The Hofstede Studies

The Dutch management scholar Geert Hofstede conducted studies in 40 countries and drew some conclusions about the relationship between national character and employee motivation. He concluded that people vary a great deal, and those variations seriously challenge the rules of effective managerial practice based on Western theories and peoples. Hofstede cites four dimensions he feels describe important aspects of a national culture.

1. Individualism versus collectivism measures an individual’s relationship with other people and the degree to which the desire for personal freedom is played off against the need for social ties.
2. Power distance evaluates the way a particular society handles inequality among people. On one end of the scale are countries and people that play down equality as much as possible. At the other end are cultures that accept and support large imbalance in power, status, and wealth.
3. Uncertainty avoidance measures how a society deals with the uncertainty of the future. A weak uncertainty avoidance society is one that does not feel threatened by the uncertainty of the future, but is generally tolerant and secure. A strong uncertainty avoidance culture, on the other hand tries to overcome future uncertainties by developing legal, technological and religious institutions that create security and avoid risk.
4. Masculinity versus femininity refers to the rigidity of sex roles. Hofstede defines a society as masculine if there are extensive divisions of social roles by sex and as feminine if these divisions are relatively small. Another way of looking at it is that masculinity versus femininity refers to differences in approaches to the quantity versus quality of life: Masculine refers to a national orientation towards assertiveness and acquisition of money and material goods, while feminine refers to an orientation towards caring for others and the quality of life.

In light of the differences he found between nations. Hofstede feels that it is unrealistic to expect any single management approach to be applicable worldwide.

Applying Japanese Approaches Abroad:

While Hofstede has expressed serious doubts about applying American/Western management practices in other countries, some observers have become very excited about the effectiveness of Japanese practices. The study of “Japanese management” enjoyed significant popularity in the 1980s.

William G Ouchi is among those who have studied Japanese business in the hope that it might provide solutions to some American problems.

These differences in organizational characteristics are associated with differences in managerial behavior. Naturally, there are wide variations in how individual Japanese managers act, yet there are a number of ways in which the average Japanese manager appears to differ from the average American manager. Overall, Japanese managers seem to be more concerned with the longer term implications of their decisions and actions and more willing to make current scarifies for future benefits. They are also more likely to encourage subordinates to participate in decision making and to welcome and acknowledge suggestions from subordinates. Partly because of this participation, they are less likely to make quick, unilateral decisions. In addition, communication between managers and subordinates is more indirect and subtle than in the United States. Managers try hard to avoid embarrassing co-workers in public or in private. They get to know their co-workers well as individuals and show concern for their welfare outside the workplace.

The interpretations of Ouchi and others offered valuable insights into what many Japanese managers were doing on a day-to-day basis. More recently, some observers have come to the conclusion that what was initially interpreted as a management style unique to the Japanese culture is also successfully used by managers in many other countries. Japanese management may more usefully be interpreted as a way of managing that is widely applicable in many perhaps all, countries, industries and companies – a “global management” style.