Journal of Organizational Culture, Communications and Conflict (Print ISSN: 1544-0508; Online ISSN: 1939-4691 )

Research Article: 2017 Vol: 21 Issue: 2

Acculturation and Allied Contributing Factors that Further Advance Cross-Cultural Management Learning and Education: A Conceptual Approach

James R Calvin, Johns Hopkins University


Ruby L Beale, Hampton University

Kelvyn Moore, Bentley University


Cross-Cultural Management, Conceptual Framing, Multicultural Management, International Management.


Concerning cross-cultural management across the landscape, the previously mentioned global and globally minded organizations are joined by a number of leading global organizations including Coca-Cola, General Electric, McDonald’s, Siemens, Unilever and Walmart among others, who actively engage in culturally relevant learning and change management practices to achieve more effective and capable cross-cultural management practices. In brief, the capability derived from cross-cultural management requires the capacity to pre-identify in order to lessen conflicts as well as to overcome conflicts generated by cross-cultural misunderstanding or bias. It is our contention that acculturation is essential in order to remain globally competitive as organizations. Traditional universities and corporate universities have also varied approaches to internationalize the teaching of business skills (i.e., globalizing, adaptive curriculum,) to internationalize their mix and method as strategy. Their necessity is guided by two factors: Corporate leaders and accreditation boards, both of which have urged a more rounded student understanding of the global environment and subsequently a cross cultural understanding (Ely & Thomas, 1996; Shetty & Redell, 2002; Walton & Basciano, 2006; Trompenaars & Hampden-Turner, 2014). It is also important to encourage leader influence that helps to unlock energy and ideas to work with uncertainty and possibility because there are no set rules or global playbook (Calvin, 2015).

The guiding premise in this conceptual paper seeks to advance cross-cultural management capability more widely across the spectrum of business organizations during a time of constant disruptions across political and economic systems. Added factors include new implementations of artificial intelligence (AI) and the Internet of Things (IOT) that further drives conflicts as technology meets generational tensions in workplaces and the larger society of a nation, region and world. In doing so, the conceptual framework that follows recognizes the intensity and pace of globalization drivers of change as influence to find different ideas for meeting people-oriented business organization needs. The meshing of cultures requires adaptability and resilience to manage through changing conditions around the world. We postulate that those cumulative factors bound together will continue to influence and impact future cross-cultural management capacity needs of business organizations and all organizations.

In our view that envisioned, enhanced and strengthened approaches to ignite cross-cultural potential, is essential to facilitating new options for cross-cultural management learning, which is understanding and applicability as facilitative human capital. As such, the importance of an acculturation mind-set can lead to future pathways that extend forward from current models and traditions that identify cross-cultural management that can become adequate for the future goals and needs of business and other organizations. In concert with the aforementioned direction is a convergence with the role for the university and other knowledge creating entities vital incubators of knowledge, training organization programs and efforts that promote cross-cultural management with varying degrees of effectiveness that is necessary to achieve desired and expected outcomes. The perspective of this paper is derived from the investigation and review of available evidence about the general development of cross-cultural management approaches. Richard Dobbs, Sree Ramaswamy, Elizabeth Stephenson & Patrick Vigurie in a McKinsey Quarterly article (2014) stated “the collision of technological disruption, rapid emerging-markets growth and widespread aging is upending long-held assumptions that underpin strategy setting, decision making and management capacity.” Methods and practices can be derived from human relations structures that emerge from ideas and theories that achieved prominence initially in the twentieth century with several new iterations of cross-cultural management emerging at this time during the twenty-first century.

Acculturation, Learning and Myth: Organization Promise and New Reality

In setting a baseline we put forth several theories to follow toward an idea of new acculturation for global competitiveness. Acculturation has been defined as the process of learning and adapting to cultural traits different from the ones with which the person was originally reared (Ownbey & Horridge, 1997). The resulting connectivity and interrelatedness become a transformative theory and context that emerges through bound together national and organizational culture(s). The result is learned approaches and behavior and the importance of knowledge building adaptive goals for a business organization as community. As a beginning, the underlying significance gained by understanding the role of culture(s) in the present modern era came to prominence during the late years prior to the heightening of the industrial revolution in the developed world during the early twentieth century. Early definitions presented culture on distinct levels such as shared behaviors and as interactions and patterns attributed to geographic, ethnic and culture related groups of people who shared, learned and understood the world around them essentially through a process of socialization by a given group. In this vein, Franz Boas in the 1880’s depicted and described culture as being linked to acculturation and Boas argued for a strong anthropological methodology that involved the rigorous collection, examination and determination of hard evidence in line with the scientific approach and methods that could be substantiated as justifiable conclusions about cultures.

Thus, we infer and refer to the criticality of knowing, understanding and identifying of culture(s) influence on applied acculturation in cross-cultural management. As such, theory and on-going development has brought about approaches and models and from time-to-time new applications of cross-cultural management in business organizations. Roosevelt Thomas articulated a still standing challenge to American companies to ‘move beyond equal opportunity approaches by pursuing strategies to help them achieve a diverse workforce (Thomas, 1990). Susan Schneider & Jean-Louis Barsoux offer a compelling vision because of constant and greater interdependencies across country borders that calls for doing business across borders, there is the never ending search for new models of management (Schneider & Barsoux, 1997). These researchers further imply that organizations like Coca-Cola, General Electric, McDonald’s, Unilever and Walmart and other organizations, will continue to search and implement. As the mid-twentieth century was arriving Kluckhohn & Kelly (1945) suggested that “by culture we mean all those historically created designs for living, explicit and implicit, rational, irrational and non-rational, which exist at any given time as potential guides for the behavior of men.” In Kroeber & Kluckhohn (1952) offered “culture consists of patterns, explicit and implicit, of and for behavior acquired and transmitted by symbols, constituting the distinctive achievements of human groups, including their embodiments in artifacts; the essential core of culture consists of traditional ideas and especially their attached values.”

We mention several other salient notions or ideas about culture beginning with Banks and McGee (1989) who weighed in by stating” people within a culture usually interpret the meaning of symbols, artifacts and behaviors in the same or in similar ways.” Leberach (1992) when writing about conflict transformation across cultures stated “culture is the shared knowledge and schemes created by a set of people for perceiving, interpreting, expressing and responding to the social realities around them.” The preceding set of contextually defining examples of cultural meaning is a synopsis rather than an exhaustive representation or presentation of what is culture. However, there continues to be widespread discussion about the importance of culture as national culture, as organizational culture and for our thematic interest in this paper cross-cultural realities can be articulated and demonstrated as management learning, tools and practice outcomes. The immediate consideration in an interconnected and inclusive world purports that doing business in another country requires a certain amount of learning and understanding of how and why organizational culture and differing national and local cultures can and will influence and set how business is done in a given country or world region (GLOBE, 2004).

A recent McKinsey article titled, ‘Developing Global Leaders (Ghemewat, 2012)’ spoke of the need for companies to take a better look at their entrance into global markets. It is a broadly agreed that companies must cultivate and support globally diverse leaders for global markets. The leaders we think should also be equipped to understand and utilize acculturation advantage to achieve desired goals. The article further underlines what the author identifies as five common myths about globalization and renders this as a good place to start. The myths include the following:

1. My company, at least, is global.

2. Global leadership is developed through experience and practice.

3. Development is all about building standard global-leadership competencies.

4. Localization is the key.

5. We can attract the best talent.

The university has sought to position themselves based on their level of commitment to internationalization via an all-encompassing (or at the opposite end of the spectrum) limited strategy. This would include the university for example, adopting one of four approaches (Moses, Moore Pleasant & Vest, 2011) in their quest to be globally directed (Table 1):

Table 1: Modelling Eprg Along Four Key Dimensions
  Ethnocentric Polycentric Regiocentric/Geocentric
Mission/Vision Home oriented Home or globally oriented  
Levels of
Causal Active Full-Scale/Global
Curriculum Home oriented Host oriented Regional/Global
Faculty Home oriented Host oriented Regional/Global
Students Home Host oriented Regional/Global

We also affirm a position that cross-cultural learning and doing are central to Perry (1999) who introduced a notion of position. Perry accepted Jean Piaget’s (1951) claim that learners adapt and develop by assimilation and accommodating new information into existing cognitive structures. That structure could include an understanding of the components of the culture of a particular country. Perry also accepts Piagets’ claim that the sequencing of cognitive structures that constitute the development process are logically and hierarchically related, building upon previous suppositions. In our interpretation one key aspect is however that learners approach knowledge from a variety of different standpoints. Those standpoints include gender, race, culture, thinking and socio economic class, etc., which are activators that can and do influence approaches to learning. Cross-culturally, individuals (and subsequently those new to a country and that country’s presence in a new global arena participant, i.e., country) will interpret the world from different positions with respect to their own unique experiences for acculturating.

Table 2: The Acculturation Taxonomy
For Managers in 21st Century Organizations Acculturation
A. The exchange process of cultural features as expressed behavior by individuals who are from different cultures in a given host culture
B. The exchange process of learning and adapting to cultural traits different from those originally acquired and known by two individuals in a given culture
C. The send, receive and exchange process of acquired cultural expectations for individuals born and learned from a given culture

How and how quickly people acculturate impacts their assimilation into understanding of how business is done in a particular country. Acculturation again is the process of acquiring the customs for adapting to and operating in an alternative society (Table 2). The concept of acculturation is also the exchange of cultural features that results when groups of individuals having different cultures come into continuous first hand contact; the original cultural patterns of either or both groups may be altered, but the groups remain distinct (Kottak, 2007).

In general, the term acculturation encompasses intercultural interaction and adaptation and includes assimilation of a new culture, maintenance of the old culture and/or resistance to both new and old cultures (Penaloza & Gilly, 1999). Mintz (1978) in particular studied acculturation in African and South American cultures. In doing business globally acculturation by example is the intercultural contact that results in change for workers or consumers in contact with a new culture. Acculturation may include learning a language and adjusting to different lifestyles and mannerisms (e.g., as in different greeting behaviors and shopping behavior). Berry (1990) interpreted acculturation as the cultural transmission experienced by an individual due to his or her direct contact with another culture. The individual must reach some level of accommodation to the ways of the new culture and decide what is acceptable and what is not acceptable. In business, a mistake in interpretation of timing might result in devastating consequences. Acculturation is a progressive learning process where values may change as contact with a new or dominant culture increases. To sum up the above, the concept of acculturation must be included in the discussion on globalization. Once more, the shared influence of acculturation and culture we surmise can build a bridge of transferable values and in doing so does not require one person or any person(s) from a different culture to lose personally attached values.

As we look to interpret cross-cultural management in these times, the Thunderbird Model (Javidan, Hough & Bullough, 2010) has identified a Global Mindset Inventory which has the capacity to measure individual preferences. The identified preferences consist of Psychological Capital (PC), Social Capital (SC) and Intellectual Capital (IC) with the impetus for developing and improving one’s global mindset.

Again, Ghemawat in the previously mentioned Developing Global Leaders (2012) identified five myths about globalization and the organizational imperative of attracting and developing diversified multinational leadership talent. To do so requires experiential learning and while this is important, it is insufficient alone for developing high levels of global leadership skill because global sensitivity also matters. Furthermore, it is important that core competencies be developed in the areas of self-awareness, engagement in personal transformation and inquisitiveness as well as mental characteristics which include optimism, self-regulation, social judgment skills, empathy, motivation to work in an international environment, cognitive skills and acceptance of complexity and its contradictions and three behavioral competencies social skills, networking skills and knowledge. Though some overall global leadership skills may indeed be needed, it is unlikely that there is one set of global leadership skills that will empower the best leaders with most desired competencies (Dewhurst, Harris & Hayward, 2012; Gibbs, Keywood & Weiss, 2012). As for being aware it is imperative to diversify the leadership talent in global-multi-national companies and many technically competent locals are looking for opportunities to advance which means there are willing candidates and the right kind of cross-cultural learning and training can assist motivated candidates in developing strong global leadership competencies.

As such, an article by Moore, Weinberg & Berger (2012) identifies key factors in the acculturation process which brings up useful as well as practical information and as a potential tool source of Value Structures for Strength of Acculturation identification in four situational contexts:

1. News/Information vehicles-which often occurs on television, radio and other mediums for learning about how others live in other parts of the world, learning their economics and politics;

2. Popular culture-is learning about what is happening in the world concerning things around us that impact intercultural meaning and understanding; both in and out of one’s category (which includes age, gender, lifestyle, geographic location as rural, suburban and urban, etc.).

3. Internet/World-wide web-learning about what's new in games, gadgets and websites, events and usage.

4. Business establishments-how to act and respond in certain business environments and the changes therein that are necessary.

In this vein, global cross cultural management requires some understanding of each of the above for acculturation in business practices to flourish and become beneficial, practical, useful information, in a cross-cultural environment and a potential tool source.

Future Practices In Cross Cultural Management

It is paramount that the potential of realizing a global mind set be identified and further developed as cross-cultural management practice. To ascertain what understanding the ‘new to a culture’ can make possible as cross-cultural options to be explored and adopted. For consistency of emphasis to attain and sustain maximum effectiveness, we suggest using a multiphase, multi-method learning and training methodology to increase global leadership cultural competency. The type of learning that would likely be most effective can include behavioral, cognitive constructivism, experiential learning and social constructivism. The instruction that is likely to result in a more effective method could employ collaborative learning and working together which is guided by a master teacher/trainer group member and by sharing that is co-facilitated by different group members when group work is employed.

Emotional Intelligence (EI) learning and skill when joined with acculturation is the ability to identify, assess and manage the emotions of oneself, of others and of groups. EI consists of four core attributes, self-awareness, self-management and motivation, social awareness and relationship management (Bradbury & Greaves, 2007; Goleman, 1995). There continues to be extensive research work being done on EI globally as some of the data composites empirically indicate that Asian CEOs appear to score higher on EI than American CEOs and that EI is a validated approach to accessing knowledge and ideas for potential new skills structures cross-culturally (this impression will require further research and substantiation).

Again, we contend that EI when combined with another model, approaches and definitions shows great promise as an important component of cross-cultural management learning and training. An example of a model is The Global Mindset that was created at Thunderbird (Thunderbird Global Mindset Model, 2010). Here the authors briefly mention that General Electric and the other business organizations are committed to future managers and top executives of those companies guiding and managing a US corporation. A linkage with the preceding is the seminal IBM study in 1980 done by Geert Hofstede (1994) where he identified five cultural dimensions of Power Distance, Individualism/Collectivism, Masculinity/Femininity, Uncertainty/Avoidance and Long Term Orientation vs. Short Term Orientation. A view from Ghemawat (2012) states it is important to note the differences within and between cultures that seem to fall under a “common culture”. Cox & Beale (1997) explored several approaches and focused on the developmental process of Valuing Differences as the most progressive approach. This approach does more than provide access or entry. Valuing demonstrates and identifies an appreciation of diversity at a level which maximizes the benefits of diversity and minimizes the adverse conflict of diversity. Identifying and employing a valuing approach with this conceptual framework in cross-cultural management can assist the managers in embracing the diversity as a more effective strategy.

The identification of effective training and learning methodology is a continuing critical process that requires updates from time to time. As previously stated, researchers have demonstrated that people can improve their Emotional Intelligence (Bradbury & Greaves, 2010). An emerging frontier is their Global Mindset (Javidan, Bullough & Hough, 2010). Likewise, we believe that people can improve their capacity for attaining and increasing a global acculturation mindset which includes a willingness to embrace value and employ supporting strategies. One of the most important individual and group antecedents for this process to be effective is the willingness of individuals, groups and organizations to learn to mine for future sustainability because the value to be gained in cross-cultural management approaches, applications and practices (at the individual, group and organizational level) is to demonstrate appreciation in behavioral responses that are developmental and inclusive on a consistent basis.

What Can University, Corporate And Training Contribute To Learning And New Knowledge

In our view, the second critical foundation factor to be considered for future learning and knowledge creation toward providing attainable and sustainable cross-cultural management models and approaches, practices and applications is the role and necessity for rapid learning and business practices. There is also an elastic mixture of social network culture(s) and connecting points found in the advancing technology platforms of Twitter, Tumblr, LinkedIn and Facebook and the very fast arrival that is being derived from Big Data. We think that a primary goal of the university or culture interested entity is to produce outcomes to overcome boundaries of beliefs about diverse peoples. Now and in future years there can be a role for action research as well as deepening research to add useful knowledge for societies as practical learning and life skills in support of people, organizations and communities. The domain of technology as a driver of cross-cultural learning and application through still to be envisioned models applications to business also accrues to companies and organizations themselves which shifts the paradigm that business is primarily taught and learned in business schools and universities.

In conducting a literature review on learning and how people learn there appears to be a number of different approaches to learning that have been adapted from and that stem from three basic kinds and types of learning theory approaches: Behaviourist, cognitive constructionist and social construction according to the western canon and tradition. This assumption is not new and there is growing evidence from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and The World Bank that western learning can and does meet eastern (Asia) ideas of learning, as well as southern (Africa) ideas of learning that may minimally be as fundamental as cross-cultural learning 101, the bare basics of agreement and meaning.

Briefly, the behaviourist approach (Watson, 1924; Skinner, 1938) views knowledge acquisition as behavioral, responses to environmental stimuli and learning as passive absorption of predefined body of knowledge by a learner through repetition and positive reinforcement (A conjecture is that early diversity training in the US and in Europe was keyed to a behavioral learning mode). The cognitive constructivist approach (Piaget, 1950; Berger & Luckmann, 1967) involves behaviorist, cognitive constructionist and social construction knowledge systems and structures (Vygotsky, 1978; Jackson & Sorenson, 2007) actively referenced by learners based on existing structures. Learning in one of the approaches or modes involves active assimilation and accommodation of new information through discovery by learners (An approach applied in many training approaches and formats). In the social construction mode knowledge is socially constructed by integrating learners and students into knowledge communities. The emphasis is on collaborative assimilation and accommodation of new information through group work (Some aspects of this may appear in learning organization approaches).

The authors’ next point to a US National Research Council study titled ‘How People Learn: Bridging Research and Practice (2004) that provided recommendations for consideration and future adoption for implementation. Toward this goal, there is further potential and possibility for transformative learning and cultural knowledge and components that appear promising through Howard Gardner (1995) multiple intelligence theory which looks at multiple learning modes. Thus, a second question for inquiry by the authors is given the need for continuous learning, learning that enables adaptability and cross-cultural learning what is the potential for learning that will need to take into consideration an expanding breadth and pace of globalization. As such the capacity and abilities of an increasing number of people who have access to knowledge and skills are able to or will need to be able to take knowledge and skills learned beyond their home country and cultural surroundings. The conjecture we offer is that acculturation expands to region or place of origin and is capable of being expanded into rooted and formed cross-cultural environments where knowledge and skills are needed to actualize cross-cultural cooperation rather than conflict(s).


While the abovementioned culture and cross-cultural management theories, ideas and suggested competencies are debated and further discussed in the literature, the field would benefit from an addition of new knowledge for business organizations to consider as transformative tools and processes for accessing cross-cultural management. Meanwhile, there continues to be widespread discussion about the importance of culture and globalization in terms of national cultures and organization culture. The CEO’s of Coca-Cola, Deloitte, General Electric, McDonald’s, PepsiCo, BP, Unilever, Walmart and other companies around the world will need to confront and grapple with cross-cultural realities in order to recognize, navigate and overcome conflicts and challenges. The thought is to promote understanding for more effective mitigation through cross-cultural management learning, tools and practices, as a necessity to yield better and sustainable business and management results in an organization and in global society. Therefore, it is our collective view that there is a continuous central question of inquiry identified by the provided Acculturation Taxonomy that is directly related to the adaptability, efficacy and usefulness of learning and understanding of ways to engage cross-cultural management through understanding, adaptability into practices.

Still, we think that there will be future relevance of the import of emerging cross-cultural management ideas as practices to be developed and still to be advanced. We hold this view in concert with (Christopher Bartlett, 2011; Richard Mead, 2005; David Thomas, 2002). More recently, Erin Meyer presents an idea in her book, the Culture Map (2014) for breaking through the invisible boundaries of global business and taping into the power of culture.

In a collective thought, we join the aforementioned scholars and acculturation idea contributors who advocate and explore resets to reshape and propose future baseline relevance for purposeful cross-cultural management knowledge and skill that adds to the direction and real-time efforts made by business organizations. Moreover, it is our shared view that it is necessary for our inquiry, work and practice is centred on the factor of acculturation bound together with micro-aggression and other dynamics, is a differentiator for our on-going research and work inside some of the previously mentioned leading organizations. At present, the environment can continue to benefit from different ideas and efforts that seek to shed light on cross-cultural management that can simultaneously be cutting edge while also offering practical insights and adaptations. We also see more potential to be contributors to the dialogue and discovery of a plethora of ways forward that expand interest to meet the need to suggest and build sustained action that advances cross cultural management strategies in a time of rapid change. In doing so, we are participants in a community that university and non-university organizations such as Cook-Ross, Motorola University and The Centre for Creative Leadership, Inc., The Hay Group and Personnel Decisions, Inc., among other cross-culturally minded human and organizational development organizations.