Hofstede's cultural analysis framework and explores

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Executive Summary

This report briefly explains the main concepts of Hofstede's cultural analysis framework and explores the ways in which it helps to understand different cultures. Using a simple analytical style it applies the main concepts of Hofstede's theory to the two different countries of Saudi Arabia and UK. From this analysis it attempts a comparison between the two cultures and tries to suggest some modest advice for a UK based manager who is going to work for a local organization in Saudi Arabia.

This report is not a very detailed research and uses some limited secondary research from the internet and the books to attempt this analysis. The resulting conclusions and recommendations are therefore in the nature of broad generalisations and not a detailed training module on cultural adaptation which could require much more detailed and rigorous research.

Introduction

This paper attempts to apply Hofstede's analytical framework to the two countries of Saudi Arabia and the UK to determine the main differences and similarities between them. Cultural differences make a significant impact upon business styles and processes in any country and therefore studying these allows a business to enter and function successfully in a new country. Therefore, a model of the type evolved by Hofstede is extremely useful to help in understanding and implementing any business's strategy in a new country.

This paper is organized into 4 main sections. Section 1 is the discussion of the theoretical contents of Hofstede's model. It describes the main features of the model, explains their application and also critically analyses them. The section further suggests the utility as well as the limitations of the model.

Section 2 of the paper describes and evaluates the culture of Saudi Arabia using the model framework as a basis. Each element of Hofstede's model is applied to the Saudi Arabian work place. Using the analysis derived from the model application an overall picture of the Saudi Arabian economy is drawn within this section.

Section 3 of the paper describes and evaluates the culture of the UK using the same model framework of Hofstede. Analyzing the main characteristics of the UK culture the section once again attempts a summation of the work culture within the country.

Section 4 of the paper is the conclusion section that attempts to summarize the main cultural similarities and differences between UK and Saudi Arabia and the implications of the same for business.

Section 5 of the paper is the recommendations section which attempts to build a small toolkit that could be relevant for the young British Manager called James who is going to work for a local organization in Saudi Arabia. Using the main conclusions from previous section this part of the paper tries to develop a blue-print to help this new manager survive in the new culture and society.

Discussion of the model

Geert Hofstede (1967- 1973) worked extensively in the field of cultural studies across different countries across the globe. Studying different cultures and their work related characteristics, this researcher developed a four dimensional model of intra country culture. Towards his later years he developed a fifth element within this model but the importance of the main elements remains undiminished to date.

According to Hofstede country cultures can be broadly ranked along the following five main dimensions.

Power Distance Index

This focuses on the degree of power/wealth/influence inequality among the people within any country. Countries that rank high on this index have hidden caste systems that effectively differentiate between rich and poor and privileged and under-privileged. The poor are unable to better themselves easily in this society as they are blocked at various levels by the rich and influential. The culture within the work place favours the rich and many subtle laws, rules and regulations hinder the easy upward mobility of the poor. On the other hand countries that rank low on this index have societies that are more equal and where power wealth and influence does not determine access to many services and facilities.

Individualism

Individualism is the one side versus its opposite, collectivism, that is the degree to which individuals are integrated into groups. On the individualist side we find societies in which the ties between individuals are loose: everyone is expected to look after him/herself. On the collectivist side, we find societies in which people from birth onwards are integrated into strong, cohesive in-groups, often extended families (with uncles, aunts and grandparents) which continue protecting them in exchange for unquestioning loyalty. For example, Germany can be considered as individualistic with a high score (89) on the scale of Hofstede compared to a country like Guatemala where they have strong collectivism (6 on the scale).

Masculinity

This dimension focuses on how extent to which a society stress achievement or nurture. Masculinity is seen to be the trait which emphasizes ambition, acquisition of wealth, and differentiated gender roles. Countries differ in terms of the importance given to the male ideal of work related achievement and ambition. In countries with high masculinity scores the male is often given a much higher status in the work place than the female. On the other hand gender based discrimination is very low in the countries where masculinity scores are low.

Uncertainty avoidance

This dimension focuses on how cultures adapt to changes and cope with uncertainty. Emphasis is on extent to which a culture feels threatened or is anxious about ambiguity. Uncertainty tolerance and risk taking ability differ within different societies. In countries where this index is high, entrepreneurial activity tends to be widespread across society. On the other hand in countries where this index is low, people tend to move away from risk bearing and governments also tend to over legislate and restrict entrepreneurial activity.

Long Term Orientation

Long-Term Orientation is the fifth dimension of Hofstede which was added after the original four to try to distinguish the difference in thinking between the East and West. Long-Term Orientation (LTO) focuses on the degree the society embraces, or does not embrace, long-term devotion to traditional, forward thinking values. High Long-Term Orientation ranking indicates the country prescribes to the values of long-term commitments and respect for tradition. Low Long-Term Orientation ranking indicates the country does not reinforce the concept of long-term, traditional orientation. In this culture, change can occur more rapidly as long-term traditions and commitments do not become impediments to change.

Applying Hofstede's model to Saudi Arabia

The Geert Hofstede analysis for Saudi Arabia is almost identical to other Arab countries their Muslim faith plays a large role in the people's lives. The Large Power Distance (PDI) (80) and Uncertainty Avoidance (UAI) (68) are predominant Hofstede Dimension characteristics for the countries in this region. These societies are more likely to follow a caste system that does not allow significant upward mobility of its citizens. They are also highly rule-oriented with laws, rules, regulations, and controls in order to reduce the amount of uncertainty, while inequalities of power and wealth have been allowed to grow within the society. The high Uncertainty Avoidance Index (UAI) ranking of 68, indicates the society's low level of tolerance for uncertainty.

There is both a rigid and subtle hierarchy within society with very little scope for people to avoid their designated role or status in life. People also fully accept this role in life as a part of their cultural heritage. The masculinity scores within Saudi Arabia are not very higher than average across the world. According to Michael Wolfe (1998), the author of "The Hadj : An American's pilgrimage to Mecca this suggests that the inferior role of women in Saudi society can be traced to religious roots rather than cultural roles. There are extensive rules of etiquette while in business meetings and other social interactions both between men as well as between men and women. This tends to often be more onerous for women than for men. Still one could argue that women are often protected from male over exploitation by religious injunctions that forbid various acts. Silence is often considered to be a symbol of understanding wisdom and power. The most powerful people at business meetings are often the silent observers and as underlined by the most active communicators could be the least influential. The individualism scores for Saudi Arabia are clearly among the lowest nations of the world suggesting that the society is very communistic with a great preference for long term tribal and familial loyalties. There is much evidence that Saudi Arabia is a long term orientated culture.

Applying Hofstede's model to UK

The UK represents a radically different society when analyzed using Hofstede's framework when compared to Saudi Arabia. The UK has very low uncertainty avoidance, power distance and long term orientation scores highlighting the fact that the country is modern and progressive in its outlook with few rules and regulation. The low power distance scores illustrate the long tradition of UK as a nation where people expect to be ruled by consent and prefer leaders who consult extensively and allow participation by the staff. . In this sense the UK is very different from Saudi Arabia. The UK scores 89 for Individualism. This is high and therefore points to that fact that British culture values and promotes individuality. On a macro level we see that the nuclear family is the more predominant form of basic social structure. On a micro level, in the business environment the individual may be more concerned with themselves rather than the team. There is great emphasis placed on individualism with almost every part of society rewarding individual achievement .There are very few familial links that continue through the life of the individual and people do not in general belong to clans or tribes which reward loyalty like in Saudi Arabia.. The UK scores 66 which indicates that it is somewhere in the middle. This may reflect the fact that British society and culture aims for equality between the sexes, yet a certain amount of gender bias still exists underneath the surface.

The moderately strong masculinity scores reflect a male oriented society but still not as male dominated as Saudi Arabia. The low uncertainty avoidance scores of the UK reflect the general comfort of the population in the work place as well as in the social arena. The existence of a religious police in the latter country is a clear example of the uncertainty avoidance scores of the country. In the UK people in general social life are not expected to express emotions and stay rather phlegmatic. Different religious beliefs and cultural values are expected to stay in tolerant harmony side by side without any conflict unlike in Saudi Arabia.

Conclusions and Recommendations

Clearly the above discussion illustrates how even a simple application of Hofstede's framework to the cultures of Saudi Arabia and UK result in considerable wealth of information about the relative aspects of the cultures of the two countries. It is quite clear that for a manager from the UK working within the culture of Saudi Arabia will be a great challenge. The entire cultural experience would be very different given the constraints within that country. The power distance would imply that the manager would need to keep his distance from the subordinates and ensure that at all times he is in line with the cultural etiquette. Similarly he would also need to ensure that given the large number of social rules and regulations he does not offend any of his hosts. The decorum must always be maintained and he must never go against the social customs of the place both in the office and society interactions.

He should also keep in mind the collective nature of the society and the fact that he should never offend the tribal loyalties and be aware of the various cultural attachments of his subordinates as well as his peers. Once again either talking too much or talking too little would not be optimal particularly in conferences and meetings. There is also the need to appear masculine and in control to an even greater extent than in the UK. He must ensure that nobody in the work place in particular views him to be less than in complete control partly because of the need to appear to be in control and partly due to the masculinity aspect.

The fact that there is much greater need for uncertainty avoidance within Saudi Arabia implies that the manager should ensure that he is always taking decisions and directing his employees and subordinates to a much greater extent than he was used to in UK. The employees in Saudi Arabia will not respect a boss who delegates his decision making to the extent that is quite common in the UK. Also there needs to be greater clarity about who does what unlike in the UK where employees can be expected to take decisions as well as add value in decision making of their own accord. In all these issues the manager also needs to be alive to the peculiar and unique cultures within the specific organisation that he intends to work in within Saudi Arabia.

Overall it is clear that the manager from England will have to learn a great deal apart from the local language. He will need to master the local cultural etiquette, social idiom as well as the various rules and regulations. At all times he will have to display a modesty and cultural adaptability in order to meet the approval of his seniors as well as his peers.

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