Cultural differences in a work place go deeper than an appreciation of different foods and a preference for different clothing.
Western cultures shake hands. Cubans kiss. Some cultures hug when greeting one another. Many bow and bow differently. Japanese bow from the waist; the deeper the bow, the greater the respect. Thais bow with their hands chest high, palms together. Taiwanese are more likely to nod than bow.
Dressing, eating and greeting, however, only scratch the surface of cultural differences.
In a landmark study, Prof. Geert Hofstede examined how values in the workplace are influenced by culture. He analysed a large data base of employee values scores collected by IBM between 1967 and 1973 and by himself since 2001.
From the initial results, and later additions, Hofstede developed a model that identifies four primary Dimensions to assist in differentiating cultures: Power Distance – PDI, Individualism – IDV, Masculinity – MAS, and Uncertainty Avoidance – UAI.
A fifth dimension, Long-Term Orientation – LTO, was added to 23 countries after conducting an additional international study.
The ratings have no consequence when dealing with individuals as each individual is different. They do give a good indication on what to do with business overall.
Power Distance Index (PDI) focuses on the degree of equality, or inequality, between people in the country’s society.
A high Power Distance Index indicates that inequalities of power and wealth have been allowed to grow within the society.
A low Power Distance Index indicates the society de-emphasizes the differences between citizen’s power and wealth.
The top countries for high power distance ratio are:
The lowest ranked countries for power distance ratio are:
- New Zealand.
Individualism (IDV) focuses on the degree to which the society reinforces individual or collective, achievement and interpersonal relationships.
A high Individualism ranking indicates that individuality and individual rights are paramount within the society.
A low Individualism ranking typifies societies of a more collectivist nature with close ties between individuals.
The highest ranked countries for individualism ratio are:
- United States.
- United Kingdom.
- New Zealand.
The lowest ranked countries for individualism ratio are:
Masculinity (MAS) focuses on the degree the society reinforces, or does not reinforce, the traditional masculine work role model of male achievement, control and power.
A high Masculinity ranking indicates the country experiences a high degree of gender differentiation.
A low Masculinity ranking indicates the country has a low level of differentiation and discrimination between genders.
The highest ranked countries for masculinity ratio are:
One observation struck me on my many visits to Japan. I would meet clever hard working women in junior positions and see many young businesswomen in the street. However, I rarely saw or encountered businesswomen over the age of twenty-five. I was advised by my Japanese colleagues that by twenty-five most Japanese women were married and looking after a home.
I also observed that young European women, who filled similar roles to my own, struggled to be successful in Japan. I found it surprising then that in our company, a female vice-president was promoted to the South East Asia region. She did struggle with relationships in Japan, not that it was told to her face-to-face.
The lowest ranked countries for masculinity ratio are:
- Costa Rica.
It is not surprising, therefore, that Sweden and Norway are always at the top of rankings of countries with women in senior jobs.
Uncertainty Avoidance Index (UAI) focuses on the level of tolerance for uncertainty and ambiguity within the society – i.e. unstructured situations.
High Uncertainty Avoidance ranking indicates the country has a low tolerance for uncertainty and ambiguity.
Low Uncertainty Avoidance ranking indicates the country has less concern about ambiguity and uncertainty and has more tolerance for a variety of opinions.
The highest ranked countries for uncertainty avoidance ratio are:
The lowest ranked countries for uncertainty avoidance ratio are:
- Hong Kong.
Geert Hofstede added the following fifth (5th) dimension after conducting an additional international study using a survey instrument developed with Chinese employees and managers. Hofstede described that dimension as a culture’s Long-Term Orientation.
Long-Term Orientation (LTO) focuses on the degree the society embraces, or does not embrace, long-term devotion to traditional, forward thinking values.
High Long-Term Orientation ranking indicates the country prescribes to the values of long-term commitments and respect for tradition.
Low Long-Term Orientation ranking indicates the country does not reinforce the concept of long-term, traditional orientation. In this culture, change can occur more rapidly as long-term traditions and commitments do not become impediments to change.
The highest ranked countries for long term orientation ratio are:
- Hong Kong.
- South Korea.
My experience of dealing with organisations in each of these countries reflected the high scores. For example, pricing of products in new segments was constructed to create long term market share. Patent applications for products made for a specific customer were made jointly to preserve “good relationships” even when legally and from a “western” set of morals, there was no need to.
The lowest ranked countries for long term orientation ratio are:
- Sierra Leone.
Hoftsede’s work can also be used, with his permission, within an organisation rather than a country using his Values Survey Module 1994.
Cultural differences have an impact on how we conduct our relationships. They determine, in part, how easily we can build rapport. In my experience, well over half the battle in building rapport across very different cultures is understanding. Geert Hoftsede’s work helps provide that understanding.