When I wrote the first post in this series, I knew where the next step would lead. Those who have some grounding in this field of organizational culture will not be surprised that this next step is to look at the work of Geert Hofstede.
Hofstede (pictured) is a Dutch sociologist who undertook research into national cultures and how they interact with, and shape, the culture within organisations. His primary work is entitled “Culture’s Consequences: Comparing Values, Behaviors, Institutions and Organizations Across Nations” and the original edition dates back to 1980.
Hofstede’s initial research was done within IBM, comparing how national cultures varied within the various international operations of IBM. The early research was conducted during the 1960’s and 1970’s – the questionnaire and subsequent framework has continued to be improved and developed since then.
Hofstede created a framework to differentiate national cultures based on four dimensions. Subsequent research and collaboration led to the addition of another two dimensions to the framework. The dimensions are;
- Power Distance – relates to the unequal distribution of power in organizations/institutions. More importantly it looks at this from the perspective of the less powerful party.
- It does not measure who unequal a society is, simply if the less powerful are accepting of autocratic or paternalistic relationships.
Without considering the other dimensions, this one should give us serious food for thought in building and maintaining resilience. Malcolm Gladwell provides an entertaining example of this in his book Outliers: The Story of Success.
Gladwell examines Korean Airlines history with plane crashes – and the strange observation that it happened more with very experienced pilots than it did with less experienced pilots. Compare this to the more recent experience of Qantas where the skill and experience of these senior pilots was seen as a major advantage.
South Korea’s culture has a Power Distance score (or PDI) of 64. The world average is 55. Here is Australia the score is 36, in the USA it is 40. In Hofstede’s terms that means that in Australia we expect a more egalitarian approach, and hierarchy and formal position do not count for a lot. In Korean culture (and those with high PDI scores) they do count for a lot.
In the Korean airline example, it was unacceptable for the co-pilot to contradict the senior pilot, even when what he was doing was clearly incorrect and putting the aircraft in danger. Gladwell highlights their use of what is termed “mitigating speech” to avoid being critical of their more senior colleagues. Clearly the idea that you cannot openly highlight a problem or bad judgement is not consistent with high reliability organisations nor with the idea of resilience.
Ultimately the airline had to radically overhaul the culture to improve their safety record – which included mandating that their pilots speak English (which does not provide for the numerous honorific terms that occur in the Korean language).
- Uncertainty Avoidance – deals with the tolerance of the society for uncertainty and ambiguity.
- How comfortable are we in unstructured situations. High Avoidance means we have strict laws and rules – and a belief in an absolute truth.
- Accepting uncertainty means we are less driven by rules and also more accepting of different opinions.
Here is another dimension that should immediately be an issue for resilience. Adaptive Capacity and the capability to deal with events we have not planned. Of course we could simply define the known risk universe and decree that nothing outside that universe can ever impact us, then we should be ok.
The other two dimensions form the original work are;
- Masculinity vs. Femininity, and
- Individualism vs. Collectivism
- Indulgence vs. Restraint, and
- Long Term Orientation
This last dimension is another I wanted to single out in the context of resilience. It measures the importance attached to the future versus the past or present. A more short-term orientation would focus on immediate stability and a higher value on actions that are affected by the past or the present.
In some ways this may highlight the reluctance in some cultures to accept the need for longer-term planning and thinking around resilience – and our continuing to ‘fight the last war’ – preparing for the risks we have seen in the past.
Interesting that the Long Term scores are highest in East Asian cultures and low in the Anglo world.
I am not suggesting that these dimensions be taken as gospel about any national culture. They are simply an indicator and an indication of how complex this issue of culture is.
It is worth noting that the Power Distance score of the Arab World (which includes Egypt and Libya) is 80. Not the folks you would expect to be complaining about inequality and autocracy!
How do you perceive your national culture and its acceptance of the concept of resilience?