Cross-Cultural Management Case Paper

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Cross-Cultural Management Case Paper
Explain how cultural differences impacted one of the PEOPLE-RELATED organizational processes that Huebner was involved in developing or changing?
Just choose ONE perspective to answer this question, it should be no longer than 100 words.
The ocean is first and foremost our place of business, which we look upon as the lifeline
and the future. Our people are the heartbeat that drive operations and the power to grow.”
– Port of Salalah website, 2020
Margaret Huebner sat on a Salalah Public Park bench in late 2002, enjoying the warm breeze in her
face. Several women in long dark hijabs and abayas reached up and pulled aside their veils, revealing smiles.
Huebner loved visiting the park for the Wednesday “Ladies Only Nights,” which allowed veil removal and
free-flowing conversation.1
As she watched women stroll the park, she reflected on her last two years as an
American working in the Sultanate of Oman.
Huebner had arrived in Oman for a one-week intensive consulting project in 2000. Cross-Cultural Management Case Paper. She had been
tasked with assessing human resources needs for the Port of Salalah, a promising new port located on
the deep waters of the Arabian Sea. The Port had the potential to be world-class, but it first needed to
address its nearly non-existent human resources (HR) procedures. The firm’s rapid growth was outpacing its
administrative structure, and key new employees were needed.
Huebner’s one-week project soon grew into a two-year expatriate assignment. An American woman with
three decades of HR experience, she had been recruited by the Port to establish a professional HR function
from the ground up. She quickly discovered she had a lot to learn about applying her experience to an
organization in Oman.
Huebner made countless critical strategic decisions during her two years working for the Port,
continuously employing creative ways to work with local cultural norms. As she neared the end of her
expatriate assignment, she hoped opportunities for local nationals and Omani women would continue
to increase and the Port’s heavy dependence on expatriates would continue to decline. Given all she had
accomplished and how she had done so, she needed to determine how to ensure the organizational culture
she helped foster would endure.
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case 7-901-521
July 14, 2020


Margaret Huebner: Building the Human Resources Function at Oman’s Port of Salalah
Oman and the Port of Salalah
An absolute monarchy, Oman sits in the southeastern corner of the Arabian Peninsula at the mouth of
the Persian Gulf (see Figure 1). Huebner had never been to the Middle East before she arrived in Salalah,
which would become her home for the next two years.
Figure 1
The Sultanate of Oman
Huebner identified a series of structural goals for the Port’s new HR function—a need for general policies,
a new compensation program encompassing job analysis and evaluation, identifying and developing a local
HR director, and selecting and training employees on a new HR information system platform. Cross-Cultural Management Case Paper. Additionally,
she needed to determine how to translate her experience to an Omani organization like the Port, as well as
to a primarily Arab, Muslim culture more generally.
The Port’s organizational culture, including the role of local nationals and integrating expatriate
employees, needed to be addressed. But Huebner believed it could also be an opportunity to set an example
for other local organizations, highlighting the benefits of fostering an inclusive culture amongst these
different employee groups.
The Port’s growth occurred at a time when Oman was evolving as a nation. The Sultan of Oman,
Qaboos bin Said (see Figure 2), had introduced a Five Year Plan as part of a “renaissance” as the country
emerged from self-imposed isolation by the previous sultan.2
Prior to 1970, Oman had been closed off to
the outside world and had no paved roads, hospitals, or power plants. Omanis had to leave the country for
higher education. The country also suffered from a shortage in skilled labor.3
Much had changed by the time
Huebner arrived in 2000, but Oman’s workforce was still catching up.
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Margaret Huebner: Building the Human Resources Function at Oman’s Port of Salalah
Figure 2
Former Oman Sultan Qaboos bin Said al Said, 1940– 2020
Source: General Census of Populations, Housing, and Establishment, 2010, Sultanate of Oman.
Oman was a largely peaceful and safe society, lacking the conflict and strife of its regional neighbors.
The country had beautiful seasons due to the Khareef monsoons in the summer months, which made areas
burst with luscious green views. Huebner resided in a villa on an oceanside cliff with a spectacular view, and
she quickly grew to love the people and local culture, which expanded her expectations for and stereotypes
of the region.4
Two aspects of the national context significantly influenced Huebner’s experience. First, part
of the sultan’s Five Year Plan was an “Omanization” program to further integrate local nationals into the
workforce. Omani companies, including the Port, were required to submit plans showing how they would
increase their native numbers. Second, while Oman was legally moving toward equal rights and opportunities
for men and women, a persistent cultural paradigm reinforced inequality. Women were expected to stay
home. If they worked, they were expected to perform stereotypical jobs like teaching and entry-level clerical
The roles and expectations were internalized as traditional and religious mandates.6
saw the national shift toward equal rights as an opportunity to advance women at the Port. She believed
the efforts could widen the company’s pool of talented workers and set an example for other organizations.
At the time, workforce and labor market difficulties pervaded the Middle East region. Cross-Cultural Management Case Paper. According to the
United Nation’s Arab Human Development Report 2002:
• No previous generation of young Arabs had been as large.
• Job creation had not matched workforce growth.
• Growth had been hampered by low and declining labor productivity.
• Problems of quality and relevance had led to a mismatch between the labor market and
development needs and education system output.
• Women remained marginalized in Arab political systems and broadly discriminated against in
both law and custom.
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Margaret Huebner: Building the Human Resources Function at Oman’s Port of Salalah
The Port’s leaders knew that these trends would shape their developing HR structure. They also saw
great opportunity to train and develop locals and make the Port an employer of choice in the region.
Salalah had served as an important conduit for trade due to its optimal location (see Figure 3) for
hundreds of years. 8
The city connected trade between the Ancient Roman, Egyptian, Persian, Indian, and
African empires from the 4th Century BC to 2nd Century AD. The city’s location offered a near direct route from
the major trade avenues of Asia to Europe, and it was central for the growing markets of East Africa, India,
and the Arabian Gulf. In the late 20th century, Oman’s leaders viewed Salalah as an opportunity to bolster
economic growth via international maritime transportation.
Figure 3
Major Shipping Lanes Around Salalah
Source: The Economist, 9 May 2015.
Before 1970, goods were shipped to and from Salalah, located in Oman’s Dhofar region, in large vessels
and unloaded via offshore launches and feeders. The strategy proved ineffective during monsoon season,
however, and the government of Oman began developing the Port of Salalah (Raysut Port at the time).
Structural improvements later in the 1970s allowed the port to receive larger vessels, yielding an annual
shipping capacity of one million metric tons.
In the late 1990s, investments through an agreement between the Omani government and American
shipping company Sealand, which later merged with Danish giant Maersk, transformed Raysut Port into a
world-class container terminal. It was the first port launched through a government-private partnership in
Oman. The Port of Salalah Container Terminal was inaugurated in 1998; operation began in 1999. A decade
later, the Port would be recognized as an economic engine for the underdeveloped Dhofar region, providing
1,000 jobs initially and growing to 3,000 jobs a decade later. As of 2020, the port connected a network of
the world’s biggest shipping lines, linking more than 3,200 vessels per year to more than 50 ports.

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From its inception, the Port aimed to be a world-class choice offering efficient and reliable customer
service and a safe and inspiring work environment, contributing to local and national society, and delivering
shareholder growth (see Exhibit 1). But in 2000, when Huebner arrived, the organization struggled with an
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Margaret Huebner: Building the Human Resources Function at Oman’s Port of Salalah
underdeveloped administrative infrastructure and had difficulty with recruitment, retention, and training.
Indeed, across the Middle East, companies devalued and even ignored the HR function.9
Workforce Overview
Port employees came from many countries, as only 55% were local Omanis.10 At the national level,
the workforce was comprised of 50% Omanis and 49% expatriates (see Exhibit 2).11 Huebner learned
that maintaining cohesiveness and inclusion among the Port’s culturally diverse workforce was difficult.
Communication challenges persisted, as workers varied in their comfort with English, the adopted business
language. Foreign guest workers often withheld knowledge from local Omanis to ensure their job security.
Omanis sometimes resented the expats, despite some being with the company for more than 20 years.
Native Omanis, previously part of an agrarian society, had to adapt to novel operations standards, yet they
resisted heavy labor. Cross-Cultural Management Case Paper.
Huebner was concerned some low wage foreign workers were being exploited. Many lower level
employees would work for two years, send all their earnings abroad to their families, and visit their home
country for only a month or two every several years. When Huebner began her assignment, the Port paid
employees based on their nation of origin, rather than job title or performance. Huebner worked hard to
convince others the workers were not commodities, but human resources. Cross-Cultural Management Case Paper.

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