Understanding Cultural Differences and Leveraging Diversity

By: Vadim Kotelnikov, Founder of 1world1way


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Cultural Dimensions: What it is about?

Prof. Greet Hofstede conducted a comprehensive study of how values in the workplace are influenced by culture.

Subsequent studies validating the earlier results have included commercial airline pilots and students in 23 countries, civil service managers in 14 counties, 'up-market' consumers in 15 countries and 'elites' in 19 countries.

From the initial results, and later additions, Hofstede developed a model that identifies four primary Dimensions to assist in differentiating cultures. They are: (1) Directness (get to the point versus imply the messages); (2) Hierarchy (follow orders versus engage in debate); (3) Consensus (dissent is accepted versus unanimity is needed); (4) Individualism (individual winners versus team effectiveness). Additionally, power distance describes the degree of deference and acceptance of unequal power between people. Uncertainty avoidance defines how well cultures may adapt to change. The terms masculinity and femininity refer to the degree to which a culture values assertiveness or nurturing and social support.


How To Use It

Cultural Dimensions in many ways determine: attitude towards innovation; rules; management style; communication and behavioral patterns; attitude to conflict; conflict resolution strategies; consumer behavior; decision making process; entrepreneurship style; motivating factors; negotiation style; partnering and gender issues; performance evaluation; structure and coordination instruments; success strategies; teamwork.

For instance, U.S. negotiators tend to rely on individualist values, imagining self and other as autonomous, independent, and self-reliant. Negotiators from the countries with a low power distance, such as Australia, Britain, and Germany, tend to be comfortable with democratic structures and flat organizational hierarchies, shared authority, and the right to use power only in limited circumstances and for legitimate purposes. Negotiators from the national cultures with a high power distance, such as Arab countries, India, and Russia, tend to be comfortable with hierarchical structures, clear authority figures, and the right to use power with discretion. (See also Negotiation DOs and DON'Ts and Conduct During Negotiations)

Knowing the “score” of a country helps you to be aware of many “cultural traps”, avoid conflicts and harness the power of cultural diversity.

For instant, a great culturally diverse innovation team could look like that: a Russian generates outside-the-box ideas; an American establishes rapidly a new venture using those ideas; a Japanese develops a long-term business strategy; a German to organizes an effective manufacturing process; and a Chinese carries out the plan.