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Cultural Differences and People Management

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Hofstede, Hall and Trompenaars see the world as composed of national cultures with ‘distinctive values, languages, management stules, and ways of doing business’ (Holden, 2002:226). How useful do you think this approach is for today’s interconnected and fluid business world?


Nowadays, interacting with people from foreign cultures is part of our daily routine. In fact, thanks to the expansion of technologies such as the internet, and the evolution of the transports, it is usual to be confronted to different civilisation. The main anthropologists ruled that the world was constituted by cultures with many distincts habits and way to react. The precursor, Geert Hofstede, argued that a culture value is defined on five different cultural dimensions (1984). Later, Fons Trompenaars (1997) used this idea of compartmentalisation and developed a model of cultural analysis.

We could ask ourselves if the approach of seeing the world “as composed of national cultures” with different habits and behaviours is usefull for the present business. In fact, it is still a relevant data to take into consideration. However, this approach has to be nuanced due to the criticisms. Indeed, the world globalization head toward an unification of the cultures.

I – A world seen as composed by different cultures

As said above, it is now ordinary to be faced with overseas customs. In the business world it is also really present and it can ensue some communication problems or misunderstandings. This is obvious that it is a new challenge that might be faced in today’s world. This is a huge investment to take, especially for international companies to sensibilize their workers to understand and learn about the different cultures. Most of the Hoftede’s contemporaries agree with the statement that each nation has a distinct, highly describable and which influe on the daily life. In the words of Hickson and Pugh (1995): ‘it shapes everything’. Each anthropologist used to create a different way to differenciate cultures. Parsons and Shils (1951) highlight the importance of the culture in everyone’s life. Their studies led to conclude that one of the important aspect in a decision making is the cultural level. By looking further, according to the sociologist A. Inkeles and the psychologist D. Levinson (1954), there is in each nation a “national character”. That means that in each person, we could find a common type of personnality that is representative of the society. They want to emphazise that each culture is unique and different.

It is clear than every culture has evolved in different ways during the last centenaries. Therefore, aspects like food, the perception of the time, way to be dressed, religion, respect, and more, are still proper to each country. Sometimes that could be disturbating. In fact, some habits cannot be understood by someone from an other culture. Hofstede is the pioneer on the research about cultural differences. Therefore, we are going to compare France and the United Kingdom through the anthropologist dimensions, showing that there is huge differences between those two countries which are not even geographically far.

The two countries are connected on two points. They are individualist, which means that they give priority to the individual rather than the community. They are also both in a short term orientation; they prefer the traditional way of doing things. The divergences are flagrant on the power distance. In France, the high score shows that inequalities are accepted. From childhood, French people are raised to be dependant of everyone, they have to be obedient. This results on an average of two hierarchy levels on companies whereas English societies are not that graduated. It laid to a high percentage of corruption. In fact, 58% of the French companies have been touched by briberies. On the contrary, British people try to minimize inequalities.

The difference can also be seen on the uncertainly avoidance. The high French score means that people prefer to be well informed in any situation, or business, to master as much as possible subjects. In the everyday life it is express with a need of a lot of rules and laws. It comes out as higher stress, anxiety or neuroticism. The English are more day-to-day decision making and more flexible. Finally, with the welfare system, the 35 working hours a week or the 5 holiday weeks a year, France distinguish to be a feminine society. French people try to maintain a balance between family and work. British people, with their high success oriented way of life, are more masculine.

Even if the Hofstede’s inquiries are still relevant, they are now obsolete. All the researchers above are outdated as said Mead (1994). They highlight good points and it is still obvious that cultural differences is clearly a huge point which have to be considered. However, a phenomenon was unknown and so the results are skewed. This event is called the Globalization.

II – A world heading in a acultural society ?

The term globalization indicates the process of the integration of markets and the mergers of people, which results in particular from the liberalisation of the exchanges like goods, workforce, knowledges, the expansion of the competitors and the effects of the information technologies and communication on a global scale. Besides to be express by the inreasing interdependence of savings, it shows itself by the expansion of the exchanges and the human interactions.

Many searchers think that the cultural globalization is a long-term process. This is a system which touch and disrupt the economy and the social, but also lead to a cultural standardisation of every countries. It affects the unique side of each culture as it becomes more and more similar from the one to the others. We can notice an uniformisation of the values, standards and way of life on a worldwide level. The standardisation can be seen in several grades. First of all in the values echelon, some characteristics are now ordinary in most of countries such as the individualism, the materialism, the fight for equity or democracy. About the consumption standards we can see that all over the world we consume the same products. We find important international companies everywhere such as McDonalds or Coca Cola. Regarding the fashion side, the occidental style is broadcasting, such as jeans. The occidental life style is also more and more common, with the urban way of life characterized by the architecture which is standardised around skyscrapers. The technologies have taken an important place in everyone’s life, which is an important method of broadcasting. The woman’s statue is evoluating too as she can now works. The leisures are also common as the mondial enthusiasm for some sports like the football.

We can go further and even talk about an Americanization of the world. This world supremacy comes from different aspect. The first one is the economical one. In fact, the American continent, especially the United States, is the first world’s economic force. There is also a politic pillar. Called the “World Police”, they have a huge influence on international organisms such as the FMI. English is the most talked language in the world. It can be seen since school, every not native English speaker has to learn english at a very early age. I am, myself, in London this year to improve my English as I know it is really important in the business world nowadays. Furthermore, the USA is the perfect example of a cosmopolitan country because from its beginning it was made by a melting pot of differents cultures. This strenght is conveyed by medias, the cultural products are broadcast all over the world. The products which are the most internationalized, the main innovations, the money which is the most exchanged i.e.. are from the US.

We could wondering how this cultural standardisation settled down. Several factors explain it. The free-trade agreement facilitates the exchange of products on a global level. The companies’ strategy is also a cause. To create economies of scale, societies try to sell on a worldwild level. In order to have success, they create products which could be appeal to the largest audience and create an universal taste by standardizing the needs thanks to advertisements. Thanks to the development of air traffic, cultural meetings and tourism have been facilitated. Finally, the Occidental hegemony over the media like the TV, internet, movies, helps this culture to be broadcasted.

All the points seen above carry new terms which are the acculturation and the deculturation. The first term indicates all the sociocultural changes caused by a prolonged and direct contact between groups with different cultures. When the acculturation leads to a destructuration of one of the two cultures in contact, it results to a deculturtion. This is a danger that has to be faced to avoid losing all the cultures to have just a big one. It is important to preserve distinct customs, even if sometimes it can bring to misunderstanding. We have to focus on keeping a rich world as it is now and not to arrive to a banalisation of our planet. Cultures bring an identity to every person, to be different from the other and as we are still humans and not robots, it is important to cling to proper values and habits. Those one which shape an unique person and personnality. It is with different persons that we could grow up and learn more about the world and life, criticise, judge, discover, shape our way of thinking, debate, take the best, forgetting the bad things. This process of thinking is only possible if it several cultures are remaining. Also, it would be annoying if everyone is the same.

Hofstede is the pioneer on researches about cultural differences. However he has been critisized a lot. The first thing that is important to notice is that his own dimensions have evoluated through time. The anthropologists wrote a new book in 2010 modifying them. It can be also seen on his website where he actualises his data. He changed himself, his way of thinking. Now, there is 6 dimensions, and the ones which was before, have been changed. Moreover we could wondering if it is not too limited to have made his studies in only one company. In fact, as said Robinson in 1983, it is not representative to drawn from a single company where we could only find middle-class employees. Monir Tayeb (1996) protested the methodology that used exclusively questionnaire, which, she argues, is not appropriate for studying cultures. Trompenaars (1997) had found anomalies in Hofstede’s studies. For instance, the Germanic corporate culture had more power distance that Hofstede’s essay propose. For Roberts and Boyacigiller (1984), the team who work with Hofstede’s was culturally biased. In fact, it only had Europeans and Americans even though the proper studies was about countries from all over the world.

Anthropologists used to think that each culture is totally different. However the globalisation drive to an occidentalisation of the world. Because of the long and direct contacts that is due to the globalisation between cultures, companies are continually borrowing in other cultures. They reinterpret. Globalisation lead to a constant evolution of cultures. For instance we draw on foreign recipe but we adapt it to our own tastes. It is obvious in McDonald restaurants where the hamburgers are different from a country to an other. This cultural readaptation allows the cultural differenciation to persist despite the uniformisation tendancy. So it is still important to consider cultural differences, especially in the business world. However, since the anthropologists studies, younger generations are converging toward a common set of values. The countries retain specificities and I think it would be a shame and annoying to deal with an aculturate world.

We could wondering if, now that China become more and more powerful, is it possible to go through a “Chinasation” of the world ?


David John Hickson, Derek Salman pugh, 1995. Management worldwide, Distictive styles amid Globalization. Penguin Books. Geert Hofstede, 1984. Culture’s Consequences: International Differences in work-related values. Berverly Hills, CA: Sage. Dimensions – Geert Hofstede. 2014. Dimensions – Geert Hofstede. [ONLINE] Available at France – Geert Hofstede. 2014. France – Geert Hofstede. [ONLINE] Available at

UnitedKingom – Geert Hofstede. 2014. United Kingdom – Geert Hofstede.
[ONLINE] Available at Alex Inkeles, Daniel J Levinson, 1969. National Character: The study of modal personality and sociocultural systems. New York: Mc Graw-Hill (first published 1954). pp 417 – 506. Richard Mead, 1994. International Management – cross-cultural Dimensions. Cambridge: Blackwell Publishers Talcott Parsons, Edward Shils and Neil J Smelser, 1951. Toward a general theory of action: theorical foundations or the social sciences. Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press. K.H. Roberts & N. Boyacigiller, 1984. Cross national organizational research: The grasp of the blind men. In L. L. Cumminngs and B.M.Stw (eds.) Research in organizational behaviour. Vol. 6, Greenwich, CT: JAI Press, PP.455-488 R.V. Robinson. Geert Hofstede: Culture consequences: International differences in work-related-valued. Work and occupations. 10, 110-15 Roland Robertson, 1994. Globalization: social theory and global culture. London: Sage publication. Pp 33-61 Marcelo M Suarez-Orozco, 2004. Globalization: culture and education in the new millenium. Berkeley: University of California Press. Monir Tayeb, 1996. The management of a multicultural workforce. New york: John Wiley & Sons. Alfons Trompennars, 1993. Riding the waves of culture; understranding diversity in global business. London, UK: Economist Books

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