Managers in multicultural firms often have to face cultural differences, which can slow down the successful completion of projects within the company. Hofstede and Trompenaars suggest a set of cultural values that could affect people's way of thinking, feeling, and acting and thus organizations' and institutions' way of acting in the global world and by the way explains in which way cultures are different or similar dealing with some particular issues.
Hofstede's approach highlights various grounds of similarity and difference between cultures. These axes are the degree of masculinity or feminity , the degree of uncertainty avoidance , the proximity towards individualism and collectivism , the distance to power , the long term or short term orientation and a sixth one has been added : the trend to indulgence or restraint
Masculinity versus feminity :
According to Hofstede cultures can be gathered together depending on their degree of masculinity and feminity. A culture in which the dominant values are material success that's to say the search of money, material possessions, competition but also stress on equity and performance is a masculine one. In this kind of society managers are expected to be decisive and confident. On the contrary, cultures said to be feminine ones emphasize on values such as solidarity, equality of the work life and more generally speaking in people's whole life. In this kind of society managers use intuition and are looking for coming to an agreement.
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This concept could be seen as the extent to which people feel threatened by ambiguous circumstances and have created beliefs and institutions to avoid it. Countries avoiding uncertainty have many rules but also a low level of tolerance of uncommon ideas and a high level of resistance to changes. On the contrary, countries with a low score of uncertainty avoidance promote innovative ideas and have few rules but a higher level of tolerance of outstanding ideas than the previous category.
Proximity towards individualism or collectivism
Hofstede also points out the difference between individualistic and collectivistic societies .In an individualistic society people only trust on themselves and bonds between every person are very weak. Everyone is expected to look after their own well-being and nothing more. On the contrary, collectivistic societies foster people to build strong, cohesive bonds with other citizens .In a high individualistic society task prevails over relationships whereas in high collectivistic societies relationships prevail over tasks
Distance to power
This notion corresponds to the way that the less powerful part of the society accepts that power is unequally distributed. In a society where there is a low power distance, managers should be democratic whereas in a society with high power distance the manager should be a benevolent autocrat. This distance may be easily assessed by observing hierarchy in firms.
Long-term versus short-term orientation
Short-term oriented societies generally strongly aim at establishing the absolute truth. They respect traditions and aim at achieving quick results. In long-term orientation societies, people believe that truth depends on the situation, the context and the era. For this reason, they adapt traditions to their moving environment.
Indulgence versus restraint
An indulgent society is a society that allows gratification of l human needs related to enjoying life and having fun.Â A restraint society is a society that avoids gratification of needs and regulates it by setting up strict social norms.
Hierarchical order :
Everybody has a place
Subordinate want to be told what to do
No defense against power abuse
Need hierarchy but is not existential.
Formal attitude towards managers
Hierarchical. information flow
"Liberty and justice for all."
Frequently shared information
Informal , direct and participative communication
Loyalty is central element and overrides other societal rules and regulations.
Strong relationships where everyone takes responsibility for team members
Always on Time
Marked to Standard
Low commitment but cooperative relations with colleagues
Personal relationships prevail over task and company.
Take care of themselves and immediate family
Contract-based relation with work: focus on tasks and autonomy.
Interest on themselves and their family.
Independent employees taking initiatives.
Decisions based on merit or capacities
MASCULINITY / FEMINITY
Masculine society :
Live to work
Managers are expected to be decisive and confident
Equity, competition performance
Care for quality of life
Work in order to live
Competition amongst colleagues is not favored
Strive to be the best they can be
Free talk about success
Work to earn more and reach higher status
Individual conflicts resolution
Goal is to win.
Avoiding uncertainty :
Rigid codes of belief and behavior
Need for rules , time is money
Inner urge to be busy and work hard
Resistance to innovation
Security is important
Low uncertainty avoidance.
Adapt laws and rules to the situation
Academic work to reach the truth
Rules and security
Lack of rules creates stress.
Importance of planning
Importance of innovations
Willingness to try something new or different
Freedom of expression.
Less emotionally expressive
LONG TERM ORIENTATION
Highly long term oriented
Persistence and perseverance
Short term oriented
Tradition, norms and truth.
Self-reliance, personal achievement, hard work
Traditions, social obligations, performance on the short-term
Search of the "absolute truth"
In their model Trompenaars and Hampden-Turner try to explain cultural differences in organizations and to show in what way managing these differences in a multicultural business environment is a major challenge for managers, who have to deal with this issue. They outlined seven points that distinguish every cultures one another.
Universalism or pluralism
The difference between the two types of society is linked to the importance given to laws or personal relationships. In a universalistic culture, people believe that general rules, codes, values and standards are more important than friends and other relationships. In a pluralistic culture, on the contrary, people see culture in terms of friendship and intimate relationships. Indeed rules also exist in a pluralistic society but they merely codify relations among people.
Individualism or communitarism
This question is represented by the degree to which people see themselves as a unique person or as a community member. An individualistic culture is composed by persons who place themselves before the community. This means that their own happiness, accomplishment and wellbeing prevail .Moreover, in that kind of society people take their own initiatives and only take care of themselves. On the contrary in a principally communitarian culture, people place the community before the individual. For this reason, every person has to act in a way that has to be useful for their society and thus ensures their own achievement.
Specific or diffuse
This topic can be determined by the degree to which people's responsibilities are specifically assigned or are generally accepted. In a specific culture, every person analyses first and then the whole team puts their first analyses together. Thus the whole can be seen as an addition of all its components .Interactions between every community members are clearly defined. On the contrary, a diffusely oriented culture emphasizes on relationships between its members rather than on its members themselves.
Affectivity or neutrality
This issue corresponds to the degree to which individuals express their feelings. In an affective culture, people don't hide their feelings, while in a neutral culture, people are taught to keep their feelings for themselves .Thus, only few feelings are showed to others even they are felt. There is a higher notion of control of people's feelings.
Inner directed or outer directed
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In an inner-directed culture, people have a mechanistic vision of the world and the nature. Even she might look as something complex it might be controlled and dominated thanks to knowledge. In an outer-directed culture, people see the nature as a changing element. People should live in harmony with their environment and hence adapt themselves.
Achieved status or attributed status
In a culture with achieved status, people deserve their status according to what they have accomplished. Status can be seen as a reward for the time and all the efforts spent to achieve a goal. On the contrary, in a culture with attributed status, people get their status thanks to birth, age, gender or wealth that's to say according to personal characteristics.
Sequential time or synchronic time
In a sequential time culture, people do one thing after another whereas in a synchronic time culture, people do several things at the same time. Then, Trompenaars divides this notion into three subparts:
The first type of subculture is a past-oriented culture, which sees the future as a repetition of previous events and experiences. People in that type of society are respectful for ancestors and historical events.
The second type of subculture is a present-oriented culture, which emphasizes on present facts and doesn't attribute to much importance to the past or the future.
Finally the third type of subculture is a future-oriented culture, which focuses on future plans.
In a nutshell, both works of Hofsteede and Trompenaars aim at helping managers to improve their comprehension of intercultural differences when they have to cope with international projects .Indeed, a better understanding of team member's culture is a first step to reduce the risks of cultural driven misunderstandings and conflicts but also to understand how consumers in different countries might response to a product.
Benefits and challenges from the current global world
Nowadays governments, organizations and companies are actors of a global story which takes place in many countries located on every continent with actors from multicultural backgrounds. This multicultural environment can benefit to the company but also be a source of difficulties that have to be overcome.
Cases where there is a positive impact of combining two opposite values
Western Cultural Values
Non-Western Cultural Values
Respect for results
Respect for status
First it has been proved that working in a globalized economy like ours has a positive impact on individuals and companies. Indeed, people are forced to think outside their own person and thus are urged to develop greater interpersonal skills, their creativity and learn news ways to do things that increase their productivity
Moreover, hiring an intercultural team is an interesting choice for the company because it can seek on every continent the right people, who will be the most competent for the job. For this reason, using international teams and not only local teams is a way for companies to improve their skills and productivity .
Furthermore, researches indicate that, once teams break through conflicts linked to diversity problems, the benefit of new thoughts and discoveries often help to increase innovation.
Finally every member of the team can be seen as a representative and as a first rate expert in their international market. Thus he can embody a huge help to communicate with his country
Cases where there is a negative impact of combining two opposite values
Western Cultural Values
Non-Western Cultural Values
Respect for competence
Respect for elders
Time is money
Time is life
First of all, projects may be affected by personality conflicts. Cultural differences among project's team members may create additional misunderstanding throughout the project life cycle. The impact of cultural factors such as language barriers, time differences, and socio-economic, political, and religious diversity may be sources of misunderstandings, conflicts or slowing down of the project's completion.
Moreover difficulties of interpretation in communication's field could happen due to accents, colloquialisms, or nonverbal habits differences such as head nodding which can mean "yes" or "no" depending on the culture.
Finally every culture has its own way of thinking, interpreting and looking the world. That's why something that can be simple or logical for someone may not be for another. This could lead to incomprehension, frustrations or other problems. The question of the time and punctuality may show how important this issue can be.
In a nutshell, cultural differences can be useful for the company but also a barrier to success. For this reason, managers have to be aware of these differences and learn to cope with them.
II) The solution: intercultural competence
A try to find a single definition
This new concept is used in the literacy since two decades. But what is really intercultural competence?
It refers to the condition that an individual holds as a capacity to interact with people from different cultures. Furthermore, it can't be denied that intercultural competence is a required skill or qualification that managers need to acquire and develop to be able to deal with different cultural situations within the organization in an international context. Many authors tried to define what is " intercultural competence" however it is a multi-edged concepts that's why it's not easy to reach an agreement on one single definition that could be recognized as the real official one . Moreover the neighborhood of the word with the word " culture " , which is itself difficult to define without moving away from its original signification emboldens the seek for a single definition .
In short, the concept of intercultural competence has many definitions but some key points extracted from the various authors' definitions reveal aspects of intercultural competence. Indeed, "intercultural competence "gathers together four notions.
Firstly the notion of ability which is mentioned by Fantini underlines the fact that intercultural competence implies being able to perform effectively with persons with different cultural background. People should communicate as easy in other cultures as they can in their own one so that culture doesn't embody a barrier towards understanding and communication.
Secondly, the notion of knowledge developed by Deardoff as a capability to interact with other persons in an international context. This notion refers to the capability to interpret people, discover who they are, interact with them, asses their values and beliefs. This capability is the conclusion of a learning process, which enables its improvement.
Thirdly intercultural competence is recognized as a capability for effectiveness that's to say as the capability to communicate effectively and in a way that is acceptable for every team member for example when there is a need of negotiating meanings or rules.
Finally intercultural competence is the result of a learning process .Indeed, a part of this competence has been inherited and other part has to be acquired through learning or experimenting intercultural experiences.
In 2003, Stier adds another approach to the concept by dividing it in four different competencies:
â€¢ First , the content competencies , which are composed by the knowledge discovery of values , norms , traditions , habits of our own culture but also of the other's one .
â€¢ Secondly, the processual competencies, which can be considered as the "know how" of intercultural competence and which is linked to content competencies.
â€¢ Thirdly the intrapersonal competencies, which need cognitive and emotional skills to be able to see the world through the other's eyes. Indeed, this implies to forget for one moment our own way of thinking to understand what the others can feel due to their own culture .This competence embodies the background for cultural empathy.
â€¢ Finally the interpersonal competencies correspond to the social and behavioral component. Communication, conversations for example are fully involved in these competencies. Chen and Starosta subdivide the theme in three main dimensions ,which are the cognitive dimension which deals with the knowledge discovery and the intercultural awareness , the affective one ,which includes attitudes and other personality traits and the behavioral one which involves skills and communications but also adaptability .
More generally speaking, authors agree on three main components of intercultural competence that will be developed in the following parts:
behavioral and social skills