In the modern business environment, multicultural practices are issues that employees and the employers have to deal with on a daily basis. However, in one way or another, cultural difference has the potential to impact the ways in which business is run in the global market today which is ever expanding. In a multicultural environment, the success of a business will be based on the ability to unite, understand ones differences, and strengthen each other. It is the only way to overcome the challenges that comes with diversity. It is because cultural barriers have the potential to affect credibility, communication, the ways in which uncertainty is solved, individual perspectives, and time frames (Deresky, 2014). The media has been on the front to depict and analyze the cultural differences in the business world and the impacts that it has on the general performance. Ron Howard in his film titled Gung Ho decided to portray the ways in which an interracial corporation is operated and its impacts on the business environment. The story is about Japanese Company taking over American car plant. Throughout the film, the viewers can learn several issues that relates to globalization and the cultural difference in the work place which is portrayed in a comic way. One thing that is evident in the film is the cultural dynamics outlined by Geert Hofstede which include: individualism/collectivism, power distance, avoidance of uncertainty and masculinity/ femininity.
At the beginning of the film, the auto plant which is located in Pennsylvania is in bad shape. It has not been in operation for the last nine months which prompts Hunt Stevenson, the foreman of the company to seek help in Tokyo particularly Assan Motors Corporation to come to their aid. The Japanese Company comes in and reopens the local plant but with major changes. They impose low wages, no union, are expected to meet impossible quality and efficiency standards, and are moved across the factory to learn various things. This is contrary to what many American workers are used to even though the producer of the film depicts the events in a comic way. It is clear that the Americans and the Japanese people have various management styles because of the diverse cultural values between them. The pressure that comes out of the cultural differences causes Hunt and Kazihiro who are the executive managers of the company to fight in a broad daylight (Canby, 1986). The event causes the workers to fear while many American workers choose to quit their jobs. The result is dramatic as the company is closed again because of the indifference and lack of understanding between the two managers. However, in the end of the film, Hunt and Kazihiro decides to come together again and reopen the company but this time round, they decide to learn to appreciate and respect the difference between them. The viewers see them working together in collaboration instead of holding a competitive joint venture between these two culturally diverse managers. In the end, the venture becomes success.
- Analysis of cultural dynamics of Hofstede
When it comes to individualism/collectivism, it is important to look at the personal life of the workers and their relationship at work. It will be easy to identify from their behavior their individualistic or collective nature. According to Hofstede, the US is a nation whereby many of the citizens possess individualistic characteristics. It is because of the desire to achieve the American dream that makes many of them individualistic (Hofstede & Hofstede, 2005). Throughout the film, the viewers can identify the American individualistic lifestyle.
In the film, the American workers have their personal/individualistic workspaces which are equipped with decorative items. On the other hand, the Japanese managers are working together in teams engaging themselves in obligatory exercises before they get to work. The viewers see the manager mentioning that team work is what has made them successful as a company. It means that Japanese holds the collective ideas and thoughts even though they do it in a different way from the Americans. However, for the Japanese, places more focus on the performance of the company more than the group. This is evident during the boot camp when Mr. Sakamoto decided to conduct an inspection of the cars instead of interacting with family. His main focus is the well being of the factory by looking into its future rather than enjoying family time. It means that Japanese can be ranked lowest when it comes to individualistic dimensions.
In another scenario which shows that the Japanese perform poorly in collectivism is where the workers were being unjustly treated and even forced to attend the boot camp. On the other hand, the other Japanese management team were forced into the program something which they felt as humiliating and shameful. They felt that they had let the company down which shows that they did not have any strong values for group time. The management also does not allow any individualistic needs. For instance, the case of the worker who was not allowed to attend his son’s surgery and another case where the Japanese manager could not go to the hospital to take care of the wife while in labor. The last instance is when Mr. Sakamoto could not assist his son with the bicycle rather insisted on working because that is what mattered to him (Yu & Meyer-Ohle, 2008). While the Americans enjoy having fun playing the softball, the Japanese considers the game an exercise rather than time to relax and have a good time. It is evident that the Americans are more relaxed more than the Japanese people while out of the company.
On the other hand, the American Individualistic idea is seen when they demand for special treatment. The scenario where the Americans want to help a co-worker who is injured shows that they consider themselves as a collective team something that the Japanese manager objects. To the Americans, the company comes second while family lives and personal agenda are at the core of everything.
- Uncertainty Avoidance
When it comes to uncertainty avoidance, it involves the measures that people take to function in a situations that are unclear to them. This is mainly common in diverse environment where there are various thoughts and ideas or where people view others differently. According to Hofstede, the US scores low at uncertainty avoidance ranking it at 46 percent while Japan is ranked 92 (Hofstede & Hofstede, 2005). In the film, Mr. Sakamoto manages to comfortably deal with the unfamiliar environment to an extent of creating new laws which are contrary to the US believes and values in the work place. He is not threatened by the outcome of his decision because what he was trying to impose such as no family time and low wages were contrary to American workers beliefs. In another instance, Mr. Stevenson is dealing with uncertain circumstances. He is trying his best to hold his stand about the worker’s rights which leads to a heated argument leading to the closure of the company. According to Mr. Stevenson, the Japanese managers should allow the Americans to their specialized jobs which they can do best. It shows that the Americans have the culture of bending the system to hold their preferences and personal skills. They look beyond the unpredictability and any other defects in the business. The American labor market has always been complemented with high level of mobility among employees and this is perfectly depicted in the film.
On the other hand, the film has perfectly showed the Japanese mindset of work system especially in tightly controlled and holistic environment which serves uncertainty reduction purpose. The Japanese managers insist that all the workers must be cross-trained in all the job functions as a way to control uncertainty (Deresky, 2014). It is because they have a belief that the work intelligence relies on the system which is the only way in which the company could be run according to Kazihiro. He believes that by the workers conforming to the work system, it will minimize any cases of uncertainty leading to minimal losses. Mr. Kazihiro went as far as installing surveillance videos to monitor the factory especially the ways in which the workers behaved.
- Power Distance
Power is always determined in regards to wealth and rankings in the society. According to Hofstede, it is the level at which members of an organization who are less powerful accepts the fact that power is unequally distributed (Hofstede, 2005). In the film, the aspect of power distance is evident among the Japanese who places more regard and value on their position. It is like they are doing the American company a favor by imposing demands which are unreasonable and impossible to achieve. Mr. Sakamoto is strict which depicts his power level in the company. He does not want to listen to Mr. Stevenson regarding the employee’s plea rather stands his ground regarding his demands as a way to achieve success (Gray, 2003). It was also evident that the Japanese managers feared Mr. Sakamoto showing that he was much powerful. A good example is when one of them decided to not attend a child’s birth to work because he did not want his boss to view it negatively. It shows that the Japanese managers had accepted that they were less powerful and that power was unequally distributed among them. Despite being managers, there were certain boundaries which they could not cross unless it was guaranteed by Mr. Sakamoto.
When it comes to gender, the roles they play in a company matters. In the modern society, it is highly encouraged that both genders have equal position in the work place to avoid discrimination (Deresky, 2014). However, what is important is the general attitude that the individuals have towards other genders. In America, both male and female roles are promoted which is contrary to Japan where only male roles are encouraged. It is their culture that control, achievement and power be distributed among the male gender and not female. According to Hofstede, Japan scores 95 when it comes to upholding their traditional male role unlike US which scores 62 showing less emphasize on gender roles which is more integrated (Hofstede & Hofstede, 2005). In the film, the issue of gender roles is not dominant. There is one particular scene where there is preference for male gender. During dinner time at Oishi’s house, the viewers see all the women deserting the table because the males want to talk business. It is only Audrey who remained in the table. It shows that among the Americans, the issue of female being part of business discussion is not prohibited. The American culture does not discriminate on woman obtaining power and control. However, in Japan, it is a common practice for females not to interfere with their husband’s business in any way. When she asked to stay in the meeting, it was evident through the Japanese men faces that they were not only confused but also disgusted by the idea.
- Other issues
Communication is an important skill that every manager needs to possess regardless of their cultural status. However, in most cases, diversity has led to miscommunication in the work place and this entails both verbal and non-verbal clues (James, 2001). In the film, communication barrier is evident in several scenes. At the beginning of the film, the viewers see Mr. Stevenson finds himself mislead to the meeting point after asking direction from one of the Japanese. It is evident that the Japanese man did not understand what he was asking thus directed him to rice field instead of the right building where the meeting was taking place.
However, Mr. Stevenson tried his best to maintain a particular communication style that would lead to understanding. He was always direct to the point and used metaphors plus humor to reverberate with the other Japanese managers. He understood that in order for them to understand each other, it was important to communicate effectively. In a cross-cultural environment, it is important to communicate in a way that the other party will understand you which will trigger the right response. It is paramount to be direct and send the correct message for an understanding to be created. In the film, misunderstanding is an issue that the viewers expected because of the diversity in language between the Japanese and Americans (Shook, 2010). However, Mr. Stevenson proved that it is easy to overcome the communication barrier by using the right communication tactics. The viewers also see Mr. Sakamoto trying hard at the end of the film to make meaning to communication by using neutral methods of communicating. He informs Mr. Stevenson that he likes him and claims that he makes him laugh. He was trying to use humor to pass across his point and establish a mission of understanding which had initially failed.
There are, however, some instances where communication failed in the film. A good example is when Mr. Sakamoto used Chinese language to communicate his plans which led to miscommunication. It shows that the ambiguity in the language between two cultures can lead to misunderstanding.
- Time/ Lifestyle
Every culture has their lifestyle and time management schedules. Japanese people are known for their stiff culture whereby they do little or no negotiation before making a decision. On the other hand, they emphasize on trust. On the other hand, the Americans are different, they tend to be straight to the point while use their time to speed up things which allows them to operate efficiently (Masuda, Gonzalez, Kwan & Nisbett, 2008). The film has depicted the ways in which time is used by various cultures. The Japanese managers accepted Stevenson’s deal in order to test whether they can benefit from it. They thought that it would help them to permanently have control of the plant. However, before making the deal, Stevenson was direct to the point and explained what he wanted the Japanese people to do in the company. He was aware of their potential but still made it clear what he wanted.
In regards to time, Americans love to spend their time efficiently. It is the reason the audience sees them enjoying themselves while on the trip unlike the Japanese who like to spend most of their time doing business or things which will change their lives. It shows that these two cultures despite being diverse both value their time. In the film, the American workers are seen demanding for a right to spend their time with their families something that Mr. Sakamoto views as a waste of time. This is contrary to Japanese who were willing to make sacrifices away from home because their pride was spending time working.
- Management techniques
When it comes to managing an organization that has diverse employees and management, there will always be opportunities and challenges. In this case, the opportunity will comprise of innovative ideas which will improve the status of the organization. On the other hand, it will open opportunity for the organization to diverse to external markets. It will also enable the organization to have more employees with various talents creating satisfaction and efficiency. However, the main challenges may arise as a result of misunderstanding, poor communication and withdrawal due to high demands from diverse cultural values (James, 2001). It is therefore important for the managers in a cross-cultural organization to have a strong value that would overcome the issues of diversity and bring the employees together.
In the film, the American company decided to transfer its techniques by allowing the Japanese group to take over and manage the company using their skills and competence. They provided Mr. Stevenson with various labor policies which might have seemed harsh to the Americans. Mr. Sakamoto’s aim was to change the management culture and try imposing the Japanese culture of time management, adherence to work schedule, less family time, and more dedication to work (Yu & Meyer-Ohle, 2008). It is the reason he decided that the workers will not spend more time with their family and learn about all the departments in the organization as a way to manage any form of risks in future. He also changed the Assan strategy and philosophy because he believed that his ideas would help the organization stand a chance to succeed after a terrible financial breakdown.
At the end of the film, the viewers see the Americans adopting the Japanese management approach because it was the best way to weld the company and make it successful. In the end, Mr. Kazihiro and Sakamoto both appreciate the American culture of quality of human life and decided to impose humane work attitudes plus open communication method. On the other hand, the Americans workers led by Stevenson come to appreciate the teamwork culture and ethics which was imposed on them by the Japanese. This is a clear show of multicultural management and working together for the good of the organization.
In conclusion, the film Gung Ho depicts the cultural dynamics outlined by Geert Hofstede which include: individualism/collectivism, power distance, avoidance of uncertainty and masculinity/ femininity. Based on the analysis, it is evident that the Americans are more individualistic, ambiguous, have high regards for family, and are less controlled by gender. On the other hand, the Japanese people are male reinforced, have strong tradition connection, are more collective to work than family, and value high structures. It is recommended that before an organization ventures into multicultural management in the global world, it is important that the two parties are acquitted with the right knowledge regarding the two cultures. This is the only right way in which the parties involved despite having various cultural believes and behaviors will have an understanding of the business and work together to become successful. In the film, the closure of the company at the first time of the venture could have been prevented if both Mr. Stevenson and Mr. Sakamoto were aware of the working cultures of both nations. For instance, in regards to labor laws, the Japanese manager should have been aware that the Americans needed more freedom especially family time and better wages. On the other hand, the American workers should have understood that Japanese are more mindful of time management and their strategies towards avoidance of tragedies.
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