Bob Chen came from the oriental culture. He was born in Hong Kong. He came to Canada to study and was eventually given the opportunity to work in one of the largest public accounting firms in Canada, James-Williams. As most Orientals, he was quiet and soft-spoken. He was not a straightforward person. He does not readily utter his exact opinions about a situation or a person. This courteous behavior of his had also apparently concealed most of his views about career and work. David Shorter, though not indicated in the case study, possesses the characteristics of a person hailed from or has a great grasp of the Canadian or Western culture.
Being the Practice Manager of the New Enterprise Group at James-Williams for the past four years, he had undoubtedly been successful in handling many Canadian constituents under his management. Chen and Shorter had different approaches to management. Shorter believed that for an employee like Chen who has great potential, he has to take things step by step. Chen had expressed his desire to be a tax consultant and thus would like to receive tasks heading toward that direction. Shorter, however, explained that he still needs to do another year of auditing work to make him a more effective tax consultant.
He also wanted to take advantage of Chen’s oriental background and would like to use him as linkage to attract Hong Kong clients. Aside from the shortage of senior auditors for that year, a longer auditing experience would help him better understand business problems which would be essential to his desired specialization. Chen, however, was insistent with his career plans. Shorter attempted a compromise by offering him an all-expense-paid tax training program as long as he agrees to spend another year in auditing. Chen rejected the offer and still pushed to be assigned to a tax partner.
Shorter finally gave in and assigned Chen to Joe Silverman but Chen has to do some auditing still during his first year with Silverman. Chen, unlike Shorter, was not convinced in taking his career step-by-step. He thought another year of auditing work would only delay him from his desire to be a tax consultant. He was not agreeable to Shorter’s statement that to be an effective tax consultant, he would need to have ample experience as a senior auditor. He, however, had understood Shorter’s visions of attracting Hong Kong clients to the New Enterprise Group.
Being able to speak in Chinese and familiar with their culture, he would be able to win their trust easily. But this, unfortunately, was not what he had planned to do in his career. Chen’s performance after his meeting with Shorter was not very satisfactory. It was an act of professional discourtesy not to express directly if he had accepted or rejected the audit task for Softdisk Computer Company. Personality-wise, he may be known not to be very vocal with his opinions or feelings. But professionally, this is very detrimental. Softdisk is one of the important clients of the New Enterprise Group.
Important clients should be handled with much care as their trust and confidence to the accounting firm is what retains them as clients. Mike Mcleod who brought up the auditing project went through the proper channels to determine the senior auditor who was available and capable of doing the job. Chen was the only one available in September and October. According to Silverman, there were no tax work lined up for him yet and the job Mcleod was offering would also touch on some tax issues which would be a good experience for him.
Chen had not been explicit in expressing his hesitation with the project. He nevertheless attended the physical inventory conducted by the client. This risked the relationship with the client even more. Softdisk had Chinese origins and upon finding out that Chen would be auditing for them, they were very pleased. Once Chen withdraws from this project and declares that he did not want to do the audit in the first place, the New Enterprise Group will be placed in a bad light. Worse, Softdisk may withdraw themselves as a regular client.
Shorter, who was also responsible in attracting and maintaining clients, would not find this very acceptable. He would give a failing evaluation to Chen for his professionalism. One of the factors to this evaluation would be his hesitation to the project which had no supporting grounds. First of all, as per task scheduling, he was available during the auditing period for Softdisk. He had also agreed to still perform auditing tasks though he had been assigned already to a tax partner. Other factors would be his being quiet with his hesitations and showing up to the client despite his uncertainties.
Losing Softdisk as a client would be a big blow to Shorter and to the New Enterprise Group. The bad image may also eventually reflect to James-Williams as a company which was regarded as one of the most respected accounting firms in Canada. Chen’s behavior and the misunderstanding that transpired between him and his colleagues may also be reflective of a cross-cultural conflict. Individuals with oriental upbringing like Chen are not straightforward people like most Canadians or Westerners. They usually choose to be quiet out of courtesy or being polite to the other party.
Being in a foreign land also makes them sensitive to racial discrimination issues. It is possible that Chen may have also perceived Shorter’s recommendation to take one more year in auditing as an underestimation of his capability to move forward as a tax consultant, reason enough for him to be insistent to be placed in a tax assignment. Chen’s colleagues who may not have understood how Oriental people do and perceive things may have taken this behavior against Chen. They may have also overlooked other factors while pushing Chen to take the project.
For example, Chen may be by nature a very serious worker that when he accepts a particular project, he does not accept any project unless he is sure that he can finish it to its end and with good quality at that. Chen mentioned that he was currently working with the audit for a film company. This was, according to him, the reason for his hesitation with Softdisk as he did not want to leave his current project unfinished or to jeopardize it. And because he was not so vocal about his opinions and feelings, his colleagues had interpreted this as a deliberate rejection to projects and being very picky about them.
Understanding the working styles, career perceptions, cultural norms and behaviors is a major challenge for managers who have subordinates coming from different cultural origins. There may already be barriers primarily in communication. Interaction may be difficult between a native of the country and a foreigner who educated himself to understand and speak the native language. Meanings may be different and may become the usual cause of misinterpretation or misunderstanding between colleagues. It is also unavoidable for some foreigners to manifest their own culture and beliefs when they communicate or work with others.
There are some cultures which always exhibit themselves as dominant and aggressive. Some are quiet and not very vocal about their opinions and feelings like Chen. Others also appear very defensive when in front of individuals from other cultures especially there had been a history of discrimination against them. Because of some inherent beliefs, culture also affects one’s confidence in decisions made by the company. The subordinate may register agreement or display quiet hesitation to the decision. Without proper communication channels, opinion differences may lead to loss of confidence to the company or interest to work.
For these cultural differences that may eventually evolve to office conflict, managers have to be very careful when communicating, giving out statements and mandating decisions to their subordinates. Statements and decisions should be seen as based from actual facts, from democratic discussions and not from subjective, biased ideas. It is also recommended for managers to learn something about the cultural backgrounds of their subordinates. A manager should always be a step ahead of his subordinates. He should be aware of their thinking processes, goals and working styles.
With this knowledge, he can also implement appropriate techniques to motivate them and to criticize them when necessary. Not everybody in the company may perceive a colleague from a different cultural background as an equal. It is then the responsibility of the manager to mandate cultural equality in the office. He may create policies like for any display of cultural discrimination would mean an evaluation of unprofessionalism. Proper communication is a very crucial factor in resolving cross-cultural conflict.
Professionally, managers and subordinates may adjust with each other so they can together meet certain goals. As in the case of Chen and his colleagues, misunderstanding may have been avoided if the communication lines had remained open. Chen would have vocalized his hesitancy to the Softdisk project before it came to the point of putting the relationship with the client at risk. Mcleod and Silverman would have been able to make some adjustments as well in due time. Similarly, Chen would have retained his professional stature in the company and not find himself unworthy in his position in the New Enterprise Group.