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Challenging the culture guides taught in business schools

While Hofstede’s original work has laid the foundation for cross-cultural and business communication, could it time for something new?

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Collective Culture vs. the Individual

In business schools around the world, students are studying Geert Hofstede’s six (as of 2010) cultural dimensions. I was one of those enthralled students, gushing over the depth and conviction of his theses. I smiled and whispered to myself, Yes! Someone gets it… culture is all-important in business. But recently, after chatting with a former B-school professor, I brazenly mentioned it’s time for a “cultural studies re-vamp” in business education. You could have heard crickets chirping, as if I’d just committed the largest case of blasphemy this side of the Holy Land.

In case you aren’t familiar, here’s a brief introduction to Human and Organizational Development 101: Hofstede conducted a worldwide survey of IBM employees in the 1960s and 1970s. He discovered that cultural values could be analyzed on six (originally only four) cultural dimensions: Power Distance Index (PDI), Individualism (IDV), Uncertainty Avoidance Index (UAI), Masculinity (MAS), Long Term Orientation (LTO) and finally Indulgence vs. Self-Restraint. The scores are relative, society to society, and merely serve as constructs. While the dimensions scores do not predict future behavior, they serve to explain an the undergirding effect culture has on members of a society.

While his research was groundbreaking, is this really the universal “truth” we should be following as THE culture guide?

What is culture?

For starters, many agree that culture, in the general sense, is the set of behaviors, beliefs and attributes distinctive of a group. I believe culture is so much more than this. It’s a collection of arts, language, knowledge, mannerisms, prejudices, experiences, tastes, morals, and desires. But is what makes up culture black and white? Is culture dynamic or static? Is it something that one is only born with?

The idea of subculture mitigates this definition conundrum, but raises a whole new set of questions. Is subculture as important as national culture, corporate culture or even family culture? These are all questions that must be answered on some level to conduct business on a global scale. While there may be different answers for each of these questions, it’s far more important to realize that culture is adaptive and is constantly in flux.

Is the sum greater than its parts?

We know what culture is and how it relates to groups, but how does it relate to individuals? In all of the aforementioned definitions, culture is the relationship of an individual to the group. In business, we often stage negotiations and initial meetings based on national cultures and, sadly enough, preconceived notions. But, is the individual culture more important that the group culture? Ultimately it comes down to what our goal is in business. I recently heard a fabulous saleswoman speak on the evolution of the marketplace. No longer are we selling B-2-B, now it’s P-2-P, people-to-people. As such, we must change our frame of reference and focus on the individual before us.

Or is the world in fact getting smaller? We hear, and see, time and time again how the world is shrinking. From Guiness in Africa to Starbucks in Europe to Outback Steakhouse in China, globalization is ever-present. This international brand presence would seem to indicate on some level an emerging “world culture” that we should be aware of. Some characteristics would include international efficiency, use of technology, and a shared common language (revenue!). In this case, how valid are the national cultures of societies? Wouldn’t the collective cultures paint a more accurate picture?

Key Takeaways

While Hofstede made valuable contributions to culture studies in global business, some improvements can be made.
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  • In this millennium, we can’t over look what many have dubbed “The Melting Pot effect” and multiculturalism – the blending and mixing of multiple cultures.
  • In business, we should factor in corporate culture as it pertains to the individual.
  • While P2P is great in long-term business relationships, use Hofstede’s generic national cultural definitions sparingly and only as a starting point for understanding.

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Monica Moffitt, founder and Principal Cultural Consultant at Tianfen Consulting, Inc., has traveled the world and enjoys linguistics and all things culture. Having split her career between project management and business analytics, Monica merges logic, fluency in Chinese and creativity in her new role as cultural consultant. She received a Bachelor of Arts in East Asian Studies/Chinese from Vanderbilt University and a Master of Business Administration (International Management and Marketing) from University of Texas at Dallas.

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3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. AdLawGuy

    June 18, 2012 at 1:25 pm

    @Hoeferle Congrats on the German Embassy website mention!

    • Hoeferle

      June 18, 2012 at 1:25 pm

      @AdLawGuy thanks!

  2. diversityreport

    July 17, 2012 at 2:12 pm

    I agree that we are, or should be, in a post-Hofstede phase.  While he remains relevant, I find myself increasingly minimizing what use of his work, placing it tangentially and augmenting it with sub-group analyses using history, arts & cultural expressions.  

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Business News

Uh, did Amazon just start an MLM?

(BUSINESS NEWS) Amazon’s advertisement for their new “partnership” sounds suspiciously like a multi-level marketing scheme.

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Amazon delivery

Amazon’s labor abuses are beyond well-established. Just peruse Google for a while if you need examples. You’ll see stories from employees who have been denied bathroom breaks, or forced to continue working after coworkers have died on the job. Yet somehow despite all of these allegations, they have managed to sink lower with their reprehensible practices.

Recently, Amazon ran a swath of Facebook ads asking, “Have you ever wanted to own a business? As an Amazon Delivery Service Partner, you’ll start your own package-delivery business, build a team, and have access to Amazon’s technology and logistics expertise.”

Amazon partnership ad

If you’ve ever been DM’ed by a long-lost school acquaintance with an “amazing business opportunity”, you might have the same reaction to that as I did: Uh, did Amazon just start an MLM?

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines multi-level marketing as “a business structure or practice in which an individual seller earns commissions both from direct sales and from the sales of the seller’s recruits, of those recruited by the seller’s recruits, and so on.” As recruiting becomes more important than selling products, only a slim minority of particularly successful recruiters end up seeing profits in an MLM.

DSPs are not buying or selling Amazon products, nor are they being incentivized for signing up others to be delivery partners. They are meant to serve as the last leg of transportation between Amazon warehouses and consumers. In fact, Amazon makes the exclusivity of the program clear on their website. DSPs are able to hire between 40-100 staff, but this bears more resemblance to chain franchising than a pyramid scheme, at least on the surface. After all, some of the most predatory MLMS out there began seemingly innocently – just look at Mary Kay.

Amazon requires Delivery Service Partners to have at least $30,000 to fully cover all costs associated with starting up: Not just for uniforms, leases on Amazon branded trucks, insurance, and mobile scanners, but also the applicant’s cost-of-living while getting their business off the ground.

It’s scummy enough that their advertising is taking notes from the MLM playbook. But it actually raises more red flags than it resolves: The DSP program seems like yet another example of how the definition of an employee is getting blurrier by the day.

Uber and Lyft, for example, lease vehicles for their drivers in the same way that Amazon leases trucks and other equipment for their Delivery Service Partners. Rideshare drivers, like DSPs, are responsible for their own insurance costs and have no guaranteed income, either. Amazon is clearly trying to skirt its way around the responsibilities they would ordinarily have as an employer, a problem that unfortunately lies at the heart of the sharing economy.

Amazon’s decision to expand their delivery fleet also comes at an uncanny time. Right now, the United States Postal Service is severely underfunded and its future is uncertain. It provides business owners of all sizes with low-cost mail and parcel delivery, and is obligated to deliver to every home address in the United States.

While the USPS does partner with Amazon to deliver packages, it’s still awfully convenient for Amazon to be introducing this “business opportunity” now. Under the guise of supporting entrepreneurship, Amazon is preparing a death blow to their smaller competitors – think independent retailers, suppliers, crafters and artists that rely on affordable, accessible postage to sell their goods.

While it’s a stretch to label this program an MLM right out of the gate, the whole thing still stinks to high heaven, and we recommend you steer clear. Make no mistake, this is a business opportunity for Amazon alone.

If you dream of owning a business and you have $30,000 to invest, that is a great start! But for goodness sake, invest that in yourself. It would be a shame to waste your time and money lining a mega-corporation’s pockets.

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Business News

Dunkin’ Donuts is closing 800 stores soon

(BUSINESS NEWS) No one is immune to COVID-19. Dunkin’ Donuts announces 800 location closures across the US.

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Dunkin coffee

You may want to savor that Dunkin’ Donuts iced coffee a little longer than usual this summer. Dunkin’ Donuts has recently announced they will be permanently closing over 800 locations across the United States; this represents 8% of their total locations across the United States.

Dunkin’ announced these closures along with their second quarter earnings. The stores set to close only represent about 2% of Dunkin’s total US sales, so this move will likely help them cut down operating costs in some lower performing locations. Dunkin’ has descried the closures as being part of a “real estate portfolio rationalization.”

Dunkin’ is focusing cuts on what they identify as their “low-volume sales locations” with more than half of these being locations inside Speedway convenience stores. The Speedway locations will be closing first – many of them before the end of the year. Dunkin’ is also planning to close about 350 international locations by the end of 2020.

While this might mean your favorite iced coffee fix will no longer be within arm’s reach, it’s likely that this move will help Dunkin’ Donuts survive long term. The real worry here is what does it mean when even large international brands, like Dunkin’ Donuts, are starting to feel the sting of COVID-19 on the economy? The restaurant industry has been taking big hits during the pandemic – even McDonalds has announced a small percentage of upcoming store closures.

If big chains with cult followings like Dunkin’ Donuts are making cuts, then what hope do small businesses have of making it through the year?

PPP loans and other local government aid programs are temporarily helping small businesses across the country stay afloat, but we still haven’t seen a guarantee that more help is on the way. Current aid packages will only keep businesses going for so long before small business owners will be forced to make tough choices.

If Dunkin’ Donuts moves out of your area, you might want to consider taking your caffeine addiction (and cash) to a local coffee shop or bakery. They could use the love and you may even find a new favorite iced coffee.

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Business News

Some people will be working from home until 2021, or longer

(BUSINESS NEWS) As remote work becomes more common, some employees won’t be returning to the office–ever. Big Tech has almost unilaterally jumped on board.

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Remote work

How does working remotely until 2021 sound to you? How about for the rest of your career? Both of these are options that more companies are considering, begging the overarching question: How many job obligations can, realistically, be accomplished from home?

Well, as it turns out, many of your favorite tech giants fit the bill. Facebook, Twitter, Square, Slack, Shopify, and Zillow have all announced that employees can stay home–forever.

Twitter was the first company to get the ball rolling on this movement–an accolade that Twitter hasn’t been able to claim since its inception.

It isn’t surprising that most tech-oriented jobs can be done remotely, but the initiative to allow employees to continue their work remotely shows an exceptional level of trust and accommodation on the parts of the respective companies–and it raises some future possibilities for others in the industry. As some occupations begin transitioning back to in-office work, it’s interesting to see others standing firm in their decisions.

Additionally, many firms have encountered difficulties with the move to remote work, with issues ranging from employee productivity, all the way to security breaches and complications with employees using their own devices for confidential tasks. It’s interesting to see that, in spite of these difficulties, remote work is still an attractive option for companies like Twitter and Facebook.

Of course, not every tech company is allowing their employees to take a permanent staycation. Google, Sony, Amazon corporate, and a few others are extending remote work up to 2021, thus allowing employees to continue social distancing practices amidst COVID-19 concerns. These companies have also made it clear that employees will be able to continue working from home into 2021 if necessary, but for now, employees should anticipate returning at some point.

Non-tech companies–and pretty much any company that doesn’t operate largely from behind a computer–are going to continue to run into challenges with balancing remote work and actual productivity, so holding up the standard set by companies such as Twitter and Google isn’t really feasible for them; however, looking at these tech companies’ measures is inspiring, and others should take note–if for no other reason than the fact that employees love remote work options.

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