Interkulturelle Kompetenzen entwickeln und fördern
1.1. Business Deals Failing due to a lack of Intercultural Competence
Numerous studies found out that many export projects and consulting transboundary investments faile more often than business dealings within the own cultural area due to various factors. The increasing transaction and time effort caused by spatial distance between seller and buyer is only one example. Other reasons are for instance communication problems because of different languages or judicial systems and social structures. Also differences in infrastructure, general economic conditions, and climatic distinctions are listed as reasons and mentality differences. These so called mentality differences are mainly characterized by the national culture, the notions of ethic, the individual behavioral targets as well as the relationships between each individual. Exactly at that point there are various differences between the German and Arabic culture.
2. General Definition: What is Culture?
Broadly, social heritage of a group (organized community or society). It is a pattern of responses discovered, developed, or invented during the group’s history of handling problems which arise from interactions among its members, and between them and their environment. These responses are considered the correct way to perceive, feel, think, and act, and are passed on to the new members through immersion and teaching. Culture determines what is acceptable or unacceptable, important or unimportant, right or wrong, workable or unworkable. It encompasses all learned and shared, explicit or tacit, assumptions, beliefs, knowledge, norms, and values, as well as attitudes, behavior, dress, and language.
3. What is Intercultural Competence?
The ability of successful communication with people from foreign cultures is referred to as intercultural competence. To interact successfully with people of other cultures a person needs to understand and to capture the different concepts in perception, thinking, feeling and acting. This ability can already exist or be developed and encouraged at an early age; it is referred to as intercultural learning. Early experiences are involved und developed free of prejudices. Intercultural sensitivity / awareness and emotional competence form the basis for a successful intercultural communication.
4. Characteristics of the Arabic Culture
4.1. Business Relationships
Building up the relationship between two business partners plays an important role in the Arabic business world. In the Arabic Culture, business agreements are not made between companies but between persons since it is seen as a network of trust and loyalty. If business deals are made outside of the extended family the need for a personal meeting with the business partner rises. It is therefore necessary to have multiple business meetings in a year, even if this leads to high expenditures of time and costs. Family and friends are given highest priority and everything else is in second place. Domesticities are therefore a reason simply to miss instead of cancelling an appointment. Therefore it is appropriate to show understanding for family matters because once someone is integrated in this network will surely benefit from it.
4.2. The Handling of Time in the Arabic Culture
When asking Western businessmen for their experiences with the Arabic business world the most frequent named factor is time. All tasks are fulfilled simultaneously. Therefore it can sometimes happen that a meeting in a meeting takes place. Making a phone call during an appointment is not a sign of disinterest. It just shows that people from the Arabic culture have a polychronic understanding of time. Whereas people from the Western culture have a monochronic understanding of time which leads to the conclusion that tasks are fulfilled in stages.
Hospitable and helpful people are held in high esteem. This tradition finds its origin in a time when Bedouins in caravans traveled through the desert. Different actions have different meanings. For instance, when the hosts welcome the travelers they take the responsibility for the protection of them as long as they are in sight of the camp. If the hosts have offered a whole meal protection is guaranteed for the distance a camel can travel in one day. By offering the travelers to stay overnight protection is guaranteed for a distance of a three day long travel. With these rules of hospitality travelers found protection in the desert. In return travelers bought self-made articles from Bedouins or gave them groceries. Back in the day there was only a small population, therefore, friendship played an important role. Only when the Bedouins made sure that the travelers were welcomed in the camp they offered coffee. Less than 50 years ago these traditions provided the basis for daily life and affected social customs as well as rituals. For example, not offering a coffee to someone who visited someone else’s house was a sign for not being welcomed. Offering coffee to a visitor was a sign of feeling comfortable with the presence and only then the guest could start to talk about the matter. These traditions of hospitality exist till this day in the United Arabic Emirates.
The project manager, who is mentioned in this term paper, was invited several times for dinner to the clients’ house. This situation of a close familiarity and hospitality was very new for the project manager since he never made an experience like this in his home country Germany.
5. The Company
The Company has two established brands on the one hand a wide-ranging program of LED.next technology luminaires and on the other hand shading, room partitioning, and room acoustic systems. The high level of quality and the puristic design of the LED luminaries bring a lot of inquiries from abroad. The company received one interesting inquiry for an international project from Dubai.
5.1. Project Description
The project is scheduled for three months from December until January because the average temperature is only about 24 C and therefore is most tolerable. It is a tight time schedule for a 4-storied hotel in the middle of a desert. The major challenge here is to plan everything so precisely since the production plant is not even on the same continent if problems occur during the construction works. Only a few LED luminaires were planned for this project at the beginning but after the company calculated the return on investment the client decided to use LED luminaires in the entire hotel.
Even though it is very important for Arabic business men to meet the business partner personally, as already described in 4.1, a personal meeting between the client and the manager never took place. Meanwhile the company always arranges a meeting when they receive inquiries for projects abroad, so they have the possibility to decide whether they want to accept the project or not.
5.2. Project Anticipation
With the realization of this project the company expects to increase their brand awareness and thus to overcome the companies’ competitors. The company thinks that the effort and quality of their products will help the, to establish themselves in the field of LED technology. Furthermore the company thinks that this project is a very good opportunity to acquire experience and to gain a foothold in Arabic countries.
In the following term paper it will explain why this project with Dubai failed.
1.1. Problems during the Project
In the plans the company received for the hotel, the client gave the information that the scaffolding is already built but the concrete ceiling is not completed yet. Information like this are very important to know since the company bases their planning on them. This gives the company the opportunity to choose the mounting options of the selected luminaires. The thickness of the walls and ceilings as well as the information if there is a 5-core wiring, which is necessary to dim the luminaires, also play an important role. Before connecting up the LED luminaires, voltage has to be reduced from 230 V alternating current into 24 V direct voltage by plugging a converter. Therefore all the LED luminaires need a converter but there is the possibility of a converter set up for several luminaires connected in parallel up to the maximum power output of the converter. It is necessary to have enough space in the ceiling to place a converter externally.
If the basic conditions are clarified and all wishes of the client considered the plans are forwarded to the light planning department of the company. To ensure the optimum illumination of a room, the exact distances between the luminaries have to be calculated.
Before the company can start to plan a project abroad several aspects need to be checked thoroughly. For instance, they have to find out what kind of plugs are applied in Dubai. Contrary to Germany a 3-pin plug is applied in the United Arab Emirates. It also has to be checked if any certifications are necessary for the exportation. With a quick check the development team of the company analyzes to what extent the building fulfills the needed requirements for the certification. Thereafter a check of sustainability criteria follows as well as a compilation of verification documents for energy efficiency. Normally the certification is compiled then but Dubai had no import regulations on LED technique by that time.
For this project the company planned 400 Q 36 Modules, 300 Q 64 Modules as well as several suspended and recessed wall-mounted luminaires. The direct mounting option makes it possible to send the luminaires separately from the converters so the import to Dubai was no problem for this delivery.
The project manager arrived on the same day as the luminaires. First of all the project manager had the task to train the workers in reading the fact sheets and mounting instructions. The project manager had to make sure that the polarity is correct when the workers connected the luminaires with the converters. Due to the fact that LED technique was a new field the company did offer a LED training for the workers.
Problems occurred on the first training day since the workers had a different conception of punctuality. The agreed time for the first training day was 08:00 a.m. but the first workers and the construction manager came in at 09:00 a.m. For the project manager, who was on time, it was an unknown situation since in his own company the manager put emphasis on the strict observance of deadlines. The different conception of punctuality and work ethics became clear to the project manager on the first training day. As already mentioned in 4.2., Germans do live in a monochronous culture which means that punctuality and the observance of deadlines have highest priority. In contrast to the German Culture, Arabs are principally unpunctual and to stay on schedule is not primarily important for them. This leads to the conclusion that they live in a polycronous culture. Due to language barriers and technical deficits the workers had, the three day training program was really exhausting. After the program was finished the project manager went to the construction side of the hotel.
At the construction side the project manager found out that the concrete ceiling was already poured which lead to the fact that no more space is left for the ceiling outlet and the converter. Therefore the already planned luminaires for direct mounting could not be used anymore. The problem that had to be solved was to obtain new luminaires for installation with surface-mounted housing from the production plant in Germany. For such a big order the production time took at least 10 weeks because of that, only the half of the needed luminaires for installation with surface-mounted housing could be delivered. This delivery was withheld at customs in Dubai. Before Customs released the luminaires, they took out all the converters which were integrated into the surface-mounted housing and some of them broke. For the rest of the luminaires, the project manager ordered standard ceiling junction boxes therefore the start of the construction works delayed for three weeks.
Finally the new luminaires and standard ceiling junction boxes arrived. As a next step the project manager handed out plans with work and mounting instructions. The plans contained a detail listing of the tasks and the responsible persons. Information about the dimensions for the luminaires as well as the correct polarity were covered in the mounting instruction sheet. Reading the instruction sheets correctly was part of the training program.
By using the drilling machine the workers tried to make space for the converters in the concrete ceiling but even this appeared as a problem since the workers did not conform to the standard dimensions and the ceiling started to crumble. During the drilling operations the workers damaged the wirings and the project manager recognized that there were no 5-core wirings laid, which were necessary to dim the luminaires but 3-core wirings.
During his tour through the other stories the project manager noticed that the walls torn already open but the ceiling was not finished yet. As already mentioned in 4.1., in the German fulfill their tasks in stages and do not start with something else before the first task is done, on the contrary in the Arabic Culture every task is done simultaneously. The project manager had big difficulties to get used to the different conception of work ethics and to handle with that for the next three months. He also found all the plans with working and mounting instructions, which were planned precisely before, on the ground and corners of the rooms. According to the fact that Friday is not a workday in the Islamic countries and Saturdays is seen as a rest day, the project manager had no possibility to talk to the workers.
Sundays when the workweek started in Dubai, the project manager tried to use readily understandable English to explain everything a second time in detail, as it is usual for Germans. However, the project manager did not have the feeling that the workers really understood what he tried to explain. This kind of understanding finds its origin in the fact that in a polychromous culture, people tend to read between the lines and understand messages out of the context. Gestures, eye contact or body language speak louder than words and therefore are interpreted. Hofstede lists this kind of understanding as a part in his theory of low individualism. In contrary the German monochronous culture people do not understand messages out of the context. They tell everything directly and precisely to prevent misunderstandings. This kind of understanding is listed a part in Hofstede´s theory high individualism.
The client, who did not see the construction side because he was abroad on several business meetings, was really angry about the state of the walls and the ceilings. He claimed for an explanation from the construction leader and the project manager. Out of the conversation between the client and the construction leader, the project manager understood that the client did not receive any kind of information about the reorder and the problems that occurred with the ceiling outlet, the converters, and the wires. The construction leader did not think that it was important to inform the client since he was abroad anyways. This reaction can be attributed to the fact that the construction leader was afraid to be blamed for the all the problems. Hofestede´s theory of a high power distance says that in the Arabic Culture it is required from subordinates to take the responsibility for problems. In Germany, sometimes not only the employee is blamed but also the manager, since the manager is responsible for all the tasks.
This kind of culture is described as low power instance by Hofstede. After all, the project manager showed the client the plans, which served as basis for the whole planning in Germany and explained that the situation in Dubai was totally different. The client was not really interested in the explanation because he just wanted the hotel to be finished until the season started. Again this was another situation for the project manager, which showed him that it is not possible to plan everything so precisely for projects abroad.
After a few attempts to repair the wires and to open the ceiling for the outlets, some luminaires were stolen. Due to the fact that the luminaires were stored at the constructions side and not in a storage it was easy to steel them. Finally the project manager was instructed to terminate the project and come back to Germany.
This pilot project brought the company to the conclusion to plan such big projects in other countries in which they have no experience locally. Even though the project was planned so precisely it failed due to cultural differences. According to the project manager´s documentation, the manager of the company instructed to train the employees for projects abroad with regard to cultural differences.