Over the past forty or so years, Change Management went from a largely ignored
leadership aspect to becoming a field in itself. Practitioners and researchers developed com-prehensive process definitions, there are now
numerous models analyzing indicators of and reasons for people resisting change, and you can apply countless recommended strategies for overcoming
such resistance and managing change effectively.
One question, though, largely remains unanswered: "What do I need to do differently
when trying to manage change effectively across cultures?"
After all, cultural differences are hard to overlook when it comes to resistance to
change. Compare the way the Japanese deal with their nation's long economic decline and the 2011 tsunami and Fukushima disasters with the Greek
reaction to that country's severe economic crisis: the former respond with great patience and stoic attitudes, the latter with angry protests and
forceful resistance. Or contrast the way in which Germany raised its mandatory retirement age (from 65 to 67) to how the French dealt with a similar
change (from 60 to 62): a few weeks of rather tame protests here, several years of sometimes-violent resistance there.
Make no mistake: we're not discussing 'good' or 'bad' here. The point is that just
as individuals respond differently to change, there is an often strong cultural component to the ways people in different countries and cultures
deal with it. As always when it comes to working globally, one cannot assume that the strategies that are most effective in one place will be equally
Below are four helpful questions to ask yourself when managing global change. To be
sure, they have as much do to with your own behaviors as they do with the values and practices of the culture(s) you are dealing with:
Are you making the reasons for, and the implications of, the change clear enough?
Ambiguity, whether it is about costs, equipment, jobs, or other aspects, can trigger
negative reactions among those affected by change. How intense those reactions could become depends to no small degree on how people deal generally
You'll want to spend much more time helping people understand upcoming changes when dealing with members of cultures where uncertainty is viewed
a strong negative.
Did you consult those affected by the proposed change to the appropriate extent?
Most people like to know what's going on, especially if their jobs may be affected,
and are generally happier when 'in the know' about upcoming changes. What constitutes appropriate involvement, however, may look different across
cultures, both national and corporate.
Members of egalitarian or particularistic cultures (see also
tend to expect greater involvement in decision making than those of authoritarian and universalistic ones, where decisions are generally made at
the top and/or follow processes, rules, and established practices.
Does the change threaten to modify established patterns of working relationships
between people, and if yes, how relevant is that?
Nobody likes seeing their work relationships disrupted. How much of an issue it
creates when that happens, though, is influenced by cultural views of the importance of
Such views must be carefully considered before making change decisions.
Does the change threaten power or status in your organization?
Job worries tend to be universally intensive. That's not necessarily the case for
power and status. The relevance of
status and respect
varies greatly across cultures.
may be crucially important to some, while little more than an abstract concept to others. Accordingly, changes that may be deemed minor in one
culture could elsewhere be viewed as a major attack on some, or even all, of the players' pride and self esteem.