The things that motivate individuals to perform and to derive satisfaction from the work to which they dedicate themselves differs from culture to culture.

The aforementioned thought is the basis upon which Geert Hofstede, a Dutch social psychologist, former IBM employee, and Professor Emeritus of Organizational Anthropology and International Management at Maastricht University in the Netherlands based his “Dimensions of national cultures” approach to intercultural management. In essence, executives from the US, as well as from other countries that wish to initiate production in the maquiladora industry, must be fully aware that managing Mexican workers will not be the same as managing those at home.

According to Hofstede, laborers from distinct national cultures differ in their behavior in the workplace based upon certain “dimensions” that manifest themselves in different ways from country to country, and culture to culture. Some of the dimensions that Hofstede highlighted in his work include:

  • Power distance – Is the unequal distribution in of power in the workplace an accepted reality? Or does the prevalent culture require that decision-making be more consultative or democratic in nature?
  • Individualism v. collectivism – Is the culture one in which individual achievement and rights elevated, or is the workplace under consideration part of a national culture that possesses values that are more collectivist in nature?
  • Uncertainty avoidance – In colloquial terms is the cultural setting one in which “the devil that you know” is preferred over the one that is unknown to the worker?
  • Masculinity v. femininity – Is the culture in which a manager finds his or herself one in which gender roles are clearly defined, and certain behaviors expected in accordance with them?

Using the Dutch social psychologist’s research as a framework for her own, Melissa Najeera, published her study, “Managing Mexican workers: implications of Hofstede’s cultural dimensions,” in the Journal of International Business Research in 2008.

In summary, Najeera discovered that when managing Mexican workers, it is of paramount importantance that foreign executives in Mexico take into account several factors, should they have the expectation of succeeding in their efforts.

Najeera cites the “familistic’ values that are prevalent in Mexican culture as something that should be taken into full account when managing Mexican workers. The immediate family, as well as the extended family, plays an important role in the life of a Mexican worker. Beyond aunts and uncles, godmothers and godfathers, and very close friends, extended family often includes co-workers with whom individuals spen their days laboring with in the maquiladora industry.

Although foreigners that are managing Mexican workers may note that the “power distance” dimension is somewhat strong in the maquiladora workplace, often the staff that an individual directs may become part of his or her figurative “extended” family. Likewise, workers may consider their supervisor to be a member of their wider familial group. They may view their supervisor in more of a paternal or maternal manner that may be the case in other cultures, and have the strong expectation and need that he or she “care” about them on a personal level which may not be as commonplace an expectation that foreign managers face in their countries of origin. Mexican workers, as is the case with those of other cultures, place a high value on expressions of appreciation. Those individuals and companies that experience success in managing Mexican workers are those that celebrate collective birthdays, Mexican Mother’s Day and other communal holidays, as well as make the time and take the effort to organize and field industrial softball, volleyball and soccer teams through which workers can enjoy themselves together, as well as form stronger bonds as a group.

With respect to the “uncertainty avoidance” dimension, Najeera’s interviews with Mexican maquiladora workers revealed that “Mexicans seek present satisfaction and prefer “known” results to “unknown” future outcomes, and, that with respect to issues of masculinity v. femininity, Mexican workers, generally speaking, have a much more defined view of gender roles than may be the case in other cultures.

Going to direct staff south of the border under the misplaced conception that US (or any other country’s) management techniques and cultural mores can be superimposed on the staff of a maquiladora production facility may result in the learning of certain lessons in a painful manner. Taking into account cultural factors by viewing the challenge through the intellectual framework presented by Geert Hofestede in his “cultural dimensions” work, or through the information presented in Melissa Najeera’s study may result in the creation of a great place to work.