Hofstede: 5 Cultural Dimensions
Geert Hofstede is one of the most influential researchers in the field of national culture. His model of culture is comprised of five dimensions:
- Power distance
- Uncertainty avoidance
- Individualism vs.. collectivism
- Masculinity vs.. femininity
- Long- vs.. short-term orientation
All societies have inequalities and hierarchies. These stem from such things as natural abilities, social status, education, wealth and legal status. How do cultures deal with these inequalities in their societies? Hofstede developed an index of what he called power distance. Cultures could tend to either have a narrow power distance or a wide power distance. Cultures with a wide power distance are more accepting of inequalities and may even try to emphasize them. Conversely, cultures with a narrow power distance are less accepting of the inequality and try to reduce the effects of inequality on society.
Implications for management –narrow power distance
- Managers accept the need for support from subordinates if they don’t have the answer to a problem.
- Subordinates expect to be consulted.
- Subordinates don’t like being micromanaged.
- Managers expect to work hard to justify their rewards.
Implications for management –wide power distance
- Managers are expected to be autocratic and paternalistic.
- Managers are seen as the sole decision-makers.
- Workers prefer to cooperate with their manager rather than work together on a problem.
- Referent power and coercion are preferred over reward and expert power
Some cultures are more tolerant of uncertainty and ambiguity than others. The members of cultures that exhibit high uncertainty avoidance try hard to predict the future. They value long-term stability and seem risk averse.
Implications for management –high uncertainty avoidance
- Need to create clear rules.
- Job descriptions must be precise.
- Subordinates given little room to take the initiative.
- Managers are expected to be experts rather than facilitators.
- People are less entrepreneurial.
- Managers and subordinates expect job security and detailed retirement planning.
Implications for management –low uncertainty avoidance
- People are more willing to accept change.
- Managers can be generalists and facilitators.
- Senior positions can be held by managers of a younger age.
- People are more risk taking.
- Managers circumvent formal rules and bypass the hierarchy to get things done.
- Foreigners are more likely to be accepted as managers.
- Competition among co-workers is accepted and may even be seen as desirable.
Individualism vs.. collectivism
In individualistic cultures the needs and feelings of individual members of society are given preference over the group. Individuals are expected to be self-reliant and “live and die” by their own efforts.
In collectivist cultures the interests of the group outweigh the interests of the individual. The individual relies more on the group for resources for survival.
Implications for management –individualistic
- Individual has the right to dissenting views.
- Individualism may be expressed through non-conformity.
- Managers aim to have plenty of variety in work tasks.
- Rewards should be weighed towards individual performance and results.
- Competition within the group is tolerated.
- Loyalty can only be counted on for so long as it suits the individual’s interest.
Implications for management –collectivism
- Individuals derive their identity from belonging to a group.
- Loyalty to members of the group is strong and seen as more important than efficiency.
- Managers reward conformity and loyalty.
- There may be less interaction between the groups than in individualistic cultures.
- There may be a high level of competition between groups inside or outside the organization.
Masculinity vs.. femininity
These dimensions are concerned with a culture’s preference for performance or caring.
Implications for management –masculinity
- Gender roles are more sharply divided, with some jobs being male and other female.
- Men and women find it hard to take jobs /be accepted in roles that are not preferred by their gender.
- Society values performance so competition is seen as good.
- Achievement may be signaled by shows of wealth and power.
- Aggressive tactics are seen as the permissible.
Implications for management –femininity
- Less sharply defined gender roles at work.
- Achievement is measures by levels of human contact rather than ostentatious displays of wealth.
- Relating to others is valued over competing with others.
- Outsiders are regarded sympathetically.
- Individual brilliance is regarded with skepticism (who did you tread on to get where you are?).
Long- vs.. short-term orientation – Confucianism
Hofstede later developed his original work by more in-depth studies of Far-East Asian cultures. The result of these studies was an addition dimension based on Confucian values. Hofstede claims that Confucianism has a long-term orientation to life and values virtue over truth.
Implications for management
- Virtue means not spending more than necessary.
- Virtue means trying to acquire a good education and skills so that you can contribute to society and look after your family.
- The family is the prototype of all organizations.
- The virtuous man should not treat others as he would not like to be treated himself.
1. How close is the stereotype?
Where do you think countries fit on Hofstede’s 5 dimensions? You don’t need to be exact, just indicate a tendency towards one or other end of the dimension, or the middle. Check your answers with Hofstede’s data.
S. Korea, New Zealand, Saudi Arabia, Spain, Holland, Brazil, Kenya, Mexico.
2. Imagine that you are part of a project management team that has been sent to India, China or Brazil to build a new chemical factory. You will be working with locals at all levels of management. What are the major management and communication challenges that you might expect to encounter? How will you cope with them? How much adaptation would you expect from the locals and how much should you adapt to the locals?