Monday, November 17, 2008

5th Interview: some guiding distinctions

1st order: I hold the fifth interview with a professional recruiter. He was living for more than 20 years in Asia, having a British background now being in Dubai since one and a half years. I would like to start this documentation a bit different than the other interviews. My interview partner brought up a lot of sense-making by himself. Following the why-question he provided me a couple of guiding distinctions, which I am going to introduce in the following.
Professional Expatriates ׀ Cosmopolitans
The professional expat is an individual experienced and senior in working abroad, most probably even in different countries or regions. Although living and working for some years abroad (s)he lives in a “bubble” together with others of his/her kind., searching for places and activities which they affiliate with home. My interviewee referred to this as “ghettoization”, that is mini-Britain in Dubai for example. (For this argument see also interview two including comments)
Organizational culture: mono culture ׀ multi national culture
In terms of organizational culture I have been provided with an interesting distinction between mono culture [wording by JSL] and “multi national culture organizations”. They differ in terms of management style, decision-making capacity, staff empowerment, responsibilities take-over, etc. The local culture refers to a mostly, but not necessarily owner or family driven corporation. They will make the important decisions and decision-making capacity for the individual manager is rather limited. Another indicator is the executive board which in a local culture organization is homogeneous consisting of rather one dominant nationality (depending where it was founded). Management style is characterized by command and control, as well as top-down leadership approaches rather than participatory modes of interaction. Carrier opportunities do exist but are not as good developed as in comparable multi national culture organizations. The difference might correspond to the size of the respective organization, but not necessarily.When asked about how to detect the culture from outside, my interview partner proposed three categories that should be explored when talking to people from the respective organizations:
(1) What is great in the organization?
(2) What are the current and general challenges?
(3) How does the senior staff deal with its staff?
Local culture ׀ organizational culture
When starting business abroad organizations will always face the challenge to balance the local culture and the organizational culture. “For the operations you have to rely on the organizational culture” I’ve been told. Local culture will always influence the behavior of the people working in the organization, but are rather idiosyncrasies. To put it in another rather radical way: “culture has nothing to do with the business”. According to my interviewee 99.9 percent of human beings are the same in terms of wants, which account for desires, children, house, living, etc. “Culture is used as an excuse not to do things!” This is his key learning being abroad for more than a decade, he said. To make one point clear the one culture is not better than the other. It is rather the question, who is going to work well in your organizational culture.
Educational system: learn-by-rote ׀ learn-by-apply
When it comes to the why-question my interviewee identified as the main discriminator the educational system. He distinguished two types of educational systems following two different approaches: the “learn-by-rote” and the learn-by-apply [wording by JSL] (or learn-to-learn approach). The approach you have been raised up with affects your behavioral patterns in all interactions. To give an example according to his experinece when problems occur, people trained by a learn-by-rote approach will wait until someone tells them what to do, most reasonably this is their superior. This accounts for people from Indian, the Philippines, Thailand, but also the Arabic peninsula. On the other hand the learn-to-apply approach mostly taught in the West encourages you to take initiative when problems occur. Analytical models and frameworks are applied to different situations in order to explain them and find solutions. This difference in how the people are trained and raised results in different behaviors of every day business. In fact the educational system in combination with the hierarchical society leads at the end of the causality to a lot of micromanagement when it comes to business operations. At least this is what I have been told.
Working on projects in Dubai
When working on projects in Dubai there are a couple of idiosyncrasies one has to consider. First the informal hierarchy in terms of national background (1) Emirati, (2) GCC, (3) Whites, (4) Indians, Pilipinos, etc. Second Islam is influencing daily life, which especially come into account at times of Ramadan, but also in terms of daily prayer, women clothing and dealing with, etc. But with a certain amount of awareness there shouldn’t be much barriers.

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