al (2007) explains that International Human Resource Management can be distinguished from Human Resource Management by the fact that the five core Human Resource Management activities- Global and Local recruitment and selection, International Training and learning, International Reward Management, Performance appraisal and management of expatriates, have to be culturally sensitive and effective in a cross-cultural multinational environment to the rudiments internationalisation. Sequential and historical background defines some of today’s values.

For example, in Nigeria, a work team member who resumes at work an hour late would not be criticised so long as he is able to meet his target in a timely manner. On the other hand, in the west, employers would criticize and even let off any employee who turns up at work, minutes later than his resumption time. This very subtle difference is one reason why a company structure can vary so much throughout the world.

On the whole, we can deduce that the differences in hopes, ambitions, values, expectations and dreams of various cultures that effect in diversity and this ultimately results in a word tradition ‘International Human Resource Management’.



2.5 Management of Cultural Diversity

Cultural differences are a function of a range of values, popular religions, importance or otherwise of family life, class systems and so on. It is important to appreciate that these are generalisations and nowadays we would be cautious that such assumptions are racist – nevertheless there are the inimitability of cultures that add to the ways in which different countries organise and develop their businesses.
As a transcultural human resource leader, he would need to separate these distinctions and relate them to his thinking of differences in cultures.

It is practical to say that there are differences in the cultures, norms and values of people in different countries all over the world. The problem of transferring management techniques from one culture to the other is often viewed as a problem of the lack of transferability of American techniques to the rest of the world (Hofstede, 1980b). This concept has been proved because the Americans have been unable to effectively manage Human resource in some European and African countries due to the differences in strategy, systems and structure.

These tools might work satisfactorily when operating in a domestic environment. This is because the Human Resource Manager is already aware of the common attributes to which the ‘people force’ are familiar with.

In order to operate in an international environment, a Human resource Leader would need to engage in some other activities that might not be needful in a domestic environment. These would be a proper understanding, integration and management of the shared values, spirituality, skills, staff (recruitment, selection and placement), and the style of the ‘people workforce’ as well as the strategy, structure and systems of the organisation.

If transcultural managers are able to incorporate these eight values effectively in their management style, they would be able to get the most out of their employees. Once managed properly, non-absenteeism, effectiveness and motivation would be the traits of employees in the organisation. Transcultural Leaders should learn to effectively manage the diversity of different cultures because this is the embodiment of International Human Resource Management.

To be a transcultural manager, one would need to take on many faces that would suit different situations and environments which you may come across. The transcultural person is someone who feels comfortable with the idea that they have more than one self and that they can adjust their behaviour to correspond with the culture in which they currently reside (Karl Moore 2006).

Achieving this is not an easy task especially when one has been rooted in his personal norms and values. One would need to have a keen interest in trying to learn more about the norms and associate more with the people of the culture in order to relate more positively with them. This does not imply that ones cultural identity should be undercut once he enters a new country. In Karl Moore’s article, Zachary said ‘You can’t walk into a room full of people from other countries and leave your identity at the door, but you can bring it to the surface in a way that is constructive’ (Moore: 2006).

When a business goes across cultural borders, the issue of ethical management may stem up as to how best to manage an international company across borders. The question of whether there are even cultural differences may even rise up as well as whether management should be done by the standards of the host country or that of his own country.

I am not suggesting that the Transcultural Leaders should go along with the common saying, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do”. Switching completely to the host country’s ethics is not necessarily the answer. There is no right or wrong answer to this saying, but it might not be ethically consistent. There are certain codes or beliefs of morals of what is right and wrong and also supersede cultural differences and an effective transcultural manager should be able to differentiate between what is morality form diversity. Transcultural Human Resource Leaders should be able to identify the cultural norms and values of a group of people, and with all respect, determine to recognise these values while laying down rules and managing the human resource of the organisation.



Transcultural Leaders should be able to manage effectively the diversity of cultures and learn to appreciate these differences while they try to achieve the overall objectives of the organisation. They should be able, not only to involve themselves in learning the ethics  and cultures but also try to understand the ways in which these cultures manage their human resources in order to effectively control resistance and ensure that good human relations is practised in the organisation.

Transcultural managers today are challenged with so many ethical issues especially in the ethics of business and the external environment – social, economic, political cultural and legal in which multinationals operate and these issues make it more complex to fulfil obligations to employees.

Organisations who do not respond to its ethical responsibilities, not only have the external environment to worry about, but also the issues bordering on its internal irregularities as it relates to personnel management.

Transcultural leaders should learn to think beyond the box and before generalisation and stereotypes, should try to look at each employee individually, not biased on colour of skin, race, religion, beliefs, or tradition but based on what the employee has to offer. The transcultural manager should learn to absorb the capabilities of each employee and base his/her thinking on what the employee has to offer and not what his background is. People workforce should not be subject to ridicule and exploitation.

When people are treated in a dehumanising and brutal way, it should be just natural they will respond back in like manner. Stereotypes can affect relationships either adversely or favourably.

Staff of an organisation should not be forced to get accustomed to norms from the western world but there should be a concession and common ground which can be formed in order to ensure that the entire organisation works as a team with freedom from strife.



Clearly, managing human capital is an on-going challenge. Strategies must continually be re-defined to produce large return on investment in human capital. As Transcultural managers work within their organisations in different countries, they not only cope with good and bad economies, new technology, and social issues (global, regional and national) affecting their organisation, but also ethical and transcultural issues.

We live in a global economy. The 21st century manager would not be localised to the country of his/her birth but would need to visit other countries to do business. Managers in the 21st century should be able to adapt sequentially while working in an environment outside their home culture. He should develop a mindset that has respect of each and every culture. Being a transcultural manager is not an easy task as he becomes an ‘unusual creature’; adapting different identities in different cultural situations. In a summary, from my beliefs as relates to my life experiences I can proffer that Transcultural managers should possess the following traits.

  • Relationship/Communication skills: This is a ‘people oriented’ attitude that would help the manager to integrate into the social fabric of the host culture. This facilitates the transfer of knowledge and improves coordination and control.
  • Language ability: This is important to establish contact. However this may not be feasible and it is least imperative.
  • Impetus to live and work in foreign countries: This is a crucial element to successful adaptation. The manager should be able to develop an interest so as to adapt to the culture easily.
  • Change management skills: Change is brought about by a range of forces, including competitive, global, demographic and ethical forces. Because situations may change unexpectedly, the behaviour and reactions of local employees may be unpredictable so the manager should be able to deal with this successfully.
  • Patience and respect: The manager should know that it is very imperative to have some patience when learning the diversity of  cultures as well as respect.
  • Empathy: Managers should be able to understand with and not be judgemental about other cultures point of view.
  • Self Realisation: This allows interaction with another culture without fear of losing ones own identity.
  • Sense of humour: A practical way of connecting with people and also creates the space for emotional timeout to let off steam and alleviate tension.
  • Ability to discern cultural differences: Managers need cross cultural skills on a daily basis, throughout their careers. Transcultural managers need to be aware of the cues signalling culture differences be they national, corporate, or functional.
  • Able to quickly adapt amend and adapt again:  He should be constantly prepared to take on new cultural challenges, perspectives and try new approaches.


In conclusion I will say that it is highly essential for every management to prepare for the inevitable diversity which it would face as this will give an edge in the long-term success in the global market.

For while business is already global, management remains culture-bound (Burman: 1998).







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[1] Macgregor’s Theory X & Y