Evaluating the Key Dimensions of National Culture in the UK
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Published: Mon, 5 Dec 2016
The following essay is aimed at evaluating the key dimensions of national culture in the UK using the Hofstede’s model of national culture. The work is divided into seven sections. The last section presents come conclusion points.
There is not a single unified definition of Culture. Some authors utilize only observable characteristics to construct its definition. Some others claim that culture is not tangible but subjective or implicit. Hofstede, on the other hand, describes culture as “mental programming”. Generally speaking, the manner in which the things are done. Culture enables an unconscious infrastructure of basic assumptions and beliefs that operate unconsciously (McSweeney, B., 2002).
Culture definition, then, raises the question: Do nations have culture? There is a significant literature which supports the argument that each nation has a distinctive, influential, and describable culture. National culture is composed of cultural values, cultural forms, propositions, routines, customs, symbols, rituals, and artefacts (Singh, N., 2004). In this fashion, each nation will develop a particular relation to authority, conception of self (including ego identity) and primary dilemmas of conflict and dealing with them (De Mooij, M., Hofstede, G., 2010).
Therefore, evaluating a national culture or defining a reference model for national cultures is a complex task. Researchers have developed sophisticated statistical models to achieve these two objectives. Among them, Hofstede’s classification of cultures has broadly adopted due to the large number of countries he measured in his study and the simplicity of his dimensions which are straightforward and appealing to both academic researchers and businessmen (Venaik, S., Brewer, P., 2010). However, Hofstede’s study has been criticised because it was applied to a small set of people which worked for the same company, IBM, and considered only cultural values (Verbeke, W., 2000). Even though, Hoefsted’s national culture model is broadly studied and employed by marketers, scholars, and business in general (Javidan, M., et al, 2006).
This document is aimed at discussing and evaluating the key dimensions of national culture in the UK using the Hofstede’s model of national culture. The first section provides a general overview of Hofstede’s approach to national culture. The second part provides an insight in the individualism/collectivism dimension of the UK’s national culture. The third division discusses the masculinity/femininity dimension. The forth parcel comments the power of distance dimension. The fifth piece argues the uncertainty avoidance dimension. The sixth portion reviews the long-/short term orientation dimension. Finally, the seventh segment concludes.
Hofstede’s approach to national culture
Gerard H. Hofstede developed a model to approach national culture in early 1980’s. Hofstede defined culture as “the collective programming of the mind that distinguishes the members of one group or category of people from another” (Hofstede and Hofstede 2005 in Migliore, L.A., 2011). His definition was aligned to the classic theory of personality structure and culture. Under the umbrella of this theory, members of a specific culture will internalize communal characteristics and develop a corresponding personality structure. Nevertheless, classic theory also assumes that culture shapes personality. Thus, individuals vary according to cultures (Kirkman, B.L., et al, 2006).
In this manner, Hofstede underpins his study in two concepts of national cultural: Common individual national culture and statistical average. Common individual national culture refers to the common characteristics that individuals share in a particular nation. Thus, a unique national culture is assumed to be individually carried by everyone in a nation. The statistical average, on the other hand, presupposes that the share of national culture is as not necessarily carried by individuals per se, but as a statistical average based on individuals, that is, a national norm or an average tendency (Blodgett, et al, 2008).
Hofstede stated that societies are different along four major dimensions: individualism, masculinity, power distance, and uncertainty-avoidance (Vitell, S.J., et al, 1993). Some years latter (1991) Hofstede and Bond added a fifth dimension, labelled the Confucian dynamism or short-term versus long-term orientation (Chiang, F., 2005). The model provides scales from 0 to 100 for 76 countries for each dimension, and each country has a position on each scale or index, relative to other countries. In general terms, Hofstede’s work is based on “mental programs.” Due to the process of socialization, these mental programs are developed in the family in early childhood and reinforced in schools and organizations, and other areas throughout the lifetime, experiences, and upbringings. Hofstede’s work has been the benchmark for cultural analysis for the last three decades (Orr, L. M., Hauser, W. J., 2008).
However, Hofstede’s model has also been highly criticised. Its constraints can be summed in four points: 1. Lengthy data collection period. 2 The IBM sample (Since all respondents shared a common corporate culture which may distinguish them from the broader national population). 3 Inefficiency of the instrument (the use of attitude-survey questionnaires might not be a valid base from which to infer values). 4 Limited dimensions/Limitation of the instrument and Western bias (the values sampled were not comprehensive; thus the dimensions identified may not be exhaustive (Latifi, F., 2006).
The results of Hofstede’s study are presented in a table. Each dimension is displayed in a column. Results can be read in the following manner:
Individualism/Collectivism: From collectivist (0) to individualist (100),
Masculinity/Femininity: From feminine (0) to masculine (100),
Power distance: From low (0) to high (100),
Uncertainty avoidance: From weak (0) to strong (100), and
Long-/Short Term Orientation: From short (0) to long (100).
Hofstede’s model may not be a perfect, but it is a good way to approach national culture analysis and understand nations in terms of these five dimensions. Its simplicity has underpinned its popularity. Modelling social processes is a hard task, but continual improvement will help researches to find out more accurate and simple models which transmit in an easy manner the reality (Redding, G., et al, 2008).
Individualism/Collectivism measures the strength of the ties people have to others within the community. A high score indicates a loose connection with people. In countries with a high 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 Individualism/Collectivism 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 (Hofstede, G., 2003).
According to Hofstede’s analysis, the UK has a mark of 89 in this dimension and is the number 3 in the global rank (Hofstede, G., 2003). Thus, UK society tends to have high valuation on people’s time and their need for freedom. It also has an enjoyment of challenges, and an expectation of rewards for hard work and a high respect for privacy.
The UK’s individualism can be observed in the number of single-occupancy property number. According to UK’s government, the number has increased a 13% during the last 30 years (BBC, 2004). Individualism has also created a culture which is highly oriented to reward the hard work. As an example, the banking sector in the UK is well known for motivating its employees by granting bonuses according to objective accomplishment. Bonuses are, somehow, a way to pay tribute to people’s time. Government faced a strong resistance after the global financial crisis when conservative faction legislated to finish this practice. Financial institution claimed that reward mechanism was necessary to motivate people to invest their time to achieve firms’ objectives (BBC, 2009).
Another expression of UK’s individualism is the personal-information respect. UK’s data protection laws protects information of any individual regardless his legal or social status. Leakages in private information are seen as major faults (BBC, 2010). The emphasis on the individual rather than the society has also roomed a debate culture which is spread across UK’s society. The typical example is the parliament where each representative is allowed debating his ideas with any other member. Additionally, almost all major legislations are open to debate (BBC, 2010a). Thus, debate culture is easily identified in UK’s people.
From the author’s point of view, individualism is a well known characteristic of Britons. This is perceptible, for instance, when comparing evaluation results. International student tend to share their grades since they want to assess how well they are doing it. But, British students consider this as a rude practice. Britons are very well known for their verbal skills which allow them to debate and argument in a solid manner. Generally speaking, the author agrees with Hofstede’s results in this dimension, since individualism is almost a stereotyped characteristic of the British people.
Masculinity/Femininity determines to how much a society sticks with, and values, traditional male and female roles. High scores are found in countries where men are expected to be tough, to be the provider, to be assertive and to be strong. If women work outside the home, they have separate professions from men. Low scores do not reverse the gender roles. In a society with a low Masculinity/Femininity score, the roles are simply blurred. You see women and men working together equally across many professions. Men are allowed to be sensitive and women can work hard for professional success (Hofstede, G., 2003).
The mark in this dimension for the UK is 66 and the ninth position worldwide (Hofstede, G., 2003).This mark can be considered as even. In this manner, UK people have a well defined distinction between men’s work and women’s work, a woman can do anything a man can do, and powerful and successful women are admired and respected.
Women rights evolution can be tracked since 1860 in the UK. They have acquired relevant positions in the government and private sector. For instance, the UK’s head of the state, the queen Elizabeth II, has been on charge since 1952 (59 years). There are also another politicians and business women who are well known and admired (BBC, 2010b). However, there are still some activities which are considered as women duties. For example, housekeeping and children care (The economist, 2010).
According to author’s opinion, the UK offers equal opportunities to men and women. This is assured by the equality laws and the Government equalities office. Even though, within the families women still play a traditional role. They receive the same education than boys, but they are also trained to look after their children in the future. Thus, education in girls is seen as a complement of their main duties. In one hand, women are given the same opportunities than men, but in the other hand women have not been detached to the maternity role. Women, at work, are more independent and highly compromised with business objectives, thus, they are seen as trustworthy collaborators. Nevertheless, UK’s public and private sector should work more to ensure women the same status as men (BBC, 2006). The combination of all these conditions explains why UK’s mark is in the middle of the scale. Masculinity dimension rank may decrease, but it will require the involvement of all society actors, educational programs, and time.
Power Distance measures the degree of inequality that exists, and is accepted, among people with and without power. A high score indicates that society accepts an unequal distribution of power and people understand “their function” in the system. Low score means that power is shared and well dispersed. It also means that society members view themselves as equals (Hofstede, G., 2003).
UK scores 35, thus its global position is the 44 (Hofstede, G., 2003). This mark implies that UK’s organizations have almost flat structures, thus, bureaucracy has been reduced to optimum levels. Supervisors and employees are considered almost as equals, thus, accountability is evenly distributed. In this manner, public and private bodies can be flexible, dynamic, and resilient. Teamwork is also considered a valuable competency. Alongside, the decision making process is highly inclusive since it involves as many people as possible.
An example of this distribution of power can be found in the government dependencies which are spread across the country (BBC, 2009a). Teamwork is taught since early education stages. The objective is to combine individuals’ capacities in order to create a comprehensive body which can deal with a broad range of scenarios and challenges. Team sports are a clear example of the emphasis on teamwork. Team sports are part of the educational system and are intensively promoted in the UK’s schools (BBC, 2008).Talking about decision-making process, participation is encouraged in private and public institutions. In private sector, employees are managed to express their opinions about firm’s strategies via corporative communication tools (BBC, 2009b). In the public sector, people have several communication channels to get involved in the decision making process. Major changes in legislation, for instance, are open to involved parties in order to gather as much information as possible. Based upon feedback, representatives amend, reject, or approve laws (BBC, 2010a).
In author’s opinion, UK’s people present a mixture of centralized and decentralized characteristics. Some parts of the government, for instance, are capable to take action without any central permission, but there are some others which have necessarily to ask to central branches authorization to proceed. In the same manner, not all legislations are open to consult, thus, not all decisions are collectively made. It is worth to say that these comments do not undermine Hofstede’s results. The aim of this opinion is to point out that UK’s characteristics cannot be clearly classified since the whole system is a combination of central and distributed power. In conclusion, the author endorses Hofstede’s result in this dimension.
Uncertainty Avoidance evaluates the degree of anxiety society members feel when in uncertain or unknown situations. High scoring nations try to avoid ambiguous situations whenever possible. They are governed by rules and order and they seek a collective “truth”. Low scores indicate the society enjoys novel events and values differences. There are very few rules and people are encouraged to discover their own verity (Hofstede, G., 2003).
In this dimension UK was rated 35 and its place in the study is the 48th (Hofstede, G., 2003). Thus, people in the UK have an informal business attitude, that is, they pay more attention to the essence rather than the form of the business. In this manner, a business objective can be achieved in relaxed business environment. UK’s society is more concern with long term strategy than what is happening on a daily basis. Another of their characteristics is the change and risk acceptance. UK’s people face the change and propose options to change their current scenarios with the implied risks. An interesting feature is that they need and expect a structure or framework in order to identify their field of action. Plans, then, should be clear and concise about expectations and parameters.
A clear example of long term vision can be identified in governmental programs which propose actions to cope with national problems. For instance, legislations and development plans. Well fare and banking reform are examples of these strategies (BBC, 2011). UK’s interest in frameworks is evident in the creation of standards to standardize products and service activities. British standards are well known worldwide; some of them have become de facto standards for some industries (BSI, 2011). Finally, UK’s change acceptance and resilience can be found in the bail-out strategies that government put in place to cope the Global Financial Crisis of 2008. UK was one the most affected countries. However, regulatory bodies analyzed the situation and proposed a series of measures to minimize the crisis effects and avoid future ones (Carmassi, J., et al, 2009).
The author agrees Hofstede’s results. British planning culture is palpable in daily life from bus stops to school schedules. UK’s orientation to strategy can be seen as a result of the Individualism dimension since the respect for others time manages all society actors to coordinate activities. On the other hand, work environments are relaxed because people are objective oriented. That does not mean that firms are anarchically managed, but authority is exercised in a way that allow everyone to accomplish their objectives. Finally, UK’s procedural vocation has aligned and standardised several industries worldwide, thus, it is clear that Hofstede’s evaluation clearly reflects the UK’s Uncertainty Avoidance dimension.
Long-/Short Term Orientation
Long-/Short term orientation estimates how much society values long-term, as opposed to short term, traditions, and values. This dimension was added by Hofstede in the 1990s after finding that Asian countries with a strong link to Confucian philosophy acted differently from western cultures. In countries with a high score, delivering on social obligations and avoiding “loss of face” are considered very important (Hofstede, G., 2003).
UK’s index value is 25 and its place in the analyzed countries is the 29th (Hofstede, G., 2003). Societies with a low index of Long-/short term orientation promote equality, high creativity, and individualism. This implies that they are not very attached to customs and traditions. People treat others as equals and self-actualization is sought. Society members are respectful of others and do not hesitate to introduce necessary changes, in other words, they are very dynamic.
UK’s society is plenty of examples if this constant innovation and change. UK’s music industry is well known for producing not only new popular bands, but also for introducing new musical styles. Entrepreneurship has allowed the country to improve and invent machinery, sports, devices and services which have impacted the world history. Promotion of equality has fuelled reforms which have been adopted by the rest of the countries. Customs and traditions change from generation to generation allowing the invention or introduction of new ones (BBC, 2011a).
The author agrees with Hofstede’s evaluation. UK’s continual improvement is tangible in all aspects of daily life. For instance, entrepreneurship is seen as an important quality, since it is the perfect way to be creative and independent at the same time. As a result, innovation in technology, literature, finance, and regulation is a present in a constant basis. However, the change in traditions has roomed questions about national identity. British identity is difficult to track since each generation is altering the status quo. Thus, British national identity is always evolving and cannot be isolated as a static body of ritual, rules, and artefacts. Finally, the respect of others is an appreciated value in UK’s society, which from the author’s standpoint, has been the foundation stone of the whole society and has shaped its current state.
Hofstede’s model provides a simple manner to compare two different societies. The five dimensions outline general characteristics of the analyzed countries. Even though, some authors claim that the study was based on biased information. Detractors have criticized the statistical methods, but they have not challenged the approach. It is possible to evaluate more dimensions, but information analysis would become complex and diffuse. Social researchers argue that cultures cannot be compared. However, these studies are required by globalization. Hofstede’s results should be understood as generalizations of societies and have not to be used to encourage stereotype creation. Finally, the ultimate goal of Hofstede’s analysis was to understand each other a little more and, in this manner, contribute to the construction of a better and durable nation relationships.
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