Mahatma Gandhi, the famous Indian fighter for freedom, once stated: “A nation's culture resides in the hearts and in the soul of its people”. Of greater importance, however, than analysing where in the human body culture is located, is the question whether such a concept as national culture does exist at all. According to McSweeney (2002, Abstract), most of the literature within each management discipline implies that actually “each nation has a distinctive, influential and describable ‘culture’”. Although it can therefore be assumed that different cultures exist, there is no universal and objective description of any one culture on its own (Mead, 2005). Any one culture can only be described in relation to another culture; this is precisely where a few famous approaches to the whole subject of different cultures and their classification and comparison come in. The models’ differences as well as their complementariness will be the focus of the first part of this paper. The conceptual notions that will be discussed and compared along the dimensions of their research method and their primary focus are those of Edward T. Hall (1976), Geert Hofstede (1980), and Fons Trompenaars and Charles Hampden-Turner (1998). Furthermore, in the second part of this paper, the specific interrelationship between culture and today’s business world, as well as the the management practices within it, is described and analysed by focussing on Culture and Organisation on the one hand, and on Culture and Communication on the other hand.
Conceptual Notions of Culture: Differences and Complementariness
The model created by Edward T. Hall, the American anthropologist and cross-cultural researcher, deals with communication as a central element within which he differentiates between low- and high-context cultures, i.e. direct and indirect communication styles (appendix 1). Geert Hofstede’s model, the most quoted and cited one (Web of Science, 2007), focuses on four, later five, cultural dimensions by means of which cultural distance is measurable (appendix 2). Fons Trompenaars, a student of Geert Hofstede, and Charles Hampden-Turner developed the last of these three models, which uses Hofstede as a starting point to develop a more comprehensive approach resulting in seven cultural dimensions (appendix 3).
Analysing the different models concerning their underlying research methods is very important since “methodology is fundamental in the sense of being dependent on the values and beliefs of those engaged in the research process” (Llewellyn, 1992, p. 18).
Both Hofstede and Trompennars/Hampden-Turner have chosen a quantitative research approach for developing their models, but differ in their statistical population. Hofstede based his research on only one company, namely IBM, and used the data from 117,000 IBM employees from 40 different countries (Magnusson et al, 2008), which is praised by Mead (2005, p. 87) to be the “most detailed and broad comparison out there”. This data gathered from IBM employees is used in his research-based methodological approach, which Hofstede describes as “an eclectic approach relying on theoretical reasoning followed by statistical factor analysis” (Magnusson et al, 2008, p. 185). Although his research is described in literature as a “careful collection of data” (Williamson, 2009, p. 1375), his corresponding statistical approach results in interpretations influenced by Hofstede’s subjective perception (ibid.). Furthermore Hofstede’s research and methodology is criticised by McSweeney (2002) for being theoretical, methodologically flawed, and outdated.
Trompennars and Hampden-Turner generally followed Hofstede’s research approach, but they tried to avoid the critique he was confronted with by expanding their data base to 30 multinational companies operating in 50 countries (Trompennars & Hampden-Turner, 1998), which finally resulted in seven explicitly business-orientated cultural dimensions (Mead, 2005). Trompennars earned positive as well as negative feedback. On the one hand, the model was “praised as contemporary, theoretically sound, and for using sophisticated and systematic sampling techniques” (Magnusson et al., 2008, p. 185), whereas on the other hand, it was shown by correlation and factor analysis that only two out of his seven dimensions can doubtlessly be confirmed statistically (Hofstede, 1996).
As opposed to Hofstede and Trompennars, Hall has focused on a qualitative approach instead of a quantitative one by providing numerous anecdotes of various cultures but, unlike Hofstede, Hull never mentioned the method for developing his model (Mead 2005; Cardon, 2008). This intransparent research methodology made his results prone to subjectivity, as it has been noticed that in his publications, Hall seemed to be biased towards high-context cultures (ibid.). Although therefore the research methods Hall used would not be considered rigorous by today’s standards (Patton, 2002), he has just received very little critique, which is, according to Hermeking (2006) due to the fact that Hall was vague in his presentation of the model and ranked cultural groups rather than national cultures.
Overall it can be stated, that with regard to the research methodology, there are great differences between the qualitative approach chosen by Hall and the quantitative methods applied by Hofstede and Trompenaars. But although Trompenaars’ and Hofstede’s methodologies were quite similar, Trompenaars improved some of the often critiqued weaknesses of Hofstede’s methods, as he expanded his work to comprise not only one, but 30 companies operating in a higher number of countries than considered by Hofstede.
After having gained this fundamentally important understanding about which research methodology the three different models are based on, the aim of this paper is to analyse their different primary focuses. Although, according to Cardon (2008), Edward T. Hall did not mention motivations or biases for developing his contexting theory in his early works, later on he describes his intentions and therefore his focus as helping individuals - particularly American executives - to improve their intercultural relationships by understanding the oftentimes confusing behaviour within other cultures (Hall & Hall, 1987, 1990). As to Hofstede, despite the fact that his model is one of the most widely used ones within the international business world, originally his primary focus as an anthropologist was to analyse the different national cultures along the aspects of a whole society, and not only on business- related objects. Due to the fact that he takes the whole society as the base of his research, Hofstede himself states that his approach may not always be the best model to use in terms of international management practice (Minkov and Hofstede, 2011). Furthermore Hofstede indicates that in his opinion there are other models, developments and expansions of his own work that are a more adequate tool for international managers (ibid.). Hofstede mainly refers to the model of Trompenaars and Hampden-Turner, who both have a personal background in business and management. Their model is more tailored towards managers’ practical use, simply because their data base mainly consists of interviews with managers. Overall it can be stated that the fact that each model has a different focus should be seen as an advantage for managers since this enables them to choose from different context-specific approaches when facing a specific business situation, or within different management practices, such as organisation and communication, which will be analysed in the subsequent section.
Culture and Organisation
Organisational structure is the fundament of each company, as it is needed to “coordinate members’ activities in order to achieve its strategic goals as efficiently as possible” (Mead, 2005, p. 168) and to motivate employees. These structures can have very different forms and contexts, however the most important differentiation, and the one that is most relevant with regards to the cultural analysis, is that of formal structures versus informal systems.
A company’s formal structure is highly influenced by the culture of its members. There are a multitude of organisational structures that differ with regards to their focus on different regions, products, functions, or customer groups. Recently, hybrid structures on a global basis have emerged that allow the combination of two different elements in order to maximize the advantage of the different structures. Within these types of matrix structures, the employee usually has to report to two different supervisors, who then need to balance their responsibilities and power. Due to this delicate balancing act, this structure works only in low power-distance and low uncertainty-avoidance cultures where colleagues trust each other and have low barriers of communication (Mead, 2005).
The degree of centralisation within a company is also highly influenced by culture, and mainly by the cultural dimension of power distance (Hofstede, 2001). Flat structures, for instance, are dominant within the Anglo-American culture, while Asian companies prefer a top-down approach. Also when looking at the organisational structure of large multinational firms, it can be noticed that Asian firms such as Toyota and Matsushita prefer the highly centralised global model where all strings are pulled from the headquarters, while American firms such as IBM, Procter&Gamble, Unilever, GE, and Coca-Cola use multinational or international models with a higher degree of decentralisation and more responsibility within their subsidiaries. Bureaucracy, i.e. the amount of formal rules and procedures, as well as the emphasis on specialisation are also influenced by culture and are highly dependent on uncertainty avoidance. German companies, for instance, are regulated by countless rules, regulations, procedures and processes, and business is always finalised by a contract or a written agreement, the adherence to which is of highest importance, and the breach of which may have rigid consequences, or even penalties.