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United States of America
The United States of America is at present the only “superpower of the world”. It is the economic and military hub of all activities that affect the world as a whole. As the popular saying goes, “When America sneezes, the world catches a cold.” This has become even more pronounced given the current economic crisis which the world is facing.
Before we delve into the cultural aspects of this nation, let us have a look at where the US stands today in terms of its geography, demographics and economy, with each having an effect on American culture.
The United States is the world's third largest country by size, with an area of 9,826,675 square kilometres. It includes fifty states and one federal district where the capital, Washington, D.C., is located. Its forty-eight contiguous states are situated in the middle of North America. Mainland United States borders Canada to the North and Mexico, the Gulf of Mexico, and the Straits of Florida to the South. The Western border meets the Pacific Ocean, and the Atlantic Ocean lies to the East.
The physical environment has had several significant effects on regional cultures. The rich topsoil of the Midwest made it an important agricultural area; its rivers and lakes made it central to industrial development. However, settlers significantly transformed their environments, recreating the landscapes they had left behind in Europe. The vast prairies of the Great Plains, which were characterized by numerous species of tall grasses, have been transformed by irrigation and modern agricultural methods into continuous fields of soybeans and wheat. This has led America to become agriculturally self-sufficient. In fact, the USA has become one of the world's major exporters in this area.
The United States has a population of 307,212,123 as of July 2009, but it is relatively sparsely populated. The most populous state, California, with 33,871,648 inhabitants, contrasts with Wyoming, which has only 493,782 residents.
These population figures reflect the fact that the United States is an urban nation. Over 80 percent of inhabitants live in cities, among whom more than 50 percent are estimated to be suburban.
Huge numbers of urban dwellers reflect the fact that Americans value “Money Power” as urban cities are the areas where most businesses are prevalent. Most Americans leave their homes and commute into cities to go to work. In this, we see that, in general, Americans give preference to “individual” ambitions as opposed to “collective/family” ambitions.
America also has large number of immigrants from other countries and as it is the “Land of Freedom and Opportunity” it is commonly known as a melting pot country. Immigration began on April 2, 1513 when Spanish conquistador Juan Ponce de León landed on what he called "La Florida”. It was the first documented European arrival on what would become the US mainland. French, Dutch and British settlers followed and the inflow has not stopped to this day.
The Hispanic (Latino) population, which includes primarily people of Mexican, Puerto Rican, and Cuban descent, is estimated to be 31 million, or 12 percent of the population. Latinos are expected to become the largest minority group early in the twenty-first century. The Asian population (including Pacific Islanders) is defined as people of Chinese, Filipino, Japanese, Indian, Korean, and Vietnamese origin. It is estimated that there are eleven million Asians, making up about 4 percent of the population.
These huge numbers of immigrants have actually been quite advantageous to America. This “Melting Pot” of cultures has ensured that each culture contributes its advantages (and disadvantages) to the USA thereby mainly improving it.
The US has an advanced industrial economy that is highly mechanized. It is also the largest and most technologically powerful economy in the world, with a per capita GDP of $46,900. The country more than meets its own economic needs and is the world's leading exporter of food. Moreover, it is a dominant force in world finance.
Americans have always been focused on money and are notoriously terrible savers in the modern era. The main objective of an American firm is profit and they work hard for it. Societal success is generally seen in terms of how much wealth a person has acquired.
Hofstede's Model As A Basis For Cultural Analysis
Hofstede's model analyzed countries on the basis of 5 parameters giving them individual rankings.
1) Masculine Vs. Feminine
Compared to world's average of 50, the USA scores 62 in this area which indicates high dominance. A few facts which show high dominance are:
Americans generally see themselves as dominant over nature. Their approach towards agriculture signifies this. Examples include continuous exploitation of land resources and changes in the land's properties such as soil, vegetation etc.
Apart from the above American events throughout history have substantiated their Masculine nature. For example, their conquest of the moon, the expansion and implementation of capitalism as the primary economic structure of markets. They are even trying to change the fundamental nature of life by means of Biotechnology, Genetic Engineering and Stem Cell research.
2) Individualism Vs Collectivism
Collectivism 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 in that, everyone is expected to look after him/herself and his/her immediate family.
USA scores the highest individualism rating (91) in this regard. Some areas which show their high individualist behavioural pattern are:
Americans generally use personal characteristics and achievements to define themselves.
They value individual welfare over group well being (ex. Not every American has health insurance)
They attribute success of an organization to that of an individual. (ex. Rather than saying how GE is the most competitive company in the US, Americans would rather emphasize how Jack Welch is making GE the most competitive company)
American society is generally characterized by experts as a temporary society, having non-permanent relationships and high mobility between jobs.
Organization charts specify individual positions, each with detailed job descriptions which list their formal duties and responsibilities.
Americans are firm believers in democracy, free will and capitalism, which again reflects a preference to individual decision making.
3) Confucian Dynamism
Confucian Dynamism indicates societies' orientation. Whether the society is long-term oriented or short-term focused. American culture is seen to be short-term oriented. Some points which show American linkages to Confucian Dynamism are:
Business people focus on the present and near future. They talk about achieving 5 or 10 year plans, but they work towards achieving current quarter results while keeping daily focus on share prices (ex. Current economic crisis).
The present economic crisis also indicates a short-term approach where American banks (and other international banks) were focused on lending to customers without thinking about how they would recover their money (ex. Issuing and purchasing CDOs and other highly leveraged instruments without much if any regulation).
4) Power Distance
Power distance is the extent to which the less powerful members of organizations and institutions (like the family) accept and expect that power is distributed unequally. American culture is generally seen as one having low power distance. A few points which substantiate this are:
Americans see the main reason for having hierarchical structure as not an authoritative figure, rather to organize tasks and facilitate problem solving around those tasks.
Many Americans are not supporters of tall hierarchical structures and instead believe that flat organizations with few hierarchical levels, where individuals can roam freely, function more effectively (ex. America is the 2nd most friendly country in the world for small businesses).
5) Uncertainty Avoidance
This deals with a society's tolerance for uncertainty and ambiguity. It indicates to what extent a culture programs its members to feel either uncomfortable or comfortable in unstructured situations.
USA classifies as having low uncertainty avoidance. It means that people there are not afraid to take risks. They are more tolerant of opinions that are different from what they are used to. Americans try to have as few rules as possible, and on philosophical and religious levels they are relativist and allow many currents to flow side by side. People within these cultures are more phlegmatic and contemplative, and not expected by their environment to express emotions. Some points indicative of this are:
Americans have one of the highest job mobility rankings in the world. Americans don't have a fear of losing their jobs and instead focus on finding better opportunities (ex.
In organizations, risk taking is both appreciated and encouraged. “Entrepreneurship” is seen as the future and is focused on by organizations.
Kluckhohn And Strodtbeck's 6 Constraints In (VOM)Value Orientation Model
Kluckhohn and Strodtbeck's first constraint deals with the idea of basic human nature. This concerns how cultures socialize individuals to develop beliefs about the inherent character of human beings as good, evil, or mixed. “In a culture that believes that people are basically evil, there is a lack of trust in business deals, and explicit contracts are needed. The Wall Street Journal reported that American workers are among the most carefully watched workers in the world, due to electronic monitoring devices” (Phatak, 2004, 143). This lack of trust and belief that human beings are essentially evil has become even more entrenched in the American psyche after 9/11. However, this view of human nature as being untrustworthy developed well before the fall of the Twin Towers. In fact, the Puritans may have been the people who built the foundation of this impression of human nature. This is evidenced in Thomas V. DiBacco's book, Made in the U.S.A.: The History of American Business, where he notes that “their initial settlement was not unlike Plymouth's: several hundred lived a hand-to-mouth existence for some months, which made sheer survival take precedence over the accounting of the sins they were committing” (DiBacco, 2003, 7). This beginning of an era of sinning and surviving, would have certainly laid the seeds for a belief of human nature as inherently evil.
The second constraint in this model concerns man's relation to nature which is the extent that a culture usually copes with its relation to nature by subjugating to it, being in harmony with it, or, as is the case with the United States, by attempting to master it. Far from believing that what Mother Nature delivers is a matter of luck or destiny, or even the idea that they can coexist with nature, Americans, in general, believe that they can master the environment and change nature. “For example, Japanese planned areas of parks within cities before this became a popular aspect of city planning in the United States. [In fact], continuous emphasis of technology, such as air-conditioning systems and flood control, reflects this tendency to seek mastery over nature to the greatest extent possible” (Phatak, 2004, 143).
History corroborates this evidence of America's relation with nature. In an essay entitled "The Cultural Significance of the American Wilderness," Roderick Nash notes that early settlers in the New World were not Americans at all, but transplanted Europeans who regarded the land as a spiritual and physical void which had to conquered and civilized in the name of Christianity and progress” (Nash, 1969, 66-73). These transplanted Europeans set the stage for eventual American dominance over their vast expanse of land.
Time orientation reflects a society's emphasis on the past, present, or future. While a past orientation places emphasis on customs, traditions, and time-honoured approaches, future oriented cultures emphasize long-term approaches often engaging in activities meant to benefit future generations. Americans fall in the middle of these two cultures and focus on short-term or immediate gratification. This can be seen in all walks of American life. From the stock markets to ordering a Big Mac at McDonalds, whatever it is that Americans want, they want it now. This has recently had major implications on daily life in the United States, as many Democrats have accused the media of further exasperating the recession by focusing heavily on daily financial reporting from American firms that were offering nothing but bad news in 2008. President Barack Obama even requested the public to stop paying attention to daily fluctuations in the stock markets as this need for immediate news would do nothing but further contribute to the herd mentality that helped lead the stock markets into decline.
History gives us many examples of why Americans have a need for immediate gratification. From Ralph Waldo Emerson's mid-19th Century proclamation that “...this shallow Americanism, with its passion for sudden success” could become its weakness to George W. Bush's initial insistence that the Iraq War would be a rapid military victory, there are many markers in time that lay weight to the argument that America is the land of right now among other things (.http://www.csmonitor.com/2003/1118/p09s02-coop.html).
The space orientation dimension of this model indicates whether people define the concept of space in relation to other people as being public, private, or mixed. For societies that emphasize a public orientation, space belongs to everyone and not just one person. In a mixed orientation society, both public and private orientations are mixed. The United States falls into the private orientation category as “...employees consider it important to have their own space” (Phatak, 2003, 144). This goes back to the 16th Century when the Puritans and Pilgrims first came over from Europe to escape feudalism. The focus was on survival and taking care of one's self more than anything else. Along with the search for land and survival, Americans developed a sense of individualism that carried into a deep-seeded need for private property and privacy in most other aspects of personal life.
The fifth orientation is called activity orientation and focuses on whether a culture is doing, being, or thinking. In a being culture, “...spontaneous reactions to feelings are expected, decisions and rewards are based on emotions, and performance criteria are broad and variable” (Phatak, 2003, 144). A thinking orientation includes individuals being socialized to enjoy each others' company, take a relaxed approach to work, and achieve a balance of work and life. Americans fall into the doing orientation which has people constantly moving from one activity to another, having their days filled with series of activities or tasks to complete (Phatak, 2003, 144).
Historically, Americans have been doers and taken enormous levels of tasks on hand to achieve goals. This is seen throughout American history from the.............
Finally, the social relations orientation refers to the extent to which a culture emphasizes individualistic, group-oriented, or hierarchy-focused ways of relating to one another. Group-oriented cultures are comprised of people relating to each other in terms of needs of the group to which they are a part of. Hierarchical societies value group relationships but emphasize awareness of the status of the individual that one is engaging in communication with. Not surprisingly, Americans have an individualistic orientation that tends to focus on people relating to each other in terms of their personal characteristics and achievements. They work on their own personal agendas and generally relate to each other one on one.
Historically, this can be seen..........
Trompenaars and Charles Hampden-Turner have developed a model of culture with seven dimensions. There are five orientations covering the ways in which human beings deal with each other.
The first orientation is individualism versus collectivism. American are individualistic and they emphasis is on personal responsibility and decision making, and negotiation are made on the spot.
One of the roots of American individualism clearly lies in Protestantism's rejection of certain aspects of the Catholic faith. Americans valorize individual merit, a residue of the Protestant emphasis on a personal relationship with God and earthly rewards and punishments. And the U.S. has remained deeply religious and traditional in the face of enormous prosperity, at least in part attributable to the founding influence of the Puritan-Protestants. Calvinist principle of earthly rewards made a significant contribution to the American conviction in individual merit
Moreover the development of business enterprise in the 16th Century separated from the family business forced businesspeople to create a complex system of rules to undertake large, risky, and long-lived enterprises.
The second orientation is internal versus external control. People believe that what happens to them is because of their own doing. Historically, this orientation comes from the colonists that left to build their own lives, their own communities, and their own economy when they arrived to America. Colonists lived primarily on small farms and were self-sufficient to grow to global corporations. Protestant faith in earthly punishments and rewards has multifold effects, not all of which are clearly welcome. The (often implicit) belief that bad people are punished on earth contributes to ideologies that justify social inequality. Americans are more likely than members of many other cultures, including other wealthy democracies, to endorse the belief that people get what they deserve. 82% of Americans believe that what happens to people is their own doing, as compared to only. Consequently, self-made-man is a very important concept in America because to survive in the New World you needed to acquire your wealth and your social position by your their own.
The third orientation studied is specific versus diffuse. Americans are specific. Strong separation between work and private life exist and invitations to public place are common
The fourth orientation is sequential versus synchronic. In America, people tend to do one activity at a time. Appointments are strictly kept with a strong preference for following plans. Consequently, the American philosophy of business is: make as fast money as you can. One of the best way to do it is through lots of very good planning. Everything in their culture is goal-oriented and action-oriented with a perceived meritocratic pay-off of results-based rewards.
The fifth orientation is achievement versus ascription. In Us, achievement dominates. People are accorded status based on how well they perform they functions. Achievers must continue to prove their work as status is accorded based on their actions. American has an important faith in the “American Dream”: work hard and you can become rich. Furthermore competition is a very important factor in America. You can recognize this tendency by the ranking their are doing (Ie: best business school, the Fortune 100, the better political man…), t he display of trophies, diplomas, sports medals and award in the office, demonstrating the love of work and reinforcing the ethos that hard work pays off.
Doing Business The American Way!!!
Business Culture: - Why American Business is turned up the way it is now?
The USA is considered to be a strongly universalistic country in all aspects of business activities. The main factor is the Protestantism. As predicted by theories of implicit social cognition, which hold that the influence of traditional cultural values is strongest at an implicit level, less religious and non-Protestant Americans are just as likely to display such effects as devout American Protestants.
For high universalists like Americans, the driving force of business activities are rooted in legal contracts, written rules and general laws, while for high particularists like Japanese, it is the close personal relationships between partners that constitute the key source of meaning and trust in business. A strong belief in universal rules, methods, formulae, products and ideas on the side of Universalists can be contrasted with a much more "customized" particularist approach.
Not surprisingly, it is Americans who hold the top position in individualism among all other countries. The variations in the level of individualism have fundamental impact on various aspects of business activities. For example, in American society, the criteria for recruitment procedures are based on individual abilities, while in more collectivist societies as in India, they are much more dependent on the affiliation with a specific group.
Similarly, the relationship between the employer and the employee can be treated as a contract or be based on close personal ties. Depending on culture, task-assignment can be more effective when directed toward individuals or toward a group of employees. Generally, management will focus either on individuals or on groups. In America, the best performing employees will be those who stand out and challenge others, while collectivist cultures like Chinese, value those whose work benefits other members of the group. The decision-making process will also vary depending on level of individualism: decisions will be taken individually, or will always be consulted with other group members.
As America is low power distance cultures as compare to France, the relationship between a superior and a subordinate takes the form of equal partnership. In high power distance cultures as France, it takes the form of unequal dependence with the boss expecting total compliance from the employee, and the employee expecting protection and safety from the boss.
Certain popular management techniques that used to be considered universal will simply not work in high power distance cultures. One useful example is MBO (Management by Objectives), an American packaged management method that requires regular consultation between a superior and a subordinate, as well as a certain level of feedback initiative on the part of the subordinate. An assumed, expected and accepted status gap makes this kind of contacts practically impossible in high power distance cultures often limited to those that are absolutely necessary, they are generally more respected than rules and regulations in high uncertainty avoiding cultures.
Assertiveness and ego needs dominate in masculine cultures like USA. Competitiveness and aggressiveness are praised (incidentally, English is the only language where the word "aggressive" has positive connotations). Failures are taken much more seriously than in feminine cultures because "it is difficult to pretend that you did not try hard enough." Conflict is perceived as an opportunity rather than threat. Everybody expects to win, so confrontation of power is a frequent way of solving problems: "when the going gets tough, the tough get going." Overestimation rather than underestimation is considered to be a norm in all aspects of business activities: presenting of results, self-presentation, image creation etc. In feminine cultures modesty dominates, and this leads to intentional underestimation of Country specific cultural traits and adjust to them accordingly.
Different Aspects Of Business: -
Communication Style: - Americans are direct in the way they communicate. They value logic and linear thinking and expect people to speak clearly and in a straightforward manner. Time is money in the U.S. so people tend to get to the point quickly and are annoyed by beating around the bush. Communicating virtually (i.e. through email, SMS, Skype, etc) is very common with very little protocol or formality in the interaction. This is the chief reason that many times they are considered as “rude” by their eastern counterparts. This is also the reason of many failed business negotiations.
Business Meetings: - Americans consider time and punctuality to be one of the most important aspects of the meetings and gets often offended if other party shows lack of it. They view it as a sign of disrespect for someone to be late for a meeting or appointment. This is especially prevalent in the Northeast and Midwest states, whereas the Southern and Western states are more relaxed about it. Another misconception that Eastern business may get is that their meetings may appear relaxed but they are actually very serious about the issues. Expect very little small talk before getting down to business. If there is an agenda, it will be followed. At the conclusion of the meeting, there will be a summary of what was decided, a list of who will implement which facets and a list of the next steps to be taken and by whom. It is common to attempt to reach an oral agreement at the first meeting. The emphasis is on getting a contract signed rather than building a relationship. The relationship may develop once the first contract has been signed. This can be again seen as a contrast to the Asian Counterparts where focus is to build relationships first and then proceed towards business.
Business etiquette: - While Americans are often considered as informal and casual about business etiquette, following basic rules American Business Culture should not be underestimated. Most companies in the United States are characterized by a high professionalism. Following proper business etiquette will not only reflect professionalism; it is also is also a sign of respect and acknowledgement for the cultural significance of business in the United States.
Following are some of the etiquettes that Americans follow and are considered to be important in corporate culture.
What is considered appropriate business attire varies by geographic region, day of the week and industry.
In general, people in the East dress more formally, while people in the West are known for being informal.
Executives usually dress formally regardless of which part of the country they are in. Casual Friday is common in many companies. High technology companies often wear casual clothes every day.
For an initial meeting, dressing conservatively is always in good taste. Women can wear business suits or dresses. Men should wear a business suit unless the firm is known to be quite casual.
The traditional dress code in the United States is a business suit with tie for men and suit and dress for women; period. Men should wear a white or blue long-sleeve shirt. There are no short-sleeve shirts in the professional USA business world even if the weather is hot and humid.
How you going to dress is of course up to you and up to your specific market. However, especially in the beginning of your USA business launch, you should carefully follow this basic rule: always wear a suit if you visit customers. Even if your potential client is welcoming you in Jeans and T-Shirt, there is nothing wrong with being overdressed in the first meeting. You can always downgrade your attire at the next meeting.
The more informal - but widely accepted - business dress code for men is the traditional beige Khaki Pants together with a blue shirt and a dark jacket. Especially at airports you will find many business people in this traditional more informal wardrobe on their way to their business trips.
The hand shake is the common greeting.
Handshakes are firm, brief and confident.
Maintain eye contact during the greeting.
In most situations, begin by calling people by their first names.
Most people will insist that we should call them by their nickname, if they have one.
In formal circumstances, we may want to use titles and surnames as a courtesy until invited to move to a first name basis, which will happen quickly.
Business cards are exchanged without formal ritual.
It is quite common for the recipient to put the card in their wallet, which may then go in the back pocket of their trousers. This is not an insult.
Inviting business associates out for a meal is considered as a nice gift.
Business breakfasts are common.
Business lunches are common and may last two hours.
The person extending the invitation usually pays.
Business is usually not discussed until everyone has ordered their meal.
Socialising occurs more often after business is concluded. Business entertaining is not to develop a personal relationship.
Business entertaining is as varied as the country. It can be in the form of cocktail parties, golf games, barbecues, formal or casual dinners.
Taking sip of drink before the host makes the first toast is considered to be rude.
If the host offers a toast to us, then we should be sure to reciprocate later in the meal.
There is no question that the American culture manifests itself in a lot of rules people do obey when doing business with each other. However, it should not be underestimated, that different regions within the United States will have and act upon their own rules. The same applies to different industries: the USA steel industry might have different behavioral rules than companies working in the field of Information Technology.
Negotiations in America: -
People of different cultures use significantly different negotiation approaches. Americans exhibit individualism and assertiveness strongly in their negotiation. These negotiators establish rapport quickly; then move to negotiating in an informal and direct way of communication. Americans do not like formality or rituals in business interaction. The information are always exchange in the goal of the contract and not of a relationship in comparison with the Indian. The means of persuasion is aggressive and impatient in order to forging a good deal. The attitude during negotiation is more win to win, American look for mutual gains, whenever it is possible but the US negotiators expect quick decisions and solutions made by consensus by the Individuals with relevant knowledge and skills make decisions. The time sensibility is high and subjective feelings are not considered ‘‘facts.'' Points are made by accumulating facts.
Addressing: - There are two important cultural aspects when addressing your USA business partner: language and names.
First, you should work hard to continuously improve your English language skills. If you are from a different - especially non-English speaking - country, it is highly likely that you have an accent. This accent may make it hard for your business partner to understand you. Always speak clear, accented and try to continuously adapt to the English language. If someone does not understand you, try to phrase the sentence in a different way (or try the phonetic alphabet for specific words, like 'a' as in alpha, 'e' as in echo, ...).
The second important issue when addressing business partner is the fact that names are very important in the American Business culture. Every American has a first and a last name (of course!). Most Americans also have a middle name mostly abbreviated by the first letter. Finally, many people go by their nickname: People with the name "William" often introduce themselves as "Bill", "Benjamin" as "Ben", "Robert'" as "Bob" and so on.
Most business partner will introduce themselves with the first name, and this is usually the way you address each other from no on. However, you still should be careful especially with new customers and people in higher ranks. If you are unsure, always go with a "Mr. Smith" first. Most of the times he or she will switch to first names automatically.
"No religion", "no politics". This unwritten rule is carried out on many parties, family gatherings, and social events and of course in the world of USA business. Nobody can actually say exactly how this "rule" started and if it makes sense or not. However, most people doing business in the United States are always trying to be "political correct". Political correctness includes for example that you are not making any political statements in business conversations. Talking about religious beliefs is considered as a taboo. The same applies to anything related to race and gender roles.
As a general rule: in the beginning of a business relationship: avoid any topic related to politics, religion, race, gender and so on. However, many people will get more relaxed and comfortable once they met each other a couple of times. Especially, if for example political opinions match, there is nothing wrong discussing politics later in the process.
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