Understanding human behaviour has interested us at all times. Psychologists, philosophers, historians, artists and others have all made their contributions to describing the human behaviour. Hofstede was one of the first, in the 1960’ies to look at human behaviour from a cultural perspective and he developed a 4-dimensional framework. He did his empiric research on a small group of people and clustered them in nationalities and described the differences between these people based on nationality and Hofstede generalised it into that all people from that country shared these values. Hofstede’s framework became popular because it gave an easy to understand explanation on why we had cultural conflicts. Unfortunately a lot of consultants, students and companies are still using this simplified view and I have written this short article because I want you to think at least twice before you try to explain human behaviour using Hofstede’s framework.
Why you should not use Hofstede
- If you think Hofstede’s empirical research matches the variety of the population then think again. His research was based on the male, white IBM employees in the 1960’ies. How diversified do you think that group of people is? I can assure you that this group of people is not very diversified. IBM had a very strong corporate culture and either you fitted in or you left. And again – only white men’s cultural preferences were researched.
- People who are referring to Hofstede when they are trying to make a point are assuming that the national culture is only or dominating culture that influences peoples behaviour. That is a false assumption. Each of us has many different identities. You have a gender identity, an age group identity, a professional identity, a family identity, a religious identity, a political identity, a social group identity and many many more. One of the exercises we do when we do our workshops is to help people to find out how many identities they have. Most people have around 20 identities that they are aware up and rarely the national identity is the most dominant one. In Gugin we have worked with hundreds of organisations over the years on assessing and developing cultural identities and resolving cultural conflicts and we have never been in a situation where differences in national cultures have been the main reason for a cultural conflict. Instead, it has been differences in profession cultures, job function cultures and differences in age groups.
- One of the main dangers of using a simplified view on cultural differences like the one Hofstede proposes is that you end up stereotyping. If the only tool you have is a hammer then everything you see will be a nail. I have watched numerous presentations on Hofstede’s dimensions. They are particularly entertaining right after dinner at a conference because the entertainment value is quite high when you present stereotype views on different nationalities. People laugh and are having a great time. But at the end of the day, you haven’t brought people closer to each other and you haven’t provided ideas on how we can synergies from the cultural diversity. Instead, we have fed the devil in our minds with the idea that we are better than the others and created a cultural canyon instead of building a bridge.
- When I ask why an organisation or a consultant chooses to use Hofstede’s dimensions I often get the answer that it is the best there is. This is simply not true. In fact, I will argue that Hofstede’s framework is the worst you can use if you really want to help your organisation or client forward.
The world and its inhabitants are far more complex and in Gugin we believe in reconciling the differences instead of outlining the differences that may not even be real. I will be happy to share with you how we do it, but it is too comprehensive for the format of an article.
What should we do instead?
If you use Hofstede’s dimensions you end of with isolated clusters of people. In Gugin we want to facilitate the opposite, namely, how do you synergize from cultural diversity and make multicultural organisations more attractive, better performing and more competitive then monocultural organisations.
Based on our experiences with working around the globe making companies benefitting from the cultural diversity and our research projects my recommendations are the following:
- Launch initiatives to elevate the level of cultural intelligence in the organisation. If you have low cultural intelligence you will always stereotype, because it is the only tool you have.
- A positive consequence of being culturally intelligent is that you broaden your mind. You will be able to understand and deal with more complex cultural dilemmas and most importantly you will refrain from falling into the trap of using stereotypes
- Many factors influence a person’s behaviour, not only culture. So if a person from a different culture behaves weird it does not necessarily have anything to do with that person’s cultural origin.
- Be curious instead of condemnatory. We all have a different set of identities, values, norms and basic assumptions. We cannot judge another person’s behaviour based on our own norms and values.
What to know more about:
Cross-Cultural Leadership Development:: Read
How Gugin can coach you to become a better leader of multicultural teams :: Read
Book a Speech or Workshop on a better way to address cultural differences
Dr Finn Majlergaard has worked with hundreds of companies around the world leveraging the cultural diversity. Book him for a speech or workshop on how you can work with cultural diversity and cultural synergies in a better and more holistic way
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WE ARE SPECIALISED IN:
- Facilitating the organisational- and cultural integration after a merger or acquisition.
- Develop and implement internationalisation strategies with the focus on how to take advantage of the cultural diversity.
- Cultural change management.
- Facilitate development of a corporate culture that effectively supports the strategy and objectives of the company.
- Global leadership development.
- Organisational effectiveness assessment, which helps our clients to identify the cultural friction.
- Cultural due diligence.
- Cultural risk management.
- Improving communication and knowledge sharing in international organisations.
We are specialised in helping companies succeed across cultures, by reconciling the differences and turn them into sources of Synergy. Our clients are companies who are moving into new areas, companies who are going through a merger or acquisition or companies who need to become better at utilising the cultural diversity within their own organisation.
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