Managing in an intercultural environment is a complicated issue, requiring a lot more than a list of do’s and don’ts. What international managers need is a general conceptual framework which can help them to understand how, on average, people from different nations view and solve basic problems. Geert Hofstede, Professor Emeritus in Organisational Anthropology and International Management at the University of Limburg, was able to do a large scale research in which over 116.000 respondents in more than 70 countries participated. After many years of analysis, complemented with correlating research, he was able to deduce four basic dimensions of culture. Subsequent research in the Far East has identified a fifth cultural dimension. The dimensions represent elements of common structure in the cultural systems of the countries. They are based on very fundamental issues in human societies to which every society has to find its particular answers. The position of a country on each of the dimensions could be indicated by a score; the range of scores represented the range of different answers to the issues actually found.
Large versus Small Power Distance
Power Distance is the extent to which the members of a society accept that power in institutions and organisations is distributed unequally. This affects the behaviour of the less powerful as well as of the more powerful members of society. People in Large Power Distance societies accept an hierarchical order in which everybody has a place which needs no further justification. People in Small Power Distance societies strive for power equalisation and demand justification for power inequalities. The fundamental issue addressed by this dimension is how a society handles inequalities among people when they occur. This has obvious consequences for the way people build their institutions and organisations.
Individualism versus Collectivism
Individualism stands for a preference of a loosely knit social framework in society wherein individuals are supposed to take care of themselves and their immediate families only. Its opposite, Collectivism, stands for a preference for a tightly knit social framework in which individuals can expect their relatives, clan or other in-group to look after them in exchange for unquestioning loyalty (it will be clear that the word “collectivism” is not used here to describe any particular political system). The fundamental issue addressed by this dimension is the degree of interdependence a society maintains among individuals. It relates to people’s self-concept “I” or “we”.
Masculinity versus Femininity
People in masculine societies place more value on achievement and success. In feminine societies on the other hand, caring for other and the quality of life are considered to be more important. Sweden is the most feminine country in this research, implying that most Swedes prefer to look for consensus and work to live, rather than to live to work.
Strong versus Weak Uncertainty Avoidance
Uncertainty Avoidance is the degree to which the members of a society feel uncomfortable with uncertainty and ambiguity. This feeling leads them to beliefs promising certainty and to maintaining institutions protecting conformity. Strong Uncertainty Avoidance countries maintain rigid codes of belief and behaviour and are intolerant toward deviant persons and ideas. Weak Uncertainty Avoidance societies maintain a more relaxed atmosphere in which practice counts more than principles and deviance is more easily tolerated. The fundamental issue addressed by this dimension is how a society reacts on the fact that time only runs one way and that the future is unknown: whether it tries to control the future or to let it happen. Like Power Distance, Uncertainty Avoidance has consequences for the way people build their institutions and organisations.
Long term orientation versus Short term orientation
This dimension explains us the extent to which a society exhibits a pragmatic future oriented perspective rather than a conventional historic or short term point of view. Countries scoring high on this dimension are the Asian countries. These countries believe in many truths, have a long term orientation, easily accept change and have thrift for investment.
Cultures scoring low on this dimension believe in absolute truth, are conventional and traditional, have a short term orientation and a concern for stability. Most Western countries score fairly low on this dimension.