(with Joseph C. Bentley)


During World War II, thousands of lonely GI's stationed in Great Britain took advantage of the situation to court equally lonely British women. Paradoxically, both the American soldiers and the British women soon were accusing each other of being brash and aggressive. As it turned out, the problem rested not in the young people's behavior, but in the way courtship rituals were culturally defined.

Researchers determined that, from first eye contact to ultimate consummation, courtship in both cultures went through approximately thirty steps. But the sequence of steps differed greatly. Kissing, for example, appeared early in the American pattern, around step five, while for the British, kissing came very late in the sequence, at about step twenty-five. Thus an American GI's harmless kiss was interpreted by his British date as a highly erotic signal, indicating that things were very serious and about to become even more so. The young woman felt rushed, cheated out of twenty steps in the usual pattern. She felt that she had to make an important decision quickly and under pressure: either break off the relationship because things were moving too fast, or agree to sexual intercourse. "If she chooses the latter," wrote Paul Watzlawick in How Real Is Real, "the soldier was confronted with behavior that according to his cultural rules could only be called shameless at the early stage of the relationship."1 As this example makes clear, a kiss is not just a kiss, regardless of what the song says. It is an act that occupies a critical position in the order and meaning of courtship.

While this story of cross-cultural miscommunication may seem quaint, modern variations of it have recurred around the world, as organizational managers have become involved in international business operations. Those who manage at the international level are prone to a paradox of their own, the cross-cultural Catch-22 of global management.

When Joseph Heller wrote his masterful Catch-22, he probably did not realize he had canonized such a fundamental and universal human experience. Its original incarnation deserves an occasional repeating:

There was only one catch and that was Catch-22, which specified that a concern for one's own safety in the face of dangers that were real and immediate was the process of a rational mind. Orr [Yossarian's pilot friend] was crazy and could be grounded. All he had to do was ask; and as soon as he did, he would no longer be crazy and would have to fly more missions. Orr would be crazy to fly more missions and sane if he didn't, but if he was sane he had to fly them. If he flew them he was crazy and didn't have to; but if he didn't want to he was sane and had to. Yossarian was moved very deeply by the absolute simplicity of this clause of Catch-22 and let out a respectful whistle.
        "That's some catch, that Catch-22," he observed.
        "It's the best there is," Doc Daneeka agreed.2

Certainly not as life-threatening, but equally as confusing is the Catch-22 of global management, which has emerged out of the struggle of western nations to expand their businesses into the global arena, looking for growth and expansion across cultural frontiers. These frontiers between cultures have traditionally marked limits between people: limits of movement, of identity, of understanding, of acceptance. Cultural frontiers have even signaled absolute differences in the nature of reality. As the philosopher Pascal observed over 350 years ago, "There are Truths on this side of the Pyrenees which are falsehoods on the other."

Limited as he was by the worldview of the seventeenth century, Pascal could never have foreseen the extent to which the world's frontiers would be penetrated by modern technology and economics. Nor could Pascal have anticipated the emergence of a "global village," first described in the 1960's and increasingly a reality.

But all has not been easy in the New World of global business and management. While strong desires and great efforts have led to the crossing of frontiers that had separated different peoples for centuries, there are other barriers, less visible than mountain ranges and national borders, that continue to divide people as effectively as the Pyrenees once did.

As competition and growth stimulate organizations to cross these cultural frontiers, a process occurs which usually goes like this:
     1) business organizations see a need to expand into an international         
        2) that expansion is carried out from a particular cultural perspective 
        with its own values,
        traditions, and history;
        3) the way of doing business--and therefore of managing operations--in 
        the new market is based on a different set of cultural values and
and therefore
        4) the global expansion of business into international markets is usually 
        accompanied by misunderstanding, friction, conflict, and ineffectiveness, and often ends in failure.

In this process, the frustrating Catch-22 of global management takes root and blossoms: the more an erstwhile manager applies his or her well-intentioned, highly honed, and previously effective skills in trying to achieve success, the more inappropriate becomes the behavior. The predictable and inevitable result is resistance from members of the host country. Encountering that resistance, the manager, using strategies that always worked in the past, then tries even harder--and in the process contributes even more to his or her failure.

A dramatic illustration of this interaction appears in Rude Awakening: The Rise, Fall, and Struggle for Recovery of General Motors, by Maryann Keller.3 Two days before Christmas of 1981, Keller reports, Seisi Kato, chairman of Toyota Motor Sales, met with Roger Smith, CEO of General Motors. Smith had concluded that GM needed the products that only a company like Toyota could provide. His recent attempt to affiliate with Honda having been rebuffed, Smith anxiously wanted to make a deal. Seen as a last opportunity to become a major player in the small car market dominated by the Japanese, this meeting was especially important for Smith and his vision of GM's future.

Kato, of Toyota, chose to speak in English, a language in which he was awkward. The Americans, sensing an opening, began to push. As Keller writes, "Roger was behaving like the no nonsense American executive--you know, let's get down to business." But Kato, who had worked in a GM office in Tokyo forty years earlier, wanted to reminisce about his past association with the company.

The meeting went badly. Both parties were doing business the way it was supposed to be done in their respective countries. For the Americans, time was money, and it was being wasted. For the Japanese, the relationships so necessary to doing business were being brusquely ignored. Only after the difficult problems between the two companies were turned over to subordinates did matters improve, and only after they were resolved and details were in place did Smith and Kato come back into the process.

Schein's shrewd observation that "we simply cannot understand organizational phenomenon without considering culture both as a cause and a way of explaining such phenomenon"4 provides the key to this problem of global management.

"The essential core of culture," wrote Anthropologist Clyde Kluckholm, "consists of traditional (i.e., historically derived and selected) ideas and especially their attached values."5  The need to understand such traditions, ideas, and values is increasingly important to organizations engaged in the crossing of cultural frontiers.

But even more formidable frontiers are to be found inside each one of us, in our own accepted and unexamined traditions, ideas, and values about the "good," the "ought," and the "right."

There is general agreement that the following activities are essential to the management process:
     1) establishing strategic purposes and setting goals and objectives;
        2) identifying, capturing, and using resources;
        3) organizing an internal structure;
        4) leading and motivating others for results;
        5) communicating both internally and externally;
        6) distributing rewards to organizational members.
It is obvious that each of these management activities embodies deeply felt cultural traditions, ideas, and values.

Hofstede convincingly argues that all such cultural values, inwardly internalized to form cognitive maps, are strongly resistant to change. Especially is this true in closed, relatively static, and underdeveloped societies. "Institutions may be changed," Hofstede observes, "but this does not necessarily affect the societal norms; and when these remain unchanged, the persistent influence of a majority value system patiently smoothes the new institutions until their structure and functioning is again adapted to this societal norm."6

Hofstede's remarks are particularly compelling because of his extensive cross-cultural research, based on a study of 116,000 workers in 40 countries, all employed by one multi-national corporation (Hermes). 7 His work is impressive because of its huge sample size and exacting analysis. Additionally significant is the degree to which it parallels and is reinforced by other studies.

Hofstede identified four cultural dimensions that are not only important to work-related behavior (including management), but which also systematically serve to clarify the differences between cultural and national groups. These four dimensions are:
     1) Power Distance: the extent to which people define themselves as close 
        or distant to those who possess power.
        2) Uncertainty Avoidance: the extent to which people seek to avoid 
        uncertainty, largely through the creation and imposition of order.
        3) Individualism: the extent to which people value individual freedom

       and self-determination over the social collectivity and the interests of 
        4) Masculinity: the extent to which people feel that biological differences 
        between the sexes have implications for their roles in society.

These dimensions are remarkably close to those identified by Inkles and Levinson in their study of national character.8 More generally, Hofstede's dimensions reflect the dimensions which characterize two opposite types of social systems--Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft--which have long been a preoccupation of sociologists, and which were given explicit articulation in Talcott Parsons' five "pattern variables."9

Most interesting to the current authors is the degree to which Hofstede's findings echo their own work10 which stakes out both cultures and organizations in terms of the three primary dimensions of order, membership, and meaning. Hofstede's categories thus seem to be well sustained by the work of others in reflecting a broadly based set of societal themes.

Tracing out the implications of Hofstede's four dimensions is highly instructive. For example, March and Simon (1958) observed that when uncertainty is important "the definition of rationality is problematic."11  Organizations create "uncertainty absorption" systems that reduce uncertainty by limiting the concepts available for understanding and working on organizational problems. Cyert and March extended the implications of high uncertainty avoidance with patterns of actions by organizations. Since organizations seek to behave rationally, and therefore to avoid uncertainty, they tend to emphasize short-run solutions to problems that have a high probability of being solved, while avoiding serious consideration of problems connected with uncertain events that might occur far into the future.12

Not only will organizations in high uncertainty avoidance cultures behave this way, but people from those cultures (and especially those working within such organizations) will be strongly inclined to behave, think, and feel in similar ways--and they will most likely do so without realizing it. Thus in an international organization operating in Portugal, a manager from Sweden (with the very low Uncertainty Avoidance Index of 23) would be operating according to very different premises than would local employees (Portugal having a very high UAI of 102).

Differences along the dimension of Power Distance can raise equally disrupting problems. One has only to imagine a manager from New Zealand (where the Power Distance Index is a low 22) used to a nearly egalitarian relationship with his employees, trying to understand his counterparts from Mexico or Venezuela (countries with a very high PDI score of 81) who are most comfortable with very distant and formal relationships in the organizational structure. And one can begin to gain increased insight into the source of many of the problems experienced by mangers from America or those from the British Commonwealth (with Individualism Index scores in the top quartile) when they work with personnel from the newly emerging industrial powers of the Pacific Rim--Taiwan, Thailand, Singapore, and Hong Kong (which all have IDV scores in the bottom quartile). To take a more personal example, the senior author spent many months during the 1970's consulting with American oil companies operating in Venezuela as they were being nationalized. Individualism Index scores potentially averaged 91 for the American senior level managers and 12 for the Venezuelans who constituted the middle and lower level managers, as well as all the workers. It was therefore no surprise that management relations within the companies were characterized by relentless confusion, misunderstanding, and resentment.

The dimension of Masculinity may be a particularly confounding one, especially in this period of rapid change. As McGregor reported in 1967, "The model of the successful manager in our culture is a masculine one. The good manager is aggressive, competitive, firm, just. He is not feminine; he is not soft or yielding or dependent or intuitive in the womanly sense."13

As recently as 1974, Acker and Van Houton pointed out that, in most societies, "males are higher than females and are not expected to take orders from females."14 But concepts of masculinity and appropriate managerial behavior have both been under a great deal of pressure to change, especially in the West. Ever larger numbers of women have moved into managerial positions. It is easy to imagine the difficulties faced by traditional males as they approach the task of international management with the increasing presence of women in positions of leadership. It is much more difficult to imagine the complexities of interaction as masculine and feminine spheres of activity and behavior combine in unforeseeable permutations across cultures located at very different points along the Masculinity Scale. What is clear is that the experience in organizations dominated by high masculine norms will be dramatically different from the experience within organizations where low masculine norms are common.

Utilizing the critical management process activities outlined earlier, Table I summarizes some of the conclusions suggested by Hofstede's four dimensions. It also serves to identify a set of serious differences in managerial task accomplishment. Where large differences exist between two societies on any of the four dimensions--and even more so where large differences occur along more than one dimension--the solutions to the challenges presented by the organization will need to be quite different. When business development occurs across cultural frontiers characterized by large differences, the likelihood of getting snagged on the Catch-22 of global management increases. Greater degrees of difference produce greater amounts of resistance, and that, in turn, increases the likelihood of failure--failure directly related to trying to do more of what always used to be done--successfully--in the past.

In the economic scheme of things it is now painfully clear that the successful companies of the future will be those that become effective in the international arena. The realities of global management can no longer be avoided; in fact, they should be embraced. How cultural frontiers can be kept from becoming behavioral barriers is now the key question for business leaders.

Following our own conclusions regarding the essential role of order, membership, and meaning, we suggest an approach that pays attention to these three central organizational and cultural concerns. This approach focuses on three goals. The first goal is to attain a goodness-of-fit between cultures so that a sense of cross-cultural order is established; the second goal is to select managers in a way that emphasizes their participation in a similar world view; the third goal is to train managers in the meanings that must be successfully shared across the cultures they deal with.

Goodness-of-fit. Managers who seek to move easily across cultural frontiers must take account of the fact that some cultures match up better and more easily with others. For example, Hofstede offers these conclusions from his study of 40 cultures:
     * If people are to work together in hierarchical structures, differences in 
        power distance are the most likely source of trouble.
        * For ambitious tasks like strategic planning, people from low 
        uncertainty avoidance cultures perform better than people from high 
        uncertainty avoidance cultures. If an ambitious task is given to a group, 
        the chairman preferably should be chosen from a low uncertainty 
        * For clearly defined and urgent tasks, people from high uncertainty 
        avoidance cultures are likely to perform better.
        * Other factors being equal, people from low uncertainty cultures can 
        more easily acquire cross-cultural sensitivity than can those from high 
        uncertainty avoidance cultures.

Managerial Selection. Often it is upper level managers who precipitate the Catch-22 of global management. Some executives simply are not able to be successful in another culture, especially one quite different from their own. Others may still insist that they shouldn't have to behave differently. Therefore, the selection of top-level business leaders becomes extremely important.

In general, as Hofstede observes, persons who have lived abroad, who have studied a foreign language, or who have married someone from another culture, are better suited for international management.

An important consideration in selecting for cross-cultural management is the worldview that people use in making judgments. Worldviews are ultimately expressed through the vocabularies people use to describe the nature of the world they live in.

Some managers are hobbled by a world view that does not admit of other viewpoints, that requires the world everywhere to be constructed in ways that are friendly and familiar. These managers are subject to culture shock, the inability to function in the new culture by relying upon a style of leadership or interpersonal influence that is entirely inappropriate to a culturally different time and place.

Under the stress of culture shock, many people experience a tendency to regress to more primitive forms of behavior. They revert to what philosopher Richard Rorty calls a "final vocabulary."15 People who insist that their vocabulary is the final vocabulary will not succeed in the emerging, changing world of global management.

Rather than rely upon one's final vocabulary as truth, global managers need to come closer to those who are, in Rorty's term, "ironists." Thus the new business leader needs to become what we might call a "management ironist." Paraphrasing Rorty's description, management ironists would fulfill the following three conditions:
        1. Management ironists, while recognizing the value and importance of 
        their own final vocabulary, would have "radical and continuing doubts" 
        about that vocabulary because they "have been impressed by other 
        vocabularies...taken as final by people and books [they] have 
        2. Management ironists would realize that any argument or
        explanation phrased in their own current vocabulary could not remove
         these doubts.
        3. Management ironists would not insist that their final vocabulary is 
        any closer to the truth or reality than the vocabulary of anyone else.
In short, management ironists would be those who are ready to cross the cultural frontiers of global management, ready to learn new ways of thinking, of seeing, and of doing.

Training Managers. Of course, people are not automatically management ironists. Training has traditionally been relied upon as one answer to the human resources problem of learning to do things differently. Lists of skills and abilities have been developed to describe what should be mastered in order for leaders and managers to be successful in other cultures. For example, Ruben has produced a list that includes the following:
     1. the capacity to communicate respect,
        2. the capacity to be non-judgmental,
        3. the capacity to accept the relativity of one's own knowledge and 
        4. the capacity to display empathy,
        5. the capacity to be flexible,
        6. the capacity for turn-taking,
        7. the tolerance for ambiguity.16
Such skills are not only important, but necessary. However, once a particular set of needed skills has been agreed upon, we must face up to the dilemma that training models that consistently deliver new, more effective behaviors have not yet been developed.

The question is, how do people change their attitudes, values, and, ultimately, their behavior? The work of Bern suggests that we usually frame the solution backwards.17 If we were to ask a friend, "Why do you eat brown bread?" the answer we would normally expect is, "Because I like it." Bern would argue that the correct question to ask is, "Why do we like brown bread?' and the revealing answer is, "Because we eat it."

In other words, behavior comes first and is then followed by attitude change, and then--perhaps--by new and more relevant values. The implications for global management are clear: leaders and managers ought to be asked to behave in the new culture before attempts are made to teach them new skills and attitudes. Out of this behavior would come the readiness to build bridges rather than walls along the cultural frontiers.

Two lines of poetry by Philip Larkin poignantly convey how the Catch-22's of daily life turn ordinary events into impossible problems, in which no movement is possible:
        "Be beautiful and I will love you", said he.
        "Love me and I will be beautiful", said she.

The Catch-22 of global management is not unlike this no-win exchange. "Let's do business and let's do it our way", says one. "First agree to our way, and then we'll see about doing business", responds the other. Such conversations will have no end unless we can find and implement better ways to overcome the ubiquitous Catch-22 that lies in wait along these tempting international frontiers.


1 Paul Watzlawich, How Real is Real, New York: Vintage, 1964, p. 64.

2 Joseph Heller, Catch-22, New York: Simon and Schuster, 1961, pp. 46-47.

3 Maryann Keller, Rude Awakening: The Rise, Fall, and Struggle for Recovery of General Motors, New York: William Morrow, 1989, p. 86.

4 Edwin Schein, Organizational Culture and Leadership, San Francisco: Jossey Bass,1985, p. 311.

5 Clyde Kluckholm, "The Study of Culture," in D. Lerner and H. D. Lanswell (Eds.), The Policy Sciences. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1951, p. 86.

6 G. Hofstede, Cultures' Consequences: International Differences in Work-Related Values, Beverly Hills: Sage Publications, 1980.


8 Alex Inkeles, A. and P.S. Levinson, "National Character: The Study of Modal Personality and Socio-cultural Systems," in G. Lindzey and E. Aronson, (Eds.), The Handbook of Social Psychology, Vol 4. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley, 1969.

9 Talcott Parsons and Edward Shils, Toward a General Theory of Action, Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1951, p .77.

10 Michael Toth and Joseph Bentley,"To Hell with Moe Berg! Locating the Organization: Themes of Order, Membership, and Meaning," unpublished manuscript, 1989.

11 John March and Herbert Simon, Organization, New York: John Wiley, 1958, p.128.

12 R. Cyert and J. March, A Behavioral Theory of the Firm, Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1963.

13 E. McGregor, The Professional Manager, New York: McGraw-Hil, 1967, p. 23.

14 Robert Acker and D. Van Houton, "Differential Recruitment and Control: The Sex Structuring of Organizations," in Administrative Science Quarterly, 1971, p. 152-163.

15 Richard Rorty, Contingency, Irony & Solidarity, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989.

16 B. D. Ruben, "Guidelines for Cross-cultural Communication Effectiveness," 1977.

17 D. Bern, Beliefs, Attitudes and Human Affairs, Belmont, CA: Brooks/Cole Publishing, 1970.