Business in Latin America

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How Culture Affects Work Practices in Latin AmericaSome global executives would be surprised to learn that many employees in Mexico like to do their jobs in the presence of such religious images as the Virgin of Guadalupe. Their religious devotion in one example of how local culture affects the styles and practices of work in Latin America. Anabella Dávila, professor of management theory and business history at the graduate business school (ITESM) in Monterrey (Mexico), and Marta M. Elvira, academic director of Lexington College in Chicago, have published a book on this phenomenon, entitled “Managing Human Resources in Latin America.” In the chapter titled “Culture and Human Resource Management in Latin America”, the two scholars identify the cultural values that determine Human Resources in the region. They show how these factors can determine the success and failure of a business organization. The Company Is Like a FamilyThe authors define the Latin American business model as a hybrid of globalization and the region’s historic traditions. With the exception of Argentina and Costa Rica, those traditions are characterized by large social gaps and a widespread collectivism that has various manifestations. Dávila and Elvira explain that social differences are manifested locally through benevolent, paternalistic leadership. “The senior executive has the personal obligation to protect subordinates, and even take care of the personal needs of workers and their families.” Generally speaking, paternalism involves a “father” who cares for his sons by engaging in permissive practices and providing moral support, even if his “sons” wind up being too dependent in many respects throughout their working career. Latin American firms are managed like a family. Latin Americans prefer to depend on someone closer to the center of the organization, and to accept that this authority leads to behavior that avoids conflict and confrontation with one’s superiors. Behaving any other way would be interpreted as an offense against one’s superiors and colleagues. Doing so would have disciplinary consequences. On the other hand, “Latin Americans value status within a hierarchy because it indicates social distance between the higher-up and his subordinates,” notes the study. Job titles and additional benefits also have a great significance because of the social status that they bring. In Chilean companies, for example, social discrimination exists on the basis of appearance, age and gender, all of which are associated with social status. “Despite this sort of hierarchical status, Latin American companies try to eliminate the existing power distance between directors and subordinates by creating committees that symbolize the egalitarian spirit among all members of the organization,” notes the study. It is no easy task to play the role of supervisor, however, because a boss must assume that role without actually behaving as such. The collective spirit of the workplace is manifested in several ways. First, there is the importance of personal relationships. Latin Americans expect to be treated with courtesy and kindness while at work. Second, there is a sense of loyalty to the primary group. In Mexican companies, “executives know that the survival of their organizations depends more on social and governmental relationships than on any support they get from the country’s financial system.” Third, popular celebrations play a major role in the workplace, including religious behavior, as noted earlier. This illustrates the hybrid style of management. The Importance of Social StatusThis is the cultural framework that defines Human Resource practices within the Latin American company, especially recruitment and personnel management. For example, social relationships and physical appearance “can explain the cultural content of the glass...
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