How cultures deal differently with uncertainty
The fourth cultural dimension analyzed by Hofstede, Hofstede, and Minkov, is uncertainty avoidance. This measures levels of tolerance in relation to ambiguity.
While each member of society in every culture will at one time or another confront uncertainty, they must discover ways to manage it. One of the ways they achieve this is to try and alleviate anxiety as much as they can. Societies do this in almost every domain by creating coping mechanisms in the form of technology, laws, government policies, operational processes, and religion to remove as much anxiety and ambiguity as possible.
In the extreme, ambiguity can lead to intolerable anxiety. It can lead to stress, increased suicide rates, and a range of mental health issues. Uncertainty avoidance can be defined as, “the extent to which the members of a culture feel threatened by ambiguous or unknown situations.” It is not the same as risk avoidance, which means choosing to avoid something because you are afraid of the outcome. However, “safety or security is likely to prevail over other needs where uncertainty avoidance is strong.”
Table 4 shows how this cultural dimension can be evident in relation to work, organization, and motivation.
|Table 4. Key Differences Between Weak and Strong Uncertainty-Avoidance Societies in Relation to Work, Organization, and Motivation|
|Weak Uncertainty Avoidance||Strong Uncertainty Avoidance|
|More changes of employer, shorter service||Fewer changes of employer, longer service, more difficult work-life balance|
|There should be no more rules than strictly necessary||There is an emotional need for rules, even if they will not work|
|Work hard only when needed||There is an emotional need to be busy and an inner urge to work hard|
|Time is a framework for orientation||Time is money|
|Tolerance for ambiguity and chaos||Need for precision and formalization|
|Belief in generalists and common sense||Belief in experts and technical solutions|
|Top managers are concerned with strategy||Top managers are concerned with daily operations|
|More new trademarks||Fewer new trademarks|
|Focus on decision process||Focus on decision content|
|Entrepreneurs are relatively free from rules||Entrepreneurs are constrained by existing rules|
|There are fewer self-employed people||There are more self-employed people|
|Better at invention, worse at implementation||Worse at invention, better at implementation|
|Motivation by achievement and esteem or belonging||Motivation by security and esteem or belonging|
|Source: Geert Hofstede, Gert Jan Hofstede, and Michael Minkov, Cultures and Organizations: Software of the Mind (New York: McGraw-Hill Books, 2010), table 6.4.|
From the 76 countries surveyed with the Uncertainty Avoidance Index (UAI), Greece was ranked first with an index score of 112, followed by Portugal with a score of 104. The lowest ranked country with a score of 8 was Singapore. The United States, China, India and Australia were ranked 64, 70, 66, and 57 respectively with scores of 46, 30, 40, and 51.
Interestingly, we learn from the GLOBE study that there is a strong correlation between strong uncertainty avoidance practices and societies scoring high on long-term orientation and institutional collectivism. In relation to long-term orientation this appears to be counterintuitive. It would be natural to think that leaders and cultures who are strong in their uncertainty avoidance practices are less likely to consider longer-term objectives because they are focused on managing and minimizing any potential fallout from what is being implemented today. One can only assume that the long-term orientation may stem from the desire to minimize anxiety through the exercise of disciplined strategy and execution with the goal of achieving longer-term success and the longevity of the organization.
On the other hand, it is easier to understand the correlation between strong uncertainty avoidance and institutional collectivism, as “collective institution interests helps manage technology and information, as well as skills and knowledge.” For this to successfully occur leaders need to commit to establishing a culture of trust through consistent feedback and frequent communication that clearly seeks to reassure members of the organization’s objectives and status, dispelling uncertainties, rising insecurities, and ambiguities.
In relation to the six implicit leadership theories, stronger uncertainty avoidance values were associated with Team-Oriented leadership, Humane-Oriented leadership, and not surprisingly, Self-Protective leadership.
Once again it is obvious to see how conflict can arise in leadership and management practices when strategic alliances involve partners from different cultures. Even where global alliances and expanding geographic markets are not the issue, we are increasingly being confronted by emerging cultural nuances due to the nature of our workforces becoming less and less ethnocentric.
 Geert Hofstede, Gert Jan Hofstede, and Michael Minkov, Cultures and Organizations: Software of the Mind, 191.
 Ibid., 216.
 Ibid., 192-194.
 Mary Sully De Luque and Mansour Javidan, “Uncertainty Avoidance,” Culture, Leadership, and Organizations: The GLOBE Study of 62 Societies, eds. Robert J. House et al. (Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications, 2004), 607.
 Ibid., 645.