Managing People and Change: Comparing Organisations and Management in Australia, China, India and South Africa

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Managing People and Change: Comparing Organisations and Management in Australia, China, India and South Africa
Janice Jones

Lecturer, School of Commerce

Flinders University of South Australia

GPO Box 2100

Adelaide South Australia 5001

Telephone: +61 8 82012707

Facsimile: +61 8 82012644


Terence Jackson

Centre for Cross Cultural Management Research

EAP European School of Management

12 Merton Street

Oxford OX1


Telepone: +55 1865 263212




ISSN: 1441-3906

This study investigates perceptions and attitudes of Australian, Chinese, Indian and South African managers to managing people and organisations. Comparisons between managers and organisations from Australia and China, India and South Africa reveal cross-cultural similarities and differences exist. While similarities exist with other Anglo countries there are exceptions, including significant differences between the direction of Australian management commitment and China, India and South Africa. The implications of these differences for international joint ventures are explored. The implications of motivators considered important to Chinese managers in the present study are also addressed.


Over the last 15 years, there have been significant changes in the Australian economy. With the aim of exposing the Australian economy to international competition, successive Australian governments initiated a series of macro- and micro-economic reforms including floating of the dollar, phasing out tariffs, waterfront, shipping and air-freight reform, financial deregulation (Edwards, O’Reilly and Schuwwalow, 1997) and the gradual freeing up of the labour market. Key elements of the micro-economic reform agenda also included workplace change, public sector reform and privatisation (ACIRRT, 1999). These policy reforms have transformed the so-called ‘Australian settlement’ to a new ‘post industrial settlement’ Australia, in which traditional manufacturing industries (the old protected ‘smokestack’ industries) have been replaced by the so-called ‘elaborately transformed manufactures’ (ETMs) and service sector (Burrell, 1999).
As a result of these developments, Australian organisations faced considerable competitive pressures. Furthermore, as the old protectionism characteristic of Australian industrial policy gave way to a more free-market driven approach in tune with the realities of the new global economy, Australian companies and workers have been forced to change their approaches to productivity, wages and workplace practices (Burrell, 1999).
These general trends within the Australian economy reflect a global tendency over the last two decades for national economies to move towards a free-market system. Major events within the Soviet bloc at the end of the 1980s, the liberalization of the Chinese economy and its opening up to east-west joint ventures, the end of apartheid and sanctions in South Africa, and major reforms in India shifting the economy away from state protectionism are examples of this global trend.
This paper builds upon a study previously undertaken by Jones and Jackson (2000) as part of a research effort to reconcile differences in management approaches towards managing people and organisations in the international context. The principal objective in this paper is to compare data on Australian management and organisations with data from China, India and South Africa in order to highlight both common and different organisational dynamics within countries which have undergone fundamental transitions towards free market economies. Such a comparison is of interest for the following reasons.
The Chinese market is the fastest growing economy in Asia with economic growth of 7.1 per cent in 1999 (Austrade, 2000). As one of the worlds’ fastest developing economies (Wright, Mitsuhashi & Chau, 1998) and the world's most populous nation with a growing middle class, the People's Republic of China represents an opportunity as a potential major market of the future. It is also a challenge for Australian firms and their managers wanting to do business in China, as the Chinese culture differs substantially from that of Western countries.
Much of China’s economic growth has come from the opening of the economy to direct foreign investment, most often in the form of joint ventures with Chinese partner organisations, and multinational corporations (Lindholm, 1999). Committed Australian direct investment in China totalled 5 billion Australian dollars while realised Australian direct investment in China totalled 1.5 billion dollars (Austrade, 2000). Australia is now the fifth largest investor in China’s special economic development areas of Shenzen, Guangzhou and Zhuhon (Harris, 1994).

India’s economy has been growing at the rate of approximately 6 per cent for the last three years and is expected to grow at around the same rate in the year 2000. India is the world’s second most populated country and has emerged as a rapidly growing market for Australian goods and services. Exports of ETMs from Australia have increased from around $20 million in the late 1980s to approximately $190 million in 1998/99. Paralleling this trend in exports is the increase in Australian investment in India. Austrade (2000) estimates that current investment exceeds $1 billion covering over 100 companies, compared to approximately $250 million and 30 joint ventures in the early 1990s.

South Africa is yet another large market undergoing steady growth. Australian exports to South Africa have increased rapidly over the last five years at a trend growth rate of 35 percent per annum, reaching A$ 1.013 billion in 1996/97. South Africa is Australia’s fastest growing market for ETMs with a trend growth rate of 42 percent over the last five years (Austrade, 2000).
As more Australian businesses expand into these countries through foreign direct investment, exporting, the establishment of branches or foreign subsidiaries, joint ventures and strategic alliances, managers must not only meet the standard challenges of managing, but also contend with the additional challenge of doing so in differing political, legal and cultural environments. It is in the context of managing the relationships of individuals, groups and organisations of different cultural backgrounds, that companies have commonly experienced difficulties (Stening and Ngan, 1997). Comparative studies can be an invaluable source used to generate knowledge of both similarities and differences in management systems of trading partners that may assist Australian managers develop appropriate organisational and managerial practices in such countries.
The paper is organised in the following manner. The first section describes the research method. This is followed by the discussion of results. We then examine key cross-cultural differences. The article concludes with a discussion of the implications of such cross-cultural differences. Suggestions for further research are also addressed.

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