HUMAN RESOURCE MANAGEMENT IN A MULTICULTURAL CONTEXT - Principles of service marketing management

The trend toward a global economy means that more and more service firms are operating across national frontiers. Two other important trends are increased tourism and business travel, plus substantial immigration of people from different cultural backgrounds into developed economies such as those of the United States, Canada, Australia, and many European countries. The result is pressure on service organizations to serve a more diverse array of customers with different cultural expectations and speaking a variety of languages and to recruit a more diverse workforce.

Striking a balance between diversity and conformity to common standards is not a simple task, because societal norms vary across cultures. When McDonald's opened a fast-food restaurant in Moscow, management trained staff members to smile at customers. However, this particular norm did not exist in Russia and some patrons concluded that staff members were making fun of them! The troubled early history of Euro Disney provides another example of how the application of American standards to European operations may be complicated by cultural conflicts (Euro Disney box).

Part of the HRM challenge as it relates to culture is to determine which performance standards are central and which should be treated more flexibly. For instance, some public service agencies in Britain (and elsewhere) that require employees to wear uniforms have been willing to allow Sikh employees to wear a matching colored turban with badge, whereas others have generated conflict by insisting on use of traditional uniform caps.

Multiculturalism may also require new H R M procedures that respect the practices and traditions of diverse employee groups. The decision to be more responsive to employees whose first language is not English may require changes in recruiting criteria, use of role-playing exercises, and language training.

Euro Disney and the Challenges of Multiculturalism

Few recent service ventures have attracted as much media comment and coverage as the operations of Walt Disney Co.'s theme park, Disneyland Paris. The cultural difficulties of creating and running an American-style theme park in the heart of Europe have been widely publicized. Since Disneyland Paris replicates three successful Disney theme parks, top management's objective has been to ensure that the park adapts itself to European conditions without losing the American feel that has always been seen as one of its main draws.

For officials of the European operating company, Euro Disney, the park just outside Paris, opened in 1992, has proved even more of a challenge than Disney's first foreign theme park, Tokyo Disneyland, which opened in Japan 10 years earlier. Unlike the California, Florida, or Tokyo parks, no one nationality dominates the latest park. So handling languages and cultures has required careful planning, not least in terms of employee recruitment, training, and motivation.

Knowledge of two or more languages has been an important criterion in hiring "cast members" (front-line employees). Months before opening day, recruitment centers were set up in Paris, London, Amsterdam, and Frankfurt. During the park's first season, approximately two-thirds of those hired were French nationals; the balance came from 75 other nationalities, principally British, Dutch, German, and Irish. Some knowledge of French is required of all employees; in the park's opening year, about 75 percent of employees spoke this language fluently, another 75 percent spoke English, roughly 25 percent spoke Spanish, and 25 percent, German.

The reservations center caters to people of many tongues, with special phone lines for each of 12 different languages. Cast members speaking a broad cross section of tongues staff City Hall, the main information center in the park. Special procedures have been instituted at the park's medical center to handle medical emergencies involving speakers of less commonly encountered languages.

With over 70 nationalities represented among its employees, there is a high probability that a cast member can be found somewhere on-site to interpret in such a situation. The company has noted the language capabilities of every employee, can access them by computer (e.g., "who do we have on duty who speaks Turkish?"), and can page them immediately by beeper or walkie-talkie.

However, Euro Disney has encountered many cultural problems in training and motivation. At the outset, the company announced that "a leading priority was to indoctrinate all employees in the Disney service philosophy, in addition to training them in operational policies and procedures." The apparent goal was to transform all employees, 60 percent of whom were French, into clean-cut, user-friendly, American-style service providers.

Since the founding of Disneyland in 1958, Disney has been known for its strict professional guidelines. "The Look Book," for example, dictated that female employees should wear only clear nail polish, very little if any make-up, and, until recent years, only flesh colored stockings. Men could not wear beards or mustaches (the latter are now permitted) and had to keep their hair short and tapered. Guests should be greeted within 60 seconds of entering a facility and helped as needed.

According to media reports, a key challenge has been to train French employees to adopt Disney standards. The park's manager of training and development for Disney University was quoted as saying: "The French are not known for their hospitality. But Disney is." During the first four months of operations, more than 1,000 employees left the park. According to management, half quit and the rest were asked to leave.

Subsequently, the women’s grooming guidelines were modified because "what is considered a classic beauty in Europe is not considered a classic beauty in America." Female cast members can now wear pink or red nail polish, red lipstick, and different colored stockings as long as they "complement [the] outfit and are in dark, subdued colors."

Another Disney trademark is to smile a lot. Yet as one observer commented, "If the French are asked to smile, they will answer 'I'll smile if I want to. Convince me.'" Although Disney stressed total customer satisfaction, in the eyes of some employees the company had imposed controls that had made that goal impossible to deliver. In the upshot, the training had to be adapted to suit the European workforce


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