Up until the 21 century, the majority of the published literature scrutinizing and modeling organizational theories and their use in the workplace to maximize performance, were developed exclusively in the United States. However, greater awareness of international workplace culture has made it clear that these theories, which were modeled after American companies, are not as universally applicable as researchers assumed. As American management and leadership theories, these philosophies reflect an inherent bias, incorporating American values, motivations, and expectations. As such, variations across cultures and their impact on organizations can make implementation of these concepts completely inappropriate in another culture, while fully viable within the American workplace.
An example of such a concept is the motivational theory proposed by the American psychologist Abraham Maslow, called Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. This theory suggests that human beings’ five basic needs form a hierarchy – from the most basic physiological needs, followed by safety, social, esteem, and finally self-actualization. Higher-order needs such as esteem and self-actualization (the desire to fulfill one’s potential) only become dominant and thus motivate behavior, after lower-order needs have been substantially satisfied. Originally, Maslow’s hierarchy of needs theory was meant to help managers understand what motivates an employee. By understanding what needs must be met in order for an employee to achieve the highest-level of motivation, managers are then able to get the most out of production.
For instance, an American manager of an American company can reliably assume that promoting one of his hard-working employees to a higher level position would encourage similar work performance in the future. In accordance to Maslow’s theory, the promotion would contribute to the high-order self-actualization and esteem needs of an American employee and be effective motivation. However, inherent in this theory is the assumption that the “highest order” need is self-actualization. Maslow created his hierarchy of needs from a highly individualistic perspective – as the United States is a highly individualistic nation. The needs and drives of those in individualistic societies tend to be more self-centered than those in collectivist societies, focusing on improvement of the self, epitomized as self actualization.
In collectivist societies, the social needs of acceptance, harmony, and community outweigh the needs for freedom and individuality. If the same manager were an expatriate in Japan, and decided to promote one of his employees, it is likely the promotion would in fact diminish the employee’s performance. Nancy Adler, author of International Dimensions of Organizational Behavior, explains why: “Japanese have a high need for harmony – to fit in with their work colleagues. The promotion, an individualistic reward, separated the [employee] from his colleagues,...