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2008/12/20

International Dimensions of Organizational Behavior

Linking: International Dimensions of Organizational Behavior
Authors: Nancy J. Adler and Allison Gundersen
Paperback: 398 pages
Publisher: South-Western College Pub; 5 edition (June 29, 2007)
ISBN-10: 0324360746
Book Review:

The world of organizations is no longer defined by national boundaries--and neither are today's successful business leaders. Stay ahead of the curve with the book, the proven and respected text that breaks down the conceptual, theoretical, and practic-al boundaries limiting our ability to understand and work with people in countries and cultures around the world.

This fifth edition of Nancy Adler’s best-selling United States text aims to broaden its readers’ understanding of the myriad theories, practices, and organizational beha-viors underlying international business. It directly addresses the ethnocentric nature of many U.S. management perspectives of globalization. As the authors note in the book’s preface: “Both managers and researchers assumed that Americans’ work be-havior was universal. They were wrong.”

The authors go on to say that the goal of the book is to challenge us “to transcend our parochialism—no matter which country we grew up in—and to see the world from a global perspective.” While this is an admirable and necessary affirmation, it could be argued that the global economic power of the United States has until quite recently largely insulated many of its businesses from such recognition, although many of its competitor nations have accepted this reality for several decades, both in theory and in their international business strategies and practices.

But does this book measure up to its grand ideal to provide readers with “a sophisti-cated awareness of the world . . . an understanding of the limits of their own know-ledge . . . and a set of frameworks and questions to guide their management deci-sions” (p. viii), thus contributing to the maturation of American managers’ activities and behaviors in global business? I am not entirely convinced.

Nancy Adler is perhaps best known for her research on expatriate management, notably her innovative work on the roles of female international managers, and some of her research findings are condensed in Chapter 11. In this edition, co-written by a doctoral student, Allison Gundersen, she also displays her painting skills, with an interesting range of watercolor illustrations throughout the book.

The book’s 12 chapters—appropriate to the 12- or 13-week semester model that predominates around the world—are divided into three parts: Impact of Culture on Organizations, Leveraging Cultural Diversity, and Managing Global Managers.
It might be argued that these themes represent a rather narrow focus for the analysis of organizational behavior in international business, but the book title’s qualifier—“dimensions”—satisfies this possible objection.

The first part encompasses organizations’ global structural choices; the influence of culture on aspects such as work behaviors and management styles, and national versus organization-specific cultures; and a rather brief discussion of underlying cross-cultural research. All relevant and interesting, these issues are supported by a consciously varied series of country dilemmas and cases, although the number of Asian and African case studies is somewhat disappointing.

The second part of the book is more robust, including chapters on creating cultural synergy, managing multicultural teams (on- and offshore), leading globally, cross-cultural employee motivation, and global negotiation and decision-making competencies. All of these are presented clearly and with direct applications to spe-cific multinational and transnational corporations.

There are particularly interesting discussions of cultural diversity (and corresponding cultural synergy) in Chapter 4, and of team diversity issues in Chapter 5, but the con-tention in Chapter 6 that “most organization theories have been ‘made in
the USA’” (p. 157) seems rather ethnocentric. While they may not be codified in academic texts, there are many organization and management theories, rooted in their esoteric cultural traditions and legacies and reflected in local management practices, in all European, African, and Asian contexts. Western and non-Western academics and managers alike could benefit greatly from sharing such diverse ap-proaches within more eclectic global management paradigms.

The third and final part of the book comprises three chapters and an epilogue that attempt to capture the particular issues associated with global management and global careers; it is both comprehensive and relevant. My concerns with this part of the book lie in its emphasis on traditional expatriate management at the expense of more contemporary business options (for example, short-term business travel, e-business, and host country managers), and its focus on U.S. rather than broader international human resource management research. There is, however, an excel-lent section on the roles and competencies of truly global managers. I support the authors’ contention that “global companies can use their transnational status, their creative public-private partnerships, and their ever-expanding networks of alliances in ways that benefit and enrich their worldwide constituencies in ways that impove-rish us all. The challenge is immense. The importance is inestimable” (p. 382). 

Does the book achieve its desired aims? While it aspires to lofty ideals, in my view it fails to fully reach them, because in common with many such texts it un-consciously (and perhaps inevitably) reverts to a comfortable ethnocentric perspec-tive rather than adopting a truly global paradigm of organizational behavior. Despite this criticism, however, the book makes a useful contribution to the literature on the topic and may encourage its readers to adopt broader and more holistic views of or-ganizational behavior in international settings.

~Adapted from Alan Nankervis. Academy of Management Perspectives; Feb2008, Vol. 22 Issue 1, p73-74.



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