Culture has taken a prominent place in business and in marketing, and in particular in the 21st century. Market growth, in affluent and well-developed countries has slowed, and attention has turned towards emerging countries, and in particular it has moved to the growing middle class. However, we know little about how to compete effectively in these markets: in fact, our understanding of other cultures is often very limited because of the complexity that each culture hide. The concept itself of culture is vague and slippery. We could define culture as the shared ideas, customs and social behaviour of a particular group or society. The four major elements of culture can be:
- institutions (the family and political institutions)
- material productions (artistic, intellectual, factories, machinery, banks…)
- symbolic productions (sacred elements, religion)
Still, this definition fails to catch the dynamic and changing aspect of culture: it evolves, due to pressures as globalisation and immigration.
In order to overcome stereotypes ideas of societies, and to better achieve a clearer and useful communication, many models have been developed.
The Hofstede Model
Geert Hofstede, author of Culture’s consequences and Cultures and Organizations, uses five dimensions to describe company cultures:
- Power Distance Index (PDI) is the acceptance of the unequal distribution of power – the degree to which employees are independent, structures are hierarchical, bosses are accessible, people have rights or privileges, progress is by evolution or revolution (the higher the index, the more the distance to power).
- Uncertainty Avoidance Index (UAI) is the degree to which people can take risks, accept conflict and stress, work without rules. Eg, Japan (92%) and Ukraine (95%) are the least cautious countries.
- Individualism/Collectivism (IDV) is the degree to which people work in groups or alone, relate to their task or to their colleagues. Eg, Italy, France, Australia, USA are very individualist, Spain and China are in the middle, Colombia is very group-based.
- Masculinity/Femininity (MAS) is the degree to which people believe in consensus, put work at the centre of their life, expect managers to use intuition. Eg, China and Japan belong to the masculinity set of behaviour (more competititve), whereas Buthan and Senegal are more feminine (thus consensus-oriented).
- Long-Term Orientation (LTO) is the degree to which people have a short- or long-term view of their work, accept convention, persevere with a job, spend or invest. Eg, from the most conservative to the least we find: China, France, Italy, Vietnam, Ukraine, Spain, Portugal.
This model has been defined as the most comprehensive and it’s used in international marketing, negotiation and management. The focus is, cross cultural communication is achieved acknowledging differences.
The Trompenaars Model
Fons Trompenaars in his book Riding the waves of culture describes culture as a onion: we can peel it, it’s made of layers.
He uses seven dimensions to describe different corporate cultures:
- Universalism vs Particularism, following rules vs believing in individual cases and exceptions.
- Individualism vs communitarianism, personal qualities and originality vs loyalties and duties to the group.
- Specific vs diffuse, sticking to facts and data relating to the case vs using general feelings.
- Neutrality vs affectivity, controlling your emotions in a professional way vs showing them and becoming involved.
- Inner-directed vs outer-directed, controlling and directing your environment vs being influenced by it and coordinating it.
- Achieved status vs ascribed status, what you do is important and bring status vs who you are and what your contacts are.
- Sequential time vs synchronic time, doing things one by one, step by step vs doing things all at the same time.
The Mole Model
The Mole model takes its name from John Mole. After graduating at the Oxford University, he traveled Europe for 15 years in behalf of an American bank. With this knowledge, he wrote “Mind your Manners”. In his book he focused on the fundamental differences of European organisational cultures, differences as beliefs and behaviors that influences the working structure (See the Prezi presentation clicking here). To a better understanding of his model, we must explain the culture triangle, composed by communication, leadership and organisation. This system enables individuals and groups to deal with each other and the outside world.
Organisation is the set of values about the organisation and the role of individuals within it; leadership is the set of values related to the ones encharged (the leaders).
The communication (which is given by language, humor, oral styles and body language) is inherent to the other two categories and it will depend on the behavior adopted in each of them.
We have two different leadership styles and different organisation structures. The leadership style can be:
- Individual based, where we have an autocratic and directive leader. This takes almost all decisions without consulting others and it’s based on top-down structure.
- Group based, where we have a democratic and participative leadership based on bottom-up structure. This leader usually takes the final decision only after a group consensus.
The company structure can be:
- Organic, a structure in which the company and not the individual matters so roles are not strictly defined, which allow things to develop in a natural way.
- Systematic, a rational structure with a functional hierarchy which clearly defines roles.
In overall, we can say that everyone has is cultural differences, as we saw with the other model, and those differences will affect the corporate culture. However, whatever culture they belong to, everyone does what works best for themselves and their group. The only success criterion of a culture is how effective it is in ensuring its survival and prosperity.
The Hall Model
In his books The silent language and Understanding cultural differences, E. T. Hall distinguishes between pairs of contrasting cultures:
- High context and low context: in the first people speak indirectly, show respect and maintain harmony (they consider rude be too direct); in the second instead people speak directly and say what they mean (they are suspicious of people who speak indirectly (Japan, Saudi Arabia, UK vs USA and Germany).
- Monochronic cultures and polychronic culture: in the first people like to do things one at a time and in sequence; in the second people prefer to do many things at the same time.
- Information can be at a fast slow or a slow flow.
- Space dimensions are low territoriality (no burdens with other people) and high territoriality.
Anyway, time has changed and other phenomena like immigration and globalisation have determined the overcoming of the model.
All these models give us a comprehensive and useful set of tools to evaluate and understand not only other cultures, but also our own. As Pellegrino Ricardi said in this TED talk, across borders culture is not about pointing differences but extending your own borders: that’s a global mindset.
- notes of Doing Business In an International Context course, UPEC