Applying Hofstede’s Principles to Cultural Audits

June 22, 2012

A cultural audit is an extremely important process for the development of training processes and international staffing at the global level.  Most companies that offer multilingual translation services know the importance of cultural understanding and its strong link to global sales. However, it is often difficult for professionals to fully comprehend cultural values that are dramatically different from their own. The Hofstede Principles, detailed below, provide a systematized explanation of common cultural variables. These fives dimensions of culture work on a sliding scale and will aid in the cultural audit of any target market. 

1. Individualism vs. Collectivism
Summary: This cultural dimension describes the degree to which people of a given culture generally value personal responsibility over collective effort. The U.S., the Netherlands, and the UK rank as highly individualistic cultures. Indonesia and many West African nations fall at the opposite end of the spectrum, favoring group effort and reward.
Effect on Training: If your cultural audit reveals that you are dealing with a highly collective culture, an environment that fosters teamwork should be established since employees will thrive when working in conjunction with their organization towards a common goal.

2. Power Distance
Summary: This factor indicates the extent to which individuals in a given culture feel separated from one another by rank or social hierarchy. Power distance is more pronounced in Arab and Asian countries but much less obvious in Northern Europe and the United States.
Effect on Training: When a cultural audit shows that a given culture ranks high in power distance, any form of training that deals with coaching should be discarded or at least, severely minimized. This is because coaching establishes an interpersonal dynamic in which one person holds more knowledge than the other, making a fluid relationship between them virtually impossible in these cultures.

3. Masculinity vs. Femininity
Summary: Masculine cultures such as Japan, favor competitiveness, assertiveness and adherence to objective facts. Cultures considered more feminine such as the Netherlands, would probably prefer a more dynamic, inclusive working or training environment.
Effect on Training: There is a strong correlation between these values and the role of women in society. A more dramatic difference is found between gender roles in masculine cultures than in societies that rank as feminine.

4. Uncertainty Avoidance
Summary: This cultural value involves the preference of a structured environment with clearly-defined rules over a more flexible system that is open to interpretation. Cultures that rank high in uncertainty avoidance are less comfortable taking risks.
Effect on Training: A culture at the lower end of this spectrum, according to your cultural audit, will generally be more pragmatic, open to change, and willing to work in unstructured environments.

5. Long term oriented vs. Short term oriented
Summary: Western European cultures are the most short-term oriented societies and will want to be trained in skills that are specifically relevant to their job and can be applied with immediate results.
Effect on Training: Employees from long term oriented cultures like China will be comfortable developing a more varied skill set as long as they believe it will help them sometime later in their career.

Check out these links to learn more about Hofstede’s cultural dimensions and how you can apply them:

If you would like additional information on this topic or have questions on planning and executing your next translation or multilingual initiative, contact us today for a free 30-minute consultation or call us at (800) 413-7838.

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