Skip to main content

e-Learning Introduction to Intercultural Management

by: Hofstede Insights

This introductory course is a source of inspiration and imagination for professionals working in international businesses, institutions and organizations.

In the following pages, we will help you understand the impact of culture on your daily life and how to work effectively and confidently despite differences in culture and experience.

In addition, you will gain a better understanding of Hofstede’s 6-D model, a practical and scientifically-based tool for intercultural management. 

This e-learning is a first step to understanding and managing individual and collective behaviors in an intercultural context.

 

What is culture? 

 

Human beings are one of the most complex systems we know. Now, add such complex systems together to form a group, the complexity increases exponentially. 

We define culture as: 

The collective programming of the mind that distinguishes the

members of one group or category of people from others

 

Programming starts in the family into which we are born. It continues in school, the village where we live, the profession we choose, the organization we work in, the sports clubs we go to, etc. Thus, cultures exist on many different levels of reality. Research has shown that a nation is also an important cultural unit and that we can usefully distinguish cultures among nations.

In a nutshell, programming starts at the moment we are born and only ends at the moment we are dead. 

Programming, or pre-programming, always happens in groups since culture is learned, not innate.

Culture affects:

  • The way we live
  • The way we see death
  • The way we organize
  • The way we perceive

Statements about culture are general and relative

Everybody is different and context also shapes the behavior of groups next to their culture. One should always be aware that a description of a culture is a description of the central tendency of a particular society and not of individual people living in that society.

Now that you know what culture is, do you think it is important?

Why?

 

A few year ago we asked prof. Geert Hofstede the same question watch his answer:  

About the 6-D Model of National Culture

Throughout the CUBE IN platform, you will find a lot of references to the 6 dimensions of National Culture, we also call them the 6-D model. In this page, we will introduce each of the dimensions illustrated by examples. If you want to learn more about them please watch the CUBE IN webinars where additional applications of the 6 dimensions are shared. 

The 6-D Model was developed by Geert Hofstede and other scholars. The model captures different answers people have given in history to the same challenges. The D stands for dimension or cultural variable. A score on the variable or dimension depicts the central tendency in that society.

When we talk about people from other cultures, we talk about them in normative terms. More often we use negative rather than positive terms. This is mainly because we lack a language that allows us to talk about others in neutral terms.

The 6-D Model allows us to do just that. When using the Model we can say, there is either a small or a big difference between us, so let us look at the consequences for effective management. The Model offers us a new language. At the same time it is an analytical tool that allows us to make sense of a complex world.

The 6 Dimensions are:

  1. Power Distance 
  2. Individualism vs. Collectivism
  3. Masculinity vs. Femininity 
  4. Uncertainty Avoidance 
  5. Long term Oriented vs. Short term Oriented
  6. Indulgence vs. Restraint

 

The research behind the Model is complex. If you are interested in learning all the details, the book Culture’s Consequences by Geert Hofstede is the best source of information.


THE 6-D Model

 

1- POWER DISTANCE

"Power Distance is the extent to which the less powerful members of institutions and organizations accept that power is distributed unequally."

Low Power Distance 

In societies with low power distance, people strive to equalize the distribution of power and demand justification for inequalities of power.

In these countries children can communicate with the parents: ‘Well, speak out, say what is on your mind, you have a tongue.’  The real message from parents in these societies is: ‘You have the right to speak up, even in the neighborhood of power-holders. You are independent of power-holders.” Thus, children are more or less treated as equals as soon as they are able to act. Thus, the goal of parental education is to let children take control of their own affairs as soon as they can.

Teachers and professors are always inviting the children to discuss matters among themselves, but also to discuss the ideas of a teacher or a professor. In these countries, it is not held against you if you try to challenge the ideas of your teacher. If you do it with solid arguments, it is even seen as good behavior.

Implications for Business Life 

In societies scoring low, people expect meetings to be an opportunity for discussion. Meetings are places where you can openly "lay your ideas out on the table" and defend them. What you are looking for is a confrontation of opinions. Afterwards, people have a strong feeling of "Good discussion!" because everyone had the right to speak up, and those who did not speak up at that moment lost the right to complain afterwards. After the meeting, you should then – on your own initiative – implement what has been agreed upon during the meeting.

 

High Power Distance 

People in societies exhibiting a large degree of power distance accept a hierarchical order in which everybody has a place, and which needs no further justification. 

In societies scoring over fifty, people teach their children that they must have high esteem for the older generation, and if they want to say something they should politely raise their hand. Only when it is your turn can you politely say what is on your mind.

The real message in these countries is: You are dependent on power-holders.

Implications for Business Life 

In organizations, this dependence to power holders is expressed through the expectation of clear guidelines on what to do and how to do it, as well as regular inspections from the superior.

"If you are giving people briefings and you are not inspecting behavior, people do it in their own way or not at all."

People only respect what you inspect. 

 


 

2- INDIVIDUALISM vs. COLLECTIVISM

Individualism 

In individualistic societies, people are supposed to take care of themselves and their direct family only.

In individualistic countries, people are raised to be firstly loyal tothemselves andd to accept that the same goes for the other people in their society and the environment. This leads to something you only find in individualistic countries - a norm that you can abbreviate by saying: ‘Equal rights and equal obligations for everybody in society in the same way. Everybody is equal before the law.’ 

People in individualistic countries need privacy, their "own space". Being alone does not feel like a threat, and people easily shift their loyalty from one individual or one group to another individual or another group. That does not imply that people in highly individualistic countries are not any longer social beings, or that social control does not exist at all. 

Collectivism 

In collectivist societies, people belong to ‘in-groups’ that take care of them in exchange for loyalty.

Cultures with a low score are called collectivist cultures. 

In collectivist countries, people are raised to be firstly loyal to their in-group. That can also be defined in some cultures by one's ‘tribe’, ‘ethnic group’, ‘religious group’ or even ‘political party’.

In exchange for complete loyalty from your side to your in-group, your in-group helps you to survive. This has consequences on the way you act, think and behave... In these countries, it is not widely accepted to have "opinions" which are not in line with the mainstream opinions or to show a behavior that is different from the desired behavior of the group. People are supposed to keep harmony with their own in-group. It is a very difficult situation, because if you are creating disharmony, then you are seen as disloyal and will be thrown out. As a result, other in-groups will not take you in.


 

3- MASCULINITY vs. FEMININITY

In the business context, Masculinity versus Femininity is sometimes also referred to as "Tough versus Tender" cultures. 

Masculinity (MAS)

The masculine side of this dimension represents a preference in society for achievement, heroism, assertiveness and material rewards for success. Society at large is more competitive.

In masculine societies, people put an emphasis on status and success in life; they give their respect to the top dog. 

In masculine countries, when you talk about motivation, there is a strong message: "You have to be competitive, the world is divided between winners and losers". You have to be motivated to be a winner.

To understand masculine cultures, it is very important to understand concepts like achievement motivation, career motivation and making it to the top. People in these cultures like to have tough challenges which are very motivational for them. 

Implications for Business Life 

Companies in masculine cultures often use motivational direction by negotiating targets with people. A target acts as a challenge to motivate people and it provides a fixed goal. People will strive to achieve it. As a result, in these countries, there are highly developed appraisal methods and assessment procedures so that everybody can see that people really achieved their targets. People are actually motivated by the appraisal and assessment procedures. 

Femininity 

Femininity is characterized by a preference for cooperation, modesty, caring for the weak and quality of life. Society at large is more consensus-oriented. 

In feminine countries, mainstream society doesn’t like open competition between colleagues; people give their sympathy to the underdog. In feminine societies, there is more potential jealousy than in masculine countries and you will receive a lot of respect from people if you are humble about your success. Yet, we also see in feminine countries direct competition among colleagues... so, one can never say “never”. 

In feminine countries, the moment school-children try to be competitive, they are immediately called a "show-off" by their peer group. To be called a show-off is terrible because then your peer group will have a tendency to isolate you. Very early on in life, children develop values like consensus-seeking. 

In feminine cultures, people very much focus on the values of life and quality of life.

Working to live - not living to work!

Implications for Business Life 

People in these countries are motivated to discuss. Like masculine cultures, it is not exceptional to discuss next year's targets. However, in feminine cultures, the purpose of target discussions is not to create a motivational challenge for individual people. Instead, they are used to make sure that everybody is looking in the same direction and that there is a clear consensus about the business development. 


 

4- UNCERTAINTY AVOIDANCE 

The extent to which people feel threatened by ambiguous situations and have created beliefs and institutions that try to avoid these situations.

High Uncertainty Avoidance 

In countries scoring high, people need predictability. They are more formal in how they communicate. For example, in the work place colleagues tend to be formal in how they address each other. This is because formality establishes structure and makes life predictable. When you know exactly how to approach people and how not to approach people, there is no need to worry. 

People in these cultures also know all about the rules of etiquette, among which are dress codes. Etiquette makes life predictable. You know exactly what to do and what not to do in a given social environment. In countries scoring high UAI, it is acceptable to be emotional. This is shown in different ways, but the more the showing of emotions is acceptable in society, the higher the score for this dimension tends to be. 

Avoid unpredictability as much as possible 

Implications for Business Life 

People from high UAI cultures tend to have a low opinion about the intelligence of people from the low side. The feeling in these countries is: "How on earth can you say ‘just do it, whatever works’. Do you fully understand what is happening? The context of what you are doing? The philosophy behind the proposal?" A common expression in these countries is: Think before you act! 

 

Low Uncertainty Avoidance 

Countries with a low score do not have the need for predictability; they can live with ambiguity and insecurity. They are generally more relaxed about coping with uncertainty. They are more informal in the way they communicate. In these cultures, the lower the score, the less acceptable it is to show emotions in public. 

Implications for Business Life 

In countries scoring low UAI, people are practice-oriented in their thinking and have slogans like: ‘Just do it! Whatever works!’ If discussions about the philosophy of a project take too long, people start getting bored and they say: ‘I’m not paid to have meetings, I’m paid to go to the client.’ 

Just do it! Whatever works!


 

5- LONG TERM ORIENTATION vs. SHORT TERM ORIENTATION

Long Term Orientation (LTO), Pragmatic (PRA)

Countries influenced by Confucian thinking, such as China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan and Korea, tend to score high on this dimension, which is called Long Term Orientation or Pragmatism

In cultures with high scores, people have a strong feeling that truth depends on the particular time, context and situation. If you want to have a picture in your mind to understand this, think about yin-yang, everything depends on the process. 

In Hinduism, one has at least 10,000 chances to reincarnate and do it all over again. It is a much more relaxed belief system. Stories about Hindu Gods tell about the divine beings doing all kinds of terrible things to each other - pulling out each other’s tongues or poking out each other’s eyes. But unlike other religions that define absolute good and absolute evil, these stories underline the particular circumstances at hand, and normally end with "and they lived happily together forever". Pragmatic, isn't it? 

In many countries that score high, people can comfortably believe in two contradictory belief systems. For example, many people are both Shintoist and Buddhist in Japan. According to Shintoism, spirits may live in many things, such as trees or mountains. Buddha, however, said that one should not believe in spirits, as this is superstitious. This is because there is no particular assumption that the purpose is for humans to embrace a single divine Truth - instead of focusing on faith and belief, religion tends to focus on practices and ways of living. 

Implications for Business Life 

Different time, different context, different truth.

One of the practical consequences of this dimension is that in countries scoring high, the contract you get after negotiating is the beginning -officially- of cooperation. If the context changes, people assume that you are willing to renegotiate. In these countries, it is important to be flexible and ready for whatever new situation the future brings.

 

Short Term Orientation, Normative

Countries influenced by Judaism, Christianity and Islam normally score low on this dimension, which is called Short Term Orientation or Normativism.

In monotheistic belief systems, there is only one true God. If you don’t believe in him, you will go to Hell - at least according to the mainstream versions of these religions. Thus, if you don't discern the Truth and follow the real God (with the proper practices), in a split second, you will spend eternity in Hell. This does not leave a lot of leeway for behavior - right and wrong are absolute and have very serious consequences. A very normative belief system.

Implications for Business Life 

This normative manner of thinking is also translated into other spheres of life. For example, contracts set well-defined limits of what you should and should not do. There is also a focus on the "right way" of doing things. This often manifests as a need to see the evidence that you have chosen the right path, for example, prioritizing this year's profits instead of profits ten years from now.


 

6- INDULGENCE vs. RESTRAINT

What is our relationship to happiness?

 

Indulgence (IVR)

In Indulgent countries, society allows relatively free gratification of basic and natural human drives related to enjoying life and having fun. Having friends, enjoying leisure time, and being in control of one's own life are considered important.

Implications for Business Life 

In an Indulgent society, business can be fun and the focus is on solutions. Important people are expected to display joy and optimism for the future. People also tend to be more extroverted, and there are protections for freedom of speech. 

 

Restraint

A restrained society suppresses the gratification of needs and regulates by means of strict social norms, such as strict gender roles. There is also a focus on moral discipline, so having few desires is an admirable trait. In addition, people often feel that they are not in control of their own lives, and they are more pessimistic. 

Implications for Business Life 

Business in a restrained society is a serious matter not to be taken lightly - the focus is on the issue at hand. A stern face shows seriousness and discipline.

 

Case Study 

Your Finnish company has just closed a deal with a Mexican importer. The deal was that this importer would sell all of your products in the Mexican market. After the agreement had been signed the owner of the import firm throws a big party in Mexico to celebrate the closure of the deal.

He had invited all the big dealers in his network as well as of course representatives for other companies. Your biggest competitor is of course invited. Their CEO, as well as several top managers, join the party.

You, on the other hand, are busy and decide to send two employees to represent the firm during that party. Bill and Amanda. Given that they were busy in acquiring another deal they had to check now and then their mobile to see how things were proceeding although they certainly treated everybody who approached them in a polite and cordial way.

After that party, the Mexican owner cancelled the agreement and decides to hire your competitor instead.

Assignment:
Describe in your own words why the agreement was cancelled and also support this by the scores of both countries in the model. 

 

 

 

Websites

Hofstede Insights

Geert Hofstede personal website (research)

Books

 

  • Nancy J. Adler, International Dimensions of Organizational Behavior, Kent Publishing Co., 1986.
  •  
  • Jean-Louis Barsoux & Peter Lawrence, Management in France, Cassell, 1992
  •  
  • Jean-Pierre Coene, L'entretien de vente en B to B, Edi.pro, 2013.
  •  
  • Culture Shock! A guide to customs and etiquette, series of books about 37 different countries, Times Books
  •  
  • Glen Fisher, Mindsets: The Role of Culture and Perception in International Relations, Yarmouth ME: Intercultural Press
  •  
  • William B. Gudykunst & Stella Ting‑Toomey, Culture and Interpersonal Communication, Sage Publications, 1988.
  •  
  • Edward T. Hall, The Silent Language, Anchor Books, 1973.
  •  
  • Edward T. Hall, Beyond Culture, Anchor Books, 1977.
  •  
  • Geert Hofstede, Culture's Consequences, Sage, 2001.
  •  
  • Geert Hofstede, Cultures and Organizations. Software of the Mind, McGraw-Hill, 2010
  •  
  • Geert Hofstede, Masculinity and Femininity. The Taboo Dimension of National Cultures, Sage, 1998
  •  
  • Philippe d'Iribarne, La Logique de l'Honneur, Ed. de Seuil, 1989
  •  
  • Fernando Lanzer, Take Off Your Glasses, CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2015
  •  
  • Marieke de Mooij, Global Marketing and Advertising, Sage, 1998.