GM 963 GM 964 23.05.2001 JOHANNES VAN DEN BOSCH SENDS AN EMAIL JOHANNES VAN DEN BOSCH RECEIVES A REPLY Teaching Note by Joseph J. DiStefano Copyright © 2001 by IMD - International Institute for Management Development, Lausanne, Switzerland. Not to be used or reproduced without written permission directly from IMD. -2- GM 963 & 964 TN Summary of the Cases The two cases consist of the emails between partners of a Big Five firm, one in the Netherlands and the other in Mexico. The Dutch partner is in charge of a global client who is unhappy with the delays in closing accounts. Although the client’s subsidiary in Mexico appears to be part of the problem, after trying in vain to get information from his Mexican partner, the Dutch partner-in-charge sends a follow up “stick to the facts” email. He gets a hostile reply and takes his original email to two of his Dutch and Belgian partners for their assessment. They can’t see anything wrong with the original email and are puzzled at the Mexican’s reply. The two mini-cases (two pages each) are designed to be used sequentially, as part of a longer class. Teaching Objectives • To illustrate cultural differences in relationships and directness in work situations involving emotions and conflict. • To illustrate the effects of the medium for messages, especially those involving complexity. • To encourage the reader to develop more effective processes for checking cultural sensitivities and for taking action to solve cross-cultural misunderstandings. Teaching Plan The cases are written to complement the introduction of conceptual or theoretical material on cultural dimensions in the workplace (refer to Exhibit 2: Sample Profile of Cultural Perspectives Questionnaire (CPQ); and Figure 1 below: the MBI Model of High Performance). They can be used either before the use of cultural maps to test the participants’ sensitivities to cultural variables, or after the introduction of cultural maps to illustrate how the abstract ideas manifest themselves in the workplace. With either approach the cases are short enough to use in class without prior preparation, even with readers whose mother tongue is not English. Timing A typical session for both cases would run from between 1¼ hours and 1¾ hours, broken down as follows: -3- GM 963 & 964 TN Sends an email Read case 5 to 10 minutes Buzz groups in the classroom 10 minutes Class discussion 20 to 30 minutes Receives an Read case 5 to 10 minutes email Discussion (with use of some 30 minutes cross-cultural measures of hierarchy, e.g. Trompenaars or Hofstede or Maznevski and DiStefano’s CPQ) Summary, relevance to 5 to 15 minutes participants’ experience Suggested Reading DiStefano, Joseph J., and Martha L. Maznevski. “Creating Value with Diverse Teams in Global Management.” Organizational Dynamics, Vol. 29, No. 1, 2000: 45-63. Lane, Henry W., Joseph J. DiStefano, and Martha L. Maznevski. “Intercultural Effectiveness in Global Management.” International Management Behavior: From Policy to Practice. 4th ed. (paperback). Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 2000: 19-63. The Work Situation Johannes van den Bosch is the lead audit/accounting partner serving a British multinational client, Malcolm Smythe-Jones, CFO. He is based in Holland and has just received a severe rebuke from Smythe-Jones and the controller, Mr Parker, for the lack of progress in providing the financial statements of their Mexican subsidiary. Although Van den Bosch had made multiple requests of Pablo Menendez, his counterpart in Mexico, no results had been obtained, nor had any explanation for the delays been forthcoming. The previous week Smythe- Jones had been upset enough to come to Van den Bosch’s office. That morning he had called with mounting anger and had been openly abusive. Van den Bosch followed up the telephone call by writing his Mexican partner an email equal in emotional intensity to the harangue he had been subjected to by the client. But he knew it would be inappropriate to send it. So he cooled off for half an hour and went back to his computer and edited out the venom, condensing the email to “facts and figures” and being direct and clear about what steps were necessary to meet the client’s needs. He sent the email, feeling optimistic that he would finally get Menendez’s attention and some answers for Smythe-Jones. -4- GM 963 & 964 TN Questions for the “Sends an Email” Case 1) From Van den Bosch’s point of view, what was his intention in sending the email? 2) What was the effect of his editing the email to “stick to the facts”? 3) How do you think Menendez will react to the email? Why? 4) What cultural assumptions underlie Van den Bosch’s email and your prediction of Menendez’s response? Analysis The simplest analysis of the cultural underpinnings of the email focuses on the differences between task and relationship orientations between the Dutch and Mexican partners. Van den Bosch is first interested in getting the job done and the problem with the client resolved. Then, if at all, he will deal with Menendez as a person (he has not met him face to face). The Mexican partner starts with establishing a relationship through which the work gets addressed. There has been no relationship building by Van den Bosch; prior “requests” for completion of the work were worded as directly as the email in the case--and were as devoid of personal exchange, too. Within the relationship dimension itself, the Dutch value orientations would be most likely to have Individualism>Collectivism>Hierarchy in terms of the CPQ (high individualism and low power distance in terms of Hofstede’s dimensions), with the Mexican values likely to reflect stronger values for Hierarchy (high power distance) and Collectivism and weaker values for Individualism. In terms of expression of conflict, Van den Bosch seems aware that to be as blunt as his unedited email would be inappropriate, but his notion of “cleaning up” the email is to focus on the facts and figures, not on establishing an empathetic appreciation of the difficulties the Mexican partner is probably facing, nor in asking any questions to understand the situation from his partner’s point of view (decentering in terms of the MBI model shown below). Figure 1: MBI Model of High Performance Map Bridge Integrate High Performance Understand the Communicate Manage the Differences Across the Differences Differences ! Cultural ! Approaching ! Building Value the values with motivation participation differences ! Leadership and confidence ! Resolving style ! Decentering conflicts ! Personality without blame ! Building on ! Thinking style ! Recentering with each other’s commonalities ideas ! Gender, etc. -5- GM 963 & 964 TN His insistence on having information on five items “today” and his requirement for a weekly progress report “as of today” is likely to be perceived as totally inappropriate by the Mexican partner, who will feel that he is being treated like a subordinate by his Dutch equal. Van den Bosch has made no attempt to decenter or to establish any common ground (recentering); instead he moves directly to what he wants and needs (“facts and figures”) which, in his cultural orientation, is perfectly acceptable. (Refer to Exhibit 1 for the MBI model in a “checklist” format.) In Class The class process successfully employed several times with executives and mature MBAs involves getting participants to profile their own cultural values using the Cultural Perspectives Questionnaire (Maznevski & DiStefano see www.mms- as.com). (Refer to Exhibit 2 for a sample profile.) In response to the question “What is going on?” participants usually discuss both the client issue and potential cultural differences. Although most can explain why they think that the client needs to be satisfied, they often have difficulty in articulating what the cultural differences are and why they might cause problems. It is especially important in tracking the class discussion at this point to note the cultural background of each person who comments. For example, in a recent group of very senior executives from around the world on an in-company program, one group of Anglo-Americans expressed indignation at the delay and made snickering comments about “Mañana.” (Before intervening with comments of my own about how inappropriate it was to be stereotyping in a cross-cultural class, I waited to see what would happen.) Immediately after these comments, an Italian and Spaniard in the group objected to this interpretation and noted with indignation that the Dutch partner had treated his Mexican partner shabbily. I then intervened with an observation that they had just demonstrated the relative priorities of task and relationship orientations and that it was probably not by chance that they had expressed the differences inherent in the cultures they represented. I asked them to check their profiles on Mastery and Collective orientations. It is important to get other perspectives from the class into the discussion to reinforce that the cultural issues are embedded in business issues. After a general discussion I then ask the participants to predict how Menendez will react and what he will do. These, too, often reflect the participants’ own cultural preferences, with mastery/task-oriented people frequently suggesting that Menendez will finally provide the information, albeit with some resentment. Those with stronger relationship values often express doubts about whether Menendez will cooperate, even suggesting that Van den Bosch may have done irreparable damage to the relationship. Note: If people ask why he didn’t call, I say, “I don’t know. But he didn’t.” (I then make a note to return to the issue of using appropriate technology for the level of complexity of the subject. In general, the greater the complexity or sensitivity of the subject or relationship, the richer the technology should be: from fax or email to telephone to video-conferencing to face to face). -6- GM 963 & 964 TN The “Receives an Email” Case Once these discussions have been exhausted (usually 20 to 30 minutes), I distribute the B case and ask the participants to read it through and note if they were accurate in their predictions, or not, and why. Then I ask them if they were surprised and why or why not. This usually generates discussion around the surprise of some in the class. At this point it is advisable to go back to conceptual material to help the participants generalize from this situation. The profile example in Exhibit 2 provides a way to talk about Mastery, Doing and Individualism and how they affect Van den Bosch’s assumptions and behaviors (including his “editing” of his first draft email, which indicates a low “Being” orientation). I often use the pyramid illustrations from Riding the Waves of Culture.1 It is also useful to show a slide of one of the power distance charts from “Motivation, Leadership and Organization: Do American Theories Apply Abroad?”2 Even then it is important to remind the class that Menendez experiences any deviation from partners who are equals with much greater sensitivity because of his stronger hierarchical values. It is noteworthy that in paragraph two of Menendez’s email reply, he expresses his own indignation in the form of a series of questions. (See the example in the suggested reading from International Management Behavior, p. 54.) When I pointed this out in the session during which the Anglo-American/Spanish-Italian split occurred, another Spaniard in the group approached me during the break. He said that he had never thought he exhibited the same pattern but that he had recently been severely criticized by two members of the top executive team of which he is a member. They had made a big capital expenditure five to six months earlier and it had proved to be an ill-considered decision. When it became obvious that things were turning out badly, he had reminded them that he had objected when the original discussion had taken place. They insisted that he had not objected. He had only realized in class that he, too, had followed the pattern of many Latins of raising objections in the form of questions. He thought that his repeated series of questions had clearly been strong statements of objection to the decision. They, however, had not even remembered that he had asked questions. The “they” in his team were both British. His own cultural pattern had been hidden from him. It is also worth raising the point of the way Menendez signs his email “Best regards and season’s greetings” (if no one else does). Usually, those with relationship orientations don’t think too much about it. But the task/mastery 1 Trompenaars, Fons. Riding the Waves of Culture: Understanding Cultural Diversity in Business. London: The Economist Books, 1993: 144. 2 Hofstede, Geert H. “Motivation, Leadership and Organization: Do American Theories Apply Abroad?” Organizational Dynamics, Summer, 1980: 42-63. -7- GM 963 & 964 TN people often cite it as sarcastic or ironic. They do not think it is possible for anger and caring to occur simultaneously. Yet in my experience people with strong relationship and task orientations can separate anger about the task from anger related to the person, and can be authentic in signing off as Menendez did. (In his case, of course, we cannot know what his inner feelings/thoughts were.) What Really Happened After the discussion, I tell the class what happened (and how I came to write the case). Van den Bosch, still puzzled by the apparent anger in the email (and reinforced by his equally puzzled colleagues in Holland), called Menendez. Eventually he did get the information, but felt that their relationship had been severely strained. He continued to feel this way and still had not understood the reasons for the problems until he attended an IMD program, read the background information and worked out his own profile of values. It was a massive “Aha!” (He gave an audible exclamation in class during the discussion of hierarchy when I showed the pyramid illustration…note the relative positions of Mexico and the Netherlands.) Van den Bosch then asked me to sit with him at lunch. He described the situation he had been in and later that evening sent me both emails, which he had on his laptop. I rewrote the opening of his email in a form apologizing for the intrusion to Menendez, noting that he must be very busy and must have tried to get the information from the client and that I sympathized, but was asking him as a special favor to help me. (Note personalizing the request--and first apologizing for the request.) Other Examples Then it is useful to get examples of similar occurrences from the participants. If they are slow to come forward, I tell them about another example, given to me by a Hong Kong Chinese participant who is responsible for quality and safety in all the Asian manufacturing plants of a US-based multinational firm. They were rolling out a new quality improvement program across the region that had been piloted in Australia. One morning the plant manager from Malaysia showed up unannounced in the Hong Kong office and proceeded to rant in an uncharacteristically harsh, loud and lengthy manner, threatening to withdraw from the program etc. It turned out that the Australian head of the change program had posted on the company intranet a Van den Bosch-like “factual” statement of the delays at the Malaysian plant and had publicly decried the slow pace of adoption in Malaysia. The Malaysian manager was so angry that he flew immediately to Hong Kong--bypassing the task force head--to complain directly to the Hong Kong executive. This was related to me just after the discussion of Van den Bosch’s emails. I usually broaden the discussion by putting up a transparency of Exhibit 3 and giving other examples of problems reported to me by participants. The most recent example of email problems (not a cross-cultural example, but still noteworthy) is included as Exhibit 4. -8- GM 963 & 964 TN Exhibit 1 Checklist for Getting High Performance from Team Differences1 Mapping 1) Do we have a clear understanding of the important dimensions of differences relative to the tasks facing our team? 2) Do we know the relative strengths and differences of individuals in our team on these dimensions? Bridging 1) Are we motivated to communicate truthfully about our important differences? 2) Are we confident in our ability to use our differences to improve our performance of the task? 3) Do we have a common definition of our situation? (Do we agree on the task, our goals, roles, etc.?) 4) Do we have common ways of engaging each other and our task? (Do we agree on team norms for our behavior in the team? For how to work, for settling disagreements, for making decisions, etc.?) 5) Do we explain our behavior without blaming, taking into account our important differences? 6) Do we “decenter” when we communicate, taking into account our important differences when we listen and talk to each other? Integrating 1) Are we aware of the differences in our participation in our team and do we encourage contributions from all? 2) Are we aware of conflicts and do we seek to resolve functional disagreements effectively and to avoid dysfunctional conflicts? 3) Do we build on each other’s ideas? (Encourage divergent and innovative thinking, extend others’ ideas, suppress ridicule, etc.?) Performing 1) Are we achieving synergy? (Getting results that provide better solutions to problems than we could achieve if our team were homogeneous or if we were working alone?) 1 For application with the “MBI Model of High Performance” developed by Martha L. Maznevski (McIntire School of Commerce, University of Virginia) and Joseph J. DiStefano (IMD, International Institute for Management Development, Lausanne, Switzerland). -9- GM 963 & 964 TN Exhibit 2 Cultural Perspectives Questionnaire Results Sample Profile May 1, 2001 You Mean High Low Relation to Nature Subjugation: Our purpose and natural role is to 4.4 2.9 4.8 1.0 understand and subjugate ourselves to the plan determined by a larger natural or supernatural element. Mastery: Our purpose and natural role is to 5.3 4.9 6.0 3.6 control nature and the environment around us. Harmony: Our purpose and natural role is to 5.9 5.5 6.9 4.3 maintain a balance among the elements of the environment, including ourselves. Relationships Individual: Our main responsibility is to and for 5.0 4.5 7.0 2.7 ourselves and immediate family. Collective: Our main responsibility is to and for 4.5 4.7 5.9 3.5 a larger extended group of people. Hierarchical: It is normal and good that power 4.6 3.5 6.0 1.6 and responsibility are unequally distributed throughout society. Nature of Humans Good/Evil: The basic nature of people (not 4.3 3.3 5.0 1.3 necessarily their behavior) is essentially good (low score) or bad (high score). Changeable: The basic nature of people is 5.8 4.3 5.8 2.4 changeable (high score) or not (low score). Activity Doing: Our natural and preferred mode of 4.4 4.4 5.9 2.7 activity is to be continually engaged in accomplishing tangible tasks. Thinking: Our natural and preferred mode of 5.0 5.0 6.9 2.5 activity is to consider all things carefully and rationally before taking action. Being: Our natural and preferred mode of 5.6 4.4 5.6 2.7 activity is to do everything in its own time. Note: Means, highs and lows are based on all respondents in the group. - 10 - GM 963 & 964 TN Exhibit 3 Date: April 7, 1999 Place: The White House, Washington, D.C. The Players: Zhu Rongji & Bill Clinton The Context: Negotiations re China’s joining the World Trade Organization China had made a number of concessions, which led Zhu Rongji to expect Bill Clinton to welcome Beijing into the WTO. Clinton, distracted by the war in Kosovo and worried about a surge of anti-Chinese sentiment in Congress, had decided to put off a final decision, despite a flurry of concessions offered by the Chinese. On the day Zhu landed in Washington, the Chinese sensed that their hopes might be dashed. They sought one last opportunity for the prime minister to speak directly to Clinton. As they discussed the issue, Clinton stood up and put his arm around the shorter Zhu and told him: If you really need this now, we can do it. It’s a bad time for me politically, but if you really need it, we can do it. Do you really need it now? • What did Bill Clinton intend in his message? • What did Zhu Rongji hear? And why would he have only one possible reply? • Zhu, dismayed, but unwilling to be a supplicant, said he didn’t “really need it now.” The Chinese official who witnessed this exchange and reported it to the reporter from the New York Times noted, “How I wish I could have had a cultural translator in the room at that moment!” Source: International Herald Tribune, November 11, 1999: 2 - 11 - GM 963 & 964 TN Exhibit 4 The E-Mail Read ’Round the World: Executive’s Cautionary Tale The only things missing from the office memo were expletives. It had everything else. There were lines berating employees for not caring about the company. There were words in all capital letters such as “SICK” and “NO LONGER.” There were threats of layoffs and hiring freezes and a shutdown of the employee gym. The memo was sent by e-mail on March 13 by the chief executive of Cerner Corp., which develops software for the health-care industry and is based in Kansas City, Missouri. The company has 3,100 employees worldwide. Originally intended only for 400 or so company managers, it quickly took on a life of its own. The e-mail message was leaked and posted on Yahoo. Its belligerent tone surprised thousands of readers, including analysts and investors. In the stock market, the valuation of the company, which was $1.5 billion on March 20, plummeted 22% in three days. Now, Neal Patterson, the 51-year-old chief executive, a man variously described by people who know him as “arrogant,” “candid” and “passionate,” says he wishes he had never hit the “send” button. “I was trying to start a fire,” Mr. Patterson said. “I lit a match, and I started a firestorm.” That is not hard to do in the Internet age, when all kinds of messages in cyberspace are capable of stirring reactions and moving markets. Late last year, for example, a young California investor pleaded guilty to criminal charges that he made $240,000 by sending out a fake news release that resulted in a sharp drop in the stock of Emulex Corp., a communications equipment manufacturer. But in this case, Mr. Patterson was certainly not trying to manipulate the market; he was simply looking to crack the whip on his troops. That sometimes requires sharp language, he said, and his employees know how to take it with a grain of salt. Business professors and market analysts apparently need more convincing. They have criticized not only Mr. Patterson’s angry tone but also his mode of communication. Mr. Patterson ran afoul of two cardinal rules for modern managers, they say: Never try to hold large-scale discussions over e-mail; and never, ever, use the company e-mail system to convey sensitive information or controversial ideas to more than a handful of trusted lieutenants--unless you want the whole world looking over your shoulder, that is. In Mr Patterson’s case, this is what the world saw: “We are getting less than 40 hours of work from a large number of our K.C.-based EMPLOYEES. The parking lot is sparsely used at 8 a.m.; likewise at 5 p.m. As managers--you either do not know what your EMPLOYEES are doing; or you do not CARE. You have created expectations on the work effort which allowed this to happen inside Cerner, creating a very unhealthy environment. In either case, you have a problem and you will fix it or I will replace you. “NEVER in my career have I allowed a team which worked for me to think they had a 40-hour job. I have allowed YOU to create a culture which is permitting this. NO LONGER.” Mr. Patterson went on to list six potential punishments, including laying off 5% of the staff in Kansas City. “Hell will freeze over,” he vowed, before he would dole out more employee benefits. The parking lot would be his yardstick of success, he said: It should be “substantially full” at 07:30 a.m. and 6:30 p.m. on weekdays and half full on Saturdays. “You have two weeks,” he said. “Tick, tock.” That message, management experts say, created an atmosphere of fear without specifying what, if anything, was actually going wrong at the company. Moreover, it established a simplistic gauge of success--measuring worker productivity by the number of cars in a parking lot is like judging a book by its word count. But the more costly error was releasing such an inflammatory memo to a wide audience. Whenever a company does that these days, it is practically inviting a recipient to relay it to - 12 - GM 963 & 964 TN friends or even corporate rivals. At that point, a message of even the mildest interest to others will start churning through the farthest corners of the Internet. For Cerner, a rapidly growing company that had $404.5 million in revenue last year, the e-mail promoted a market upheaval. On March 22, the day after the memo was posted on the Cerner message board on Yahoo, trading in Cerner’s stock, which typically runs at about 650,000 shares a day, shot up to 1.2 million shares. The following day, volume surged to 4 million. In three days, the stock price fell to $34 from almost $44. It closed in New York at $30.94 on Wednesday. Mr. Patterson said that the memo was taken out of context and that most employees at Cerner understood that he was exaggerating to make a point. He said he was not carrying out any of the punishments he listed. Instead, he said, he wanted to promote discussion. He apparently succeeded, receiving more than 300 e-mail responses from employees. As the stock began to fall after the posting of his e-mail, Mr. Patterson sent out another e- mail message to his troops. It was both an apology to those he offended and a confirmation of the work-ethic problem within the company. It began: “Please treat this memo with the utmost confidentiality. It is for internal dissemination only. Do not Copy or E-mail to anyone else.” Source: Wong, Edward. “The E-Mail Read ’Round the World: Executive’s Cautionary Tale.” International Herald Tribune, April 6, 2001: 1 & 15.
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