How National Culture Shapes Management Styles in Bangladesh?

Organizational culture involves everything an organization does and everything it makes (Peters and Waterman, 1982). The above statement indicates that organizational culture not only shapes the way managers manage their employees but also depict the way employees behave in a particular manner (White, 1984). The author illustrates this with an example that if the persistent belief of a manager is that only the blue-collar employees is able to operate a machine, in that case the issues such as mutual goal setting, positive feedback, open channel of communication and participation, and innovation are being ignored by the organization as this pointed at the traditional aspects of managers denying to figure out the new ways to manage. Reich (1983 cited in White, 1984: p.15) indicates that

… they have been institutionalized into an authoritarian style of management.

Swierczek (1991) points out that management styles take different forms in different culture. For example, the participative style of management is highly effective in individualistic and low power distance culture whereas authoritarian management style is well fitted in cultural situation where a high power distance prevails within the relationship of the superior and subordinate. The author indicates that the style of management in South Asian culture is likely to be authoritative and paternalistic. It is specified by Gaertner and Nollen (1989) that the extent to which employees commit to the values and objectives of the organization is likely to be determined by the prevailing management style of the organization. However, a unique preferred style of management is not visible in all organizations (Purcell, 1987).

It is pointed out by Mansfield and Zeffane (1983) that without doubt the decision making process in the enterprises operating in developing countries is likely to be more centralized compared to the decision-making process of the organizations operating in more industrialized settings. The reason behind the differences in the decision-making aspect is that in developing countries mangers at the top level in the organizational hierarchy are not very keen to assign decision-making authority to the lower or operational level due to their cultural norms, beliefs and characteristics (Mansfield and Alam, 1985). It is suggested by Child (1981: p. 347)

… that cultural effects will be most powerful in the processes of organization relating to authority, style, conduct, participation and attitudes and less powerful in formal structuring and overall strategy.

It has been asserted by Miah et al. (2003) that the integration of modern management styles, for example, participative, consultative, coaching management styles and the like, with the existing social and cultural dimensions is conflicting to a large extent due to the distinctive cultural aspects of Bangladesh such as individualism, traditional standpoint and views of management regarding employees’ nature, traditions of Bangladesh concerning management of people and the like as Evans et al. (1989) asserted that one of the determining factor of management style is the prevailing culture of a society or country, which management adheres in order to keep hold of its distinctive cultural characteristics. The national culture of Bangladesh is a high context and high power distance culture where the underlying cultural characteristics and values are honor and respect the older people, follow the orders of superiors, respect family values, respect the decisions of superiors and the like (Khan, 1997a) and it is stated by Lindholm (2000) that the national culture of a country is highly dominant and shapes the culture of organizations where they function. This is advocated by Pothukuchi et al. (2002: pp. 244-245)) who point out that

… although organizational and national cultures have been regarded as separate constructs, it is also widely accepted that organizational culture is nested in national culture.

In most of the Bangladeshi organizations, whether government, non-government and commercial business organizations, high power distance is profoundly observed. Khan (1997a) mentions that this provides the indication that the work culture in Bangladesh is highly bureaucratic, people do not have authority to work with initiatives, decision making is centralized and prolonged and organization is not performance oriented. The work culture characteristics provide a signal of authoritarian or autocratic style of management prevailed in the organizational culture of Bangladesh as Miah et al. (2003) stressed that most of the organizations in Bangladesh are in the shade of autocracy where management styles are viewed as autocratic. In support of this, Khan (2002) has provided the details of the authoritarian features of the management styles exercised in Bangladeshi organizations. According to the author, there is a propensity in many Bangladeshi organizations is that the authority and control is centralized, which mean management at the highest level of the hierarchy of holds power where lower level management and employees have little or no capacity or discretion of making decision by themselves. The hierarchical structure in the organization is highly centralized and strictly formal. Further, age and seniority is given high preference while promoting employees, communication to lower levels follow a downward pattern, feedback of employees is not taken into account at all. All of these are the signs of the subsistence of authoritarian propensity that the top ranks managers entail, which stem from and influenced by the national culture of their country (Jung et al., 2008).

In authoritarian management style, employees are supposed to do what they are ordered without raising any question or issue (Metcalf, 1995). Employees must agree with their managers concerning the decisions that are made in an autocratic manner and that employees can only wish a consultative style of decision making in their managers (Mansfield and Alam, 1985). The same rule applies in most of the Bangladeshi organization as it is stated by Miah et al. (2003) that the decisions must be obeyed by the employees that have been made. Managers with authority and power are the designated people to make decisions and employees are the performer of the decision. Furthermore, Miah et al. (2003) draw attention to the fact that the traditional and conventional style of management of any organization is likely to produce dependency among employees, make them exercise no initiatives and make them carry out things in the same way until decisions have been made and are communicated from the top on any issue. The authors asserted that such traditional management – employee relations and the style of management is highly widespread and observable in Bangladesh. This is on the whole discouraging and de-motivating for employees to perform well in this style management (Grand et al., 1994).

According to Theory Y of McGregor (1960), employees are self-willing and self-motivated; assume a wider responsibility than those stated in Theory X. These employees are seen as highly positive, capable and inspired and they should not be controlled that make them feel uninvolving with the organization rather they should be offered an engaging environment to exercise their initiatives. In the context of Bangladesh, the picture is completely different. The perspective of Bangladeshi managers concerning self-motivation is that self-motivated action of employees is a noncompliance conduct to the policies of the organization, which cause problems and difficulty for the managers and for the organizations as well and this kind of noncompliance must be monitored, restrained, and controlled by autocratic management policies of the company (Miah et al., 2003). Jung et al. (2008) asserted that such beliefs and views developed from the national culture of a country.

There is a very intense inclination for structure, rules, and standardized procedures in Bangladeshi organizations (Talukder and Yeow, 2006). Rana (2008) provides in details the prevailing management style in Microfinance Institutions (MFIs) operating in Bangladesh and the impact of the management style prevailed in those organizations. It is specified earlier by the author that high power distance is profoundly observed in most of the Bangladeshi organizations. Accordingly, in various MFIs in Bangladesh, high power distance is highly visible, which is profoundly embedded. High power distance significantly influences the planning and decision making process in top, middle and operational levels of management of MFIs. The top level management or the top authority (for example, headquarter) have the supreme authority and perform role of organizational planner and decision maker whereas the branches have very little or no voice in this regard, which means branches have no involvement in the process.

The management style prevailing in the MFIs in Bangladesh is authoritarian style of management as the attributes is highly consistent with Barnard’s (2003) statement concerning the authoritarian management style where it is stated by the author that the objectives to be set, the jobs to be done and the decisions to be made lie in the hands of the managers. The behavior of employees is decisively controlled and the expectations of managers towards the employees are clearly defined in terms of the activities to be performed (i.e. they must do what the managers tell them to do and as told) as the flow of authority and communication is principally downward; initiatives can hardly be used; feedback relating to activities can hardly be received.

The tendency of the employees in Bangladeshi organizations is to avoid risks as Bangladesh is a low risk and low change-tolerant culture (Miah et al., 2003). According to Rana (2008), employees continually strive to act in accordance with the bureaucratic rules of the organization. In Bangladeshi MFIs, top level management, as a result of their authoritarian style of management, always exert some control, which dispirit employees at the lower level to be innovative and to take initiatives. Again, the propensity of taking risk is very low owing to the apprehension of failure, fear of being punished, for instance, fear of reprimand, demotion in job, unforeseen future within the organization, loss of jobs and the like. On the other hand, the author also indicated that in MFIs, employees are restricted by the organizations to a large extent through the imposition of control mechanism to involve themselves in the top level management planning and decision making process, which is seen by the employees in the reduction of significant psychological stress as initiatives are seen as risk taking activities where failure may cause an unpredicted future in the job career.

In general, Bangladeshi culture is considered as having very high individualism (concern for own priorities rather than concern for the priorities of the group in which he/she belongs) widespread in organizations where the attachment of individuals with the organization is largely calculative. The welfare of the organizational members is not taken into account so importantly by the organization. The attachment of employees with their organizations is not very expressive and intensive as a result this high individualism. In MFIs, employees’ wellbeing is not cared for. The organizations are in place to capitalize on their own interests while employees’ wellbeing is not considered and often ignored. This is evident from the unapproachable practice of top level management in MFIs forcing employees to get the job done. In most cases, employees work for a long time beyond their schedule in order to please their managers or else there is a possibility of being scolding by their managers; there might be passive reactions from the part of management on the employees and in extreme cases, they might lose their jobs. Nearly all of the MFIs are witnessed as having a hostile and poor working environment, poor salary structure, and unsociable long working hours; in particular in the branch level employees are manipulated and controlled by the organizations to a large extent, which create a confronting situation between the employees and the organizations. The objective assessment is employees’ performance is absent in the MFIs and as such the rewards whether positive or negative are not performance oriented. Focus on the satisfaction of customers is given high priority via manipulating the welfare of the workers. The relationship between the manager and subordinates is full of anxiety and apprehension. These are all the results of the high individualism dimension existed in society.

Furthermore, masculinity values are prevalent in societies of Bangladesh for a long time. Masculinity values such as male are well fitted for some particular jobs, for example, managerial jobs; the supremacy of male are some common observations. In masculine societies, women are not expected to view as managers in the organizations. Despite the fact that masculinity is profound established in the cultural system of Bangladesh but the situation is different in case of MFIs in Bangladesh, which is exclusively opposite. This is because of the nature of the business MFIs are doing. In most of the MFIs, customers are basically women and for some MFIs, it is a prerequisite to have microcredit is that the client must be woman. This necessitates the organizations to employ a large number of women in the operations of their branches. However, senior positions of the top, mid and operational level management are filled by male who are responsible for making strategic (long-term) or short-term decisions. The stereotype perspective of the managers concerning women is that they are trustworthy, devoted, reliable to their managers and very easy to control, which influence the MFIs to employ more women in their organizations. However, the style of managing is still the same. Top authority exerts their control over the employees, irrespective of male or female, to get the job done where employees have no voice, no emotional involvement with their organizations and motivation is absent due to the authoritarian attitudes of the management of the MFIs operating in Bangladesh. The above scenario in MFIs in Bangladesh indicates the characteristics of authoritarian style of management common and prevailing in most of the organizations of Bangladesh shaped by the national culture (Rana, 2008).

It is indicated by Mansfield and Alam, (1985) that the industrial and public sector organizations in the developing countries have a higher propensity to state planning and control in compared to that of the highly industrially developed nations. In relation to that when the question comes to the downward delegation of authority of decision making, senior managers are forced and intervened by their superiors (control from the state level) not to delegate or decentralize decision making authority. For example, according to CPD (2001), the relationships between central and local government in Bangladesh is highly determined by the dominant and governing role of the bureaucracy. The central government is in the supreme power to influence and control more or less every facet of the activities of local government and its other subsidiaries either through direct supervision or via interruption or through the imposition of an overabundance rules and set of laws. The power lies in the arm of central government to sanction a suspension to a local government unit if the unit is unable to meet financial obligations or is alleged of misusing its authority. In actuality, it is the legal provisions, which is highly defenseless for the local government units to get them protected from the political and administrative influence of the government. In addition, Siddiqui (2000) pointed out that the central government, to a large extent, exercises influence and control over local government financial planning, recruitment and selection of local government employees and the structuring of different standing commission and these create significant hindrances in the development of an effective local government system in Bangladesh. The scenario is the same in Public Service Commission, which administer the recruitment and selections of public service employees for administration level and the situation in other public organizations, is very unlikely to be different (Jahan and Shahan, 2008). For instance, in the Public Service of Bangladesh, communication is basically downward; feedback can be hardly received from the superiors where the attitudes and behavior of superiors are highly autocratic (Singh, 2003). Despite the fact that the authority to make and implement decisions is delegated within the hierarchy of Bangladesh Civil Service, in fact, almost all the decisions in the civil service are made at the highest level authority. The authority delegated to the lower levels is to a large extent narrowly exercised. This is because of the fear of possible contradiction concerning the decision made by the higher level with lower level; lower level lack confidence to assume responsibility, fear of reprimand (Ministry of Establishment, 1989 cited in Ehsan, 2002). Accordingly, in spite of having the provision of making decisions, civil servants in Bangladesh attempt to avoid risks. Moreover, rules and regulations are in place and strictly to be followed. These are the feature of high power distance and strong uncertainty avoidance cultures (Ehsan, 2002). These are all the because of the bureaucratic structural configuration of the organizations and bureaucratic practices where an authoritarian style of management is prevalent and observed (Rana, 2008; Siddiqui, 2000). Such bureaucratic structural configuration and bureaucratic practices arise from national culture (high individualism, high power distance, masculinity, paternalistic attitudes, perception of superiority and the like) that shapes organizational culture and management styles of an establishment (Jung et al., 2008; Pothukuchi et al., 2002).

It has been suggested by Azma and Mansfield (1981, cited in Mansfield and Alam, 1985) that a highly strong and positive correlation between decentralization of authority and control and behavioral measures of organizational performance has been apparent in the context of developing countries. For example, the correlation is highly evident in the family setting where children are brought up in a way to show respect and obedience the senior and elder people. Norms, beliefs and values like these instilled in human behavior in the earlier stages of their lives, which they carry for the rest of the life. In relation to this, the characteristics of Bangladeshi manager are like that they are not accustomed to the picture of delegation, whatsoever, the situation is (as an operating principle or as a way of training subordinates) as he/she has never been observed authority is being delegated to people and thus is not conditioned to see such approaches in action (Mansfield and Alam, 1985). Such an approach to managing people provides the indication of the prevailing management style, which is by and large an authoritarian management style (Khan, 1997a). Furthermore, decision-making process is to a large extent centralized compared to the organizations operating in developing countries for smaller organizations in particular in Bangladesh. Due to the authoritarian style of management exercised in the organizations official arrangements concerning the development of management, training, etc. are barely to observe, especially in smaller organizations (Mansfield and Alam, 1985).

The impact of power distance is significant. This cultural feature suppresses the participation rights of the employees; managers have little or no propensity of delegating authority to the employees, dispirit employees to take initiatives; to stick with the system of centralization of decision making; information is kept secret by managers; foster aggressive and intimidating behaviors among the employees; build up an anti-union attitudes among the management and foremost, build up a highly authoritarian attitudes among the managers (Miah et al., 2003). Uncertainty avoidance is likely to discourage employees to take initiative and risk due to the fear of unforeseen future in the job, fear of reprimand and fear of job loss. Individualism is likely to detach employees from being emotionally involved with the organization as their interests are of no preference and they are highly manipulated. This raises confrontation between the organization and employees and increases tension between managers and employees. Masculinity is likely to manipulate women employees as they are seen to be loyal to their superiors and easy to influence and control; raise confrontation on male and female issues as masculinity means male domination; focus on material achievement ignoring the importance of relationship in the achievement of objective (Rana, 2008). These impacts are highly pertinent and are significantly observed when management holds an authoritarian style of management (Rahman, 2002).

In addition, Rahman (2002) draws attention to the fact that the hierarchic relationship within the organization indicates superiors/mangers look after the personal and family matters of the employees and managers/superiors is seen as a paternal/father figure who guide the employees in work related and non-work related matters. A caring and affectionate attitude is shown to the employees by their superiors. In return, superiors are treated with respect and honor. This means that interpersonal relations are personalized in Bangladesh and rooted in familial relationships. This is the indication of the application of paternalistic style of management exercised in Bangladeshi organizations to some extent as it is pointed out by Mikhailitchenko and Lundstrom (2006) that, a family like affiliation subsists and is in practice between managers and subordinates in paternalistic management style where managers have paid are a high attention towards the family issues of the employees who continually assist and support them with non-work related matters. It is specified by Rahman (2000) that in Bangladesh, the concerned and affectionate characteristics of managers help them organize, influence and motivate the employees to reach organizational goals even though having poor and insufficient job facilities such as lower salaries and wages, short of employees, old and outmoded machineries and poor working environment.

The role of managers is significantly important in ensuring participative management in the earlier stage of its involvement. This is evident from an experiment of adopting participative management style in Bangladeshi organizations. Participative management style was initiated in the textile industries of Bangladesh on an experimental basis in 1977 (Ahmed, 1979 cited in Ali et. al., 1992). However, the initiation was subsequently failed. One of the significant reasons for the failure was the pessimistic attitudes of the managers. Participative management is not a positive and constructive concept to the managers who were accustomed to deal with people in an autocratic way and the initiative was rejected thereafter (Ali et. al., 1992).

However, a contrasting scenario is presented by Andaleeb and Wolford (2004) who point out that the private sectors of Bangladesh seem to have a more flexible style of management as compared to public sectors and NGOs where the approach is highly effective in ensuring a sound management-employee relationship and for ensuring effective organizational performance. For example, the author indicated that more and more women are now joining private sectors organizations that become their first choice. This is because of the negative attitudes and behavior of male colleagues towards women colleagues; the suspicion of managers concerning the capability of women in carrying out their duties precisely and making sound decisions; negative feedback in terms of capability and efficiency; the absence of a secured, friendly and cooperative environment and the like (Kenny, 1995). Andaleeb and Wolford (2004) point toward the fact that the unwillingness not going for public services are the results of hierarchical organizational structure and the authoritarian management style prevalent in Bangladeshi organizations. On the other hand, employees are enjoying a more flexible and supportive environment in the private sectors where they are able to take part in various organizational issues, provide their voice and take part in the decision making process to a large extent. They are encouraged to take initiatives and are given feedback on their performance (Andaleeb and Wolford, 2004), the result of which is increased motivation, improved job performance, enhanced job satisfaction and greater organizational performance (Miah, et al., 2003; Rahman, 2002).

As determined earlier, the existing and widespread cultural norms in Bangladesh involve high power distance, high individualism, risk averting and masculine; these are likely to be in support of centralized, authoritarian style of management (Mansfield and Alam, 1985). According to Miah et al. (2003), it is evident from the research that managers in Bangladeshi organizations observed a high degree of the autocratic management style prevailing in their companies and managers as well showed a high degree of propensity towards embracing authoritarian management style. In the authoritarian management in Bangladesh (whether it is public, private or nongovernmental organizations), high power distances observe and prevail among the top authority, management and employees. Managers in Bangladesh still embrace the traditional perception of management, that is, managing through centralization of authority and control as the belief of managers is that decision making is their prerogative power. Again the perspectives and attitudes of managers and employees concerning participative management are to a large extent pessimistic due to the cultural dimension of power distance and uncertainty avoidance. Lack of knowledge regarding the concept of participative management; lack of trust, confidence and co-operation among employees and managers and lack of interest, initiative, and continued support for participation are also the contributing factors why management style is still authoritative. Rahman (2002) and Ehsan (2002) point out that efforts of participation will be pointless if employees are not at ease with their managers to discuss openly regarding the issues.

 

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Posted by: Farid Ahmed

 

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