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Culture's Consequences

Culture's Consequences

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Published by Komal Makkad

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Published by: Komal Makkad on Sep 28, 2012
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Culture’s Consequences
People carry “mental programmes” which are developed in the family in earlychildhood and reinforced in schools and organisations. IT is these mentalprogrammes that contain a component of national culture. The book “Culture’sconsequences” identifies four main dimensions along which dominant valuesystems in 40 countries can be ordered and which affect human thinking,organisations, and institutions in predictable ways. The book is based on alarge research project on national culture differences across subsidiaries of amultinational corporation in 64 countries. The four dimensions surveyed and discussed are: Power Distance, UncertaintyAvoidance, Individualism and Masculinity.1.
Power Distance
 The first of the four dimensions of national culture is called Power Distance. This dimension is about the extent to which the less powerful members of organizations and institutions accept and expect that power is distributedunequally. Thus, the basic issue involved, to which different societies havefound different solutions, is human inequality. Inequality can occur in areassuch as prestige, wealth, and power; different societies put different weightson status consistency among these areas. Inside organizations, inequality inpower is inevitable and functional. This inequality is usually formalised inhierarchical boss-subordinate relationships. According to Mulder’s PowerDistance Reduction theory, subordinates will try to reduce the power distancebetween themselves and their bosses and bosses will try to maintain orenlarge it. The present study, however, suggests that the level of powerdistance at which both tendencies will find their equilibrium is societallydetermined. Given on the following page is a summary of connotations of power distance index (PDI) differences found in the survey research byHofstede.
Summary of Connotations of PDI DifferencesLow PDI CountriesHigh PDI Countries
Parents put less value on children’sobedience.Parents put high value on children’sobedience.Students put high value onindependence.Students put high value on conformity.Authoritarian attitudes in students area matter of personality.Students show authoritarian attitudesas a social norm.Managers seen as making decisionsafter consulting with subordinates.Managers seen as making decisionsautocratically and paternalistically.Close supervision negativelyevaluated by subordinates.Close supervision positively evaluatedby subordinates.
Excerpted by Prof. Madhavi Mehta from “Culture’s consequences” by G. Hofstede (1980) for classroomdiscussion.
Low PDI CountriesHigh PDI Countries
Stronger perceived work ethic; strongdisbelief that people dislike work.Weaker perceived work ethic; morefrequent belief that people dislikework.Managers more satisfied withparticipative superior.Managers more satisfied with directiveor persuasive superior.Subordinates’ preference formanager’s decision-making styleclearly centered on consultative give-and-take style.Subordinates’ preference formanager’s decision-making stylepolarised between autocratic-paternalistic and majority rule.Managers like seeing themselves aspractical and systematic; they admit aneed for support.Managers like seeing themselves asbenevolent decision makers.Employees less afraid of disagreeingwith their boss.Employees fear to disagree with theirboss.Employees show morecooperativeness.Employees reluctant to trust eachother.Managers seen as showing moreconsideration.Managers seen as showing lessconsideration.Students have positive associationswith “power” and “wealth”.Students have negative associationswith “power” and “wealth”.Mixed feeling about employees’participation in management.Ideological support for employees’participation in management.Mixed feelings among managersabout the distribution of capacity forleadership and initiative.Ideological support among managersfor a wide distribution of capacity forleadership and initiative.Informal employee consultationpossible without formal participation.Formal employee participationpossible without informal consultationHigher-educated employees holdmuch less authoritarian values thanlower-educated ones.Higher-and lower-educated employeesshow similar values about authority.
Consequences of National Power Distance Index Differences forOrganisationsLow PDIHigh PDI
Less centralisation
Greater centralisation
Flatter organisation pyramids
 Tall organisation pyramids
Smaller proportion osupervisory personnel
Large proportion of supervisorypersonnel
Smaller wage differentials
Large wage differentials
High qualification of lowerstrata
Low qualification of lower strata
Manual work same status asclerical work
White-collar jobs valued morethan blue-collar jobs.
2.Uncertainty Avoidance
 The second dimension of national culture has been labelled “uncertaintyavoidance.” This dimension deals with a society’s tolerance for uncertainty andambiguity. Uncertainty about the future is a basic fact of human life withwhich we try to cope through the domains of technology, law and religion. Inorganizations these take the form of technology, rules and rituals. Thepervasive share of ritual behaviour in organizations is only rarely recognised,and most organization theories, except those of March, have no place for it. The data indicate that the tolerance for uncertainty varies considerably amongpeople in subsidiaries of the same organization in different countries; the threeindicators used are rule orientation, employment stability, and stress. Thethree together produce a country Uncertainty Avoidance Index. Theories assuming rational behaviour tend to be normative. They include (1)theories of decision-making under uncertainty, (2) contingency theories, and(3) theories of strategic behaviour. In the case of 
decision-making under uncertainty 
, operational research offers statistical tools to put certainty backinto decisions, by making one certain of how uncertain one is. Thispresupposes, however, a continuity of events – that is, a relatively certainenvironment. The
contingency theories
consider uncertainty as an input whichshould affect the structure and functioning of the organization (Burns andStalker, 1961; Lawrence and Lorsch, 1967). What I called
theories of strategicbehavior 
strategic planning, strategic management) are normativeapproaches to the management of organizations in very
certainenvironments; environments that are called “turbulent” or “discontinuous”(Ansoff, 1978). Theories allowing for non-rational behaviour tend to be descriptive rather thannormative. Important contributions to theories about non-rational ways of dealing with uncertainty have been made over the past 20 years by James G.March and his colleagues. In March and Simon (1958) it is recognised that “inthe case of uncertainty, the definition of rationality becomes problematic.” This same study suggests that organizations maintain an environment whichlooks relatively certain to their members by “uncertainty absorption”: theyabsorb uncertainty through a limitation of the concepts available for analysingand communicating about the organization’s problems: The world tends to be perceived by the organization’s members in termsof the particular concepts that are reflected in the organization’svocabulary (March and Simon, 1958:165).Cyert and March, in their
Behavioural Theory of the Firm
(1963), use theexpression “uncertainty avoidance.Organizations avoid uncertainty in twomajor ways. First, They avoid the requirement that they correctly anticipate events in thedistant future by using decision rules emphasising short-run reaction toshort-run feedback rather than anticipation of long-run uncertain events. They solve pressing problems rather than develop long-run strategies.

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