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Dr. Geert Hofstede™ Cultural Dimensions

 

The following Opinion Article is reprinted courtesy of the European Business Forum, a joint initiative of the Community of European Management Schools and PricewaterhouseCoopers.

The EBFonline is an excellent resource for international managers, international business students, and business school teachers.

 

 

'In my opinion' - Mikael Søndergaard on 'Cultural differences' by Mikael Søndergaard

 

I have followed the debate on Hofstede’s work on crosscultural phenomena in business organisations since about 1986. One part of this activity was reported in a research note (1994). More developed replications have been published in Hofstede (2001).

 

The debate concentrates mainly on five points:

 

1) surveys are inappropriate instruments to measure culture,
2) unit of analysis of nations is not the best unit suited for studying culture,
3) one company can’t provide information about entire national cultures,
4) the IBM data is old and obsolete,
5) four dimensions can’t tell the whole story.

 

Professor Brendan McSweeney’s article presents a combination of 1, 3 and 4 and concerns mainly issues of a methodological nature.

The cross-disciplinary nature of Hofstede’s work is bound to create reactions as more disciplines discover his work. Professor McSweeney addresses a number of classical pitfalls in cross-cultural empirical research.

 

McScweeney rightly points out that the sampling technique used in the IBM study to provide samples of national populations failed to represent well the profile of various countries involved. This would have been a serious mistake if, for instance, the study had been on consumer behaviour. Cultural values can’t be equated with consumer goods picked up in a supermarket. An average cultural phenomenon does not make any sense. Cultural values and behaviours need to be related to a system of meaning. Collectivist behaviour in Latin America and Asia, for instance, has to be understood in a context, although the logic may be of a similar nature for an individualist mindset.

 

In short, when we study values we compare individuals, as Professor McSweeney assumes. But when we study cultures, we compare societies, as Hofstede does. When we study the cultural implication of values, we need the context as well to obtain the identity of a human group, human collectivities or categories.

 

Context is incorporated in Hofstede’s study as the IBM material was analysed on a group level. The indexes developed were based on group level averages and ecological factor analysis. For an illustration of the dramatic implications of different level of analysis see Hofstede, Bond and Luk (1993).

 

The Hofstedian argument is about differences between cultures of modern societies. Such societies have many distinct subcultures, e.g. professional, educational and age-based ones. It does not make much sense to compare English nurses with Danish policemen. It makes sense to compare Danish and English policemen. To compare a matching set of subgroups, we need to ask whether they fulfil the same function in society or in the organisation. (Berry, 1969)

 

The populations of IBM subsidiaries in different countries were selected as a result of a matching sampling technique of functional equivalences. These IBM samples were atypical samples of their country. Being atypical does not matter as long as they were atypical in the same way across countries. Here is a matter of some concern in relation to the recruitment pattern in collectivist societies of strong and developing economies. It is unclear to me whether the young Japanese staffer hired by IBM in the late 1960s was atypical in the same way as young Peruvians. A certain individualist bias for Japan can be expected when the Hofstede dimensions are used to compare other national cultures to the Japanese work culture. In any case, the western bias in the atypical sub sampling was clearly illustrated by Hofstede and Bond (1988) when they found a fifth dimension of cultural differences between societies.

 

Hofstede’s work has become an influential classic because of the massive support of the IBM results. The IBM results were supported quantitatively and qualitatively by hundreds of studies in different disciplines. The validation of the IBM scores was widely demonstrated in Hofstede (1980). In the second edition, (2001) the IBM results are further supported by large replications and by the correlations with external phenomena with over 400 significant regression coefficients.

 

Hofstede’s model is a demanding model for the user to apply in an effective way. The very special nature of the IBM study has confused or enraged many who have learned from statistical textbooks that factor analysis has been done on individual data. They would find it inconceivable or wrong to do it on group level data. Hofstede did it because it was central to the main argument of his theory to demonstrate differences between national groups, not profiles of such groups.

 

The role of the stories in Hofstede (1991) is to help the reader develop a mental framework to get the central idea of the various dimensions and relate these to own experiences. They are authentic illustrations rather than documentations of the points. The 1991 book is meant to communicate the argument to a broader readership.

 

The arguments of the McSweeney critique were neither new nor unanswered previously. The core of the debate is a methodological one with practical implications for executives who consider what to do with the issue of studying cultural differences, for instance, in cross-border mergers. Hopefully, executives will be getting ideas of how to evaluate research strategies of others who will do a large scale and often expensive study for them.

 

This debate demonstrates the need to keep in mind the fit between research problem and choice of methodology.

 

References

Berry, J.W., 1969, On cross-cultural comparability, International Journal of Psychology, 4, 119 - 128.

Hofstede, G. and Bond, M.H., 1988, The Confucius connection: From cultural roots to economic growth, Organisational Dynamics, 16, 4 - 21.

Hofstede, Geert, 1994(1991), Cultures and Organisations: Software of the Mind, London: McGraw-Hill.

Hofstede, Geert, M.H. Bond and C.L. Luk, 1993, Individual perceptions of organisational cultures: A methodological treatise on levels of analysis, Organisational Studies, 14, 483 - 503.

Hofstede, Geert, 2001, Culture's Consequences, Second Edition, Comparing Values, Behaviors, Institutions, and Organisations Across Nations, Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications.

Søndergaard, M., 1994, Hofstede's Consequences: a study of reviews, citations and replications, Organisation Studies, 15, 447 - 456.

 

Mikael Søndergaard is Associate Professor, University of Southern Denmark.

 

 

The above Opinion Article and is reprinted courtesy of the European Business Forum, a joint initiative of the Community of European Management Schools and PricewaterhouseCoopers.

The EBFonline is an excellent resource for international managers, international business students, and business school teachers.

 

 

More on Dr. Geert Hofstede's work >>> Click Here

 

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. . .

 

From 1967 to 1973, while working at IBM as a psychologist, Geert Hofstede collected and analyzed data from over 100,000 individuals from 50 countries and 3 regions

 

Subsequent studies validating the earlier results have included commercial airline pilots and students in 23 countries, civil service managers in 14 counties, 'up-market' consumers in 15 countries and 'elites' in 19 countries.

 

From the initial results, and later additions, Dr. Hofstede developed a model that identified four primary Dimensions to assist in differentiating cultures: Power Distance, Individualism, Masculinity, and Uncertainty Avoidance.

 

Geert Hofstede added a fifth Dimension after conducting an additional international study with a survey instrument developed with Chinese employees and managers.

 

That Dimension, based on Confucian dynamism, is Long-Term Orientation and was applied to 23 countries.

 

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