The Expat Executive Dilemma: Multiple Bosses From Different Cultures


With the globalization more companies will adopt the matrix organization model and so it is not rare to have more than three to seven direct supervisors as described by Amy Galo in her article “Managing Multiple Bosses“. She also gave practical advises to deal with conflicts, loyalty issues or communication processes and illustrated her points with two case studies.

For expat executives all what is said in the above article is applicable  but it is usually more complex as you may have cultural clashes on top of conflicts of interests and battles for shared resources.

Country general managers of large multinational corporations often face integrity dilemma when definition of corporate governance differs greatly between the local business practices and the country where is based the global headquarters.

Not respecting local business etiquette and unspoken rules may increase the employees’ turnover and reduce competitiveness if the local manager cannot  have enough liberty and flexibility to adapt the instructions he receives from his global boss. On the other hand the expat executive should train local employees to understand the global corporate culture.

I have many examples of cultural clashes with multiple bosses from various cultures. If you are a regional business manager you deal with minimum 10 to 15 country general managers all from various cultural backgrounds. For example Japanese culture is almost the opposite to the American culture and  there is often miss-understanding regarding consensus and decision-making process. In  Japan decisions  are not made during a meeting while Americans interpret hand shaking at the end of the meeting as an agreement.

In Highly regulated markets like pharmaceuticals, the approval processes are not globally harmonized and the design of clinical trial has to be customized for the specific country ‘s approval authority. For example, if an US company wants to put on the market a new drug  in Mexico, it can use the data collected from clinical trials made in USA in agreement with the FDA standards but Brazil won’t take those data. The  European Agency for the Evaluation of Medicinal Products can approve a drug at the European level, but the price is still  controlled by each country, It is not rare that a drug sold in Belgium is not available  in France because it is too expensive for the social security system.

In conclusion with this high level of complexity I think  It is very important to integrate all cultural differences and engage expat executives at early stages of global process design including the company’s vision, global talent management programs or implementing  a six-sigma quality certification in manufacturing plants. Cross-cultural conflicts include cross-functional issues too.

More to read :

Do you think matrix organizations are best models ? Do you have alternative ideas?  What was the most difficult issues you had to deal with as an executive in matrix organizations ?

 


 

 

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