As our companies and societies become increasingly globalized, there is a lot of talk about national cultural differences and how they affect organisational culture.
But does national culture really matter that much? Wouldn’t a strong corporate culture trump a national one? I suspect many will shake their heads at this proposition.
When I was living and working in Denmark, the idea of working past 4:30 was pretty unheard of. I remember clearly sitting in a high stakeholder meeting, with the leadership team of several multinationals present. Sharply at 4:15 pm, one of the CEO’s stood up, said he’s sorry but he has to conclude the meeting for the day as he’s got to pick up his daughter from school. Our American partners were utterly baffled, while the Danes just nodded their heads. After all, for the Danes, it was nothing out of the ordinary and business as usual.
Would this scenario happen in your company? If it would, then there’s a chance your company is operating in a country that is characterized by femininity. As defined by Geert Hofstede, the guru of national culture and its effect on organisations, masculinity and femininity refers to the way a culture values masculine or feminine traits in business. Very simply put, a culture that predominantly values masculinity, will be characterized by a philosophy of ‘living to work’ and all that that encompasses, like emphasis on achievement, wealth and expansion. In contrast, a feminine culture will ‘work to live’ and focus more on relationships, nurturance and quality of life.
Let’s be clear that first of all, this is not a value statement. Whatever the national culture, it doesn’t dictate whether a company will be successful or not. Have you heard of Lego or IKEA? I’ll wager yes – and they’re just a small example of highly successful companies coming from femininity countries.
So, while it doesn’t predict success, what it does predict is the likely strengths and weaknesses in an organisation. Needless to say, it should be of primary importance for leadership to know how to hone in on the strengths and address the weaknesses. Hofstede argues that international managers should see these national cultural differences as the material they have to work with and good leadership will take the cultural strength and weaknesses into account when setting international strategies.
We must remember that unlike national culture which takes generations to change, organisations are more malleable. That is not to say that organisational change is easy – trust me, far from it - but it is doable with the right data, resources and time. The key to keep in mind is that while companies consist of employees that come from different cultures, the common ground that will bind them will be the practices they share in their organisation. The role of management will be to make sure those practices are desirable for company goals, are monitored throughout, and adapted to fit in with the national culture. And in the end, it will be good practices that will keep mixed companies together.
Here at Culture Excellence, we assist companies in assessing and enhancing their organisational culture, but with an appreciation and understanding of national cultural difference. This is also an area that we continue to research in relation to patterns and trends amongst our global clients.
Finally, in this article I’ve only addressed one of Hofstede’s dimensions – but fear not! There are many important dimensions of national cultural difference, and I will be addressing more of them in the coming months.