national culture a passageway with multiple countries' flag

Lost in Translation Part 3: National Culture

In our previous inSite, we introduced the concept of organizational culture and its impact on a company’s overall productivity. Yet, another key factor with the power to influence culture within an organization is national culture. In the third installment of our Lost in Translation series, we’ll explore the different elements of national culture and how to identify where your country stands.

So what is National Culture? Professor Hofstede and his research team considered culture as “the collective programming of the mind distinguishing the members of one group or category of people from others,” which led them to identify six dimensions of culture that distinguish one nation from another.

Six dimensions of National Culture
Six Dimensions of National Culture

Power Distance

  • This dimension expresses the “measure of interpersonal power or influence between the Boss and the Subordinate as perceived by the less powerful, i.e. the subordinate” (Hofstede 2001, p. 83). As an example within an organizational framework, those belonging to societies that exhibit a significant degree of Power Distance accept a hierarchical order more readily. In contrast, those belonging to a low Power Distance society strive to equalize the distribution of power and demand justification for inequalities of power.

Individualism vs. Collectivism

  • This dimension describes the function and importance of an individual’s relationships in a particular society. For instance, members of an Individualist society might prefer a loosely-knit social framework in which they only expect to care for themselves and their immediate families. Individualistic cultures tend to emphasize freedom and personal achievements. In contrast, members of a Collectivist society are more relationship-oriented, preferring a tightly-knit social framework highlighting group cohesion and communal achievements.

Masculinity vs. Femininity

  • Also known as the “tough versus tender” cultural difference, this dimension assesses the influence gender may have on different emotional and social roles. In a traditional sense, masculine societies tend to have more rigid expectations of gender. In contrast, feminine cultures tend to have a more fluid understanding of gender roles. A masculine-oriented culture expects men to be assertive and competitive and women to be nurturing. A feminine-centric culture expects men and women to cooperate and prioritize quality of life. Within the corporate framework: organizations with high masculinity tend to promote competitiveness, emphasize personal accomplishments, and treat managers as heroes. Organizations with low masculinity encourage teamwork and a sense of equality.

Uncertainty Avoidance

  • This dimension expresses the degree to which members of a society feel uncomfortable with ambiguity and how they cope with uncertainty. The crux of this dimension zeroes in on how a community (in our case, an organization) deals with unknown variables, i.e., weighing the options of attempting to control the future or letting nature run its course. Within corporate cultures, organizations that rank high on the Uncertainty Avoidance Index tend to be task-oriented, have a stronger sense of loyalty to the organization, and express strong hierarchical control. Organizations that rank on the lower end of the Uncertainty Avoidance Index tend to employ relationship-oriented people who express some reluctance toward new technology and change overall.

Long-term vs. Short-term Orientation

  • This dimension pinpoints the degree to which a society prioritizes time when setting goals. For example, future-facing societies are those oriented in the short term, i.e., emphasizing quick results, individualism, and the bottom line. Conversely, societies that are long-term oriented tend to value persistence through adversity, planning for the future, and relationships dictated by respective statuses. This dimension is identified within a corporate context as a normative versus pragmatic approach to business.

Indulgence vs. Restraint

  • This dimension is a newer addition to Hofstede’s model. It addresses the degree to which a society allows “relatively free gratification of basic and natural human desires related to enjoying life and having fun,” measured using “indulgence” points on a scale in proportion to a society that “controls gratification of needs and regulates by means of strict social norms” (Hofstede 2011). Understanding where societies land on the index may help an organization work out cultural kinks during expansion. Members of an ‘indulgent’ society tend to perceive their personal life within their control. In contrast, members of a society in which restraint is a cultural value tend to perceive the events that unfold in their personal life as something beyond their control.

What’s Next?

Are you curious about how U.S. national culture is defined within these six dimensions? Click here for our interpretation. Curious about how your own country is defined within these dimensions? This handy online tool provides an estimation!

Otherwise, stay tuned for Part 4! In it, we will suggest some strategies for assimilating into the culture of the country you’re expanding to.

For previous installments: Part 1, Part 2.

[1] Country Comparison