Cultures last edited
160120 Bert hamminga version date 991013
Go to: Cultural diversity table
The HTT questions:
1. Personal performance < group conformity
2. Personal initiative < co-operation;
3. Firm as workshop < Employee loyalty;
4. Influence < fatalism;
5. Free competition < co-operation;
6. Performance respect < age respect;
7. Performance < power;
8. Performance < employer loyalty;
9. Market < relatives services;
10. Individual < family view on employee;
11. < Employer loyalty under stress
12. Money for extra work <
13. Individual isolation of tasks (?) <
14. Individual isolation. of responsibilities (?) <
15. Individual < family view on workers cost;
16. Majority vote < consensus;
17. Freedom < responsibility
The Laurent questions:
18. < Managers need all practical expertise ;
19. < Managers primarily want power;
20. < Managers are important for society;
21.< Steep hierarchy has advantages;
22. < There is a crisis of authority in firms;
23. Two bosses is no problem <
American versus Japanese business culture, a summary
Americans and family life
Being "American" is not like being "Dutch"
Difference in work and leisure
Germany and power
In a great number of countries in the world, the economy transformed into a capitalist market system, where firms and consumers operate on markets where a range of products of different quality and price can be freely chosen to be purchased for reasons of profitability or utility. In their highly recommendable book Seven Faces of Capitalism (New York, Doubleday, 1993), authors Charles Hampden Turner and Fons Trompenaars (HTT) claim that this does not mean these countries share one single capitalist culture. They try to bring out differences by questioning 15 000 managers from different capitalist countries on issues of organisational principles.
performance < group conformity
One group of questions was meant to find out whether people were more concentrated on a list of tasks to de done or on the fitness of the group of people as a group to do these tasks together. Suppose, it was asked, you have to screen candidates for a job in your department. What is more important to you: a good performing record and the right capacities for the tasks the candidate is supposed to perform, or whether he/she will fit in the team? In 1. Personal performance < group conformity in the cultural diversity table you see the percentages chosen for the "fit"-alternative. The sign "<" (smaller than) indicates I chose to rank stress on personal performance "low" and stress on group conformity "high" (that is an arbitrary choice). Now, roughly, this reveals a left side group (here US Canada Australia) stressing performance, and a right side group with Japan and Singapore stressing group conformity are primary criterion.
Every row in the Cultural diversity
table represents a dilemma: a choice between two
alternatives generally both thought to be desirable. So, because respondents are
asked to choose, they choose for the "least bad" of the two. In every
country x% chooses for one alternative, so 100-x% chooses for the other. Thus, every
question in the cultural diversity table yields a row of percentages, and frequently, US,
Canada and Australia are found at one extreme, and the Asian countries at the other
extreme of the ranking. Since it makes no difference whether you assign your rank numbers
from left to right 0% to 100% or 100% to 0%, I arbitrarily decided to choose the
left extreme as 0% (thus 0% which might be the "right side" or the "wrong
side" according to your personal cultural values). Sometimes, roughly, the ranking is
reversed. In that case I reversed the percentage scale: "two bosses are
terrible" would scale the Anglo-Saxons extreme right, because they seem to care much
less about their number of bosses than Italians and French. Because I try to keep as much
as possible the general ordering of the Anglo-Saxons left of the Italians and French, and
to have Asians right, I scale according to "two bosses are no problem",
though the question was posed the other way around.
Of course, the extreme percentages are most telling.
What stands out in this question 1. Personal performance < group conformity and many questions to follow the Japanese and Singaporese stress on group conformity and the US, Canadian and Australian stress on individual performance. A first indication that Anglo Saxons (where the UK results are somewhat less extreme, for reasons I do not know) are most individualistic in expecting good results from organisations if its individuals are good in what they are hired to do. Japanese and Singaporese seem to rely for results extremely on a good group, in which new individuals should fit. That will be confirmed by results that follow below. Even the whole idea of what is a "result" turns out to be culturally diverse.
2. Personal initiative <
Question 1 was interpreted as dealing with individualism version group orientedness. The "individualist" countries are scaled left in the table. Another question concerning a similar cultural difference was: what kind of job do you like, (a) one where nobodies salary depends on individual performance, where group performance and co-operation has priority, or (b) one where your personal initiative is encouraged and you can have your personal achievements recognised? You find the ranking in the row 2. Personal initiative < co-operation of the cultural diversity table. The question is again about individual versus group orientation of managers, and the results are roughly the same as those of question 1 and the overall average ranking. That suggest that in right side countries people are not only selected chiefly by viewing them as future part of a group, but also that one likes to see success as group success, and it is thought improper for a individual to claim part of the success personally. In left side countries there is less aversion to personal claims and rewards, or even preference to it.
3. Firm as workshop
< Employee loyalty
Another related cultural difference is your degree of social attachment to your firm as an employee. Here, the question was: if I am going to work somewhere (a) I am almost sure I will work there the rest of my life, (b) I am almost sure that my working relation to that organisation is more or less temporal. The ranking results conform the general pattern from left to right. The suggestion is, to put it pregnantly, that Anglo-Saxon business organisations are almost like railway stations where people walk in and out, and Asian business organisations are almost like families that you are born in to stay. Another extreme way to express the view of Anglo-Saxons is that they tend to treat their firm as a workshop, where they decide to be the "customer" (receiving money, paying with work) as one can be a customer in any shop. The Anglo-Saxon employee does not have, nor is he expected to have, much more loyalty to his employer than customers generally have to shops. The Swedes join them in this question. Japanese are at the "loyalty"-end of the spectrum, though still far under 50%, and outdone by far by Italians and French! I have, on a separate page, more on power.
4. Influence < fatalism
An individualist, Hampden Turner and Trompenaars argue, is someone who believes he can shape his environment on his own. He believes he can influence his world. If group conformity is your highest value, you may feel you "contribute", but you primarily feel dependent on others. Again the Anglo-Saxons' rank is "low" (individualist believers in their personal influence), the Asian's rank is "high" (group conforming dependency believers). From my own experience, I am inclined to put is as: Anglo-Saxons primarily want to be good actors, Asians (and Africans as well) primarily want to be good reactors. Note, though, that the diversity here is substantially less wide than at the other questions.
5. Free competition < co-operation
Individualistic thinkers, Hampden Turner and Trompenaars suggest, tend to think competition is best: "if the best wins, this is good for all of us". Hence anti-trust -cartel and -monopoly sentiments in the West: trusts, cartels and monopolies are interpreted as signs of conspiracy of producers against consumers. Consumers are thought likely to suffer if producers in one market make agreements on prices and quality. Dependency (right side) thinkers tend to bet more on co-operation. They are more likely to hail agreements between firms, believing their managers are "good" and "responsible" and will get the most out of the advantages of co-operation. The ranking of countries resulting is similar to the previous ones, even standard (in having all Anglo-Saxon countries far left and Asians far right).
We have anomalous rankings here for two middle ranked countries: Sweden and Germany here are the right extreme of the Western countries: their idea about inter firm co-operation and agreement has very little undertones indeed of fear of anti consumer conspiracy. This is al the more remarkable because for instance these countries' employer loyalty answers (question 3) rank low. For Sweden, group conformity in business departments is also valued anomalously high, and the same holds for reactiveness (fatalism).
6. Performance respect <
Then Hampden Turner and Trompenaars proceed to the question of how to attribute status to someone in your firm. Is it age that should be respected, or performance? Hampden Turner and Trompenaars expect that in countries where social and co-operation values are worn high, age might be relatively more important, whereas performance is expected to be the totem of the individualists. Indeed, It turns out to be like that: the ranking according to question 6 is standard. Except for the Dutch! In hailing age, and length of "service" as they call it ("dienst") respectfully referred to by the Dutch with the French word "ancienniteit", the Dutch are the Asians of Europe. But the differences are all relatively small.
7. Performance < power
Some people, it was asked to the managers, think that a boss usually is the one who knows best how to do the work. Others think the boss usually is the one whose power is the greatest. What do you think? The answers are generally anomalous. The ranking is anomalous, but most countries are close. The extremely low ranks (performance) are occupied by Germany, US and Singapore, the extreme high rank (power) by Japan. The high ranks in the tight main group have UK, Australia and the Netherlands. Perhaps the only significant result is outlayer Japan. Hampden Turner and Trompenaars offer as an explanation for Japan: in Japan, power is not "dirty". Everybody accepts that you need power to be a good boss, so if you do not have it, people do not want you to be boss. So, power is not "dirty" in Japan.
I will add some personal speculations on what could explain differences: in most countries power is dirty, especially if it overpowers abilities. Then, then question becomes: is the person answering the question an optimist or a pessimist. If he is an optimist, if his own career goes well, he will tend to optimistically think performance generally wins over power. If his progress in life lags severely behind his ambitions, he needs an explanation for his own failure. In cultures where power is thought dirty, losers believe in power. It reconciles the positive idea they want to have about their own abilities with the lagging of their career. This would suggest that Australia and The Netherlands top in relative frequency of frustrated losers, and US, Germany and Singapore are countries where people's careers follow their own expectations to the greatest extent. See also power.
8. Performance < employer loyalty
Suppose, it was asked, a senior employee with a good long record starts to perform badly and no improvement is to be expected. Should he be fired? This question is thought to ask whether firms are supposed to pay now for what the employee delivers now, or that a long term employer loyalty towards the employee is thought proper. In the latter case, one should find a way inside the firm to take care of the faulty employee without further let him damage the firm's objectives, in the former case, he should simply be fired. The result ranking is more or less standard: Anglo-Saxons fire, Asians gently internally move the malfunctioning employee to a place where he can do no more harm to the firm. At least, that is what is thought proper in these different cultures. Canada and US take an extreme performance oriented stand, even within the Anglo-Saxon cultures.
9. Market < relatives services
Suppose a fire ruins someone's shop, the question goes. There is no insurance. Should the shop owner borrow money from his closest relatives, or is it better that he goes to the financial market, that is, tries to borrow from some bank? Again, the results a standard: Anglo-Saxons think the financial market is most apt, don't like to "mix business with family life". Asian think that your family is a personal insurance community you call upon once you suffer bad luck. The main cultural divide here seems to be Asian-non Asian. The Sweden turn out extremely hesitant to mix business and family relations
10. Individual <
family view on employee
Should the wage offered by the employer depend upon the family the employee has to maintain? No, Anglo-Saxons predominantly say. Yes, is the standard Asian opinion. Italians are an anomaly here in being near the Asians. Here the answers depend on whether in a culture the family situation of an employee is considered to be result of his/her own free individual choice (in the extreme it could be compared to any other hobby you may have outside your work), or whether the family situation is seen as the result of cultural circumstances beyond control of the individual (in the extreme case to be compared to say, additional costs made by a company to employ a disabled person -also not thought proper to be charged to the employee in question).
11. < Employer
loyalty under conflicting interests
A tricky question: you have just left a meeting where information has been given confidentially that imply your best friend will go bankrupt if he does not quickly sell some kind of stocks. Will you tell him (low percentage), or will you respect the firm's confidentiality (high percentage)? The answers make a mess of "left" and "right" in the table. Extreme firm loyalty transpires in Japan and Germany. Extreme loyalty to private friendships is found in Singaporese and Italian answers. May be this is because it is hard to frame this dilemma in the spectrum individualism-group orientedness. Private loyalty is at least as much a group loyalty as firm loyalty. The question might thus measure what the respondent feels most dependent upon: his friends or his firm. Then, firms seem to have most power over their employees in Japan and least in ...Singapore (Italy, Sweden, France).
Yue Wang (student International Business 1999) on Chinese versus Japanese on this question
12. Money for extra work <
Should extra work be compensated by extra payment? The "<" (smaller than) sign to the right means that low ranking cultures think predominantly yes, high ranking cultures no. Suddenly, the Japanese reveal themselves as individualists: second place! Swedes take the highest profile here, rank 1 . Anomalous is also the aversion to overtime-dependent salaries among German managers (rank 9). Note the UK and US are far apart here.
13. Individual isolation of
There often are, the next question goes, two ways to organise the work of a department. One can work as a group, count on each other and discuss strategy (ranking right), and one can attribute every single job to an individual worker who has his own tasks and will usually be his own boss (ranking left). Japanese again take an anomalous profile as individualists (far left with Sweden and US), and Germans and French stand out here as group workers.
isolation. of responsibilities <
Here the question is: Some hold that a department is run best by having the employee agree with their boss about specific goals and it is left to the employee how to reach them (ranking left). Others hold the boss should also interfere in how to reach the goals set (ranking right). The answers suggest Italy, Sweden and Singapore to be the "bossiest" countries. Independent working is suggested to be hailed most in France, The Netherlands and Japan.
Now what to make out of these severe anomalies? Interpretation of these isolation-of-responsibilities results is even more difficult because isolation-of-tasks (also involving the degree to which you are "your own boss", so quite a similar question) is answers decisively different by Swedes (rank 9 versus 2), Germans (rank 4 versus 9) and French (rank 1 versus 8).
First of all, this shows how reserved one always should remain in believing answers to questionnaires "suggest" something. It shows that the way the data came about, and the way we deal with them are very far from the ideals of "science". We nevertheless do this, because there are no better standards to talk about cultural differences, unless you limit yourself to very limited areas (percentage of fish in diets, number of working hours, duration of schooling etc.). If you wish to deal with more general aspects of world culture differences, things turn sloppy. Nevertheless, it is useful to share ideas and experiences on the subject. We should, however, not have hope we do much more in reporting research like this.
15. Individual <
family view on workers cost
Should a company pay for the marriage of a young employee? Japanese somewhat surprisingly not in the usual right extreme, where UK is the real anomaly.
The answers should be compared to those on question 10, where the same question was asked not on employee cost, but on employee salary. US ranks left in 10 (acknowledgement of family background for salary), but middle in 15, the marriage cost question. So they tend not to compensate for family circumstances in salary but do compensate in cost. Sweden ranks extreme left in both questions taking a very high individualist (non-family) profile here. UK is takes an astonishing position: top in no family considerations in determining salary, top in finding marriage a good reason for employers to compensate for!
16. Majority vote < consensus
Here Hampden Turner and Fons Trompenaars were curious about the attitude in decision making. For that purpose, they asked something not concerning business: suppose there is a problem in your neighbourhood. Neighbours convene. Should they quickly list the alternatives and vote? Or should they try to convince each other until everybody agrees to what is thought to be the best solution?
There is not a real anomaly here, though Italians take a high profile in not expecting much from talking (and Germans do).
17. Freedom <
Here, the following two views are opposed: "a person's freedom and opportunities are decisive for the quality of his life" versus "harmonising your life with others, even at the cost of losing some of your own freedom improves life for everyone". Italians, Germans and French take the high profile in responsibility, Anglo-Saxons in freedom. One might expect Japanese in the right, but they are in the middle.
Questions 18 to 23 are taken from research by Andr� Laurent,
"Cross-Cultural Management for Pan-European Companies", in: Spyros Makridakis,
Europe 1992 and Beyond, San Francisco: Jossey Bass, 1991. (these results are also
treated by Hampden Turner and Fons Trompenaars). Unfortunately for
us, Laurent did not include Asian countries. He concentrated on Europe.
Laurent's main idea is that (profit)organisations are not perceived the same over Europe: in the North-West they are primarily seen as instruments made to perform certain tasks, in France and Italy they are mainly perceived as social-political power centres. He devised claims to "vote" on that might bring out this difference
18. < Managers need all
Here the "<" (smaller than) sign is left. This means that "no" is chosen to rank low, "yes" ranks high. Laurents claim is: "A manager should know the exact answer to most questions posed by his subordinates on their jobs". France and Italy are in the right group with Germany. This is taken to mean that a manager is supposed really to have "full authority" over his inferiors. North-West Europe forms a pretty close left group: managers do not have to fear if subordinates have expertise they do not share. There subordinates are more like colleagues considered to be challenging leadership as soon as they start supplying expertise to a manager.
19. < Managers primarily want power
The claim to say no or yes to is: "most managers strive for power more than for the realisation of certain aims". The divide is the same is in the previous question: France and Italy are in the right group. North-West Europe forms a pretty close left group. Germany, however, now joins the "North-West" group! Laurent feels it feeds his idea of France and Italy as countries where companies are perceived as social-political power centres.
20. < Managers are important for
Here Laurent's claim is: "their job attributes to managers an important political role in society". Dominantly "no" ranks low, dominantly "yes" ranks high. Again, Italy and France rank right, the rest is close together left. Again the idea transpires of managers as part of the social-political power centre.
21.< Steep hierarchy has
Laurent also presumes the French-Italian perception of firms leads to other ideas concerning hierarchy. Here, his claim is: "the big advantage of a steep hierarchy is that everybody knows who exactly is his boss". He expects the yes concentrated in France and Italy, and it is. Again, the outcome is "Laurent-standard".
22.< "There is a crisis
of authority in firms today"
This answers to this yes/no question are again Laurent-standard.
23. Two bosses is no problem <
"The situations where some employees have two superiors should be avoided as much as possible". Italy and France again rank top right, UK and Germany join, however, the Italy France- group.
When asked (not by Laurent, but by Hampden Turner and Trompenaars) to choose which one of three shapes of hierarchy fits their own company best, employees from different countries choose thus:
Conclusions Laurent questions
The Laurent questions in themselves seem to provide consistent suggestions concerning culture differences between Italy-France on one side and North-West Europe on the other. However! Charles Hampden Turner and Fons Trompenaars asked questions on responsibilities too (14. Individual isolation. of responsibilities <) and watch the results: France extremely left in pervasive preference for individual responsibilities, and Italy extremely right in preferring strict and detailed guidelines from superiors!
A general problem is the perception of a "hierarchy" by the people working in it. Westerners tend to think of army-type hierarchy where you are told what to do and not told why ("don't think, that's other people's job"). Asians and Africans think of hierarchies of warm and safe places to be, places where you are accepted, and where you are free to raise your doubts if necessary without fear of harm. Of course, after you dealt with your superiors about the matter you comply, but often your acceptance entails that you succeed to modify the decision of your superior which makes you very proud, though of course it is considered not done to boost about it. Would those Westerners who avoid steep hierarchies keep doing so if they knew types of hierarchies far from the army ("don't think")-variant?
Go to: Power Hierarchy
American versus Japanese business culture, a summary
I shall distinguish here between (USA) "American" and "Japanese" traits, remembering that generalisations like this are bound to have a lot of exceptions (see Identifying culture groups). To warn for this, I have put "American" and "Japanese" between quotes. A similar, but more elaborate list can be found in Hampden Turner and Trompenaars (p. 190-91).
Americans and family life
In the American discussion often the problem is raised that families, though living together, old feeding young, do not really know each other very well: both parents often have long hour jobs, not seldomly each of them two, children feed themselves with what parents put in the fridge and go to their room to do their homework. CNN reports a remarkable initiative in the US to counter this culture trend of individualisation in the family.
Being "American" is not like being "Dutch"
As a result of the origin of the USA as a set of colonies of settlers who went not only for new land, but also for new values, being "American" does not merely mean, like mutatus mutandis being Dutch, born in the USA from parents entitled to register you for USA citizenship. "Being American" is taken to involve adherence to political programme of basic "American" values. In the cold war period, American citizens critical to American policy could actually be charged and tried for being "un-American". It would be impossible in the Netherlands to accuse someone of being un-Dutch. Nobody would understand the nature of the accusation. Hampden Turner and Trompenaar use this as one explanation why Americans foster belief in universal values
Difference in work and leisure
Working hours per week differ substantially between Asia, US and Europe. The 1997 figures are found in a CNN web page on working hours. :
The main features clearly are the consistently low end figures for the European countries. In average hours per week (52 weeks, so including holiday weeks) the table is:
Asian (except Japan)
To consolidate the results for Sweden: Swedes shift flexibly from one employer to another (question 3), typically being hired for group conformity first, "technical" capabilities second (question 1). There is high trust that business will use co-operation responsibly and not for anti consumer conspiracy (question 5). You typically solve serious problems that force you into dependency (loans to restart a burnt shop is the example) though business relations (you go to a bank), so you are weary of mixing private relative-relations with business relations (question 9). There is relatively low convinction of possibilities individuals to influence outcomes of processes, that is relativily high "fatalism".
One of my friends claims that Swedes are people who like contacts very much, but they find it hard just to chat about something more or less arbitrary like many other Europeans do in a bar. So, their desire for contact is best fulfilled by talking business. They like very much to be at their job, it partly serves as their "club". They do not mind to spend overtime without getting paid (left extreme in question 12!). There is in many business not much frowning when people seem not to do a lot for some time during the day, because it is realised people stay longer than their contract formally requires and regard it as their group hobby, social game and pastime to get their business assignment done well. Since this is a group activity, they are "reactive", sometimes called "feminine". To state this in a pregnant but, it should be granted, flatly exaggerated way: the Swedish work floor is more like a cosy kitchen with lots of lovely smells fitting well together than a burning hell with fighting individualist Anglo-Saxon Rambo's.
Whatever might be correct in the personal impression above, in Sweden employment is a relatively high value: jobs for everyone, good jobs, nice jobs, fitting jobs, jobs for disabled. A jobs, quite apart from its means to earn money is a desirability in itself.
Conclusion: the procedure we followed in choosing the low < high order of our scales, though resulting in pretty stable positioning of Anglo-Saxons left, Asians right and southern Europeans middle, yields many a surprise for Swedes, jumping from left to right going from one question to another.
Germany and power
Germans are found left in the first two questions, hailing individual performance and individual initiative. On question 4 they believe in individual influence. They are extreme left in stressing performance over power as a hallmark of good leadership. From 8 it transpires that you are not easily fired in Germany if you start to dysfunction. There is a extreme employer loyalty (as opposed to private relations loyalty): business secrets will not easily be told to friends (11). More often than in Sweden, it is judged that extra work should be paid ("Arbeit", 12). You do want to operate as a group (think of "die Mannschaft", in soccer matches so notoriously beating the Dutch Orange "individualists" 13), and you will prefer consensus over majority vote (16) BUT: question 1: personal performance counts, in hiring and judging people, more than group conformity. Responsibility is more important than individual freedom (17), Managers are not primarily after power (19), BUT is is not nice to have two bosses (23). Conclusion: the procedure we followed in choosing the low < high order of out scales, though resulting in pretty stable positioning of Anglo-Saxons left and Asians right, yields many a surprise for Germans, jumping from left to right going from one question to another.
My personal feeling is that the decidedly "anti power" mood among German managers is a recent change. The relaxation of power exertion is of the past 20 years in all European countries, but Germany had to travel that road from a more authoritarian starting point than other North West European countries. Acquired values are usually phrased more extremely when the acquisition is recent. Power is still a subject of German conferences, TV talk shows etc. You can compare this to the phrasing of free sex idea's in the first years of the general introduction of chemical anticonception in the early seventies. Sex is just as "free" now , or even more free than it was at that time, but few really care to state it as emphatically as was done in the early seventies. The same thing might be the case with power in Germany of the nineties. The special thing is that respect for power went down though the co-operation- (Mannschaft-) ideal remains as high as ever. Evaluationg a teaching course I followed with Germans they started saying they had a "gute Gruppe". On NOS TV November 17th, 1999 a Dutch football commentator, reporting a match in Germany between a Dutch and a German team, stated that during football games under German TV directors shots of coaches are longer and more frequent than elsewhere in Europe. The German coaches know that and develop private types of TV theatre accordingly.
Go to: Charles Hampden Turner and Fons Trompenaars Seven Faces of Capitalism
(New York, Doubleday, 1993) on How "pure" can
economics be? The French!
Go to: Questions about Different Capitalist Cultures