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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?



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.


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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  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

Big retailers are opting for refunds instead of returns

(BUSINESS NEWS) Due to increased shipping costs, big companies like Amazon and Walmart are opting to give out a refund rather than accepting small items returned.



Package delivery people holding deliveries. Refund instead of returns are common now.

The holidays are over, and now some people are ready to return an item that didn’t quite work out or wasn’t on their Christmas list. Whatever the reason, some retailers are giving customers a refund and letting them keep the product, too.

When Vancouver, Washington resident, Lorie Anderson, tried returning makeup from Target and batteries from Walmart she had purchased online, the retailers told her she could keep or donate the products. “They were inexpensive, and it wouldn’t make much financial sense to return them by mail,” said Ms. Anderson, 38. “It’s a hassle to pack up the box and drop it at the post office or UPS. This was one less thing I had to worry about.” Inc., Walmart Inc., and other companies are changing the way they handle returns this year, according to a report by The Wall Street Journal (WSJ). The companies are using artificial intelligence (AI) to weigh the costs of processing physical returns versus just issuing a refund and having customers keep the item.

For instance, if it costs more to ship an inexpensive or larger item than it is to refund the purchase price, companies are giving customers a refund and telling them to keep the products also. Due to an increase in online shopping, it makes sense for companies to change how they manage returns.

Locus Robotics chief executive Rick Faulk told the Journal that the biggest expense when it comes to processing returns is shipping costs. “Returning to a store is significantly cheaper because the retailer can save the freight, which can run 15% to 20% of the cost,” Faulk said.

But, returning products to physical stores isn’t something a lot of people are wanting to do. According to the return processing firm Narvar, online returns increased by 70% in 2020. With people still hunkered down because of the pandemic, changing how to handle returns is a good thing for companies to consider to reduce shipping expenses.

While it might be nice to keep the makeup or batteries for free, don’t expect to return that new PS5 and get to keep it for free, too. According to WSJ, a Walmart spokesperson said the company lets someone keep a refunded item only if the company doesn’t plan on reselling it. And, besides taking the economic costs into consideration, the companies look at the customer’s purchase history as well.

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Business News

Google workers have formed company’s first labor union

(BUSINESS NEWS) A number of Google employees have agreed to commit 1% of their salary to labor union dues to support employee activism and fight workplace discrimination.



Google complex with human sized chessboard, where a labor union has been formed.

On Monday morning, Google workers announced that they have formed a union with the support of the Communications Workers of America (CWA), the largest communications and media labor union in the U.S.

The new union, Alphabet Workers Union (AWU) was organized in secret for about a year and formed to support employee activism, and fight discrimination and unfairness in the workplace.

“From fighting the ‘real names’ policy, to opposing Project Maven, to protesting the egregious, multi-million dollar payouts that have been given to executives who’ve committed sexual harassment, we’ve seen first-hand that Alphabet responds when we act collectively. Our new union provides a sustainable structure to ensure that our shared values as Alphabet employees are respected even after the headlines fade,” stated Program Manager Nicki Anselmo in a press release.

AWU is the first union in the company’s history, and it is open to all employees and contractors at any Alphabet company in the United States and Canada. The cost of membership is 1% of an employee’s total compensation, and the money collected will be used to fund the union organization.

In a response to the announcement, Google’s Director of People Operations, Kara Silverstein, said, “We’ve always worked hard to create a supportive and rewarding workplace for our workforce. Of course, our employees have protected labor rights that we support. But as we’ve always done, we’ll continue engaging directly with all our employees.”

Unlike other labor unions, the AWU is considered a “Minority Union”. This means it doesn’t need formal recognition from the National Labor Relations Board. However, it also means Alphabet can’t be forced to meet the union’s demands until a majority of employees support it.

So far, the number of members in the union represents a very small portion of Google’s workforce, but it’s growing every day. When the news of the union was first announced on Monday, roughly 230 employees made up the union. Less than 24 hours later, there were 400 employees in the union, and now that number jumped to over 500 employees.

Unions among Silicon Valley’s tech giants are rare, but labor activism is slowly picking up speed, especially with more workers speaking out and organizing.

“The Alphabet Workers Union will be the structure that ensures Google workers can actively push for real changes at the company, from the kinds of contracts Google accepts to employee classification to wage and compensation issues. All issues relevant to Google as a workplace will be the purview of the union and its members,” stated the AWU in a press release.

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Business News

Ticketmaster caught red-handed hacking, hit with major fines

(BUSINESS NEWS) Ticketmaster has agreed to pay $10 million to resolve criminal charges after hacking into a competitor’s network specifically to sabotage.



Person open on hacking computer screen, typing on keyboard.

Live Nation’s Ticketmaster agreed to pay $10 million to resolve criminal charges after admitting to hacking into a competitor’s network and scheming to “choke off” the ticket seller company and “cut [victim company] off at the knees”.

Ticketmaster admitted hiring former employee, Stephen Mead, from startup rival CrowdSurge (which merged with Songkick) in 2013. In 2012, Mead signed a separation agreement to keep his previous company’s information confidential. When he joined Live Nation, Mead provided that confidential information to the former head of the Artist Services division, Zeeshan Zaidi, and other Ticketmaster employees. The hacking information shared with the company included usernames, passwords, data analytics, and other insider secrets.

“When employees walk out of one company and into another, it’s illegal for them to take proprietary information with them. Ticketmaster used stolen information to gain an advantage over its competition, and then promoted the employees who broke the law. This investigation is a perfect example of why these laws exist – to protect consumers from being cheated in what should be a fair market place,” said FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge Sweeney.

In January 2014, Mead gave a Ticketmaster executive multiple sets of login information to Toolboxes, the competitor’s password-protected app that provides real-time data about tickets sold through the company. Later, at an Artists Services Summit, Mead logged into a Toolbox and demonstrated the product to Live Nation and Ticketmaster employees. Information collected from the Toolboxes were used to “benchmark” Ticketmaster’s offerings against the competitor.

“Ticketmaster employees repeatedly – and illegally – accessed a competitor’s computers without authorization using stolen passwords to unlawfully collect business intelligence,” said Acting U.S. Attorney DuCharme in a statement. “Further, Ticketmaster’s employees brazenly held a division-wide ‘summit’ at which the stolen passwords were used to access the victim company’s computers, as if that were an appropriate business tactic.”

The hacking violations were first reported in 2017 when CrowdSurge sued Live Nation for antitrust violations. A spokesperson told The Verge, “Ticketmaster terminated both Zaidi and Mead in 2017, after their conduct came to light. Their actions violated our corporate policies and were inconsistent with our values. We are pleased that this matter is now resolved.”

To resolve the case, Ticketmaster will pay a $10 million criminal penalty, create a compliance and ethics program, and report to the United States Attorney’s Office annually during a three-year term. If the agreement is breached, Ticketmaster will be charged with: “One count of conspiracy to commit computer intrusions, one count of computer intrusion for commercial advantage, one count of computer intrusion in furtherance of fraud, one count of wire fraud conspiracy and one count of wire fraud.”

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