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 Informal vs. formal procedures. In some societies, much is accomplished through informal means. In others, formal procedures are set forth and followed rigidly.

∙ High vs. low organizational loyalty. In some societies, people identify very strongly with their organization or employer. In others, people identify with their occupational group, such as engineer or mechanic.

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∙ Cooperation vs. competition. Some societies encourage cooperation between their people. Others encourage competition between their people.

∙ Short-term vs. long-term horizons. Some cultures focus most heavily on short-term horizons, such as short-range goals of profit and efficiency. Others are more interested in long-range goals, such as market share and technological development.

∙ Stability vs. innovation. The culture of some countries encourages stability and resistance to change. The culture of others puts high value on innovation and change.

These cultural differences influence the way that international management should be conducted.

Another way of depicting cultural diversity is through visually separating its com- ponents. Figure 4–1 provides an example by using concentric circles. The outer ring consists of the explicit artifacts and products of the culture. This level is observable and consists of such things as language, food, buildings, and art. The middle ring contains the norms and values of the society. These can be both formal and informal, and they are designed to help people understand how they should behave. The inner circle contains the implicit, basic assumptions that govern behavior. By understanding these assump- tions, members of a culture are able to organize themselves in a way that helps them increase the effectiveness of their problem-solving processes and interact well with each other. In explaining the nature of the inner circle, Trompenaars and Hampden-Turner have noted that

[t]he best way to test if something is a basic assumption is when the [situation] provokes confusion or irritation. You might, for example, observe that some Japanese bow deeper than others. . . . If you ask why they do it the answer might be that they don’t know but that the other person does it too (norm) or that they want to show respect for authority (value). A typical Dutch question that might follow is: “Why do you respect authority?” The most likely Japanese reaction would be either puzzlement or a smile (which might be hiding their irritation). When you question basic assumptions you are asking questions that have never been asked before. It might lead others to deeper insights, but it also might provoke annoyance. Try in the USA or the Netherlands to raise the question of why people are equal and you will see what we mean.21

 

 

Chapter 4 The Meanings and Dimensions of Culture 127

The explicit artifacts and products of the society

The norms and values that guide the society

The implicit, basic assumptions

that guide people’s behavior

Figure 4–1 A Model of Culture

Source: Adapted from Fons Trompenaars and Charles Hampden-Turner, Riding the Waves of Culture: Understanding Diversity in Global Business, 2nd ed. (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1998).

A supplemental way of understanding cultural differences is to compare culture as a normal distribution, as in Figure 4–2, and then to examine it in terms of stereo- typing, as in Figure 4–3. Chinese culture and American culture, for example, have quite different norms and values. So the normal distribution curves for the two cul- tures have only limited overlap. However, when one looks at the tail-ends of the two curves, it is possible to identify stereotypical views held by members of one culture about the other. The stereotypes are often exaggerated and used by members of one culture in describing the other, thus helping reinforce the differences between the two while reducing the likelihood of achieving cooperation and communication. This is one reason why an understanding of national culture is so important in the study of international management.

French culture U.S. culture

Source: Revised and adapted from various sources, including Fons Trompenaars and Charles Hampden-Turner, Riding the Waves of Culture: Understanding Diversity in Global Business, 2nd ed. (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1998), p. 25.

Figure 4–2 Comparing Cultures as Overlapping Normal Distributions

 

 

128 Part 2 The Role of Culture

■ Values in Culture A major dimension in the study of culture is values. Values are basic convictions that people have regarding what is right and wrong, good and bad, and important and unim- portant. These values are learned from the culture in which the individual is reared, and they help direct the person’s behavior. Differences in cultural values often result in varying management practices.

Values in Transition Do values change over time? Past research indicates that personal value systems are relatively stable and do not change rapidly.22 However, changes are taking place in man- agerial values as a result of both culture and technology. A good example is provided by examining the effects of the U.S. environment on the cultural values of Japanese managers working for Japanese firms in the United States. Researchers, focusing attention on such key organizational values as lifetime employment, formal authority, group orientation, seniority, and paternalism, found that

1. Lifetime employment is widely accepted in Japanese culture, but the stateside Japanese managers did not believe that unconditional tenure in one organiza- tion was of major importance. They did believe, however, that job security was important.

2. Formal authority, obedience, and conformance to hierarchic position are very important in Japan, but the stateside managers did not perceive obedience and conformity to be very important and rejected the idea that one should not question a superior. However, they did support the concept of formal authority.

3. Group orientation, cooperation, conformity, and compromise are important organizational values in Japan. The stateside managers supported these values but also believed it was important to be an individual, thus maintaining a balance between a group and a personal orientation.

values Basic convictions that people have regarding what is right and wrong, good and bad, and important and unimportant.

French culture

How the Americans see the French:

• arrogant • flamboyant • hierarchical • emotional

How the French see the Americans:

U.S. culture

• naive • aggressive • unprincipled • workaholic

Source: Revised and adapted from various sources, including Fons Trompenaars and Charles Hampden-Turner, Riding the Waves of Culture: Understanding Diversity in Global Business, 2nd ed. (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1998), p. 23.

Figure 4–3 Stereotyping from the Cultural Extremes

 

 

Chapter 4 The Meanings and Dimensions of Culture 129

4. In Japan, organizational personnel often are rewarded based on seniority, not merit. Support for this value was directly influenced by the length of time the Japanese managers had been in the United States. The longer they had been there, the lower their support for this value.

5. Paternalism, often measured by a manager’s involvement in both personal and off-the-job problems of subordinates, is very important in Japan. Stateside Japanese managers disagreed, and this resistance was positively associated with the number of years they had been in the United States.23

There is increasing evidence that individualism in Japan is on the rise, indicating that Japanese values are changing—and not just among managers outside the country. The country’s long economic slump has convinced many Japanese that they cannot rely on the large corporations or the government to ensure their future. They have to do it for themselves. As a result, today a growing number of Japanese are starting to embrace what is being called the “era of personal responsibility.” Instead of denouncing indi- vidualism as a threat to society, they are proposing it as a necessary solution to many of the country’s economic ills. A vice chair of the nation’s largest business lobby summed up this thinking at the opening of a recent conference on economic change when he said, “By establishing personal responsibility, we must return dynamism to the economy and revitalize society.”24  This thinking is supported by past research, which reveals that a culture with a strong entrepreneurial orientation is important to global competitiveness, especially in the small business sector of an economy. This current trend may well be helpful to the Japanese economy in helping it meet foreign competition at home.25

Other countries, such as China, have more recently undergone a transition of val- ues. As discussed in Chapter 2, China is moving away from a collectivist culture, and it appears as though even China is not sure what cultural values it will adhere to. Confu- cianism was worshipped for over 2,000 years, but the powerful messages through Con- fucius’s teachings were overshadowed in a world where profit became a priority. Now, Confucianism is slowly gaining popularity once again, emphasizing respect for authority, concern for others, balance, harmony, and overall order. While this may provide sanctu- ary for some, it poses problems within the government because it will have to prove its worthiness to remain in power. As long as China maintains economic momentum, despite its recent slowdown, hope for a unified culture may be on the horizon.26

■ Cultural Dimensions Understanding the cultural context of a society, and being able to respond and react appropriately to cultural differences, is becoming increasingly important as the global environment becomes more interconnected. Over the past several decades, researchers have attempted to provide a composite picture of culture by examining its subparts, or dimensions.

Hofstede In 1980, Dutch researcher Geert Hofstede identified four original, and later two addi- tional, dimensions of culture that help explain how and why people from various cultures behave as they do.27  His initial data were gathered from two questionnaire surveys with over 116,000 respondents from over 70 different countries around the world—making it the largest organizationally based study ever conducted. The individuals in these studies all worked in the local subsidiaries of IBM. As a result, Hofstede’s research has been sometimes criticized because of its focus on just one company; however, samples for cross-national comparison need not be representative, as long as they are functionally equivalent. Because they are so similar in respects other than nationality (their employers, their kind of work, and—for matched occupations—their level of education), employees of multinational companies like IBM form attractive sources of information for comparing

 

 

130 Part 2 The Role of Culture

national traits. The only thing that can account for systematic and consistent differences between national groups within such a homogeneous multinational population is nation- ality itself—the national environment in which people were brought up before they joined this employer. Comparing IBM subsidiaries therefore shows national culture differences with unusual clarity.28 Despite being first published nearly 40 years ago, Hofstede’s mas- sive study continues to be a focal point for additional research, including the most recent GLOBE project, discussed at the end of this chapter.

The original four dimensions that Hofstede examined were (1) power distance, (2)  uncertainty avoidance, (3) individualism, and (4) masculinity.29 Further research by Hofstede led to the recent identification of the fifth and sixth cultural dimensions: (5) time orientation, identified in 1988, and (6) indulgence versus restraint, identified in 2010.30

Power Distance Power distance is “the extent to which less powerful members of institutions and organizations accept that power is distributed unequally.”31  Countries in  which people blindly obey the orders of their superiors have high power distance. In many societies, lower-level employees tend to follow orders as a matter of procedure. In societies with high power distance, however, strict obedience is found even at the upper levels; examples include Mexico, South Korea, and India. For example, a senior Indian executive with a PhD from a prestigious U.S. university related the following story:

What is most important for me and my department is not what I do or achieve for the company, but whether the [owner’s] favor is bestowed on me. . . . This I have achieved by saying “yes” to everything [the owner] says or does. . . . To contradict him is to look for another job. . . . I left my freedom of thought in Boston.32

The effect of this dimension can be measured in a number of ways. For exam- ple, organizations in low-power-distance countries generally will be decentralized and have flatter organization structures. These organizations also will have a smaller pro- portion of supervisory personnel, and the lower strata of the workforce often will consist of highly qualified people. By contrast, organizations in high-power-distance countries will tend to be centralized and have tall organization structures. Organiza- tions in high-power-distance countries will have a large proportion of supervisory personnel, and the people at the lower levels of the structure often will have low job qualifications. This latter structure encourages and promotes inequality between people at different levels.33

Uncertainty Avoidance Uncertainty avoidance is “the extent to which people feel threatened by ambiguous situations and have created beliefs and institutions that try to avoid these.”34 Countries populated with people who do not like uncertainty tend to have a high need for security and a strong belief in experts and their knowledge; examples include Germany, Japan, and Spain. Cultures with low uncertainty avoidance have people who are more willing to accept that risks are associated with the unknown and that life must go on in spite of this. Examples include Denmark and Great Britain.

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