Case Study Facing Face This case takes place in the recent past in Chikorpan, an East Asian nation with a culture deeply influenced by the Confucian tradition. EUEMP’s business has been booming in Chikorpan, outpacing the corporation’s ability to find and train qualified Chikorpanese EUEMPeans to handle the rapidly growing management workload. Consequently, it has been necessary to assign a large number of transpatriate EUEMPeans to Chikorpan. These transpatriates are enormously expensive, and partly for this reason corporate leadership is sponsoring numerous “localizing” initiatives to recruit, train, and upgrade high-potential Chikorpanese EUEMPeans, and to induct them as quickly as possible into the corporate culture. Among these initiatives are several by EUEMP University (EU). For example, EU has sent Frank Blunt to Chikorpan to offer training to the Human Resources (HR) staff. Frank’s assignment was to serve as moderator and primary resource person for a two-week seminar in Fusan. Frank is from the American Midwest. In his 35 years with EUEMP he has built an enviable reputation as an HR specialist, both in the United Stated and also, for briefer periods, in Europe. A keystone of Frank’s working philosophy of HR is honesty and openness in performance evaluation. For some years he has passionately advocated putting an end to the practice in which a supervisor gives a marginal employee a high performance evaluation in order to get rid of him/her by arranging his/her transfer to another, unsuspecting, department. “Such fraudulent evaluations betray trust and are a danger to EUEMP and a favor to no one, including the employee,” Frank has said. Frank feels pretty much the same way about terminations. “If the employee is not cutting it, he should be terminated and told why,” he told the Fusan Seminar participants. “Integrity necessitates nothing less.” Among the participants at the Fusan Seminar were Siew Chee-Wah and Ingrid Marklund. Chee- Wah, 43, known informally among his Westerner friends as “Chuck,” was former chief of HR at the corporation’s Mei An Facility. His performance was good, and the need for qualified Chikorpanese HR specialists was urgent, so that after only two years at Mei An, Chuck was promoted and transferred to a top job in Fusan. There was at the time no Chikorpanese EUEMP available to replace him at Mei An, so his job went to a Swedish transpatriate, Ingrid Marklund, 29. Chuck thought highly of Ingrid, who, among all his foreign colleagues, seemed to be the one with the deepest understanding of “the Chikorpanese culture.” During the Fusan Seminar, Chuck politely and indirectly asked Frank whether it would be OK to terminate a substandard Chikorpanese employee by both gently pointing out the employee’s shortcoming and making some vague reference to the possibility of re-employment at some future time – “If and when demand for the product requires upsizing the force.” Frank replied with apparent incredulity, “Well, Chuck, let’s see, that would be lying to the employee, wouldn’t it?” Chuck immediately sensed that he had gone too far, and made a vague reply of polite demurral. At this point the normally cool Ingrid spoke up heatedly: “But if I send a man of 30 or 40 back to his family and village without giving him some means of saving face, he and his family will lose the respect of people who have been part of their lives for decades, even generations. Why can’t I just give him some kind of a – what you Americans call – a ‘fig leave?’ My study of Chikorpanese culture tells me that even if he himself doesn’t really believe the fig leaf story, as long as it has a surface plausibility back in the village, he can use it and everybody will feel better that way.” Frank was obviously taken aback by Ingrid’s apparent support of Chuck’s apparent disagreement. But Frank held his ground: “What I say is, integrity is integrity. Here’s the real test: If Chuck can look at himself in the mirror in the morning and feel good about lying to an employee he is about to terminate, maybe that is OK. But I could not. Could you, Ingrid?” Ingrid paused. Was she about to commit an enormous political mistake? But she decided to be gutsy: “Well,” she said, “I think termination must be handled sensitively, and if the culture requires certain cosmetics, I am prepared to use them, provided that there is no legal risk in doing so, and that in doing so I do not sacrifice the essence of my own true integrity.” Frank was getting excited: “But Ingrid, that is precisely the question: Just what is true integrity? If you did that, Ingrid, would you be showing true integrity to yourself? If not, then I would advise against it.” Discussion Questions: 1. Imagine yourself in a situation similar to the one described in the case. You believe that it is necessary to terminate a substandard Chikorpanese employee, in a situation where you believe he/she will encounter a serious loss of face in his/her home village. How would you handle the situation? 2. Is integrity measured by one’s subjective sense of rightness, or is there a more objective measure? 3. In the broad scale of things, must Uncompromising Integrity sometimes be optimized with Constant Respect for People in the context of the host culture? Does one of these two values usually have priority over the other? 4. How can EUEMP’s policies best address the issues encountered in the “Facing Face” situation?
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