National Culture

Recruitment/ Hiring practices

Individualist cultures – individual is hired based on his/her competencies (skills). Trust is based on one’s skills.

Collectivist cultures – loyalty to one’s in-group/ company is valued, hence there is a preference towards hiring those with similar social ties, value and social norms. Trust is based on not letting down one’s in-group

Different Attitudes Toward Conflict

In individualistic cultures, people tend to be verbally direct: they value communication openness, differences in views are aired openly

Collectivist group, indirect communication is preferred. Disagreement or Conflict is seen as embarrassing or demeaning. Differences are best worked out quietly and indirectly. Managers who work in cross-cultural environments must learn how to adapt their communication/ leadership styles accordingly.

This view towards conflict and communication hence affect the HR performance appraisal process

Individualist – direct feedback especially on areas to improve is accepted.

Collectivist – indirect feedback is preferred. Receiving negative feedback is received badly as shame, a loss of face and weakness.

Rewards and promotion

Individualist cultures – rewards and promotion is based on individual’s achievement, self interests.

Collectivist cultures – rewards is based on loyalty to team and company. Promotion may even be based on loyalty to company, e.g. years working in company, and seniority is respected.

  1. Examine how your company structures its compensation and rewards.

When I switched careers from the foreign service to the private sector, I was very impressed when the senior leadership went for a 2-day team bonding exercise. With high expectations, I asked my boss, “Are we going to have more cooperation from Dept A after this?”

Today, I’m much wiser. As much as a company wants to promote team work, there is a need to go beyond socialisation and games we play. The type of people you hire. Driven by win-lose or win-win. The way rewards and status are structured. To promote company loyalty, organisations give out company shares or team bonus.

2. How is status ascribed?

Do employees come from a certain school, e.g. Havard/ Ivy League graduates? Children of a certain social class? If so, you are more collectivist than you think.

3. What stories are told of your heroes?

Examine the stories people tell about heroes in the company. Is it about the risk they take, and the money they make? Or whether they live out company values of trust and teamwork?

4. How are differences resolved?

Is there a blame culture or pointing fingers? When your back is turned, people say nasty things.

5. What values are you bringing into the company?

Beyond the color of your skin, the accent and the gender, do you bring in people who embrace your values? Who are you attempting to change ?

Beyond Herman Miller Chairs or free lunches and corporate values emblazoned on company walls, what is unspoken and hidden may say more of your culture (National, organisational or even profession).

Have a coffee chat with a friend, instead of visiting company website or attending corporate presentations to understand what the real corporate culture is.

US, Australia and UK
Loyal to self and immediate family
Expect to take care of oneself
Asia, Middle East
Loyal to wider group
Closely bonded social network, members look after each other
Low Power distance
UK, Australia, US
Subordinates expect to be involved in decision-making
Flat and decentralised structure
High Power distance
Asia, Middle East
Subordinates expect to be told what to do
Ideal boss is a benevolent autocrat
Top-down, centralised decision-making
Low uncertainty avoidance
Anglo, Nordic
Dislike rules, written/ unwritten
Less formal and standardisation
Flexible, ready to accept changes  
High uncertainty avoidance
Germany, Japan
Prefer security, order, control
Prefer rules, written or unwritten
More formal and standardisation
Reluctance to accept change
Japan, Germany
culture values assertiveness, competition, and materialism
apologies are a sign of guilt, weakness and lack of confidence.
India, Indonesia
Value spirituality, relationships and show concern for others
Apologies used to promote social bonding and show empathy, e.g. Indonesia.
Long-term Orientation
China, HK, Japan
Focus on the future
Delay short-term enjoyment for future generations
Save for the future
Tradition adapts to circumstance
Short-term Orientation
Anglo countries
Focus on present and past
Spend and instant gratification.
Traditions are sacred
East Asia, Muslim
Perception of fate, pessimism
Freedom of speech is not seen as important
Leisure time is not so important  
Latin America
Enjoy life, fun, optimism
Perception of personal life control
Leisure time is important
Work-life balance
Value freedom of speech  

Professor Geert Hofstede conducted one of the most comprehensive studies of how values in the workplace are influenced by culture. He analysed a large database of employee value scores collected within IBM between 1967 and 1973. Known as the Dimensions Approach, he is frequently cited in universities teaching global businesses management. 

Hofstede’s country comparison tool provides useful insights for executives going overseas for the first time, not to assume that their culture is similar to the host country they are operating in. Try this tool:

Differences matter, and the world is not as flat as you think. 

Another researcher I find insightful is Trompenaars, whose study identified seven dimensions. Five focus on relationships between people, two dimensions concern time management and a culture’s relationship with nature.

For instance, in Achievement cultures, –status is awarded based upon accomplishments. Title is given when relevant to the task. Respect for superior in the hierarchy is based on how effectively his or her job is performed. A young IT executive can be rewarded handsomely based on his skills valued by the market.  

Whereas in Ascription cultures, status is ascribed based upon social position, age. A company where most senior managers are male, middle-age, and qualified by their backgrounds. One is born or married into Royalty, and not through accomplishments.

How much do you observe that your company’s culture is influenced by the national culture of its members? How do members view what is acceptable behavior? Do employees/ managers from diverse cultures have the same perception of corporate values such as loyalty, trust, teamwork, results or even approach to conflict?