How does national culture impact organizational culture?
The virtues of a leader shape his or her vision of the world, and as a consequence, the way leadership is perceived and practiced. But these are not developed in a vacuum.
The impact of a person’s culture, and cultural norms (or standards of behavior) are major determinants of behaviors, and with the increase in global and intercultural connectivity we cannot escape the reality that miscommunication and interpersonal conflicts will increase.
Chao, Zhang, and Chiu address this further in a transcultural context stating that it can be difficult for people to adhere to their own cultural norms when they are in a foreign work context that is unfamiliar, cognitively demanding, and where there exists considerable pressure to identify and conform to the new working group. For an organization this can be costly, resulting in a loss of productivity, poor job performance, increased staff turnover, a loss of business contracts, and in some cases jeopardize strategic alliances.
These are reflective of the issues and questions that the GLOBE (Global Leadership and Organizational Behavioral Behavior Effectiveness) study of 62 societies sought to address in their comprehensive research. The research was conceived by Robert J. House in 1991 and tested 27 hypotheses linking culture to outcomes from 17,300 managers in 951 organizations.
A sample of some of the questions they asked include: what cultural attributes affect societies’ susceptibility to leadership influence? To what extent do cultural forces influence the expectations that individuals have for leaders and their behavior? To what extent will leadership styles vary in accordance with culturally specific values and expectations?
There is an instinctive recognition for people who have traveled outside of their countries, that when they are visiting another country they are outsiders. They quickly realize that often they are operating from a different set of assumptions, values, beliefs and perceptions, and consequently they do not think or behave the same way as the people who live there.
There is nothing wrong with this, as these were shaped, reinforced and programmed in the context of their social environment and from experiences collected from the time they were born. As Hofstede, Hofstede, and Minkov state, “culture consists of the unwritten rules of the social game. It is the collective programming of the mind that distinguishes the members of one group or category of people from others.”
In the GLOBE study, Robert J. House et al. argues that there are two primary manifestations of culture:
- The commonality or agreement among members of collectives with respect to certain psychological attributes; and
- The commonality of observed and reported practices of entities and institutions critical to the functioning of society, “such as families, schools, work organizations, economic and legal systems and political institutions.”
There are many facets to understanding cultural differences, and this is most commonly demonstrated in the different symbols, heroes and rituals that are unique to one culture over another and give rise to our behaviors or practices. However, as emphasized by Hofstede, Hofstede, and Minkov, the unwritten rules of culture have the broad tendency to deal with the following pairings:
- Evil versus good
- Dirty versus clean
- Dangerous verses safe
- Forbidden versus permitted
- Decent versus indecent
- Moral versus immoral
- Ugly versus beautiful
- Unnatural versus natural
- Abnormal versus normal
- Paradoxical versus logical
- Irrational versus rational
As we will learn when we look more closely at the impact of familial culture on people’s lives, the degree to which people adhere to one state over another in respect to these pairings is influenced not only by what is considered normative by their national culture, but also how they are consciously and unconsciously affected by the positive and negative reinforcements of their unique, individual experiences.
It’s important (and helpful) to know that there are often many perspectives at work underneath our ethnocentric radar when we are leading and managing a culturally-diverse organization, or partnering with other organizations and agencies in different countries.
 Melody Manchi Chao, Zhi-Xue Zhang, and Chi-yue Chiu, “Adherence to perceived norms across cultural boundaries: The role of need for cognitive closure and ingroup identification,” Group Processes & Intergroup Relations 13, no. 1 (2009): 84.
 Robert J. House and Mansour Javidan, “Overview of GLOBE,” Culture, Leadership, and Organizations: The GLOBE Study of 62 Societies, eds. Robert J. House et al. (Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications, 2004), 9.
 Geert Hofstede, Gert Jan Hofstede, and Michael Minkov, Cultures and Organizations: Software of the Mind (New York: McGraw-Hill Books, 2010), 6.
 House and Javidan, “Overview of GLOBE,” Culture, Leadership, and Organizations: The GLOBE Study of 62 Societies, 16.
 Geert Hofstede, Gert Jan Hofstede, and Michael Minkov, Cultures and Organizations: Software of the Mind, 9.