Cross Cultural Theories

  • Post last modified:20 September 2021
  • Reading time:15 mins read

There are various cross cultural theories that define the cross-cultural dimension. The most prominent and most extensively quoted theory is of Greet Hofstede’s theory of the cultural dimension of National Cultures.

Cross Cultural Theories

  1. Hofstede’s Dimension Theory
  2. Hofstede’s Contribution to International Management
  3. Trompenaars & Hamden-Turner’s Seven Dimensions of Culture
  4. Kluckhohn & Strodbeck’s Cultural Demensions

Hofstede’s Dimension Theory

One of the commonly used cultural dimensions is Geert Hofstede’s Cultural Dimensions, where cultural data was initially collected from IBM employees from 70 countries, then further enhanced with data from commercial airline pilots and students in 23 countries, civil service managers in 14 countries, “up-market” consumers in 15 countries and “elites” in 19 countries.

The contributions from all this research data validated earlier findings and helped Hofstede to develop a model that identifies four primaries Dimensions of Culture to assist in differentiating cultures. A fifth dimension was added after conducting an additional international study developed with Chinese employees and managers and was applied to 23 countries.

Power Distance Index – PDI

PDI refers to the degree of inequality that exists – and is accepted – especially by the less powerful members of a group, organization, institution or society. A high PDI score indicates that society accepts an unequal distribution of power and that people understand “their place” in the system. Low PD means that power is shared and well dispersed. It also means that society members accept themselves as unequal.

In organizations, an illustration of a high PDI score is generally represented as a highly vertical hierarchical pyramid. Subordinates are often told what to do and do not feel entitled to discuss the decisions of their superiors.

  • High PDI also means that the higher a person is in the hierarchy, the more difficult this person is to approach. Barriers can be in the form of persons such as secretaries who serve as ‘gatekeepers preventing access to the manager or symbols such as the executive dining room which is separate from the staff cafeteria.

  • Low PDI would be found in organizations with a flatter hierarchical pyramid. Subordinates and superiors are in a more collaborative relationship and hierarchy tends to be perceived as a distinction of a task rather than of persons.

According to Hofstede’s model, in a high PDI country such as Malaysia (104), you would probably send reports only to top management and have closed-door meetings where only a select few, powerful leaders were present.

CharacteristicsTips
High PD• Centralized companies

• Strong hierarchies

• Large gaps in compensation, authority, and respect
• Accept the power of a leader

• You may need to go to the top for answers
Low PD• Flatter organisations

• Supervisors and employees are considered almost as equals
• Use teamwork

• Involve as many people as possible in decision making
Table 1: Power Distance Dimension

Individualism – IDV

IDV refers to the strength of the ties people have to others within the community. A high IDV score indicates loose connections.

  • In countries with a high IDV score, there is a lack of interpersonal connection, and little sharing of responsibility beyond family and perhaps a few close friends.

  • A society with a low IDV score would have strong group cohesion, and there would be a large amount of loyalty and respect for members of the group. The group itself is also larger and people take more responsibility for each other’s well being.

IBM respondents were asked to grade how important work goals were for choosing an ideal job. Independence from the organization was interpreted as an indicator of respondents individualism and they preferred to be managed as individuals who chose work goals dependent on the organization were seen as expressing collectivist characteristics –a preference for being managed as a member of an in-group (the organization).

Illustrations of Individualism in the workplace can be found in employees preference to be able to work independently and to praise individual decision-making. Collectivism can be seen in the preference for the collective organization of work and responsibility.

Hofstede’s analysis suggests that in the Central American countries of Panama and Guatemala where the IDV scores are very low (11 and 6, respectively), a marketing campaign that emphasized benefits to the community or that tied into a popular political movement would likely be understood and well-received.

CharacteristicsTips
High IDV• High valuation on people’s time and their need for freedom

• An enjoyment of challenges and an expectation of rewards for hard work

• Respect for privacy
• Acknowledge accomplishments

• Don’t ask for too much personal information

• Encourage debate and expression of own ideas
Low IDV• Emphasis on building skills and becoming masters of something

• Work for intrinsic rewards

• Harmony more important than honesty
• Show respect for age and wisdom

• Suppress feelings and emotions to work in harmony

• Respect traditions and introduce change slowly.
Table 2: Individualism vs Collectivism Dimension

Masculinity – MAS

MAS refers to how much a society sticks with, and values, traditional male and female roles. High MAS scores are found in countries where men are expected to be “tough,” to be the provider, and to be assertive whereas females tend to express preferences for the interpersonal aspect of work (‘working with people who cooperate well with one another, ‘having a good working relationship with your manager’).

These differences relate to gender role patterns present in many societies. Hofstede labels this dimension as Masculinity versus Femininity. This dimension expresses values such as assertiveness of the person (Masculinity) and care and attention to the social surroundings (Femininity).

Japan is highly masculine with a score of 95 whereas Sweden has the lowest measured value only 5. According to Hofstede’s analysis, if you were to open an office in Japan, you might have greater success if you appointed a male employee to lead the team and had a strong male contingent on the team. In Sweden, on the other hand, you would aim for a team that was balanced in terms of skill rather than gender.

CharacteristicsTips
High MAS• Men are masculine and women are feminine

• There is a well-defined distinction between men’s work and women’s work
• Be aware that people may expect male and female roles to be distinct.

• Advise men to avoid discussing emotions or making emotionally based
Low MAS• A woman can do anything a man can do

• Powerful and successful women are admired and respected
• Avoid an “old boys’ club” mentality

• Ensure job design and practices are not discriminatory to either gender.

• Treat men and women equally.
Table 3: Masculinity vs Femininity Dimension

Uncertainty Avoidance Index – UAI

This relates to the degree of anxiety society members feel when in uncertain or unknown situations. High UAI-scoring nations try to avoid ambiguous situations whenever possible. They are governed by rules and order and they seek a collective “truth.” Low UAI scores indicate the society enjoys novel events and values differences. There are very few rules and people are encouraged to discover their own truth.

From the IBM employees’responses, Hofstede found that some questions provided an indicator of employees’(in) tolerance of ambiguity. He argued that a high Uncertainty Avoidance is expressed for example, by a company’s need for regulations which endeavor to minimize uncertainties in the behavior of its employees.

Company rules are seen as something that ‘should not be broken, even when the employee thinks it is in the company’s best interest’. In such an environment, work stress is often high. Conversely in a low Uncertainty Avoidance work environment, work stress is lower as employees seem to be less affected by uncertainty such as security of employment.

Hofstede’s Cultural Dimensions imply that when discussing a project with people in Belgium, whose country scored a 94 on the UAI scale, you should investigate the various options and then present a limited number of choices, but have very detailed information available on your contingency and risk plans. (Note that there will be cultural differences between French and Dutch speakers in Belgium.

CharacteristicsTips
High UAI• Very formal business conduct with lots of rules and policies

• Need and expect structure

• Sense of nervousness spurns high levels of emotion and expression

• Differences are avoided
• Be clear and concise about your expectations and parameters

• Plan and prepare, communicate often and early, provide detailed plans and focus on the tactical aspects of a job or project

• Express your emotions through hands gestures and raised voices
Low UAI• Informal business attitude

• More concern with long term strategy than what is happening on a daily basis

• Accepting of change and risk
• Do not impose rules or structure unnecessarily

• Minimize your emotional response by being calm and contemplating situations before speaking

• Express curiosity when you discover differences
Table 4 : Uncertainty Avoidance Dimension

Long Term Orientation – LTO

This refers to how much society values long standing –as opposed to short term –traditions and values. This is the fifth dimension of national culture that Hofstede added in the 1990s in another study designed to counterbalance the potential Western bias of the IBM questionnaire after finding that Asian countries with a strong link to Confucian philosophy acted differently from western cultures. In countries with a high LTO score, delivering on social obligations and avoiding “loss of face” are considered very important.

Hofstede’s interpretation of the two poles of this dimension is the unique importance given to values ‘fostering virtues oriented toward future rewards’(e.g., ‘persistence, perseverance’) as opposed to values ‘fostering virtues related to the present and past’(e.g., ‘stability’, ‘respect for tradition’). Hofstede adopted this cultural dimension as ‘Long-term versus Short-term Orientation’.

According to Hofstede’s analysis, people in the United States and United Kingdom have low LTO scores. This suggests that you can pretty much expect anything in this culture in terms of creative expression and novel ideas. The model implies that people in the U.S. and U.K. don’t value tradition as much as many others, and are therefore likely to be willing to help you execute the most innovative plans as long as they get to participate fully. (This may be surprising to people in the UK, with its associations of tradition.)

CharacteristicsTips
High UAI• Family is the basis of society

• Parents and men have more authority than young people and women

• Strong work ethic

• High value placed on education and training
• Show respect for traditions

• Do not display extravagance or act frivolously

• Reward perseverance, loyalty, and commitment

• Avoid doing anything that would cause another to “lose face.”
Low UAI• Promotion of equality

• High creativity, individualism

• Treat others as you would like to be treated

• Self-actualization is sought

• Be respectful of others
• Expect to live by the same standards and rules you create

• Do not hesitate to introduce necessary changes
Table 5 : Long Term vs Short Term Dimension

Hofstede’s Contribution to International Management

Hofstede’s contribution to management is worth mentioning where he could identify cultural dimensions with hard data and made comparisons across countries to show the culture’s consequences in managerial behaviors.

Previously, culture was viewed as a soft dimension that couldn’t be quantified nor measured. Hofstede changed this perception of culture and showed that culture is composed of recognizable dimensions, centered on values and relatively stable over time. Hofstede shows that national cultures and be perceived and measured through 5 dimensions which have implications to management and performance of firms.

These dimensions are said to be universal because they appear to be fundamental issues with which all societies have to cope and have implications in work places. Power Distance deals with human inequality, Uncertainty Avoidance with the level of stress caused by an unknown future, Individualism versus Collectivism deals with individuals’relationships with primary groups, Masculinity versus Femininity relates to emotional role differentiation, and finally, Long-Term versus Short-Term Orientation deals with people’s choice of focus for their actions.

Hofstede’s definition of culture presents ‘traditional’ (i.e. historically derived and selected) ideas and especially their attached ‘values’as ‘the essential core of culture’(Kroeber and Kluckhohn, 1952: 181). Individuals raised in a society have acquired components of the national culture and its implicit values to which they are exposed from early childhood. Culture is learned partly unconsciously; cultural values are deep-rooted.

This is what Hofstede calls the ‘mental programming’that influences people’s thinking and action. He argues that this mental programming is at the source of differences in management practices across countries.

Strengths of Hofstede’s work

  • The information population (IBM employees) is controlled across countries, which means comparison can be made.
  • The connotations of each dimension are highly relevant. The questions asked in the questionnaire relate to issues of importance to international managers.
  • No other study compares national cultures in so much detail.

Weaknesses of Hofstede’s work

  • First, concerns have been raised regarding Hofstede’s methodology (the use of a survey questionnaire, the original IBM sample and a mismatch that can be perceived between some dimensions and their measurement).
  • A second theme is the choice of nation to study culture (not respecting multicultural nations).
  • A third one is the obsolescence of the data (collected between 1967 and 1973).

Trompenaars & Hamden-Turner’s Seven Dimensions of Culture

Like Hofstede, Trompenaars (1997) also proposed comparing countries using cultural dimensions. The Seven Dimensions of Culture were identified by management consultants FonsTrompenaars and Charles Hampden-Turner, and the model was published in their 1997 book, “Riding the Waves of Culture.

Trompenaars and Hampden-Turner concluded that what distinguishes people from one culture compared with another is where these preferences fall on each of the following seven dimensions:

  1. Universalism versus Particularism
  2. Individualism versus Communitarianism
  3. Specific versus Diffuse
  4. Neutral versus Emotional
  5. Achievement versus Ascription
  6. Sequential Time versus Synchronous Time
  7. Internal Direction versus Outer Direction

Kluckhohn & Strodbeck’s Cultural Demensions

Kluckhohn and Strodtbeck and their research associates identified a set of six basic cultural orientations with two or three possible variations each. The six value orientations are:

  1. Relationships to nature: People have a need or duty to control or master nature (domination), to submit to nature (subjugation), or to work together with nature to maintain harmony and balance (harmony).

  2. Beliefs about human nature: People are inherently good, evil, or a mixture of good and evil.


  3. Relationships between people: The greatest concern and responsibility is for one’s self and immediate family (individualist), for one’s own group that is defined in different ways (collateral), or for one’s groups that are arranged in a rigid hierarchy (hierarchical).

  4. Nature of human activity: People should concentrate on living for the moment (being), striving for goals (achieving), or reflecting (thinking).

  5. Conception of space: The physical space we use is private, public, or a mixture of public and private.

  6. Orientation to time: People should make decisions with respect to traditions or events in the past, events in the present, or events in the future.

Hall’s Cultural Dimensions

Edward T. Hall (1981, 1990), a noted American cultural anthropologist, has proposed a model of culture based on his ethnographic research in several societies, notably Germany, France, the US, and Japan. His research focuses primarily on how cultures vary in interpersonal communication, but also includes work on personal space and time.

These three cultural dimensions are summarized in the table below:

Cultural DimensionsScale Anchors
Context: Extent to which the context of a message is as important as the message itself.Low context: Direct and frank communication; message itself conveys its meaning. Examples: Germany, US, ScandinaviaHigh context: Much of the meaning in communication is conveyed indirectly through the context surrounding a message. Examples: Japan, China.
Space: Extent to which people are comfortable sharing physical space with others.Center of power: Territorial; need for clearly delineated personal space between themselves and others. Examples: US, JapanCenter of community: Communal; comfortable sharing personal space with others. Examples: Latin America, Arab States.
Time: Extent to which people approach one task at a time or multiple tasks simultaneously.Monochronic: Sequential attention to individual goals; separation of and personal life; the precise concept of time. Examples: Germany, US, Brazil, Arab States.Polychronic: Simultaneous attention to multiple goal; integration of work and personal life; the relative concept of time Examples: France, Spain, Mexico,

GLOBE Project’s Nine Dimensions of Culture

Finally, in one of the most ambitious efforts to study cultural dimensions, Robert House led an international team of researchers that focused primarily on understanding the influence of cultural differences on leadership processes (House, Hanges, Javidan, Dorfman, and Gupta, 2004). Their investigation was called the “GLOBE study”for Global Leadership and Organizational Behavior Effectiveness. In their research, the GLOBE researchers identified nine cultural dimensions.

The nine dimensions are:

  • Assertiveness: The United States, Austria, Germany, and Greece are high; Sweden, Japan, and New Zealand are low.

  • Future Orientation: A propensity for planning, investing, delayed gratification: Singapore, Switzerland, and the Netherlands are high; Russia, Argentina, and Italy are low.

  • Gender Differentiation: The degree to which gender role differences are maximized: South Korea, Egypt, India, and the China are high; Hungary, Poland, and Denmark are low.

  • Uncertainty Avoidance: A reliance on societal norms and procedures to improve predictability, a preference for order, structure, and formality: Sweden, Switzerland, and Germany are high; Russia, Bolivia, and Greece are low.

  • Power Distance: Russia, Thailand, and Spain are high; Denmark, the Netherlands, and Israel are low.

  • Institutional Collectivism (individualism vs. collectivism): Promoting active participation in social institutions: Sweden, South Korea, and Japan are high; Greece, Argentina, and Italy are low.

  • In-group/family collectivism: A pride in small-group membership, family, close friends, etc.: Iran, India, and China are high; Denmark, Sweden, and New Zealand are low.

  • Performance Orientation (much like achievement orientation): Singapore, Hong Kong, and the United States are high; Russia, Argentina, and Italy are low.

  • Humane Orientation: An emphasis on fairness, altruism, and generosity: Ireland, Malaysia, and Egypt are high; Germany, Spain, France, Singapore, and Brazil are low.

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