Exploring the Need for Intercultural Management
By Tony Ragoonanan
As the world becomes increasingly interconnected, businesses are encountering the necessity to function within an increasingly multicultural landscape. This gives rise to various challenges, including effective communication with a diverse workforce and gaining insights into the customs and values of customers or employees in foreign countries.
The word “Culture” is sometimes thrown around like “love” and “happiness”. It appears that everyone holds a distinct perception of its meaning. Even those who are well-versed in the subject often exhibit some variance in their understanding of it.
Dutch professor and social psychologist Geert Hofstede defines culture as follows: “Culture is the programming of the human mind that allows one group of people to differentiate itself from another group. It encompasses the collection of shared beliefs, values, and norms that set one group of people apart from another.” He also identified six dimensions of culture, which I would clarify in a bit.
So, what are we talking about? National Culture or Organizational Culture? It’s actually a bit of both, because the reality is, in business, the two cannot be completely separated as there is a tremendous overlap between them. This is why I would like to approach it from both perspectives.
National culture is predominantly influenced by historical factors, whereas organizational culture embodies the notion of “how things are done here.” Unlike national culture, organizational culture can be intentionally shaped by the leadership team to reflect the organization’s values, behaviors, and objectives, which play a crucial role in shaping the organization’s operations. It is typically more straightforward and precise when compared to national culture. This is because most organizations have well-defined objectives, roles, and activities that can be easily communicated to stakeholders.
As we explore the six dimensions employed by Geert Hofstede for the analysis of national cultures, it becomes apparent that these dimensions can also be applied to examine the nuances of organizational culture. Therefore, to have effective Intercultural Management, we must consider both. To validate his theories, Hofstede conducted a study involving employees from 70 countries, to identify variations in cultural values and attitudes.
Advocating for cultural awareness is commendable, but its impact remains limited if there is a lack of alignment between these principles and how performance and culture are governed.
So, let’s first take a look at Hofstede’s dimensions.
Geert Hofstede’s 6 Dimensions of Culture (National)
The information below has been adapted from:
1. Power distance measures the degree to which people in a society relate to each other on a hierarchical scale.
High power distance cultures are characterized by obedience, interdependence, and a top-to-bottom information flow, while low power distance cultures are more cooperative, independent, and share knowledge and ideas more freely across the organization. In Mexico, power distance is high which indicates that people are generally more comfortable with an unequal distribution of power, while in Sweden, where power distance is low, a more egalitarian approach is the preferred way of operating.
2. Individualism vs collectivism illustrates whether individuals in a culture tend to think more of their own goals and desires or those of the group.
This dimension of Hofstede organizational culture highlights, among others, the difference between Eastern and Western cultures. Countries like the US and the Netherlands generally value individual performance and caring for themselves and their immediate family, while in Japan, and China, a collective approach is the norm – team members think of their team’s interests before their own.
3. Masculinity vs Femininity represents the extent to which a culture favors traditionally masculine or feminine traits. Although the lines have blurred in recent years, widespread culture change is slow, making this dimension still relevant.
Masculine cultures, such as Italy and Switzerland, are more assertive, goal-oriented, and competitive. On the other end of the spectrum, Norway and Sweden represent feminine cultures, more often valuing intuition, harmony, and win-win situations (consensus-oriented).
4. Uncertainty Avoidance refers to a culture’s level of tolerance for change or uncertain future scenarios.
In high uncertainty avoidance cultures, there’s a tendency for restraint and order. Greece and Belgium score high on this scale. By contrast, low uncertainty avoidance cultures appreciate taking risks and improvisation. Denmark is a good example of this. With a score of 36, it shows they are comfortable with change and the unknown.
Short-term oriented cultures tend to immerse themselves more in the present moment, love to be of service to others, and often indulge in over-consumption. They’re prevalent throughout South and North America. Long-term-oriented cultures think more about the future and value perseverance and prudence over momentary gratification. Two examples are Japan and Taiwan.
6. Indulgence vs Restraint refers to how much individuals allow themselves enjoyment and the fulfillment of personal desires.
Indulgent cultures focus on positive emotions and personal freedom while restrained cultures more often control their desires, valuing orderliness and hard work over leisure. Eastern European and Asian countries are usually more restrained cultures, whereas indulgence prevails in the Americas and Western Europe.
Please feel free to compare countries at this link:
You can find the results for Trinidad and Tobago here:
This information can certainly be helpful in teaching us how to adapt to those who come from a different culture. But, how can we now use this information to navigate the intricacies of organizational culture?
CLARITY is key.
We have to not only define the environment that we want, but we must also communicate it. This is where organizational culture comes in.
Adapting the 6 dimensions of national culture to the organizational culture perspective
Now that you have an idea of Hofstede’s six dimensions from a national perspective, it’s time to explore these dimensions within your organization. It’s important to bear in mind that, although we analyze them one by one, these six dimensions are interrelated
To start, here are some examples of questions that you can ask yourself to assess where you fall on each dimension:
- Power distance: How freely does information flow between team members and management? Is it easy to get access to your boss?
- Individualism vs Collectivism: In what ways do team members support each other? How much of our work is defined by team goals? Are your KPIs centered around team goals or individual goals?
- Masculinity vs Femininity: How much of our work is characterized by assertiveness and competitiveness vs win-win situations? How much is psychological safety valued?
- Uncertainty avoidance: How does our organization approach risk-taking? Do we have Key Performance Indicators properly defined?
- Long-Term vs Short-Term Orientation: How do our organizational strategy and planning prepare us for the future? Have we developed a Strategic Plan that shows where the company should be in the next 5 to 10 years?
- Indulgence vs Restraint: What actions or routines do we have in place to celebrate and recognize the various stages of our growth as professionals (from the daily wins to the big successes)?
After gaining an understanding of how these dimensions can be applied from an organizational perspective, you can begin leveraging them to…
- Define the type of culture that you want.
- Define the values and actual behaviours you want to see
- Improve communication and management practices
If your responses seem to fall on one side of the spectrum for a particular dimension, what would happen if you tried embracing some aspects from the opposite end?
For example, if your company tends to value the collective over the individual, maybe you can start the next team meeting by giving colleagues (who finished challenging projects) some positive feedback. In turn, those individuals can share who helped them the most on their projects. This could foster a sense of connection and gratitude, especially helpful if employee satisfaction ratings are low.
The key is to identify the cultural dimensions you might want to change, and then define behaviours and actions you can take that will support that cultural shift if any.
The Role of Leaders
While individual team members can influence culture, initiating changes in cultural dimensions typically starts with leadership.
Getting a firm grasp of your organizational culture is crucial. This is precisely where tools like Hofstede’s cultural dimensions become indispensable. In tandem with regular employee conversations, surveys, key performance indicators (KPIs), and other metrics, leaders can assess the overall health and stability of their organization and cultivate the growth mindset needed to guide the desired cultural transformation.
Let us begin to set the cultural tone required for our team or organization.
With our CLARITY SEQUENCE, leaders can gain invaluable insights into how they’re performing and what changes they could make to align performance with the strategic objectives of their organization.
Tony Ragoonanan is the Founder of V-Formation Training & Development. As a Trainer and Performance Management Specialist, he helps individuals and organizations to align emotion, skill, and behaviour with outcomes. Outside of this, it’s all about family, football, and fitness!!
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