The very first time I came across a formal definition of Culture was when I was still in business school. My professor introduced me to Geert Hofstede and his definition of culture:
“Culture is the collective programming of the mind distinguishing the members of one group or category of people from others”
- Individualism vs. collectivism
- Masculinity vs. femininity
- Uncertainty avoidance
- Pragmatic vs. normative
- Indulgence vs. restraint
At that time, I didn’t realize how important such a model can be when I work with clients across geographies and hence, cultures. For example, if I am working with a client from Indonesia, I can go to find out Hofstede’s analysis of Indonesian culture on these dimensions.
The analysis quickly gives me key points that I need to remember while managing my client relationships and delivering the project:
- The high power distance implies that organisations would be dependent on hierarchy, with authority being centralized, leaders being directive, employees expecting to be told what to do and so on. This helps me think about how the project implementation would play out.
- The very low score on Individualism tells me how my client would typically make decisions – consensus. This tells me that I will have to socialize ideas with multiple stakeholders and get them together to make decisions.
- Indonesia has a low preference for avoiding uncertainty, which implies communications in conflicts can be indirect, negative feedback / news is hard to pass and being polite even when one is upset.
The list goes on. Admittedly, this can lead to stereotyping, but it does help me to become sensitive to cultural nuances. This is far more helpful and powerful than cultural etiquette many books / sites talk about – that is external, but Hofstede’s model can give us an inner look. And this is useful for everyone like me, who find themselves in different countries often!