THE BLOG
04/05/2012 11:58 am ET Updated Jun 05, 2012

Wealth, Prosperity and Longevity (Part II)

In last month's newsletter, I provided a Values Framework and stated that in subsequent letters I would dig deeper into the implications of the five dimensions of cultural values. Today, I will explain the first three dimensions. In Part 2 of this two-part series, I will discuss risk-taking and how people from different cultures deal with time. Today's fast-paced technology is changing the levels of risk-taking in certain cultures.

Individual vs. Collective Dimension

When I worked in France, I advised my multicultural team to remember that French management holds in great esteem those individuals who make a name for themselves through their investments or accomplishments in great respect. Napoleon Bonaparte is still revered because he dared to be different and succeeded. Many western cultures, like those in the U.S. and the UK, tend to celebrate the strength of the individual and individual achievement. In such cultures, family ties tend to be secondary to individual goals and self-sufficiency is an honored trait. Nations like Japan or Kenya, however, embrace a collective or group-oriented value orientation, in which people tend to identify or define themselves as members of a group rather than as individuals. For example, an American company operating in Japan with Japanese employees must be sensitive to the notion that those workers think less about individual achievement than about how their efforts reflect on the group's achievement as a whole.

Also, unlike the American ideal of self-sufficiency, Japanese workers highly value the interdependence that comes from working within a group. For leaders, that means creating incentives and recognizing achievements for groups rather than individuals. In such a culture, a business should adopt a "high context," defined as keeping the volatility and variability of a group to a minimum. In many Asian cultures, awareness of the concept of "saving face" should restructure a westerner's behavior. How another person is perceived within his or her group is important. Accordingly, do not criticize an Asian individual in his own culture in public. Even praise should be done in a manner that does not isolate the individual from his group.

Equality vs. Hierarchy Dimension

Surprisingly, although Liberté, égalité, and fraternité is the national motto of France, the idea of equality is much different than to which Americans have grown accustomed. Hierarchy is quite important in France and modeling behaviors after King Louis XIV will serve you well when you meet the CEO or key political leaders. Whereas cultures like those found in the U.S., Canada or Sweden tend to share a value that people with different levels of power, prestige, and status, can interact with each other as equals, the cultures of nations like France as well as Asian countries expect recognition of social hierarchies based on a person's social status. This acceptance of hierarchy leads to higher status differences, formal social relations and greater power concentrations among fewer people. It also means people who reside in lower rungs of the social order may have fewer perceived choices and rarely question authority. As a global leader coming from an egalitarian culture that might reward individuals that speak out or question authority figures, you will need to adjust your leadership approach if you want to create trust. It is crucial for you to define your rank and status at the onset of any relationship so that other individuals will know how to interact with you. You will also be expected to make the decisions affecting your organization with less input from subordinate.

Tough vs. Tender Dimension

I've done business and observed negotiations in Russia and learned that it is a tough culture. A "tough" culture has a preference for high material rewards to a winner and nothing to the loser. Tough societies also tend to enforce gender and racial stereotypes accepting male domination and aggressive behavior and discounting of minority races and cultures. When I was walking in downtown Moscow with our company controller who was of Indian descent, he was stopped by police who demanded to see his passport and questioned him. We found out later that this harassment was common and sent a message that certain foreigners are not welcomed. A book entitled Dilemmas of Diversity After the Cold War: Analyses of "Cultural Difference" by U.S. and Russia-based Scholars by Michele R. Rivkin-Fish and Elena Trubina expands on this theme describing social differences which often lead to symbolic violence and struggles between groups.

It's more difficult to assert which countries have a tender culture because the more aggressive participants stand out in business. When working within a tender culture, leaders need to be sensitive to gender issues. Men may also assume more domestic roles and take an active role in raising the family. Tender cultures also reject the "winner take all" approach championed in tougher cultures. Leaders need to adjust how they conduct their outreach to members of each kind of culture. While individuals from tough cultures will respond to personal challenges, members of tender cultures will respond more positively to efforts that result in "win-win" scenarios for everyone involved.

Prepare differently

Generalizations are dangerous yet they can give a clue to deep-rooted attitudes. With different nationalities in today's workplace, just thinking in advance about how someone might think and behave will create better alignment in an organization and make your day more effective.

Read Part I of this series here.