Table of Contents
2. Appreciation for rules, regulations and structures in Germany and Japan
3. Reasons behind this cultural orientation
4. Appreciation for rules and regulations in the business world
4.1 Perfectionism and planning
4.3 Job responsibilities
5. Changes towards this cultural orientation
In today’s business society the “increasing importance of global business” (Adler 2008, p. 5) can no longer be ignored. Executives need to be “skilled at working with people from countries other than their own” (Adler 2008, p. 13) because “only those who really understand their foreign colleagues and themselves can achieve success in international business” (Schroll-Machl 2003, p. 9).
Geert Hofstede, a Dutch organizational sociologist, conducted a worldwide study on the influence of national cultures on organizational cultures. One of the dimensions he found during his study was uncertainty avoidance. This dimension “deals with a society’s tolerance for uncertainty and ambiguity. […] It indicates to what extent a culture programs its members to feel either uncomfortable or comfortable in unstructured situations. Unstructured situations are novel, unknown, surprising, different from usual. Uncertainty avoiding cultures try to minimize the possibility of such situations by strict laws and rules, safety and security measures.” Moreover they are often guided by the “belief in absolute Truth: there can only be one Truth and we have it. […] Uncertainty accepting cultures are more tolerant of opinions different from what they are used to; they try to have as few rules as possible” (Hofstede 1994, p. 4).
This paper deals with the influence of this uncertainty avoidance dimension and the accompanying appreciation of rules and regulations on doing business in Germany and Japan.
2. Appreciation for Rules, Regulations and Structures in Germany and Japan
Germany and Japan have more rules and regulations than many other countries. They are in both countries highly valued and therefore “very rarely questioned” (Schroll-Machl 2008, p. 71). There exist different kinds of rules for all situations of life, from written rules to unwritten social codes. Germany even has “laws for the event that all other laws might become unenforceable” (Hofstede 1997, p. 126). Especially Japanese people live up to the principle “what is different is dangerous” (Hofstede 1997, p. 109).
German and Japanese people expect from everyone, compatriot or foreigner, to follow all rules and norms in terms of behavior. In Japan the pressure to conform to group norms is even higher in order to maintain cohesiveness and harmony. Japanese people often live up to the principle “what is different is dangerous” (Hofstede 1997, p. 109). There are cases where also foreigners must conform to be accepted, such as removing one’s shoes before entering a room.
Another example is the cleaning-procedure practiced in many Japanese companies. Every Friday before leaving employees vacuum the office and empty the rubbish bins. If a foreigner questions this behavior his Japanese co-workers would probably wonder why he would question such a thing at all.
While people in Japan do not directly tell a person when he violated a social norm or rule Germans bring any kind of misconduct, even if it happened accidentally, immediately to the person’s attention.
For example if someone in Germany starts to mow his lawn on a Sunday his neighbors will ask him immediately to stop as noise nuisance is tabooed on Sundays. Foreigners should be aware that when they come to Germany they will be welcomed by rules, paperwork and bureaucracy.
3. Reasons behind this Cultural Orientation
A proof for this appreciation for rules and regulations is in both countries is the high score in Hofstede’s uncertainty avoidance dimension. This is for Japan (93) even significantly higher than for Germany (65). A high uncertainty avoidance ranking creates a rule-oriented society that institutes laws, rules, regulations, and controls in order to reduce the amount of uncertainty.
This cultural dimension of uncertainty avoidance evolved because of Japan’s geographical location as an island country with no borders on other countries. It had developed without foreign influence due to their isolation-policy for a period of almost 250 years until 1853. Hence the population is to a certain degree homogeneous as “Japan has often been described as a society in which conflict is avoided by emphasizing homogeneity and dismissing differentness as incidental” (Unknown 2006, Dimension of Cultures, p. 168). Everyone shares the same ideas and because there is no influence from the outside, has no reason to doubt it. On this account one underlying reason for the high degree of uncertainty avoidance is to maintain harmony. Only rules and regulations could and can guarantee a harmonious social coexistence.
In Germany the basis for this dimension was laid long ago. In ancient times there had been tribal communities who already had developed rules to make survival possible. Not complying with the rules was even then strongly avoided as it meant exclusion from the tribe. This also continued later on when the German small states evolved. “The people became accustomed to living within restricted conditions in a boundary society […]” (Schroll-Machl 2003, p. 87). Moreover security and order were constantly at risk in Germany. It had experienced many periods of war and besiegement and was threatened by total destruction. For this reasons people learned to appreciate security. “There are clever people who suspect that the root of German perfectionism, German desire for order, German obsession with security lies in the Thirty-Year-War … For thirty years, at that time nearly one and a half generations, anarchy, arbitrary use of power, lawlessness reigned in Germany” (Gorski 1996, p. 92 cited by Schroll-Machl 2003, pp. 88-89). “Each trauma intensified the yearning for stability […] and strengthened the tendency towards […] structures” (Schroll-Machl 2003, p. 89).