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Comparing cultures and comparing individuals

National cultures are the result of the interaction of different individuals. Statistically, national culture dimensions are calculated from questions that correlate at the national level (which means national mean scores or national percentages of answers on these questions are strongly correlated), but the same questions usually do not correlate across individuals; they may even show a reverse relationship, as the individuals in a society often supplement each other. The same is true for organizational culture dimensions.

(Hofstede, 2011, p. 398)

Dimensions of national cultures describe national societies. Dimensions of organisational cultures describe organisations. Before we start examining the impact of culture, let’s consider common mistakes that cross-cultural managers might make.

Hofstede (2011, p. 398) mentioned that a common error is ‘to apply these different dimensions to the individuals within these societies and/or these organisations’. In other words, society is composed of different individuals and so is an organisation.

We cannot apply the characteristics of societies/organisations to individuals. For example, you might have heard that violin players adhere to a laborious practise routine to perfect their playing. However, you cannot assume that Tom, a junior violin player, is aiming to be a professional violinist and has a laborious practise routine as well, although that may be a high possibility. In sociology, this inaccurate interpretation is called ‘ecological fallacy’, which is when you draw conclusions about individuals based only on the group they belong to (Robinson, 1950).

The same applies to organisational culture, you cannot assume every employee in an organisation embodies the shared organisational culture, though they are asked to become familiar with the organisational culture. For example, your line manager Chris previously worked in a company that is famous for its strict rules and high efficiency. You may assume that Chris has a strict management style, which may or may not turn out to be the case. Of course, we make this judgement based on our perception and experiences and a majority of us may draw a similar conclusion. However, our deduction is not entirely accurate.

Your task

Have you had a situation when working or volunteering for an organisation where you have jumped to a conclusion and were later proven wrong?

Were there any negative repercussions? How do you think you could prevent something similar from happening in the future?

Share your experiences and thoughts with your fellow learners


References

Hofstede, G. (2011). National cultures, organizational cultures, and the role of management. In Values and Ethics for the 21st Century, (pp. 385–403). BBVA.

Robinson, W. S. (2009). Ecological correlations and the behavior of individuals. International Journal of Epidemiology, 38(2), 337-341. https://doi.org/10.1093/ije/dyn357

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This article is from the free online course:

Business Management: National and Organisational Cultures

Coventry University