Managing Change: It’s Culture Bound

Change issues are culture bound. To illustrate, let’s briefly look at five questions: (1) Do people believe change is possible? (2) If it is possible, how long will it take to bring it about? (3) Is resistance to change greater in some cultures than in others? (4) Does culture influence how change efforts will be implemented? (5) Do successful idea champions do things differently in different cultures?

Do people believe change is possible? Remember that cultures vary in terms of beliefs about their ability to control their environment. In cultures in which people believe that they can dominate their environment, individuals will take a proactive view of change. This, for example, would describe the United States and Canada. In many other countries, such as Iran and Saudi Arabia, people see themselves as subjugated to their environment and thus will tend to take a passive approach towards change.

If change is possible, how long will it take to bring it about? A culture’s time orientation can help us answer this question. Societies that focus on the long term, such as Japan will demonstrate considerable patience while waiting for positive outcomes from change efforts. In societies with a short term focus, such as the United States and Canada, people expect quick results and will seek change programs that promise fast result

Is resistance to change greater in some cultures than in others? Resistance to change will be influenced by a society’s reliance on tradition. Italians as an example, focus on the past, whereas Americans emphasizes the present. Italians therefore should generally be more resistant to change efforts than their American counterparts.

Does culture influence how change efforts will be implemented? Power distance can help with this issue. In high-distance cultures, such as Spain or Thailand, change efforts will tend to be autocratically implemented by top management. In contrast, low-power distance cultures value democratic methods. We would predict therefore a greater use of participation in countries such as Denmark and the Netherlands.

Finally, do successful idea champions do things differently in different cultures? The evidence indicates that the answer is yes. People in collectivist cultures, in contrast to individualistic cultures prefer appeals for cross functional support for innovation efforts; people in high power distance cultures prefer champions to work closely with those in authority to approve innovative activities before work is conducted on them; and the higher the uncertainty avoidance off a society, the more champions should work within the organization’s rules and procedures to develop the innovation. These findings suggest that effective managers will alter their organization’s championing strategies to reflect cultural values. So, for instances, while idea champions in Russia might succeed by ignoring budgetary limitations and working around confining procedures, champions in Austria, Denmark Germany or other cultures high uncertainty will be more effective by closely following budgets and procedures.