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Critically Evaluate the Usefulness of Erin Meyer’s Culture Map

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The 21st century is the time of globalization on a previously unknown scale. This has certain consequences, such as the necessity of developing social skills in business. Nowadays, managers are required to communicate more effectively in a culturally diverse environment. Thus, in response to the needs of a rapidly changing world, a whole new research area was created called cross-cultural management. This term is used for “compilation of cross-national comparisons, intercultural interaction and multiple culture studies” (Primecz et al., 2009, p. 267). Researchers and practitioners are highly interested in the development of tools that would enable more effective management in an international environment. Hence, more and more tests, questionnaires and models are being created. These instruments help to understand the effect of cultural differences on management behaviour. One of such tools is the cultural map created by Erin Meyer. The theory has been extensively described in Meyer’s book The Culture Map: Decoding How People Think, Lead, and Get Things Done Across Cultures (2016). The book received many positive reviews from critics and media, and it became one of bestseller business books. However, Meyer’s map credibility might be undermined. The author’s theory stands out from other tools for intercultural management. The essay sets out to explore if Erin Meyer’s culture map is a useful tool for cross-cultural management.

The purpose of this essay is to evaluate practicality of the culture map, by comparing it to another tool – the Intercultural Development Inventory (IDI). In this paper, I will analyse the Erin Meyer’s culture map, review briefly the IDI and assess the usefulness of culture map as a tool in comparison to IDI.

Erin Meyer’s cultural map

Erin Meyer is an American professor at INSEAD, one of the international business schools based in France. Before starting academic work, she was working in a few large corporations, which gave her the opportunity to live in Africa, Europe and the United States. She is a lecturer, an author of books, she also runs a blog devoted to cross-cultural management, and most importantly she created the culture map. The aim of the culture map is to find how particular countries’ cultures are related to each other. From 2014, a 25-question cultural self-assessment is available to the public at www.erinmeyer.com/self-assessment-questionnaire-hbr. Upon answering those questions, the respondent will get the culture map of their profile compared to a country of their origin.

The map has eight different dimensions, which are: communicating, evaluating, persuading, leading, deciding, trusting, disagreeing and scheduling. Figure 1 (Meyer, 2016) captures these eight culture map scales. Every scale positions from twenty to thirty countries along continuum and it is a guide for individuals to locate their countries on a scale. To build the map, Meyer used the existing theories of Edward Hall, Hofstede and other researchers, but most importantly, most of it is based on her own experiences. In her book The Culture Map: Decoding How People Think, Lead, and Get Things Done Across Cultures (2016), she devotes a chapter to each of these dimensions. The chapters contain numerous stories from her life or from lives of the participants of her courses. As the author herself admitted in one of the first chapters, her analysis was also based on “feedback from hundreds of international executives” (Meyer, 2016, p. 19). In the book, reader can find fragments of Meyer’s email exchanges with course participants. These stories are supposed to support map’s usability, but they also make the book more interesting and easier to read for the average reader. However, from a strictly academic context of considering human interacting and communicating in diverse cultural environment, information gathered this way is not a very reliable source for building the theory. Nevertheless, some of the scales distinguished by Meyer are based on the existing theories of other anthropologists.

Figure 1: Erin Meyer’s culture map

The first scale is based on Edward Hall’s concept of high and low-context communication (Hall, 1976). According to this theory, the “communicating” scale is presenting which countries have tendency to communicate nonverbal by reading between the lines (high-context), and which prefer to express messages literal (low-context). The HC-LC theory is widely known in cross-cultural management area and it has been strongly criticized in recent years. One of the biggest objections is that, this theory is defining people before actually getting to know them and it is simply creating stereotypes (Holliday, 2010). However, this theory is a good starting point to a better understanding of intercultural interaction. Moreover, as Stephen B. Ryan (2011) points out – “intercultural theories such as high-low context are perhaps best considered a continuum that individuals fit on at different points in their lifetimes”.

Erin Meyer also uses another Hall’s theory. In her eight scale “scheduling”, she is referring to The Dance of Life: The Other Dimension of Time (Hall, 1983), where Hall notices the differences in societal approaches to time. He distinguished two contrasting approaches to time – monochronic (M-time) and polychronic (P-time). M-time cultures perceive the time as concrete and they are more likely to plan and schedule. This approach is familiar for Western cultures. On the other hand, in P-time cultures, a human interaction is valued over time, which means their approach to time is more flexible. However, the Hall’s theory is often perceived as out-dated. It was built over thirty years ago and things have changed since then. Nonetheless, besides Hall’s theory, Meyer also adopts observation of psychologist Robert Levine. He noticed that some of the cultures barley use clock and they manage day by “events”, while others stick to the time schedule very precisely (Levine, 1997). By putting together Levine’s observation and Hall’s theory, and by adding her own experiences, Meyer created the “scheduling” scale. On this scale, the two opposite ends are linear-time and flexible-time. Countries such as Germany, Japan or Switzerland have been assigned to the linear-time end of the axis, which means that these cultures are focused on the deadline and finishing one task before starting next (Meyer, 2016). Whereas, flexible-time cultures are prone to changing tasks as opportunities arise, because they value adaptability and flexibility. As more “flexible” countries, Meyer mainly positioned Asian and African countries.

The fourth scale was built on research by Hofstede (1991), Robert House and Mansour Javidan (2004). The “leading” scale positions cultures from egalitarian to hierarchical, which are equivalent to the Hofstede’s low power distance and high power distance. The main goal of the scale is to determine level of respect and distance between a boss and a subordinate. Meyer heavily based on Hofstede’s work, therefore, it is impossible to ignore the criticism of the Hofstede’s Power Distance theory. One of the most frequently raised arguments is Hofstede’s research relevancy. For many researchers a survey is not an appropriate tool for collecting data defining cultural disproportions (Jones, 2007). This is also argument that undermines the credibility of the entire cultural map. However, there are other arguments that criticize the work of Hofstede, such as the assumption of cultural homogeneity, or simple fact that the study is out-dated (Jones, 2007).

In contrast to the three scales mentioned before, the remaining five scales are mainly based on observations and experiences of Erin Meyer and her students. On each dimension, Meyer provides stories of misunderstanding, which could be resolved through better understanding of other’s culture. The “evaluating” scale shows the use of direct negative feedback versus indirect negative feedback. Basing on stories, including the story of German finance director of KPMG Marcus Klopfer, the author noticed that the “communicating” scale might be even confusing without considering “evaluating” scale. According to the story in her book (Meyer, 2016), in some low-context countries, such as the United States, negative feedback is given in more diplomatic manner, while some cultures prefer to hear critique directly.

The “persuading” scale relates to the cultural preference of reasoning. Principles-first cultures, also called deductive reasoning, “derives conclusions or facts from general principles or concepts” (Meyer, 2016, p. 93). What is interesting, Meyer devoted the whole subsection, in which she explains the holistic approach to Asian persuasion. She refers in it to study of differences between Asians and Westerners in perception of the world, conducted by professors Richard Nisbett and Takahiko Masuda (Nisbett and Masuda, 2003). Nonetheless, the authors of the study themselves, admitted that although the results of the study is convincing, there is no explanation why cognitive differences occur (Winerman, 2006).

The other three scales are: “deciding”, “trusting” and “disagreeing”. These scales are measuring: how decisions are made within a group – consensual (made in groups) or top down (made by individuals); how trust is built – task-based (through business relation) or relationship-based (through sharing personal time); how disagreement is perceived – confrontational (positive impact) or avoids confrontation (negative impact), respectively.

Admittedly Meyer presents a lot of examples of how the culture map should be used and to whom it might be useful, but the fact remains that for researchers it is not a proper academic tool.

Intercultural Development Inventory (IDI)

Erin Meyer’s culture map is not the only intercultural assessment and training tool for cross-cultural management. Another helpful instrument is Intercultural Development Inventory (IDI). The IDI assesses intercultural competence – ability to effective and appropriate communication with people of other cultures. Intercultural competence is determined by cognitive, affective and behavioural skills that directly shape intercultural communication. Milton Bennett began working on the intercultural competence as one of the first. He developed Developmental Model of Intercultural Sensitivity (DMIS), and his work became a conceptual guidance for the construction of the IDI (Hammer et al., 2003). Bennett (1986, 1993) created the model to explain how people interpret cultural difference. He distinguished six “stages” that individuals seem to use to understand the cultural difference. Figure 2 (Bennett, 2004) illustrates DMIS orientations. The first three stages are ethnocentric, meaning that one sees their own culture as central to reality. The other three stages indicate that individual develops a more ethnorelative point of view, which means that person experiences own culture in the context of other cultures (Hammer et al., 2003). Broadly speaking, more ethnocentric orientations are avoiding or even denying cultural difference. In contrast, ethnorelative point of view assumes accepting the importance of cultural difference.

Figure 2: Bennett’s Developmental Model of Intercultural Sensitivity (DMIS)

The Intercultural Development Inventory is a 50-item questionnaire, which is available online. According to the website https://idiinventory.com, it could be completed in 15-20 minutes. The IDI is mainly used by corporations, non-profit organizations, governments, primary and secondary schools, colleges and universities, which are located in the United States and Canada. The IDI was created based on Bennett’s DMIS theory. Its creators undertook an effort to develop a tool that will be able to measure intercultural sensitivity. In the paper Measuring intercultural sensitivity: The intercultural development inventory (2003), the entire process of creating IDI has been described. The article contains detailed information about samples and tests, which were carried out. Moreover, the results of independent research were also provided. Having said that, it seems that IDI is a reliable tool.

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