Teaching management with a human perspective - an interview with Jerome Dumetz

Jérôme Dumetz is an expert on cross-cultural communication, and we’re lucky enough to have him as a lecturer on the English-language bachelor’s programme for the 2021/22 academic year. We sat down with Jerome to find out more about his background, the relevance of cross-cultural communication to modern applied business practices, and what NEWTON students will get out of taking his classes. 

Jerome, you are an expert in cross-cultural communication and management. Can you begin by explaining what cross-cultural management is?

Cross-cultural management is at the crossroads of management and sociology. The idea is to use some of the tools of sociology to analyse management preferences. So it’s not just about communication, and how to be nice to people around the world – that is part of it,  but it’s mostly about how to work more effectively with people.

And different cultures doesn’t necessarily mean different nationalities. Too often we mix up culture and passports, and actually lots of different cultures exist inside most modern organisations. More and more we work with people who come from all walks of life, so in cross-cultural management we try to identify patterns and preferences to build effective management techniques.

What is your current research focusing on?

My latest research is focussed on the global response to the Covid-19 pandemic. In the heart of the pandemic, about a year ago, Dr. Fons Trompenaars and I began to analyse how cultural factors shaped the initial response of governments, and also populations, to the pandemic. Our hypothesis is that some culturally-derived behaviours bring about better results, so that’s what we’re investigating.

That’s interesting. We hear a lot in the news about how the Czech attitude varies from, for example, the Scandinavian attitude.

Yes, of course. And both vary from attitudes in Asia. So we have found some patterns, especially when analysing the first six months, when everybody was dumbstruck – that’s when you fall back on your cultural preferences. 

Now, almost two years later, everyone has learnt from one another and so responses have become more similar. But at the beginning of 2020 we saw some countries being very keen to preserve individual freedoms, while others were much quicker to go for a general lockdown. Some countries moved immediately towards bureaucratic measures, and others didn’t at all. 

And in some countries, relying on individual responsibility worked better than in others. Sweden, for example, has had similar overall outcomes, but a completely different response, partially because they have a different way of living. Around half of households have only one person, so it’s much easier for people to self-isolate there than in places where larger households are more common, for example Italy and Spain. But these differences are also cultural.

You are also a coach, and have carried out training workshops for global companies including Microsoft and ING. What areas does your business coaching focus on?

I do three types of training. The first is with small groups or individuals – typically expats, who’re being sent abroad, and the idea is to prepare them and their family to learn what it is like to live abroad, both in general, and in terms of the culture of the specific place they’re moving to. The second category focussed on complex teams, either in the context of joint ventures, or sometimes with people from the same company, but where a lot of people come from different cultural backgrounds, but need to work together effectively. And the third is working with large organisations that, for whatever reason, need to work across cultures, so I get involved to offer insights.

And is there anything in particular that you teach people about moving to Central European culture if, for example, they’re an expat coming from the U.S.?

Well, it really depends on the background of the person. But typically, with Czech culture I make people aware of the need for punctuality, to observe formalities, these types of things – for example that it’s important to use academic titles, even in non-academic contexts.

Is there one specific point in your coaching relationships – some interesting fact or point of view – that frequently changes your clients’ perspective of cross-cultural communication?

Yes – the concept of culture shock. This idea that when you discover a new culture you usually like it a lot at first, and then fall completely in love with it, and then there’s this moment where you fall off the cliff, where you feel that you hate everything about the culture. And then there’s a third step, where you climb back, and find some kind of stability. 

And it’s really helpful to prepare people who are about to move abroad for this pattern, so that they know it’s normal, and that everyone experiences it. In fact, after 25 years of living outside of my country, and moving from place to place, I still experience it, but at least I know it’s normal!

And it’s the same in reverse, when people repatriate to their home country. And this is the one that most companies are even worse at preparing their people for, because they thought only the original expatriation was important to focus on.

And we don’t have precise figures on this, but we know that in companies who don’t offer repatriation support, over 50% of returning managers will quit their jobs within a year. Which is a massive failure, because of course it costs a lot of money to send employees and their families abroad, and the idea is that they will bring lots of skills and experience back to their home office, which obviously isn’t the case if they leave soon after their return.

Would you say that this is also relevant to our students who go on ERASMUS exchanges?

Yes, absolutely. Exchange students go through the same thing. So it’s also to prepare them for the pattern, so that they are able to recognise that it’s normal, and that everybody goes through it.

Your teaching at NEWTON is going to be focused on the human side of business and managerial relationships. What exactly will your students learn about?

I try to bring an international perspective to the study of management. For a long-time management methodologies lacked a human perspective, which made them very hard to apply in practice.

What is the one thing that students will take from your lectures that’ll be of the most value to them in their careers?

Hopefully they’ll leave my course with the knowledge that there isn’t one correct way to manage. This myth has been around for most of the twentieth century – that there’s an algorithm for perfect management, and all you need to do is find and apply it. 

But it doesn’t really exist. You can be very successful with one type of management somewhere, but then you go elsewhere, to a different country, or even just a different company, and suddenly your special touch doesn’t work, because you’re operating in a different culture.

Do you bring some of the tools and methods you use in coaching to your university teaching?

Yes, constantly. All of the examples I give in the classroom are examples that have happened either to me, or to my clients, which I think gives the advice more pertinence. I think you really feel the difference when someone gives you an example of something they have been through personally, rather than telling you about something that they read somewhere.

You have lived in six countries. Are your own cultural behaviours taken from a mix of several cultures, or do you still consider yourself culturally French?

The more you live abroad and the more that you work with others, the more you learn about who you are. And the first step to adapting to others is understanding your own values, and your own preferences. I haven’t lived in France for many years now, but in my reactions and preferences, it’s still the dominant culture by far. But living abroad in a lot of places has definitely enriched my perspective.

Are there myths about cross-cultural communication that you would like to debunk?

When cross-cultural theories began to be developed in the seventies, for the first time we had proof that management techniques varied a lot between different cultures. And it was great!  And then researchers did a lot of data analysis based on questionnaires, which was fascinating and very useful. 

 

But the problem is that today we often look at cross-cultural management exclusively using this kind of data analysis, which is extremely reductive, because there’s so much more to culture than that. So, if there is one belief I’m trying to fight, it’s that we should be led by the data in our understanding of cultural differences – in fact, relying too much on data leads to stereotyping, which is the opposite of what we’re trying to achieve!

We need to focus more on all the little characteristics that are difficult to measure, but when we’ve got the right tools and approach, we can.

Is there anything you would like to mention that we did not touch upon?

Read! Read articles, read books! Students are reading less and less, and it’s a big problem. As teachers, we really see the difference. If you think you can achieve the same by watching a YouTube video as by reading a book, you’re kidding yourself. We need to get back to basics, and get the academic foundations in place, and there’s no better way to do this than through reading.

Dr Jérôme Dumetz teaches Management and Cross-Cultural Management, among other courses, at NEWTON University. Find out more about his modules by taking a look at our Study Programme page.

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