Cross-Culture Management Definition

by Van Thompson; Updated September 26, 2017
Indian woman giving a speech.

Cross-culture management occurs when a manager manages someone from a different culture than her own. This management challenge is increasingly common as businesses expand overseas, hire immigrants and work to increase diversity. Cross-cultural management requires specific skills, and businesses that wish to succeed at such a management style may need to offer employees additional training.

Managing Unfamiliar Cultures

One common manifestation of cross-cultural management is when a manager has to work within an unfamiliar culture. If your business expands overseas, for example, you might send your best manager to manage a local plant. While a good manager may be adept at increasing productivity, every culture has distinctive values and attitudes that affect productivity and success. Without adequate training, your manager might not be able to motivate people from India or China as effectively as he motivates Americans.

Managing Multiple Cultures

Your manager doesn't have to move to another country -- or even another neighborhood -- to engage in cross-cultural management. Whenever a manager works with someone who is more familiar with his native culture than with your manager's culture, she's engaged in cross-cultural management. For example, if your firm hires immigrants or recruits from a local Native American reservation, your managers likely practice cross-cultural management every day. Managers who are unfamiliar with staff culture may inadvertently offend their employees or even behave in a way that seems discriminatory.

Cultural Competence and Etiquette

Businesses are increasingly focused on cultural competence. What's polite or professional in one culture may not be so in another. For example, some cultures prefer a more direct style of communication than Americans do. Likewise, managers need at least sufficient cultural information to avoid being offensive. Referring to "Native American culture" as a monolithic type reflects ignorance of individual tribal identity and may upset Native American employees.

Training for Cross-Cultural Management

If your manager works with a specific culture, it's best to provide her training in that culture. A local guide, an expert on a specific culture or even continuing education classes on the culture can help. If, however, you want your manager to work with a variety of cultures, generalized cultural competence training is best. Such training focuses on avoiding offensive terminology, not taking one's own values for granted and a willingness to learn from others.

About the Author

Van Thompson is an attorney and writer. A former martial arts instructor, he holds bachelor's degrees in music and computer science from Westchester University, and a juris doctor from Georgia State University. He is the recipient of numerous writing awards, including a 2009 CALI Legal Writing Award.

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