Using Trompenaar's Cultural Value Dimensions to Manage the Shift from the South African Management Environment to the Canadian Management Environment

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Using Trompenaar’s Cultural Value Dimensions to manage the shift from the South African management environment to the Canadian management environment By
Keith Robson
In my experience, one of the most difficult tasks facing the Internationally Educated Manager in Canada is making the necessary, and often surprising, adjustments to the culture in the Canadian workplace. This paper will take the form of a personal reflection on how Trompenaar’s Cultural Value Dimensions1 can be applied to the South African management environment, and how a knowledge of Trompenaars’ theory can help the South African- Educated professional manage the shift from the South African management environment to the Canadian management environment. In terms of Trompenaars’ first cultural value dimension, South Africa is a particularistic society, where societal rules are not strictly adhered to by individuals, but where people generally shape their conduct with others depending on the type of relationship that they have with those people. In other words, people in South Africa tend to “bend” the rules a lot when they aren’t interacting with close friends and family. The roots of this phenomenon probably rest in South African history – where dictatorial and untrustworthy regimes governed the people for many decades. This led to whole generations lacking respect for, and not abiding by, the rules and regulations issued by authority figures. To exacerbate the problem, South Africa’s recent history has borne witness to extremely high levels of official corruption. These behaviours result in a highly stressful working environment, because it is very difficult to manage people when they have an inherent distrust of authority, and when they often attempt to bypass authority by resorting to bribery and other corrupt practices. Of course, the flip side to all of this is that South African business managers generally operate in a highly unregulated environment – they can “bend the rules” in order to get things done. This makes it difficult for them when they are required to work in a highly regulated environment. When I first started working in Canada, I felt almost stifled by all the rules and regulations that governed my workplace behaviour and practices. While I certainly appreciated the sense of order and “safety” that arose out of all the regulation, I was still taken aback by the emphasis on processes and procedures as a means of achieving outcomes. It was only after encountering Trompenaars’ theory in this course that I started to understand why the situation was as it was: Canada is definitely a universalistic society, where general societal rules strictly govern individual behaviour, and where people generally take pride in their commitment to the rules and regulations that govern them. I have come to an understanding that, in order to be a successful manager in Canada, I will not only have to deliver results, but will also have to show a commitment to the processes and procedures that lead me to those results. One of the more surprising observations that I made when starting to work in Canada relates to Trompenaars’ second cultural value dimension: Individualism and Collectivism. South Africa is a fiercely individualistic culture, while Canada is, in my experience, predominantly collectivist. I was expecting the Canadian business culture to be more individualistic, because I made the mistaken assumption that American individualism would be equally prevalent in Canada – probably due to the geographical proximity of the two countries! In South Africa, individualism translates into a people-management style which is essentially “dictatorial”: if the manager wants something done by her employees, she issues a memorandum in which the instructions are made clear and her employees are expected to take the required action, with very little room given for negotiation. In Canada, according to my experiences, meetings are held first so that all the...
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