The word culture is used frequently in organizational behavior. Culture is the learned and shared way of thinking and acting among a group of people or society. Cultures vary in their underlying patterns of values and attitudes.
The way people think about such matters as achievement, wealth and material gain and risk and change may influence how they approach work and their influence with organization. A framework offered by Hofstede offers one such approach for understanding how values differences across national cultures can influence human behavior at work.
The values that distinguished countries from each other could be grouped statistically into four clusters. These four groups became the Hofstede dimensions of national culture:
- Power Distance (PDI)
- Individualism versus Collectivism (IDV)
- Masculinity versus Femininity (MAS)
- Uncertainty Avoidance (UAI)
- Long-Term Orientation (LTO)
A fifth Dimension was added in 1991 based on research by Michael Bond who conducted an additional international study among students with a survey instrument that was developed together with Chinese employees and managers.
1. Power Distance
Power distance is the willingness of a culture to accept status and power differences among its members. In cultures with low power distance, people are likely to expect that power is distributed rather equally, and are furthermore also likely to accept that power is distributed to less powerful individuals. As opposed to this, people in high power distance cultures will likely both expect and accept inequality and steep hierarchies.
The fundamental issue here is how a society handles inequalities among people. 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 with low power distance, people strive to equalize the distribution of power and demand justification for inequalities of power.
2. Uncertainty Avoidance
Uncertainty Avoidance is referring to a lack of tolerance for ambiguity and a need for formal rules and policies. This dimension measures the extent to which people feel threatened by ambiguous situations. These uncertainties and ambiguities may e.g. be handled by an introduction of formal rules or policies, or by a general acceptance of ambiguity in the organizational life.
The majority of people living in cultures with a high degree of uncertainty avoidance, are likely to feel uncomfortable in uncertain and ambiguous situations. People living in cultures with a low degree of uncertainty avoidance, are likely to thrive in more uncertain and ambiguous situations and environments.
Countries exhibiting strong UAI maintain rigid codes of belief and behavior and are intolerant of unorthodox behavior and ideas. Weak UAI societies maintain a more relaxed attitude in which practice counts more than principles.
3. Masculinity vs. Femininity
It is the tendency of a culture to stereotypical masculine or feminine traits. These values concern the extent on emphasis on masculine work related goals and assertiveness (earnings, advancement, title, respect et.), as opposed to more personal and humanistic goals (friendly working climate, cooperation, nurturance etc.)
The first set of goals is usually described as masculine, whereas the latter is described as feminine. These goals and values can, among other, describe how people are potentially motivated in cultures with e.g. a feminine or a masculine culture.
Japan is considered a very masculine culture whereas Thailand is considered a more feminine culture.
4. Individualism vs. Collectivism
In individualistic cultures people are expected to portray themselves as individuals, who seek to accomplish individual goals and needs. In collectivistic cultures, people have greater emphasis on the welfare of the entire group to which the individual belongs, where individual wants, needs and dreams are often set aside for the common good.
5. Long vs. Short Term Orientation
Long-Term Orientation is the fifth dimension, which was added after the original four dimensions. This dimension was identified by Michael Bond and was initially called Confucian dynamism. Geert Hofstede added this dimension to his framework, and labeled this dimension long vs. short term orientation.
The consequences for work related values and behavior springing from this dimension are rather hard to describe, but some characteristics are described below.
Long term orientation:
- Acceptance of that business results may take time to achieve
- The employee wishes a long relationship with the company
Short term orientation:
- Results and achievements are set, and can be reached within timeframe
- The employee will potentially change employer very often.
Hofstede provided a definition of culture and how culture can be measured. His research showed that cultural differences matter. Managers in international organizations operate according to their country’s values, rather than to the organization’s culture.
Employees from related national cultures work in similar fashions, thereby reducing the chance of conflicts. Hofstede’s model provides managers of cross-cultural relations a tool to help them understand differences in value sets and behavior.
The model negates that one set of principles is universally applicable by confirming that there are multiple ways of structuring organizations and institutions. An organization’s wider social and cultural environment plus its technology determines the level of bureaucracy and centralization (Scott, Hofstede).
When Hofstede’s first results were criticized by Asian scholars, he added time orientation as a fifth dimension thereby raising doubts about whether the typology itself was exhaustive.
Culture is a far too complex and multifaceted to be used as a straightforward organizational change control. “You do not control culture, at best you shape it” (Green).
Cluster of countries based on Hofstede’s dimension of individualism collectivism and power distance