The Grey Chronicles

2009.October.19

Learning from Hofstede



Geert Hofstede is the pioneer of culture studies in business and organizations. He holds a Master’s degree in Mechanical Engineering from the Technical University of Delft as well as obtained a cum laude Doctorate in Social Psychology at the University of Groningen. From 1965 to 1971 he founded and managed the Personnel Research department of IBM Europe; he was involved in research in nearly all countries of Western Europe and the Middle East. He became a faculty member and researcher at IMD, Switzerland; INSEAD, France; EIASM, Belgium and IIASA, Austria. From 1980 to 1983 he returned to industry as a Director of Human Resources for Fasson Europe, Leiden. In 1980, he was also one of the founders of the Institute for Research on Intercultural Cooperation [IRIC] which moved with him to Maastricht and later to Tilburg; IRIC closed in 2004. A Professor Emeritus of Organizational Anthropology and International Management of the University of Maastricht in the Netherlands, he held visiting professorships in Hong Kong, Hawaii, Australia and New Zealand, since his retirement in 1993 . He still serves as an Extra-Mural Fellow of the Center for Economic Research of the University of Tilburg.

Hofstede, in most of his studies, describes:

“Culture is the collective programming of the mind which distinguishes one group or category of people from another … Culture is a construct, that means it is "not directly accessible to observation but inferable from verbal statements and other behaviors and useful in predicting still other observable and measurable verbal and nonverbal behavior." It should not be reified; it is an auxiliary concept that should be used as long it proves useful by bypassed where we can predict behaviors without it.” (1993: 89).

Culture’s Consequences: Comparing Values, Behaviours, Institutions and Organisations across NationsHofstede conducted major intercultural studies as part of a research project commissioned by IBM. Based on his findings, Hofstede published his first ground-breaking book, Culture’s Consequences, in 1980 (a second edition was published in 2001). The book presents the four dimensions of culture that he identified as a result of a massive survey he conducted on IBM employees in 72 countries in 1968 and again in 1972. These dimensions are:

Power Distance Index [PDI]. Less powerful members of that culture accept that power is distributed unequally (i.e. the distance between those who have power and those who do not). This dimension reflects inequality, accepted from below, not imposed from above. Power distance is high in Latin, Asian and African countries and low in Germanic, Scandinavian and Anglo-Saxon nations.

Individualism—Collectivism [IDV]. Individuals are integrated into groups or not. Individualism prevails in Western and other developed countries and collectivism is common in Eastern and less developed countries. Japan takes a middle position in this dimension.

Masculinity—Femininity [MAS]. This refers to the degree of emphasis on certain values in a culture. Masculine values are assertiveness, performance, success and competition, which in nearly all societies are associated with the role of men. Quality of life, maintaining warm personal relationships, service, care for the weak, and solidarity, which in nearly all societies are more associated with feminine roles. Masculinity is high in Japan, Germanic countries and moderately so in Anglo-Saxon countries. It is low in Scandinavia and the Netherlands and moderately low in some Latin and Asian countries like France, Spain and Thailand.

Uncertainty Avoidance Index [UAI]. A society’s tolerance for uncertainty and ambiguity. Uncertainty-avoiding cultures minimize the possibility of novel or unstructured situations through strict laws and rules, safety and security measures, and a philosophical/religious commitment to the concept of absolute truth. They are motivated by inner nervous energy and are more emotional. Uncertainty-accepting cultures are more tolerant of different opinions, reflective and phlegmatic. Latin and Germanic countries and Japan are high in uncertainty avoidance; Chinese, Scandinavian and Anglo-Saxon countries are more uncertainty accepting.

Another dimension, not from his original model, is based on Confucian dynamism. This fifth dimension was added based on Michael Harris Bond’s study of the values of students in twenty-three countries. Working with Bond, they resolved the dilemma of a Western bias introduced by the common Western background of the researchers: by deliberately introducing an Eastern bias. (1993: 90)

Long-term or short-term orientation [LTO]. It deals with the issue of virtue. Long-term cultures value thrift and perseverance; short-term cultures value tradition, the fulfilment of social obligations and protecting one’s ‘face’ or honor. A long-term orientation is associated with East Asian countries and Hofstede notes that their recent economic success has been built on this.

In his paper, Cultural constraints in management theories published in the Academy of Management Executive (1993), Hofstede writes:

“Management as the word is presently used is an American invention. In other parts of the world not only the practices but the entire concept of management may differ, and the theories needed to understand it, may deviate considerably from what is considered normal and desirable in the USA. … A model in which worldwide differences in national cultures are categorized according to five independent dimensions helps in explaining the differences in management found: although the situation in each country or region has unique characteristics that no model can account for. … U.S. management theories contain a number of idiosyncrasies not necessarily shared by management elsewhere. Three such idiosyncrasies are mentioned: a stress on market process, a stress on the individual, and a focus on managers rather than on workers.”


Notes:

Hofstede, G. (1993). Cultural constraints in management theories. Academy of Management Executive, 1993. 7:1. pp. 81—94. back to text: 1 | 2 | 3.

Hofstede, Geert (2001). Culture’s Consequences: Comparing Values, Behaviours, Institutions and Organizations across Nations. 2nd ed. Place: Sage Publications, Inc;, April 2001. 616pp. back to text.

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 LicenseDisclaimer: The posts herein do not necessarily represent any organization’s positions, strategies or opinions. Read the full version of self-imposed rules for this blog: A New Year; New Rules. Unless otherwise expressly stated, the posts are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.
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