2.1 Swedish management characteristics and a model of Swedish management

Photo: hdwallsource.com

Photo: hdwallsource.com

Research on Swedish management began around the mid-1980s. In 1987, Jan Carlzon, who was then Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Scandinavian Airlines (SAS) wrote a landmark book on Scandinavian leadership and management entitled Moments of Truth, in which Carlzon not only mapped SAS’s winning management strategy under his leadership, but also created a Scandinavian leadership ideal. Moments of Truth (1987), which was given much publicity in the mass media, was an English translation of Carlzon’s Swedish work, riv Pyramiderna! (1985), literally translated to mean “tear down the pyramids!” which referred to the flattening of hierarchies in organizations. Carlzon’s work is also cited within academic circles (Jönsson, 1995; Boter and Holmquist, 1996; Byrkjeflot, 2003): Jan Carlzon, CEO of SAS from 1980 to 1993, later became the personification of “Scandinavian management”. The success of SAS was, to a large extent, attributed to the management practices of Jan Carlzon, who was also associated with the even more influential “Service Management” trend, a management fashion with distinctive Scandinavian and Nordic roots. Carlzon’s model was simultaneously customer-oriented and anti- hierarchical, a harbinger of things to come ~ Byrkjeflot (2003:33).

The leadership ideal obtained from interviews with the top managers carried out in studies by Thygesen-Poulsen (1978) and Sjöborg (1986) seems to agree with what was put forth in Carlzon’s (1987) work; Sjöberg’s work was published a year after Carlzon’s. Here are some characteristics and management ideology or value systems from Carlzon (1987):

On leadership (Carlzon, 1987:35)

The ability to understand and direct change is crucial for effective leadership. … By defining clear goals and strategies and then communicating them to his employees and training them to take responsibility for reaching those goals, a leader can create a secure working environment that fosters flexibility and innovation. Thus, the new leader is a listener, communicator, and educator…[an] inspiring person who can create the right atmosphere rather than make all the decisions himself.

On lateral hierarchy or ‘flattening the pyramid’ (Carlzon, 1987: 60)

Any business organization seeking to establish a customer orientation and create a good impression during its “moments of truth” must flatten the pyramid – that is, eliminate the hierarchical tiers of responsibility in order to respond directly and quickly to customers’ needs.

On the importance of communicating (Carlzon, 1987:88)

…a leader communicating a strategy to thousands of decentralized decision-makers who must then apply that general strategy to specific situations must go further. Rather than merely issuing your message, you have to be certain that every employee has truly understood and absorbed it. This means you have to reverse the approach: you must consider the words that the receiver can best absorb and make them your own.

On employee satisfaction (Carlzon, 1987:118ff)

…the richest reward of all is being proud of your work. …receiving well-defined responsibility and the trust and active interest of others is a much more personallysatisfying reward. I believe that by understanding what the employees want from their jobs, what their aims are, and how they want to develop, leaders can heighten their employees’ sense of self-worth. And the power behind healthy self-esteem generates the confidence and creativity needed to tackle the new challenges that are constantly around the corner.

In brief, Carlzon emphasised SAS’s strategy of flattening the hierarchy, decentralizing decision making and achieving multi- level communication within the organization. The quotation below captures many of Carlzon’s ideas in a few lines:

“In a changing business environment, you can’t wield total control from the top of a pyramid. You must give people authority far out in the line where the action is. They are the ones who can sense the changes in the market. By giving them security, authority, and the right to make decisions based on current market conditions, you put yourself in the best position to gain a competitive edge.” ~ Carlzon (1987:38)

These broad characteristics of Scandinavian management style outlined by Carlzon were also found in Jönsson’s (1995) work, where he outlined the following characteristic traits of Swedish management based on 22 interviews with top Swedish management leaders in private organizations. According to Jönsson (1995), Swedish management tended to have / be:

i. Imprecise and unclear

Jönsson found that Swedish management style is often imprecise and unclear, a characteristic trait that was both a strength and a weakness. While this characteristic trait gave individual freedom for employees to be creative and take on more responsibility, it also frustrated those who would prefer clearer guidelines when working. Jönsson also called this characteristic trait “informal” to mean that Swedish management was much less formal in management style than in countries with a more authoritative style of management. He noted that the phrase “See what you can do about it!” is more often the norm in Swedish management rather than “I want you to do this and that!” which can often come across as frustrating for team members who might prefer to work with clearer instructions on their responsibilities (Jönsson, 1995:321).

ii. Decentralisation

While frustrating to people who feel more comfortable working under a more authoritarian style of leadership, Jönsson (1995) found that the “imprecise and unclear” Swedish management style has its advantage in that it gives room for creativity and innovativeness. Responsibility for decision making is delegated away from the top management to persons directly involved in the project, empowering employees along other levels within the organisation. This point of view is also held by Carlzon (1987).

iii. International orientation

One might have thought that international working experience would be a necessity for top management in Sweden. However, Jönsson’s (1995) study revealed that surprisingly few top Swedish management interviewed in Sweden had overseas working experience. Top management is usually seen as the personification of the organization’s corporate culture, so having worked overseas need not necessarily be an advantage since these ‘outside’ experiences may in fact ‘dilute’ one’s orientation towards Swedish management culture. The general opinion from Jönsson’s respondents was that being abroad could also well cost them getting promoted back in Sweden and that most people who get promoted are the ones who do not leave for an international posting (Jönsson, 1995:325).

iv. Consensus

Jönsson’s (1995) study also highlighted that an important aspect of successful management is the ability to argue for one’s ideas. As a leader in an organization one needs to convince colleagues and employees to move in a single direction, in order to execute a unified vision of organizational strategy. This makes for lengthy discussions and what is deemed as “consensus seeking” in Swedish management. Making people see one’s point of view as a leader is important, since employees need to understand the reasoning / means in reaching a target or goal for the organisation. Understanding the means and achieving agreement or consensus within the organization in turn, creates a certain sense of loyalty to the organization. It is this sense of loyalty that makes strategic implementation of organizational goals more efficient in the long run.

v. Impartiality and objectivity

When Curt Nicolin, then head of SAF (the Confederation of Swedish Enterprise), was asked to describe Swedish management in Jönsson’s study, Nicolin mentioned that Swedish leaders were honest, where he meant that they were objective and fact oriented when managing and tended not to take biased opinions from persons involved in the task (Jönsson, 1995:328). Connected to honesty and impartiality was the building of trust within the organization. The leaders needed to trust that others were capable of making sound judgements, which means that they do not need to know everything that goes on within the organization. But in the event of a mistake occurring, it is still important in Swedish management that the leaders take the responsibility or blame for it (Jönsson, 1995:328 and 346ff).

In general, literature on Swedish management characteristics seems to concur that the Swedish management style has (i) a freer communicative style with subordinates (Tichy, 1974; Sjöberg, 1986; Carlzon, 1987; Jönsson, 1995; Lindell and Arvonen, 1996); (ii) a fostering attitude in encouraged creativity in their subordinates (Tichy, 1974; Carlzon, 1987; Jönsson, 1995; Lindell and Arvonen, 1996; Furusten and Kinch, 1996); (iii) delegated responsibility and decentralized decision making (Carlzon, 1987; Jönsson, 1995; Furusten and Kinch, 1996; Boter and Holmquist, 1996; Søndergaard, 1996); (iv) a lengthy decision making process (Jönsson, 1995; Furusten and Kinch, 1996) that tends to (v) avoid conflicts (Nilsson, 1992; Jönsson, 1995) and it has (vi) an informal way of working between colleagues and subordinates (Carlzon, 1987; Jönsson, 1995; Furusten and Kinch, 1996).


2.2 Singapore Chinese Management

Photo: getintravel.com

Photo: getintravel.com

2.2.1 Terminology: Asian management vs Singapore Chinese management

Even though the words Asian management would have been a more convenient term to use in this study, the word Asia covers many countries, including countries as diverse as India, Malaysia and Japan. As the countries of Asia each have their own distinct culture and cultural diversity within them, the phrase Asian management is deemed too broad and general in the context of this study. As most of the Asian respondents (7 out of 10 respondents) are Singapore Chinese, the term Singapore Chinese management will be used to reflect the cultural background of the Asian group of respondents. Another reason for the use of the term Singapore Chinese management is that Singapore has currently the largest Chinese population outside of China, with the dominant government ideology being Confucian based with emphasis on filial piety (Chan, 1997; Englehart, 2000; Frankenberg, Chan and Ofstedal, 2002). The beginnings of Singapore in the early 1800s reflect an immigrant. Today, 78% of Singapore’s population is Chinese, reflecting the largest Chinese population outside of China. The Malays who are native to Singapore and the Indians in Singaporecurrently make up 14% and 7% respectively. The rest of the 1% of the population are made up of the Eurasians (mostly of Dutch and Portuguese decent) and people from other nationalities (Singapore Department of Statistics, 2006). As such, the literature review will also focus on the Singapore Chinese style of managing within organizations.

Both the Scandinavian and Asian groups of respondents are based in Singapore but work regionally, covering regions from India, Southeast-Asia, to China and Japan. Singapore itself is home to hundreds of multinational companies from around the world including USA, UK, Japan, Germany, France and Scandinavia who have their Asian base operations headquartered in Singapore.

2.2.2 Singapore Chinese management characteristics: literature review

Singapore’s socio-cultural and even political fabric is one that tends towards the patriarchal and more masculine compared to the Nordic countries (Hofstede, 1980; Hofstede and Bond, 1999). Most studies on Singapore management characteristics have thus far been studied in relation to gender and government politics. Singh, Putti and Yip (1998) for example wrote about Singapore as a regional hub in Asia, with more than 3,500 MNCs (Multi- national corporations) located in Singapore. They also outlined the Singapore government’s efforts in foreign investment policy and their globalization drives where foreign organizations are encouraged to locate in Singapore. Foreign organizations based in Singapore are quite autonomous and a study has found that foreign subsidiaries in Singapore operate without significantly localizing most aspects of their operations (Putti, Singh and Stoever, 1993), an aspect that is considered advantageous for foreign organizations. While the Singapore workforce is one that is well-trained, educated and hardworking, Singh, Putti and Yip (1998:167) noted that the highly structured environment of Singapore and the test-oriented lives of students had the negative influence of “leading many Singaporeans to prefer waiting for instructions, to not be entrepreneurial, not be creative and most of all, to be afraid to risk anything for fear of losing”. The concept of a “fear of losing” goes by the name of one being kiasu, Hokkien words meaning “afraid to lose” when translated to English. Luke’s (1998) study on the management styles in Singapore adds the dimension of gender where she focuses on women in Singapore who are in higher education management.She draws an outline on the perceptions of gender differences in management and leadership styles. Her respondents in the study believe that it is women’s consultative and collaborative styles that point to the management model of the future in Singapore and that there is movement away from the more traditional patriarchal / hierarchical style of management.

Osman-Gani and Tan’s (2002) study of Singaporean management characteristics focused on the influence of culture on negotiation styles of Singapore managers. This study acknowledged the cultural diversity of Singaporeans and looked at the varying styles of negotiation between the Chinese, Indians and Malays in Singapore. Singapore’s immigrant history means that today, Singaporeans inevitably find themselves working in a cross-cultural environment. The study also outlines the various negotiation styles of Chinese, Malay and Indian Singaporean managers. In brief, their study found that the Chinese as a group also tended to look for more long term business relations where they would be more interested in a business project if the business plans contained a proposal for the future of the project, one that would benefit both parties. Chinese business organizations are often characterized by a centralised family control and more informal transactions with business partners. The study found the Indian society highly contextualized and hierarchical where power and authority are usually clearly demonstrated. Indian managers tend to want to protect their employees and are not afraid of demonstrating their emotions, sometimes even coming across as aggressive to foreigners. The Malay managers were found to be more adventurous and were more ready to listen to new possibilities. They were hierarchic in the sense that they paid respect to the older generation in the organization and took the elder generation as mentors to the younger generation. The Malay and Chinese managers were found to have more similar management styles in that both groups had a preference for displaying less emotions and for a greater reliance on facts. All three ethnic groups studied were similar in management characteristics in the sense that they were all people oriented and focused on business relations. All three ethnic groups tended to practice vertical hierarchy within the organization (Osman-Gani and Tan, 2002:836).

In-house organization studies conducted by Lillebö (1996), who compiled reports on Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore, interviewed Scandinavians working in these countries. Lillebö produced country reports containing background information of the country and how one can prepare oneself before departure to the foreign country. The report also contained information on the new culture and the experiences of the Scandinavians who were already working there. Based on 50 interviews with employees from Scandinavian organizations in Singapore, the broad characteristics of Singapore management, according to Lillebö (1996:58ff) include:

i. Competitive work environment and pressure to perform 

Employee achievements seemed to be published every week within the organization, which in effect, created immense peer pressure to perform on the job. Most employees worked long hours on the job, and many of them were ‘deal-driven’, business minded and worked aggressively in selling the company. There existed a sense of ‘fear of losing’ where employees seemed to avoid taking risks that can cause a mistake with a loss of face or loss of income.

ii. Authoritarian in management style

The corporate cultures in Singapore were rather closed and outsiders to the organization were seldom invited to attend internal work meetings. Employees were also not given all information from the top level of management, but rather, selective information from top management would filter down to the lower rungs of the hierarchy depending on the employee assignments. Authority and seniority were also highly respected within the vertical hierarchies of the organization.

iii. Centralized decision making

‘The boss is the boss’ is a concept in the Singapore management style and consensus seeking as a concept, such as that which exists in the Scandinavian management style, is generally not encouraged in most Singapore management styles. Decisions are made centrally and usually come from the top echelons of the organisation. The boss can also take on a fatherly / paternalistic role within the organization, in whom employees can confide to a large degree. Employee rewards are often given on a personal basis in such cases, if the boss deems a certain employee as one who is performing well on the job.

iv. Long term relationship building

Relationships are built over a period of time, built on carrying out for each other mutual favours and social obligations. Most relationships are cooperative and much time is spent cultivating long term relationships in networking and seeking business partners / clients. Lillebö’s (1996) study, like Osman-Gani and Tan’s (2002) study, also acknowledged Singapore’s multi-ethnic background, but more in relation to how Singapore is a mixture of both Eastern and Western values. While the government of Singapore has stressed the importance of Confucianism in the running of the country, Lillebö (1996:36) states that “It would be wrong to assume that Chinese-owned companies are one hundred per cent Confucian. With more than a century of Western influence, Singaporeans display a mixture of Eastern and Western traits.

Many aspects of science, technology and business methods come from the West. Confucianism most clearly appears in relationships so rooted in Eastern traditions.” Confucian values are most clearly demonstrated in the concept of filial piety in which children should honour their parents and help support their parents when they get older. In society, the elderly are respected, thus creating a ‘hierarchy’ of age and experience both within the family and in the larger social fabric. Filial piety behaviour is also transferred to a large extent into management practices in Singapore family owned companies where a family member who is less qualified for the job will be considered a better person for the job than an outsider who may be more qualified. Since Confucian values permeate the social fabric, organizations in Singapore tend to be organized in a vertical hierarchy with ‘the boss’ being the most respected and obeyed
individual in the organization.

With the above studies in view, general literature with regards to Singapore management characteristics tend to outline Singapore management style as one that has (i) vertical structures of hierarchy, with centralised decision making (McKenna and Richardson, 1995; Lillebö, 1996; Selmer, 1997; Osman-Gani and Tan, 2002; Bala, 2005); (ii) authoritarian leadership (McKenna and Richardson, 1995; Lillebö, 1996; Selmer, 1997; Chan and Pearson, 2002; Bala, 2005); (iii) an objective of long term business relations when working with their business partners, and (iv) customer orientation (Selmer, 1997; Hofstede and Bond, 1999). The Singapore management style is also found to generally (v) not encourage employee creativity (McKenna and Richardson, 1995; Selmer, 1997; Chan and Pearson, 2002; Bala, 2005). In addition, (vi) the gender of the manager affects the style of management (Mckenna and Richardson, 1995; Luke, 1998); Luke’s study finds that the more feminine approach to management with greater consensus seeking is the future management style in Singapore. In times of conflict, the Singapore manager will most often come to a (vii) compromise in times of conflict (McKenna and Richardson, 1995).

2.3 Studying management style with discourse analysis

2.3.1 Approaches to the analysis of discourse / conversation

In this study, the term discourse (as mentioned in the previous chapter) is used in a broadly to refer to language in use in the way Fairclough (1992b) refers to discourse as social practice. As a social practice, discourse also refers to “language above the sentence or above the clause” (Stubbs, 1983:1). Discourse is in particular, speech and written texts that encompass a functional aspect of language, since language not only reflects social order but shapes social order and the individual’s interaction with society. The study of discourse or discourse analysis is “the study of any aspect of language use” (Fasold 1990:65). As such, discourse analysis “cannot be restricted to the description of linguistic forms independent of the purposes or functions which these forms are designed to serve in human affairs” (Brown and Yule 1983:1). In this study, the investigation of the social relations reflected through the discourse of the participants in this study will shed light on the relations of power, identity and ideologies between the Scandinavian and Asian respondents.

Since discourse exists in many aspects of society, the study of discourse and its analysis encompasses a wide variety of perspectives and styles. Eggins and Slade (1997) gives a detailed account of how discourse or conversation / spoken interaction has been analyzed from a variety of points of interests, including ethnomethodology, sociology, philosophy, social semiotics and structural-functional linguistics. Diagram 2.1, adapted from Eggins and Slade (1997:24) provides a brief typology of the various approaches they feel are most relevant to analyzing spoken interaction / discourse in the various fields of study.

As a branch of ethnomethodology, conversation analysis emerged in the 1970s from the work of Sacks, Schegloff, Jefferson and their successors. Conversation was seen as an appropriate and accessible means by which everyday happenings could be empirically observed for ethnomethodological enquiry:

“Seeing the sense of ordinary activities means being able to see what people are doing and saying, and therefore one place in which one might begin to see how making sense is done in terms of the understanding of everyday talk.” ~ Sharrock and Andersson 1987:299

Discourse Analysis tree

In the ethnomethodological approach, conversation is seen not as a form of social interaction that is incidentally verbal but rather as a linguistic interaction that is fundamentally social. As such, conversation does not only make good data for studying social life, but for studying language as it is used to enact social life.

Sociolinguistic approaches to analysing conversation arose from the interdisciplinary connections between sociology, anthropology and linguistics, with contributions mostly from the works of Hymes in the ethnography of speaking and Gumperz in interactional sociolinguistics. Works of Labov and associates from variation theory are also included. Interactional sociolinguistics focused on the importance of context in the production and interpretation of discourse. Through detailed analyses of grammatical and prosodic features in interactions involving interracial and interethnic groups, Gumperz (1982) for example, demonstrated that interactants from different socio-cultural backgrounds may understand discourse differently according to their interpretation of contextualization cues in discourse since interactions take place against the background of our socio- cultural contexts:

In the logico-philosophic perspective of analysis of conversation, the focus is on the interpretation rather than the production of utterances in discourse. In Austin’s (1962, 1975, 1998) and Searle’s (1979, 1976, 1969) work, the notion of illocutionary force of speech acts means that every utterance can be analysed as the realization of the speaker’s intent to achieve a particular purpose. The works of Grice (1975a, 1975b), Leech (1983) and Levinson (1983) formulate conversational behaviour in terms of general principles rather than rules, that seek to account for how interlocutors go about deciding what to do next in conversation and how they go about interpreting what the previous speaker has just done.

The structural-functional approach, which is most relevant to the field of linguistics and for the purposes of this study, refers to two major approaches to discourse analysis: the Birmingham School and Systemic Functional Linguistics (discussed in greater detail in the following section). These two approaches share the common orientation to discourse in that they both seek “to describe conversation as a distinctive, highly organized level of language” ( Taylor and Cameron, 1987:5)

Structural-functional approaches seek to explore just what is conversational structure and how it relates to other units, levels and structures of language. Both the Birmingham School and the systemic functional linguistic approaches to discourse analysis share a common origin, drawing upon the semantic theories of Firth (1957) and Palmer (1968), which focus upon the functional interpretations of discourse structure as the expression of elements of the social and cultural context. The Birmingham School was established mainly through the work of Sinclair and Coulthard (1975, 1992) whose approach to discourse analysis went beyond the study of classroom discourse.

The focal contribution of the Birmingham School approach involved recognizing discourse as a level of language organization that was distinct from the levels of grammar and phonology. While most conversational analysis methods focused on the adjacency pair or a two-turn structure, the Birmingham School tried to generate a theory of discourse structure, developing a general description in functional-structural terms, of the exchange as the basic unit of conversational structure. An ‘exchange’ was meant as “two or more utterances” (Sinclair and Coulthard, 1975:21).

The other discourse analysis approach that shared the same roots as the Birmingham School is systemic functional linguistics, based on the model of “language as a social semiotic” outlined in the work of Halliday (1973, 1975, 1978, 1994, 2004, Halliday and Hasan, 1985). It is also within the context of the semiotic-contextual perspective that systemics has recently been influenced by and has also influenced, the last approach of conversation analysis, that of the critical linguists and critical discourse analysts.

2.3.2 Systemic Functional Linguistics (SFL): a functional approach to discourse analysis


Photo: Orbmiser 22 July 2012. Flickr.

Although the theoretical base of the linguistic framework for the analysis of the language in use in the study of management styles is rather eclectic, SLF plays a crucial role in the investigation of the various levels of meanings in the texts.

The orientation of SFL is social, looking at the overall language system and its grammar / code, in its environment. It can be seen as similar to Malinowsk’s ‘context of culture’, where:

“The context of culture determines the nature of the code. As a language is manifested through its texts, a culture is manifested through its situations; so by attending to text-in- situation a child construes the code, and by using the code to interpret text he construes the culture. Thus for the individual, the code engenders the culture; and this gives a powerful inertia to the transmission process.” ~ Halliday (1994:xxxi)

The SFL approach to linguistic analysis is always oriented to the social character of texts, based on the model of ‘language as a social semiotic’ outlined in the work of Halliday (1973, 1975, 1978, 1994; Halliday and Hasan, 1976, 1985, 1989; Martin, 1992; Kress 1993, 1996; Kress and van Leeuwen, 1996a, 1996b; van Leeuwen, 1996; Fairclough, 2003). Eggins (2004) provides an introduction to the basic principles of the systemic approach, outlining the general approach to discourse / text analysis and Ventola (1988) illustrates some applications of the systemic approach to the analysis of interactions. Adapted from Eggins and Slade (1997), the two major benefits that SFL offers in the analysis of a text (written or spoken) are:

i. It offers an integrated, comprehensive and systematic model of language which enables language patterns to be described and quantified at different levels and in different degrees of detail.

ii. It theorises the links between language and social life so that texts can be seen as reflecting of social life, social identity and interpersonal relations.

Chouliaraki and Fairclough (1999) also deem SFL as a framework that offers clear and rigorous linguistic categories for analyzing the relationships between discourse and social meaning. It is because of these advantages that SFL has been applied in various fields, including educational fields (Cope and Kalantzis, 1993; Martin, 1992; McCarthy, 1991; Christie 1991a, 1991b) and computational linguistics (Bateman and Paris, 1991; Matthiessen and Bateman, 1991). A full review of the applications of SFL can be found in Fries and Gregory (eds., 1996).

The Ideational, Interpersonal and Textual meanings

From an SFL perspective, language as a semiotic system is a conventionalized coding system organized as systematic sets of choices. The distinguishing factor of systemic theory is that its basic form of synoptic representation is not syntagmatic but paradigmatic, so that the organizing concept is not structure but system (hence the name). Since language is a semiotic potential, the description of a language is a description of choice (Halliday, 1985). Thus in using language, the semiotic interpretation of the system of language allows for various linguistic choices in relation to contexts of use. This is useful since it helps to compare the different points of view obtained by one saying x instead of y. If we took the words, I had a/an x time at the party last night, one could come up with some of the following paradigmatic lexical choices to describe the experience:

I had a good time at the party last night. I had a great time at the party last night. I had a lousy time at the party last night. I had a bad time at the party last night.

I had an okay time at the party last night.

The same line can also be expressed in slightly different ways to render:

The party last night was disastrous.
The party last night was fantastic.
I’ve been to better parties than the one last night.

What this means is that how people view their experiences is projected through their use of language. Their experiences also describe their ‘point of view’ on reality. Language is used functionally, what is said depends on what one needs to accomplish. It is a resource that we use in making linguistic choices to render meanings against a contextual background that outlines our reality.

Language expresses three main kinds of meaning simultaneously – ideational, interpersonal and textual meanings (Halliday, 1985; Halliday & Matthiessen, 2004):

(i) The ideational metafunction or meaning (the clause as representation), serves for the expression of “content” in language, that is, our experience of the real world, including the experience of our inner world of our consciousness. Whenever we use language, we often use it to speak of something or someone doing something. Ideational meanings give structure to experience and help determine our way of looking at things.

(ii)  The interpersonal metafunction or meaning (the clause as exchange), serves to establish and maintain social relations, for the expression of social roles; the individual is identified and reinforced in this aspect by enabling him / her to interact with others by expression of their own individuality and development of their own personality. Our role relationships with other people and our attitudes towards others are often expressed by interpersonal meanings.

(iii)  The textual metafunction or meaning (the clause as message), provides for making links with features of the text with elements in the context of situation, enabling speakers to construct a coherent text; it refers to the manner in which a text is organized.

The Ideational Metafunction: the clause as representation

The ideational or experiential meaning comes from the clause as representation. In construing experiential meaning, there is one major system of grammatical choice involved: the system of Transitivity or process type. Halliday in his work, Introduction to Functional Grammar (1985), explains transitivity as follows:

A fundamental property of language is that it enables human beings to build a mental picture of reality, to make sense of their experience of what goes on around them and inside them … Our most powerful conception of reality is that it consists of ‘goings-on’: of doing, happening, feeling, being. These goings on are are sorted out in the semantic system of the language, and expressed through the grammar of the clause… This…is the system of TRANSITIVITY. Transitivity specifies the different types of processes that are recognised in the language and the structures by which they are expressed. (p. 101)

Our impression of experience most often consists of a flow of events and activities, modelled as a form of happening, doing, sensing, saying, being or having (Halliday and Matthiessen, 2004). All forms of activities consist of a process unfolding through time and of participants being directly involved in this process in some way. In addition, there exist circumstances of time, space, cause and manner that make up these experiences. All these elements are sorted out in the grammar of the clause, and the system of transitivity is the grammatical system that construes the world of experience, organized into a manageable set of process types.

The system of transitivity or process type realizes ideational meanings in a text. It helps us to understand the respondent’s physical, mental and emotional environment.

How the process types come to be is based on our awareness of an inner and outer experience; between what is going on ‘out there’ in the material world around us and what is going on inside ourselves, in the world of our consciousness, our perceptions, emotions and imagination. The most common figure of an outer experience is that of actions, events and happenings with people or other actors doing things, making things happen. An experiential ‘figure’ consists of the three components of (a) a process unfolding through time, (b) the participants involved in the process and (c) the circumstances associated with the process.

Inner experiences are harder to configure, consisting of our own reflections and reactions to the outer experiences; an awareness of our states of being. The grammar of transitivity distinguishes quite clearly, between inner and outer experiences setting up a distinct discontinuity between these two experiences, the processes of the outer / external world and the processes of our inner experience, of our consciousness.

Broadly, the processes of the external world are material process clauses while the processes of the internal world of our consciousness are mental process clauses, as illustrated by:

I ate lunch with my colleague today and

I was intrigued by the food they served for lunch

The word ate illustrates a material process of doing whilst the word intrigued illustrates a mental process of thought and emotion.

In order to have a coherent experience, a third component of experience has to be provided apart from the material and mental processes and that is a matter of relating experiences. We create a coherent picture of our experience by relating fragments of what has happened and how we understand our experiences. The system of transitivity recognizes identifying and classifying processes as relational process clauses. For example, this is a Swedish-Finnish company and we are all managers…from Scandinavia, are both relational clauses. More examples of process types are given in Table 2.1.

The three main process categories are material, mental and relational. However, intermediate processes that are recognizable in the grammar of experience, exist between the three boundaries. On the borderline between material and mental processes are the behavioural processes that represent the outer manifestations of inner workings, the acting out of the processes of the consciousness such as laughing and crying. Physiological states such as sleeping and breathing are also behavioural processes. On the borderline between mental and relational processes are the verbal processes; figurative relationships constructed in human consciousness and enacted in the form of language such as saying and meaning. On the borderline between relational and material processes are the existential processes concerned with subsistence; phenomena that are recognized to ‘be’, to exist or to happen.

Table 2.1 Examples of different process types from an interview with a Swedish respondent.

Process type

Example (Process + participants underlined; Process in Bold; circumstances in italics)


the negotiations go on forever


everybody laughed


you have to understand what he is trying to say to us


in this region we usually say that it takes a longer time to sell a project than it takes to build it


the total contract figures is split up in a few different companies


there is quite a large group of ethnic Chinese in Singapore

The process types are not hierarchically ranked with one being more important than the other. Visually, these six process types can be projected in the form of a circle (rather than a linear relationship between them), with the three main processes separated by the in-between processes.

An analysis of the system of transitivity is useful since it helps describe ideational meanings in a text, where the choice of process types and process roles realizes the respondents’ encoding of their experiential reality. We can come to understand how the respondents encounter their world of actions and relations. We can come to understand whom they engage in their activities and where they place themselves as participants and even identify the circumstances that give meaning to their experience.

The Interpersonal Metafunction: the clause as exchange

The second line of meaning in a clause comes from the clause functioning as an exchange. The nature of the commodity being exchanged are of two types, being either (a) goods and services or (b) information. The former refers to when one uses language to facilitate an action or to demand an object such as in an offer of a service “Would you like some tea?” or in demand of service and an entity, “Give me some tea!” The latter, an information exchange, refers to when the clause is used as a resource for carrying / obtaining information. The two differ in that in a goods & services exchange, the expectant result is most typically an action whilst in an information exchange, the expectant result is most typically achieved verbally or in writing. In an exchange of information the semantic function of a clause is a proposition whilst in the exchange of goods & services, the clause is seen as a proposal.

The Textual Metafunction: the clause as message

The textual meaning comes from the clause as message. What gives the clause its character as a message is its thematic structure. The theme of the clause, as defined by Halliday and Matthiesen (2004:64) is that element which serves as a “starting point for the message: it is what the clause is going to be about”. As the point of departure of the message, the theme serves to locate and orientate the clause within its context. It is typical that the point of departure for most clauses is something familiar, a given piece of information that can be located within the text or its surrounding context. The remainder of the message, the part that develops the theme in extension and elaboration, and all that is not the theme, is termed the rheme. As a message therefore, the clause consists of both a theme and a rheme, with rhemes typically containing new information.

In the example below, the boundary between the theme and rheme is shown by +.

i heard once + an expression saying that singapore + is asia and business class

here you can find + basically everything you want i + have basically no complaints /

The theme is found at the beginning of the clause and sets the scene for the clause itself, positioning it in relation to the unfolding text. A theme + rheme analysis will give a concrete illustration on how the text is oriented, its ideas and subject matter.

Halliday claims that the three types of meaning we find represented in language are not accidental but are necessarily in place because it is those three types of meanings that we need in order to perform functions in social life. The implication is that social life requires the negotiation of a shared ideational world, of who we are, how we related to other people and how we feel about it. The tripartite structure of language thus corresponds to the tripartite structure of the contexts of situation.

Modelling Context: Register

The main construct used by SFL to model context is known as register, where the ideational, interpersonal and textual meanings in language correspond to the three contextual situations of field, tenor and mode.

Table 2.2 Model of language in social context: register variables and metafunction (Martin and Rose, 2003:243)





‘the social action that is taking place’



‘kinds of role relationship’



‘what part language is playing’

Field refers to what is happening, to the nature of the social action that is taking place: what it is that the participants are engaged in, in which language figures as some essential component.

Tenor refers to who is taking part, to the nature of the participants, their statuses and roles: what kinds of role relationship obtain, including permanent and temporary relationships of one kind or another and the whole cluster of socially significant relationships in which they are involved.

Mode refers to what part language is playing, what it is that the participants are expecting language to do for them in the situation: the symbolic organisation of the text, the status that it has and its function in the context (Halliday and Hasan, 1985:12, also in Martin and Rose, 2003:243).

The three register variables of field, tenor and mode, together compose the context of situation in the text.

SFL as a framework for the linguistic study of Swedish and Singapore management styles

Apart from the fact that SFL offers an integrated, comprehensive and systematic manner of discourse analysis and helps analysts theorise between language and social life, an eclectic model of text analysis broadly based on SFL is used here to study management styles because of the advantages this sytem offers in enabling a dissection of language in use and that few studies have applied SFL for this purpose thus far.

Several studies have concurred that a people’s history and socio-cultural contexts have to some extent, an influence on management styles (Hofstede, 1980, 1983; Selmer and de Leon, 1993; Lillebö 1996; Newman and Nollen, 1996; Selmer, 1997; Hofstede and Bond, 1999), the largest most comprehensive study being Hofstede’s (1980), covering 40 different nations. Hofstede’s surveys were held twice in 1968 and in 1972, rendering 116,000 questionnaires. Hofstede (1980) argued that nationality is intricately linked with management for the reasons that nations are politically rooted in their own history and their own legal and sociological institutions. The running of organizations and manner of thinking are also cultural bases rooted in the family unit and education systems of the country. Other well-known examples include the international surveys of Haire, Ghiselli and Porter (1963), Laurent (1983) and Trompenaars (1993).

As socialized individuals, we tend to spend most of our time interacting with others, using language in a functional manner, to accomplish a wide range of tasks. Within organizations, language plays a more functional / practical role in getting tasks done, whether it is partaking in a discussion for a project, discussions in meetings or simply talking about what happens within organizations.

Organizations and places where people gather to work on a daily basis can also be seen as social institutions with their own social processes and practices (Mumby, 1988, 2000). One can define organization as “a social collective, produced, reproduced and transformed through the on-going, interdependent and goal- oriented communication practices of its members” (Mumby and Clair, 1997:181). Organizations existing in a cross-cultural, competitive and globalized world have led to an immense diversity in managerial approaches and practices. According to Grant, Hardy, Oswick and Putnam (2004:1):

A growing disillusionment with many of the mainstream theories and methodologies that underpin organizational studies has encouraged scholars to seek alternative ways in which to describe, analyse and theorize the increasingly complex processes and practices that constitute ‘organization’. In order to study and theorize management and organizational sciences, both academics and practitioners have increasingly turned to the study and analysis of language use and visual semiotics in organizations.

Language then, is a system for making meanings, helping us accomplish tasks, expressed by grammar as well as vocabulary. Language has evolved to satisfy human needs and the way it is organized is functional with respect to these needs – it is not arbitrary. A functional grammar is a conceptual framework that looks at any text, written or spoken, unfolded in its context of use. It is essentially a ‘natural’ grammar in the sense that everything can be explained, ultimately by reference to how language is used (Halliday, 1994). Thus, an analysis of language in use with the help of the tools provided by SFL in discourse analysis should give some insights into the different management practices across cultures.

2.3.3 Critical linguistics and critical discourse analysis

The final method in analyzing conversation or discourse within the structural-functional and semiotic approach as shown in the typology in Diagram 2.1 is critical linguistics and critical discourse analysis (CDA).

Works by Kress and his associates (Kress, 1996, 1993, 1990, 1987 1985a, 1985b; Hodge and Kress, 1979, 1988, 1990; Kress and van Leeuwen, 1996) and works by Fairclough (1989, 1992a, 1995a, 1995b) have contributed significantly to the fields of critical linguistics and CDA respectively. In this approach to discourse analysis, a critical perspective is adopted with regards to:

“investigating verbal interactions with an eye to their determination by, and their effects on, social structures.” ~ Fairclough, 1995a:36

Individuals who come into interactions often share membership of particular social groupings and are then schooled into the various modes of speaking or discourses associated with those institutions. People also bring along with them discursive histories, influenced by their social history and position in society. As such, discourse exists to a large extent due to “relations of difference” or differences in power (Kress 1985a:56):

“Because of the constant unity of language and other social matters, language is entwined in social power in a number of ways: it indexes power, expresses power and language is involved wherever there is contention over and challenge to power. Power does not derive from language, but language may be used to challenge power, to subvert it and to alter distributions of power in the short or in the longer term.” ~ Kress, 1985a:52

Due to the ‘relations of difference’ or power differences, language analysis can be revealing in terms of mapping the social distribution of power:

“Language provides the most finely articulated means for a nuanced registration of differences in power in social hierarchical structures, both as a static system and in process. All linguistic forms which can be used to indicate relations of distance, and those which can indicate ‘state’ or ‘process’ serve the expression of power. In fact, there are few linguistic forms which are not pressed into the service of the expression of power, by a process of syntactic / textual metaphor.” ~ Kress, 1985a:53

CDA has also had close links to SFL reaching back to the foundation work of Fowler, Hodge, Kress and Trew (1979) on critical linguistics at East Anglia in the 1970s. Halliday’s conception of linguistics as an ideologically committed form of social action has been an important factor in CDA and many CDA analysts have regularly used and referred to SFL as providing tools of analysis where close systematic readings of texts are required.

Connected to the idea that discourse is socially situated comes the critical point of view that discourse, more than having the power to enable action, is also a mode of thinking. Discourse is a way to mould and manifest ideologies, where ‘ideology’ can be defined as the everyday taken for granted collective set of assumptions and value systems that social groups share (Simpson 1993). Ideologies are the essential and basic social cognitions that reflect the aims, significances and values of the social group (Wodak, 2001; van Dijk, 1997, 1996, 1993). The social cognitions that are embedded in the minds of individuals in turn act as their operating structure, coordinating and monitoring their social attitudes and behaviour, steering them implicitly in accord with the social attitudes and behaviour of the larger social group. Social cognition also steers discourse, communication and other forms of action and interaction since what is embodied in the minds of individuals belonging to the same socio-cultural and political backgrounds tend to be shared thus allowing a group of people to manifest and perpetuate dominant ideologies. The very definition of ideology means that it does not manifest itself neutrally but is rather intricately bound with the relations of power and control that characterises a social group.

As a mode of thinking and philosophy, discourse is a powerful vehicle in the construction of social reality, a vehicle that shapes points of views through dominant ideologies and constructs the realities of living and being (Fairclough 2003, 1992b; van Dijk, 1997; Simpson, 1993; Hodge and Kress, 1993; Berger and Luckmann 1966). In this sense, discourse is not external to or beside society and organization but rather, dialectically related to the socio-cultural, institutional and political contexts (Fairclough 2003, 1989; Wodak, 1995); meaning that discourse is not just a language activity that goes on in social contexts, reflecting social processes, practices and structures but “it is part of those processes and practices” (Fairclough 1989:23) and one cannot take the entities apart and make them separate.

CDA states that discourse is socially constitutive as well as socially conditioned. It aims to make more transparent, the obscurity of discourse in today’s socities and examine closely, the relationship between discourse and power (Fairclough and Wodak, 1997; van Dijk, 1996, 1993; Fairclough, 1993; Kress, 1990). According to Fairclough (1993:135) CDA aims to:

“systematically explore often opaque relationships of causality and determination between (a) discursive practices, events and texts and (b) wider social and cultural structures, relations and processes; to investigate how such practices, events and texts arise out of and are ideologically shaped by relations of power and struggles over power; and to explore how the opacity of these relationships between discourse and society is itself a factor securing power and hegemony.”

This point of view is also echoed by Kress (1993:170):

“CDA in its very aims seeks to reveal the structures, locations and effects of power – whether in the operation of discourses of race, or of gender, or of ethnicity; or in the operation of power at microlevels as in relations across the institutional/individual divide (doctor-patient interactions, for instance); or in the interactions of socially positioned individuals in everyday relations – this challenge is a fundamental one to CDA.”

Van Dijk (1993:259) summarises the core of CDA as:

“a detailed description, explanation and critique of the ways dominant discourses (indirectly) influence such socially shared knowledge, attitudes and ideologies, namely through their role in the manufacture of concrete models. More specifically, we need to know how specific discourse structures determine specific mental processes, or facilitate the formation of specific social representations.”

Kress (1990:84-97) gives an account of the theoretical foundations and sources of CDA. He lists the criteria that characterize work in the CDA paradigm, illustrating how these distinguish such work from other politically engaged discourse analysis. Fairclough and Wodak (1997) took these criteria and established some basic principles of a CDA programme. The basic assumptions of CDA include (Kress, 1989):

  • language is a social phenomena
  • not only individuals, but also institutions and socialgroupings have specific meanings and values, that are expressed in language in systematic ways
  • texts are the relevant units of language in communication
  • readers / hearers are not passive recipients in their relationship to texts
  • there are similarities between the language of science and the language of institutions

Fairclough (1992a) outlines a tri-pronged context for conceiving of and analyzing discourse:

i. discourse as text
ii. discourse as discursive practice iii. discourse as social practice

Discourse as text refers to the linguistic features and organization of concrete instances of discourse where the choices and patterns of words in vocabulary (e.g. working, metaphor), grammar (e.g. transitivity, modality), cohesion (e.g. conjunction, schemata) and text structure (e.g. episoding, turn-taking) should be systematically analyzed. Discourse as discursive practice refers to discourse as something that is produced, circulated, distributed and consumed in society, as concrete, specific texts such as magazine or newspaper articles etc. This latter aspect also analyses vocabulary, grammar, cohesion and text structure. Intertextuality is given emphasis in this manner of analyzing discourse, since texts are most often produced in a certain context, drawing upon other texts to form its discourse representation. And discourse as social practice investigates the ideological effects and hegemonic processes in which discourse is a feature. Hegemony concerns power that is achieved through constructing alliances and integrating classes and groups through consent, so that “the articulation and rearticulation of orders of discourse is correspondingly one stake in hegemonic struggle (Fairclough 1992a:93). Fairclough’s model of discourse is framed in a theory of ideological processes in society, for discourse is seen in terms of processes of hegemony and changes in hegemony. Large-scale hegemonic processes identified by Fairclough include democratization, commodification and technologization. He also identifies the multiple ways in which individuals move through such institutionalized discursive regimes, constructing selves, social categories and social realities. Hegemonies change and this can be witnessed in discursive change, when the latter is viewed from the angle of intertextuality.

The core of critique for CDA is the interrelations of language/discourse/speech and social structure, uncovering ways in which social structure reflects upon discourse patterns, human relations and ideologies. It is in treating these relations as problematic that CDA situates the critical dimension of their work, taking into account an ethical / political dimension, advocating interventionism in the social practices it critically investigates (Wodak and Matouschek, 1993). The analyses made within CDA should have effects in society, lending voices to the voiceless and empowering the powerless. It is not uncommon therefore, for CDA studies to propose change and suggest amendments / improvement to particular discourses, putting into effect social change and practice-orientedness.

This study is CDA oriented in the sense that it aims to raise to consciousness of the socio-cultural differences between the Scandinavians and Asians when working together and in so doing, an applied knowledge of the findings in organization practice, attempts to contribute to an improvement of working relations, of greater cooperation between the two groups.

2.4 Words in context analysis

As the textual analyses in discourse analysis means that only a select number of texts relevant to each topic will be analysed, a look at the meanings of certain words as the respondents have used in context will help gain an understanding of a cross-section of meaning for specific words in the entire data of transcribed interviews. A look at how words are used in context by the respondents also mean that this section of analysis is corpus based and words can be retrieved and mapped for their meanings.

Analyzing ‘words in context’ is still part of a discourse analysis approach to the investigation of management styles and ideology in this study. The process of locating specific words is assisted by the use of a concordance program TextStat (Nieuwland, 2005), which helps sort the relevant words from the data as the respondents used them in context. This method of computer-assisted analysis is broadly based in corpus linguistics. Corpus linguistics is today, a common method of studying language both qualitatively and quantitatively via the use of computers.

The use of computers and computer software is a common method these days in linguistic study (McEnery, Xiao and Tono, 2006; O’Keefe, McCarthy and Carter, 2007). One of the more significant works in the field of corpus linguistics in the beginning was work by Kucera and Francis (1967) on computational analysis of American English based on the Brown Corpus, a meticulously complied selection of current American English, totally about a million words from a variety of sources. Kucera and Francis subjected their corpus to a variety of computational analyses, combining elements of linguistics, language teaching, psychology, statistics and sociology. Quirk’s (1960) determined publication on the Survey of English Usage (SEU) was also significant in the field of early corpus linguistics. And in 1975, Svartvik began building work on the SEU and the Brown Corpus to construct the London-Lund corpus that was later computerised and as a consequence, revolutionized the manner in which corpuses could be studied and analyzed.

The word corpus is used in this study in a similar manner as defined by Leech (1992:116) when he says that:

“…computer corpora are rarely haphazard collections of textual material: They are assembled with particular purposes in mind, and are often assembled to be (informally speaking) representative of some language or text type.”

The 33 transcribed interviews can thus be seen as a ‘corpus’ since the transcribed interviews are machine readable and the interview transcripts form a select and representative corpus of study for language in use only for these respondents, who are mainly top level managers working in Swedish managed organisations in Singapore.

TextStat (Nieuwland, 2005) as a program allows for specific words to be highlighted in a concordance format. For this study however, the entire context, from several words to sometimes an entire paragraph are retrieved and used for the ‘words in context’ analysis. What is in focus in this section of analysis is to uncover as many types of meanings that the respondents place on a specific word. It is not the purpose to investigate word collocates per se, although word collocation patterns may eventually result from the ‘words in context’ analysis. As such, the main purpose of this segment of analysis is to complement the SFL anlaysis on the selected text examples, giving insight and a general ‘overview’ of how each group of respondent understands and uses certain words.

This chapter had two sections, the first of which gave literature and theoretical backgrounds to both the Swedish management style, in particular Jönsson’s (1995) characteristics or model of the Swedish management style and the Singapore-Chinese management style drawn in particular, from Lillebö’s (1996) study. It also covers briefly, the different approaches to analyzing conversation or discourse and situates the two approaches used in this study, that of systemic functional linguistics and critical discourse analysis, within this field. In this study, the linguistic textual analysis will be broadly based on SFL, CDA and a look at specific words in the context of their use, using the 33 interview transcripts as a corpus. The following chapter will describe the SFL framework in greater detail and the aspects and functions of the SFL framework to be used in the text analysis. It will also describe the method of investigation and profile the respondents in this study.