“We need to believe in the culture of the firm,” said the CFO to colleagues during a recent visit to the Asia region to discuss the firm’s strategy and culture.
A multi-national company is a melting pot of cultural values. All managers, not just CFOs, need to appreciate the influence local culture has on shaping global business processes and corporate culture.
As an engineer of room and open-space collaboration systems, I look for ways to improve the design and deployment of technology to enhance innovation and productivity. The influence of regional cultures on product adoption is particularly interesting, since our deployment strategies are typically global. While cultural sensitivity is a timely topic, there is still little research on how to capitalize on regional values when implementing collaborative technology. The reality is that cultural norms are always in transition and huddle spaces are a relatively new phenomenon. Asian firms, considered for the past twenty years as innovators in business process, are modifying their cultural strategies in response to the recent successes of bold Western-style business models (The Economist, 2014). Will these firms embrace collaboration spaces in their cultural transition?
How global companies continue to change and innovate is dependent on several cultural dynamics. This article focuses on the influence of culture on change management. Gaining culture competency is the first step to successfully installing collaboration spaces on a global scale. We begin with Hofstede’s 5 Ds.
The engineering on the new communication tool is going smoothly, initial pilots received positive feedback, success is in the air and the pressure is mounting to deploy an innovative technology across the entire firm. Fortunately, it is not too late to leverage the significant influence culture has on regional adaptation to change (Aguirre and von Post, 2013). If one ignores cultural differences and behaviors, there could be substantial resistance to change (Wursten, 2014) to even the best ideas. Let us use the global roll out of huddle rooms as a practical application of cultural competency. In comparison to other products, the way people share information in a team setting has a particularly close association to human interaction and cultural acceptance.
Hofstede’s Cultural Dimensions
Hofstede’s cultural dimensions theory provides a framework for understanding cross-cultural communication strategies.
The chart provides a useful method for keeping the cultural variables of 196 countries in your head. The idea is to compartmentalize six culture categories: Contest (Anglo Saxon), Network (Netherlands and Scandinavia), Pyramid (Mexico, Portugal and Russia), Family (China and India), Solar (France and Belgium) and the Well-Oiled Machine (Germany and Austria).
Unfreezing through Cultural Sensitivity
Kurt Lewin’s three-step change management strategy: unfreeze, move, and then freeze in place (Infed, 2015) is a useful concept for to applying Hofstede’s cultural analysis. The objective is to apply cultural sensitivity to stimulate stakeholders during the introduction phase of the project.
Across all groups and individuals, there are two polarizing forces at equilibrium: the willingness and resistance to change (Festinger, Reiken and Schachter, 1956). We have all experienced it: the harder one pushes, the greater the resistance. The secret to achieving acceptance is appreciating that contention factors are commonly culturally oriented. Therefore, in order to roll out our new communications technology, we need to start by understanding the dynamics of motivation in a cultural context. Chart 1 compares six different cultural attitudes towards leadership and common resistance factors. Notice that the recommended strategies vary significantly because cultures use different thought process to reach conclusions. Let us look at the reasoning processes more closely because the concept is useful for understanding other cultural attitudes.
Inductive Reasoning and Low Uncertainty Avoidance
Cultural differences in preferred thinking patterns is one of the most profound variables impacting global change implementations, particularly the difference between the deductive and inductive reasoning societies (Trochim, 2006). Contest cultures such as the United States favor inductive reasoning, taking many specific observations, discerning patterns and then making generalizations, explanations and theories. This type of reasoning is useful for forming hypotheses and theories. In contrast, Pyramid cultures such as China favor deductive reasoning, starting first with theory and moving towards discovering truth and validation. In these cultures, one starts with a hypothesis and then examines all the possibilities to reach a conclusion. Deductive reasoning is useful for applying theories to specific situations.
It follows that the strategy used for achieving global buy-in should shift when encountering different methods of thinking through problems. Wursten (2014) contends that uncertainty avoidance is the core dynamic at play, as illustrated in chart 2. A project leader from a Contest country may hold introductory session with stakeholders from another country hoping to get buy in. A common mistake is to avoid “wasting” everyone’s time reviewing foregone conclusions and launch right into the roadmap, stress the important advantages of the new technology or even start to demonstrate the product. If the recipients are from China or another High Uncertainty Avoidance culture, this type of product introduction may result in freezing the project in that region.
In the eyes of other cultures, reasoning by Contest leaders may appear overly confident, quickly reached and lacking appreciation of all of the elements and potential pitfalls that could occur. These cultures prefer to use deductive reasoning to appreciate the virtues of a project’s strategy and stakeholders may dig in their heels if they are not convinced a logical process formed the basis for action, and counter the urgency by slowing the entire process down until their concerns are addressed. An alternative approach, one that will speed up acceptance in the Pyramid, Solar and Well-Oiled Machine cultures, is to take significantly more time to address the philosophy behind the change, walk through the reasoning and reference industry experts that validate the premises and the necessity to move forward.
Post hoc ergo propter hoc (after this, therefore because of this)
Inductive reasoning and higher risk taking, moving from practice to theory and on to implementation very quickly, has made many Western companies very successful and established globally competitive notoriety. The history of success is relatively recent however, and it can falsely embolden a Contest project leader. Cultural sensitivity necessary to achieve global adoption, particularly if the objective results can result in a significant change in the workplace such as collaboration spaces.
The post hoc fallacy is example of the precarious risks that Contest cultures take in their reasoning process and that more risk-adverse cultures choose not accept. Anglo-Saxon cultures may reach conclusions faster because they are basing their reasoning on the order of events or on one event being caused by another. Inductive reasoning can lead to false conclusions even if initial premise is true. As the saying goes, the rooster crowing immediately before sunrise does not necessarily mean the rooster caused the sun to rise. The inductive thought process is not as effective at taking into account other factors that might rule out the connection between the events.
Deductive reasoning, on the other hand, explores all of the possible alternatives to validate theories; hence, these cultures are likely to see a wider range of potential pitfalls, which naturally leads to a preference to avoid as much risk as possible. The most successful project roll out strategy will embrace alternative thought processes and harnesses the power of deductive reasoning to find flaws in original premises. Validating the implementation strategy across multiple cultures will be more effective than forcing any culture to accept a plan based on an alternative reasoning process.
Hofstede’s Cultural Dimensions are a useful resource for identifying core cultural discrepancies and applying strategies to build lasting communication strategies across multinational organizations. Consider the strategic advantage that a company can achieve by tapping into cultural variances such as inductive reasoning when projects reach and impasse, and a means of identifying potential gaps in the story line.
In the next installment of Turning Point, these cultural variables are applied to implementation strategies and ways to maximize global project management
TURNING POINT is Mark Peterson's personal take on innovation and collaboration influencing today's corporate strategy. To have a conversion about what takes to implement collaborative solutions efficiently and at enterprise scale, contact Mark Peterson
Aguirre, D. and von Post, R. (2013). Culture’s critical role in change management. Strategy and Business. Retrieved from http://www.strategy-business.com/blog/Cultures-Critical-Role-in-Change-Management?gko=a3f98
The Economist (2014). One World: Asian and Western business will become more alike. Retrieved fromhttp://www.economist.com/news/special-report/21602832-asian-and-western-business-will-become-more-alike-one-world
Infed (2015). Kurt Lewin: groups, experiential learning and action research. Retrieved from http://infed.org/mobi/kurt-lewin-groups-experiential-learning-and-action-research/
Festinger, L. Reiken, H., Schachter, S. (1956). When prophecy fails: A social and psychological study of a modern group that predicted the destruction of the world. University of Minnesota Press.
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Wursten, H., Lanser, F. and Fadrhonc, T. (2014). How to improve efficiency in your HR capital. ITIM International. Retrieved from http://www.itim.org/en/managing_people_across_cultures.pdf