How Cultural Awareness Can Boost Your Career
Published 19th March, 2018
In today’s era of globalisation, it’s become almost impossible to engage in any business activity that doesn’t cross national borders. Small e-commerce shops are now selling to customers all over the world, and we’re seeing our local bars busy sending orders to international suppliers.
On the other end of the scale, conglomerates like BP have operations spread across the globe, with employees being mobile to relocating and traveling as required.
Even if your company conducts business on a totally national level, populations within countries are becoming more and more diverse.
The last century has seen the biggest level of migration in human history. The trend is also shifting away from a one-way movement from poorer to more developed countries. People are now regularly moving between wealthy nations for temporary work or study. If you want some of the brightest graduates to come to your company, you can expect that some of them will be from overseas.
So, whether your operations are international or local, you can be sure that you’re going to be dealing with people from different cultures.
What are ‘national values’ and how are they measured?
In the 1960s and 1970s, anthropologists became interested in how the culture a person is raised in effects their individual values, and in turn, how this affects their behaviour in society and society as a whole.
Geerte Hofstede, a psychologist working for IBM, developed a model for measuring the values imposed by national cultures and published his ideas in 1973, under the title ‘Cultural Dimensions Theory’. The theory applies 6 different measurements to nations, with each giving a percentage of how much their culture can be characterised by certain behaviour classifications: power distance, individualism, masculinity, uncertainty avoidance, long-term orientation, and indulgence.
Similarly, the World Values Survey (WVS), which began in 1981, seeks to classify and measure national values in order to understand cultural change.
Under the guidance of Political Scientist and WVS Director, Ronald Inglehart, the survey measures and analyses people’s opinions on topics like democracy, equality, religion, and politics. This is where it comes back to doing business.
Like nations, each business has its own culture. If your workforce is broad, there may be a disconnect between the culture of your organisation and the values of the individual workers. This can lead to dysfunction, communication breakdown, and lower productivity.
Professor Geerte Hofstede (the guy who invented the Cultural Dimensions Theory) co-founded a business consultancy called ‘Hofstede Insights.’ The consultancy directly uses his theories to create a profile of your ‘organisational culture’. With that profile, they can see where there may be issues within your culture – or a conflict between the culture of your organisation and the national culture your business operates within.
They’ve used the insights of this model to develop successful business strategies for Lindstrom, Ikea, Siemens, IBM and other international companies.
Understanding the concept of national values is also essential if you’re trying to develop cultural awareness within your organisation – and there’s a strong case for why you should be thinking about that.
Cultural sensitivity is now more important than ever, whether you’re trying to foster good workplace relationships, or access new international markets. Take MacDonalds, for example – they lost huge amounts of business in China when they released an advertisement showing a man begging to use his coupon. Begging is considered shameful in China, and consumers were outraged.
If you’re moving overseas to study or work, or if you’re joining a team of different nationalities, understanding the values in which your colleagues have been raised will help you greatly in communication and understanding.
The same can be said for those tasked with the responsibility of international negotiations, whether it’s securing overseas clients or getting the best deals from suppliers. Clear communication, etiquette, and hierarchical relations are all determined by culture and national values – and these are all critical points to get right when you’re entering sensitive negotiations.
So, what are Australia’s national values?
According to Hofstede’s measurements, Australia measures high on individualism (90) and indulgence (71), relatively high on masculinity (60), and very low on long-term thinking (20).
According to the Ingelhart – Weizei Cultural Map which charts the results of the National Values Survey, Australia comes in at the farthest end of the self-expression versus survival scale, meaning we are more motivated by individual gratification than collective activity. We’re somewhere in the middle of traditional versus secular values – meaning we value traditional social structures and religion more than Europe, but significantly less than the conservative nations.
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