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Understanding Cultural Preferences

The Culture in the Workplace Questionnaire™ report contains results on each of six (6) cultural dimensions:

1. Individualism (Individualism - Group)
2. Power Distance (Hierarchical - Participative)
3. Certainty (Need for Certainty - Tolerance for Ambiguity)
4. Achievement (Achievement - Quality of Life)
5. Time Orientation (Long-Term Orientation - Short-Term Orientation)
5. Indulgence (Indulgence Orientation - Restraint Orientation)

If you think of each dimension as a continuum, each of your scores will be a point on the corresponding dimension's continuum. A higher score will indicate a preference for the orientation indicated on that end of the continuum; a lower score will indicate a preference for the orientation on the opposite end of the continuum.

Your results may or may not correspond to your country's average. A country average is a point that represents the top of a bell curve under which all those in the database from a particular country (who have taken the instrument) will be represented. Remember that culturally similar people often have variations in preferences - as groups, however, they can be differentiated. So don't assume colleagues' preferences from their country average (these can only be used as guidelines), but base your responses on what you learn directly from your colleagues' behaviors.

There are no right or wrong answers or profiles. Whether or not your style will be effective in a given situation depends on the approach, the context, and the desired outcome.

Example #1: if you have a hierarchical orientation (prefer to manage by giving explicit instructions) and are working in a low power distance context, you may not be able to achieve your goals by fiat; persuasion and modeling work best in a low power distance context. However, if the context is a crisis, where orders are more expected even in low power distance contexts, you may be more successful.

Example #2: If you have a participative orientation and are working in a high power distance context, if the goal of your work is to bring about change, persuasion and modeling may not be sufficient to accomplish this. It may take explicit direction from someone at a higher level (yourself if you operate at that level). However, if you are a member of a team and teambuilding is an object, the low power distance behavior of modeling and persuasion may indeed be effective, even in a high power distance context.

None of the cultural dimensions operate in isolation from the others. Complexity is the rule, and determining the most appropriate and effective initiative in different cultures requires knowledge of cultural differences, understanding of the people you are working with and their workplace, and the general environment - political, economic, and social - in which we live and work.

Sample Learnings from Results

How to Interact With...


Colleagues with an Individual Orientation...
  • Learn to expect direct and quick answers to your questions.
  • Recognize that colleagues will not feel the need to consult others before making a decision.
  • Appeal to their self-interest more than to the group interest.
Colleagues with a Group Orientation...

  • Learn not to expect direct and quick answers to your questions.
  • Allow colleagues to consult each other without being suspicious about it.
  • Appeal more to the common interest than to his/her self-interest.


Example: Relocating to another country

If you are relocating to a country with a higher group orientation, make sure that you are aware of the need for colleagues to consult a larger group before making decisions; therefore, early stages of decision-making may take more time than you expect, although implementation may be generally more rapid than you expect.

If you are relocating to a country with a higher individual orientation, be aware that individuals whose role or position enables them to speak on behalf of the larger group without directly consulting them will often make decisions quickly. You can also expect that you will need to take more individual responsibility for your job performance than you may be used to.

Power Distance
How to Interact With...

Colleagues with a Hierarchical Orientation...
  • Look for signs that your approach to seniority and hierarchy is not too challenging.
  • In dealing with senior management, you will need to take steps to adjust your style to cultures where inequalities among people are both expected and desired (Hofstede, 1991) and where senior managers are expected to tell juniors what to do.
  • Recognize their "authority," be deferential.
  • Use legitimate power if you have any.
  • Expect managers to decide and often to tell subordinates (or you) what and how to do something.
  • Expect your clients to apply management authority and decisiveness and feel the need to control their subordinates (or you).
  • Remember that subordinates who have a preference for hierarchical orientation expect their managers and team leaders to tell them what to do. Do not mistake this for lack of initiative.
Colleagues with a Participative Orientation...
  • Use more gentle persuasion and influencing skills.
  • Include colleagues in the discussion. Provide them with choices to discuss and explain your position/suggestions.
  • Recognize that they want a more equal discussion regardless of the levels of those involved.
  • They may expect subordinates (or you) to design "how" something is accomplished while they define the "what."
  • They may prefer to work with those who can question and challenge their ideas.

Example: Supervising someone from another country

If you are supervising someone with a stronger hierarchical orientation than yours, you will need to provide him or her with more direction and oversight than you would prefer from your own supervisor.

If you are supervising someone with a stronger participative orientation than yours, recognize that they may feel as though you trying to "micromanage' them if you tell them not only what to do but also how to do it. If they ask you questions or offer suggestions about something, it does not mean they are challenging your authority.

How to Interact With...

Colleagues with a Need for Certainty...

  • Recognize their need for information. Have available lots of supporting data and even theory, if appropriate. Use a logical flow to your interactions. Provide them with examples of others who have used the approach successfully.
  • Provide them with a cost analysis to help them see the cost benefits comparison.
  • Give them lots of time to make the decision.
  • Use channels (follow the rules) to get things done e.g., to get an introduction.
  • They may seem structured and inflexible; remember they prefer compliance with procedures.
Colleagues with a Tolerance for Ambiguity...
  • Provide them with an outline of information for them to use in decision-making. They may not need to know how it is going to work as long as the numbers make sense.
  • There is less need to prove others have tried an approach and that it works, although a case study couldn't hurt - but provide it in bullets.
  • Start with the main points, then build your case around their questions.
  • Think "outside" the box as these colleagues and clients are less likely to be bound by rules and regulations.
  • Challenge and question "the way things are done."
  • Rules may be broken for pragmatic reasons.

Example: Working on a team with people of different nationalities

If you have a higher need for certainty than others, perhaps you should volunteer for a planning role and you should expect that the structure of the team or its implementation strategies may be less well defined than you would prefer.

If you have a higher tolerance for ambiguity than others, you will need to appreciate others' need for compliance with procedures and an orderly approach, and understand that they are likely to expect the same of you. Overemphasis on your preference towards a "just do it" attitude may lead to resentment and withdrawal of cooperation, rather than the intended impact of "empowering" others and achieving objectives.

Click here if you would like to find out your Certainty profile.

How to Interact With...

Colleagues with an Achievement Orientation...
  • Show drive or ambition for completion of tasks and meet deadlines.
  • Respond with a sense of urgency.
  • Deliver what you promise, when you promise, and give 20% more than you promised.
  • Can work under even unpleasant conditions.
  • Remember these colleagues may "Live to Work."
Colleagues with a Quality of Life Orientation...
  • Use a consultative approach.
  • Avoid a strong "self-display."
  • Stress interdependence.
  • Prefer a quality work life atmosphere.
  • Remember these colleagues are more likely to "Work to Live."

Example: Modifying a product or training program for other countries

If you are highly achievement oriented and working with people who have more of a quality of life orientation, the process you use to develop the product, its packaging and distribution system, or a training program, may need to be modified so that you can accomplish your goals by working through others.

If you have a higher quality of life orientation, your more achievement oriented colleagues may perceive you as less driven or ambitious than they are. They may as a consequence display some frustration based on their greater expectation for urgency and delivery versus your preference for establishing consultative relationships and rapport. Recognition of this dynamic in your initial interactions may help you to establish an effective foundation for the cooperation you seek to develop.

Time Orientation
How to Interact With...

Colleagues with a Long-Term Orientation...
  • Define success over a long time horizon.
  • Are more likely to be rewarded for sales growth and market position than for the sake of short-term profits.
  • Provide rewards consistently, based on regular patterns.
  • Be willing to adapt policies and guidelines to different contexts.
  • Expect status to play a role in business relationships.
  • Expect that business loyalties will remain stable over time.
  • Show patience and perseverance.
Colleagues with a Short-Term Orientation...
  • Plan to achieve quick results and rapid fulfillment of business priorities.
  • Are more likely to be rewarded for short-term profits than long-term market position.
  • Provide rewards based on achievement of results.
  • Apply policies and guidelines widely whatever the context.
  • Expect status not to play an overt role in business relationships.
  • Expect that business loyalties may change over time.

Example: Working on a joint venture

In countries with a long-term orientation, organizations measure success over a long time frame, and factors such as market position and customer satisfaction are much more important in evaluating business performance than bottom line results. If you have more of a short-term orientation and are working with people in countries with a long-term orientation, you may be viewed as short-sighted and impatient if you insist on meeting short-term goals at the expense of what is believed best for the long-term health of the business.

In countries with a short-term orientation, efforts are expected to produce quick results, and companies often use management control systems which judge how effectively a manager has contributed to the company's bottom line. If you have more of a long-term orientation and are working with people in countries with a more short-term orientation, you may view this constant emphasis on short-term results as myopic and harmful to the business; on the other hand, your colleagues with a short-term orientation may view you as incompetent and unfocused if your actions and decisions do not take into account current business needs.

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