Remember the days when Geert Hofstede’s model defining cultural dimensions was like the Bible? Hofstede gave businesses a simple and understandable model and a means to understand what made countries (around 90 of them) and the way they do business different or, in some instances, similar. These six cultural dimensions (shown in below image) represented preferences related to specific topics that differentiated countries (rather than individuals) from each other.
Hofstede’s Dimensions of National Culture
Each country was given a “relative” score, for each of these six cultural dimensions, to demonstrate where it placed on a defined scale compared to another country, since culture can be used meaningfully for business based on these relative measurements. What consumer behaviours’ brands could use to their advantage and what values and beliefs could be considered, while creating a business plan or an international market entry strategy – all were questions that suddenly had their answers hidden in these defined cultural dimensions and cross-cultural diversity.
Then, shouldn’t we already have a fail-safe formula for businesses to enjoy instant success in a shrinking globalized world that is constantly interconnected? The simple one-word answer is “no”.
We still grapple with the complexity of cross-cultural diversity because of our nature to simplify and categorize countries and treat them with strategies using a “one size fits all” approach. No single country today can be viewed through a monochromatic lens. For example, people from Hong Kong, Taiwan or Beijing may have certain common Chinese characteristics, but may be vastly different in terms of behaviour and preferences. Similarly, people from the north, south, east, west or central states of India are just as different as the Hispanics or African Americans or Caucasians in the United States. Australia’s multiculturalism is no secret; but neither is it a sole global phenomenon. As Thomas Friedman once said, the world today is indeed flat. Multiculturalism is the only constant that businesses and organizations can be certain of.
One of the most effective means for organizations and businesses to address this cross-cultural conundrum is to start fostering an inclusive work environment as part of their core organizational culture. The more inclusive and diverse an organization is, the easier it will be for it to incorporate cultural differences into its business and marketing strategy. This call-to-action is in no way an “easy fix” and comes with complexities of its own. However, it is surely an effective, logical and profitable proposition as part of an organization’s long-term strategy for valuable, sustainable and efficient global growth and expansion. After all, no country is an island anymore.
Arpita Ray – Sr. Cross-Cultural Strategy Consultant, GCX, which provides advisory services on Cross Cultural, Multicultural and International Marketing. You can contact her on firstname.lastname@example.org