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Hofstede's cultural dimensions theory is a framework for cross-cultural communication, developed by Geert Hofstede. It describes the effects of a society's culture on the values of its members, and how these values relate to behavior, using a structure derived from factor analysis. The theory has been widely used in several fields as a paradigm for research, particularly in cross-cultural psychology, international management, and cross-cultural communication.
Hofstede's cultural dimensions theory is a framework for cross-cultural communication. Hofstede developed his original model as a result of using factor analysis to examine the results of a world-wide survey of employee values by IBM in the 1960s and 1970s. The theory was one of the first that could be quantified, and could be used to explain observed differences between cultures.
The original theory proposed four dimensions along which cultural values could be analyzed: individualism-collectivism; uncertainty avoidance; power distance (strength of social hierarchy) and masculinity-femininity (task orientation versus person-orientation). Independent research in Hong Kong led Hofstede to add a fifth dimension, long-term orientation, to cover aspects of values not discussed in the original paradigm. In the 2010 edition of Cultures and Organizations: Software of the Mind  Hofstede added a sixth dimension, indulgence versus self-restraint, as a result of co-author Michael Minkov's analysis of data from the World Values Survey. Further research has refined some of the original dimensions, and introduced the difference between country-level and individual-level data in analysis.
Hofstede's work established a major research tradition in cross-cultural psychology and has also been drawn upon by researchers and consultants in many fields relating to international business and communication. It continues to be a major resource in cross-cultural fields. It has inspired a number of other major cross-cultural studies of values, as well as research on other aspects of culture, such as social beliefs.
In 1965, Geert founded the personnel research department of IBM Europe (which he managed until 1971). Between 1967 and 1973, he executed a large survey study regarding national values differences across the worldwide subsidiaries of this multinational corporation: he compared the answers of 117,000 IBM matched employees samples on the same attitude survey in different countries. He first focused his research on the 40 largest countries, and then extended it to 50 countries and 3 regions, "at that time probably the largest matched-sample cross-national database available anywhere.".
This initial analysis identified systematic differences in national cultures on four primary dimensions: power distance (PDI), individualism (IDV), uncertainty avoidance (UAI) and masculinity (MAS), which are described below. As Hofstede explains on his academic website, these dimensions regard "four anthropological problem areas that different national societies handle differently: ways of coping with inequality, ways of coping with uncertainty, the relationship of the individual with her or his primary group, and the emotional implications of having been born as a girl or as a boy ". In 1980 he published Culture's Consequences, a book which combines the statistical analysis from the survey research with his personal experiences.
In order to confirm the early results from the IBM study and to extend them to a variety of populations, six subsequent cross-national studies have successfully been conducted between 1990 and 2002. Covering between 14 to 28 countries, the samples included commercial airline pilots, students, civil service managers, 'up-market' consumers and 'elites'. The combined research established value scores on the four dimensions for a total of 76 countries and regions.
In 1991, Michael Harris Bond and colleagues conducted a study among students in 23 countries, using a survey instrument developed with Chinese employees and managers. The results from this study led Hofstede to add a new fifth dimension to his model: long term orientation (LTO) initially called Confucian dynamism. In 2010, the scores for this dimension have been extended to 93 countries thanks to the research of Micheal Minkov who used the recent World Values Survey. Finally, Minkov's World Values Survey data analysis of 93 representative samples of national populations also led Geert Hofstede to identify a sixth last dimension: indulgence versus restraint.
Researchers have grouped some countries together by comparing countries value scores with other country difference such as geographical proximity, shared language, related historical background, similar religious beliefs and practices, common philosophical influences, identical political systems, in other words everything which is implied by the definition of one nation's culture. For example, low power distance is associated with consultative political practices and income equity, whereas high power distance is correlated with the use of bribery and corruption in domestic politics and the unequal distribution of income. Individualism is positively correlated with mobility between social classes and with national wealth. In fact, as a country becomes richer, its culture becomes more individualistic.
Another example of correlation was drawn by the Sigma Two Group in 2003. They have studied the correlation between countries' cultural dimensions and their predominant religion, based on the World Factbook 2002. On average, predominantly Catholic countries show very high uncertainty avoidance, relatively high power distance, moderate masculinity and relatively low individualism, whereas predominantly atheist countries have low uncertainty avoidance, very high power distance, moderate masculinity, and very low individualism.
"Culture is more often a source of conflict than of synergy. Cultural differences are a nuisance at best and often a disaster."
Despite the evidence that groups are different from each other, we tend to believe that deep inside all people are the same. In fact, as we are generally not aware of other countries' cultures, we tend to minimize cultural differences. This leads to misunderstandings and misinterpretations between people from different countries.
Instead of the convergence phenomena we expected with information technologies availability (the "global village culture"), cultural differences are still significant today and diversity tends to increase. So, in order to be able to have respectful cross-cultural relations, we have to be aware of these cultural differences.
With this model, Geert Hofstede shed light on these differences. The tool can be used to give a general overview and an approximate understanding of other cultures, what to expect from them and how to behave towards groups from other countries.
Geert Hofstede is perhaps the best known sociologist of culture and anthropologist in the context of applications for understanding international business. Many articles and research papers refer to his publications, with over 20,000 citations to his 2003 book Culture's Consequences: Comparing Values, Behaviors, Institutions and Organizations Across Nations (which is an updated version of his first publication). The five dimensions model is widely used in many domains of human social life, and particularly in the field of business. Practical applications were developed almost immediately. In fact, when it comes to business, promoting cultural sensitivity will help people work more effectively when interacting with people from other countries, and will participate to make sure transactions are successful.
In business, it is commonly agreed that communication is one of the primary concerns. So, for professionals who work internationally; people who interact daily with other people from different countries within their company or with other companies abroad; Hofstede's model gives insights into other cultures. In fact, cross-cultural communication requires being aware of cultural differences because what may be considered perfectly acceptable and natural in one country, can be confusing or even offensive in another. All the levels in communication are affected by cultural dimensions: verbals (words and language itself), non verbals (body language, gestures) and etiquette do's and don'ts (clothing, gift-giving, dining, customs and protocol). And this is also valid for written communication as explained in William Wardrobe's essay "Beyond Hofstede: Cultural applications for communication with Latin American Businesses".
In international negotiations, communication style, expectation, issue ranking and goals will change according to the negotiators' countries of origin. If applied properly, the understanding of cultural dimensions should increase success in negotiations and reduce frustration and conflicts. For example, in a negotiation between Chinese and Canadian, Canadian negotiators may want to reach an agreement and sign a contract, whereas Chinese negotiators may want to spend more time for non business activities, small talks and hospitality with preferences for protocol and form in order to first establish the relationship.
"When negotiating in Western countries, the objective is to work toward a target of mutual understanding and agreement and 'shake-hands' when that agreement is reached – a cultural signal of the end of negotiations and the start of 'working together'. In Middle Eastern countries much negotiation takes place leading into the 'agreement', signified by shaking hands. However, the deal is not complete in the Middle Eastern culture. In fact, it is a cultural sign that 'serious' negotiations are just beginning."
These considerations are also true in international management and cross-cultural leadership. Decisions taken have to be based on the country's customs and values. When working in international companies, managers may provide training to their employees in order to make them sensitive to cultural differences, develop nuanced business practices, with protocols across countries. Hofstede's dimensions offer guidelines for defining culturally acceptable approaches to corporate organizations.
As a part of the public domain, Geert Hofstede's work is used by numerous consultancies worldwide. But only 3 of them are regarded as partners and have Hofstede's full support with regular contacts.
As in communication, negotiation and management, the five dimensions model is very useful in international marketing too because it defines national values not only in business context but in general. Marieke de Mooij has studied the application of Hofstede's findings in the field of global branding, advertising strategy and consumer behavior. As companies try to adapt their products and services to local habits and preferences they have to understand the specificity of their market.
For example, if you want to market cars in a country where the uncertainty avoidance is high, you should emphasize on their safety, whereas in other countries you may base your advertisement on the social image they give you. Cell phone marketing is another interesting example of the application of Hofstede's model for cultural differences: if you want to advertise cell phones in China, you may show a collective experience whereas in the United States you may show how an individual uses it to save time and money. The variety of application of Hofstede's abstract theory is so wide that it has even been translated in the field of web designing in which you have to adapt to national preferences according to cultures' values.
Even though Hofstede's model is generally accepted as the most comprehensive framework of national cultures values by those studying business culture, its validity and its limitations have been extensively criticized. To give only one example, in a recent article in the Academy of Management's flagship journal, The Academy of Management Review, Galit Ailon deconstructs Hofstede's book Culture's Consequences by mirroring it against its own assumptions and logic. Ailon finds inconsistencies at the level of both theory and methodology and cautions against an uncritical reading of Hofstede's cultural dimensions.
Aside from Hofstede's 5 cultural dimensions, there are other factors on which culture can be analyzed. There are other levels for assessing culture. These levels are overlooked often because of the nature of the construction of these levels.
Hofstede acknowledges that the cultural dimensions he identified, as culture and values, are theoretical constructions. They are tools meant to be used in practical applications. Generalizations about one country's culture are helpful but they have to be regarded as such, i.e. as guidelines for a better understanding. They are group-level dimensions which describe national averages which apply to the population in its entirety. Hofstede's cultural dimensions enable users to distinguish countries but are not about differences between members of societies. They don't necessarily define individuals' personalities. National scores should never be interpreted as deterministic for individuals. For example, a Japanese person can be very comfortable in changing situations whereas on average, Japanese people have high uncertainty avoidance. There are still exceptions to the rule. Hofstede's theory can be contrasted with its equivalence at individual level: the trait theory about human personality.
Within and across countries, individuals are also parts of organizations such as companies. Hofstede acknowledges that "the […] dimensions of national cultures are not relevant for comparing organizations within the same country". In contrast with national cultures, embedded in values, organizational cultures are embedded in practices. From 1985 to 1987, Geert's institute IRIC (Institute for Research on Intercultural Cooperation) has conducted a separate research project in order to study organizational culture. Including 20 organizational units in two countries (Denmark and the Netherlands), six different dimensions of practices, or communities of practice have been identified:
Managing international organizations involves understanding both national and organizational cultures. Communities of practice across borders are significant for multinationals in order to hold the company together.
Within the occupational level, there is a certain degree of values and convictions that people hold with respect to the national and organizational cultures they are part of. The culture of management as an occupation has components from national and organizational cultures. This is an important distinction from the organizational level.
When describing culture, gender differences are largely not taken into consideration. However, there are certain factors that are useful to analyze in the discussion of cross-cultural communication. Within each society, men's culture differs greatly from women's culture. Although men and women can often perform the same duties from a technical standpoint, there are often symbols to which each gender has a different response. In situations where one gender responds in an alternative manner to their prescribed roles, the other sex may not even accept their deviant gender role. The level of reactions experienced by people exposed to foreign cultures can be compared similarly to the reactions of gender behaviors of the opposite sex. The degree of gender differentiation in a country depends primarily on the culture within that nation and its history.