Hofstede and McSweeney. Viewpoints on Culture

Term Paper, 2010

15 Pages, Grade: 1,0


Table of Content

1. Introduction

2. Hofstede’s Cultural Dimensions
2.1 Power Distance
2.2 Uncertainty Avoidance
2.3 Individualism vs. Collectivism
2.4 Masculinity vs. Femininity
2.5 Long Term vs. Short Term Orientation

3. Hofstede’s Research Approach
3.1 Key Facts and Methodology
3.2 Related Work

4. McSweeney’s Critical Objections

5. Recommendations for Practice
5.1 Diversity management
5.2 Participant observation

6. Conclusion and Future Aspects


Word Count

1. Introduction

The purpose of this report is to display the major points in the scientific dialogue between Geert Hofstede and Brendan McSweeney, with the regard on their contribution towards the topic of cultural heterogeneity.

The second chapter will explain Hofstede’s main findings -the five cultural dimensions- and relate them to both, examples in a rather private environment and towards the working world, where it is possible. The link between Hofstede’s theory and the practical examples shall provide the reader with a brief, but holistic background about the concept. Subsequently, the reader will gain an insight about Hofstede’s methodology to learn about the background of his work. Moreover the author will mention studies that are related to Hofstede’s findings.

Chapter four is addressed towards the critical objections of Hofstede’s harshest critic, professor Brendan McSweeney. As the area of McSweeney’s criticism provides more valuable content towards the purpose of this report, the author puts a focus on this chapter rather than on the anterior chapter.

Afterwards, the author will relate the importance of the pre-discussed theory with managerial practice. Hence, the aim of chapter five is to give practical recommendations. As the possibilities of this report are limited, the author only focuses on two major concepts, namely diversity management and participant observation, to address possible challenges multinational companies might have to face in their operative business.

Finally there will be a conclusion given, as well as a relation to future issues in human resource management within the cultural setting of this report.

2. Hofstede’s Cultural Dimensions

This chapter will briefly introduce the five Dimensions of Culture, which form the core concept developed on the research of Geert Hofstede, an organisational sociologist from the Netherlands. According to Hofstede, these dimensions relate with the basic problems of humanity (Hofstede, 1984). Subsequently, we will namely explain Power Distance, Uncertainty Avoidance, Individualism vs. Collectivism, Masculinity vs. Femininity and Long vs. Short Term Orientation.

2.1 Power Distance

This dimension mainly addresses the inequality between individuals in organisations or institutions, and how the individual perceives this inequality (Hofstede and Hofstede, 2005). To give an example, we can look on families or on companies. In a family, the father has a stronger, more powerful position than the son. If it comes to a discussion with a teenage son, the father’s opinion will be valued more due to the power distance. If we assess the dimension of Power distance (PDI) with regard on the working environment, we can do this descriptively by comparing behaviours in different countries. Strong hierarchies usually affect management in Japan, which generates high PDI. There is often a significant inequality between e.g. top- and middle management. As PDI is always defined from below, so in our case the position of the middle management, the difference is displayed through power itself, respect towards the higher level and social status. If we evaluate this with respect to the working environment in Germany, we find that hierarchies tend to be rather flat, which results in a less formal way of communication between management levels. It is easier for employees on a lower level to approach and interact with the ones situated on a higher level, due to lower PDI.

2.2 Uncertainty Avoidance

If a person or society is high or low in Uncertainty Avoidance (UA), is corresponding to the extend individuals deal with uncertainty and ambiguity (Hofstede, 2001). The main question that arises coherent with this dimension is: “Does the individual feel comfortable or uncomfortable in a new situation?” It is crucial for our understanding of this dimension to mention that these new situations can arise surprisingly and force the individual to maintain control in a situation which is not like it used to be in the past. UA cultures tend to minimize uncertainty by applying strict rules and laws, whereas uncertainty-accepting cultures tend to be more tolerant and open to spontaneous arising issues and situations.

To describe this situation practically, we may think of a student who is required to present the results of a spontaneous, in-class group work in front of the semester. As there was no time for rehearsal, the student who is high in UA will feel very uncomfortable in front of the class, as he is forced to improvise and speak freely. The student who is low in UA would rather take the responsibility for his group and hold the presentation fairly sovereign.

2.3 Individualism vs. Collectivism

This dimension measures how strongly an individual is integrated into a group; according to Hofstede (1984) it is one of the most fundamental dimensions applicable to the societies of the world. In detail, societies, which are affected by individualistic behaviour, tend to have loose ties between individuals. Individualistic societies can be also associated with a hedonistic way of life (Feldman, 2004). A person with an individualistic background tends to act comparably egoistic and is looking after him- or herself or after the immediate family. In contrast to this we find that in collectivist cultures people are -from birth on- integrated into strong groups. In particular we are talking about the ties towards relatives, which are protecting the individual and therefore obtain loyalty (Hofstede, 2001). Furthermore, the individual would deeply think about the consequences for the group he is in, while setting new goals in life, as the interests of the group stand above the interests of the individual.

As an example, an American student might study and then live on his or her own after graduating, spending his money on commodities or savings for his or her own future. In collectivist cultures, there firstly could be an issue if the individual studies at all or if he should rather directly join a family business in order to support his relatives. If he were studying, monetary support for the family would be expected after his graduation.

2.4 Masculinity vs. Femininity

As Hofstede (1998) could find in his studies, women’s values differ less among societies then those of men. A rather masculine society thrives for a high separation between the roles of men and women. By comparison with this, in a feminine cultural environment we find that there is a tendency that social roles are rather overlapping and there is less differentiation. Masculine cultures are associated with competitiveness, assertiveness and wealth, whereas feminine cultures are more linked to “softer values”, such as caring about relationships or the quality of life.

We may get a better understanding for this dimension if we consider the different goals men and women seek at work. When looking for a new job, men are seeking advancement to their prior job, higher earnings, HR-training possibilities and they want to be up-to-date. In contrast to this, women find a friendly atmosphere, the security of the position, the physical conditions and the manager cooperation more important and valuable (Hofstede, 2001).

2.5 Long Term vs. Short Term Orientation

Values associated with Long Term Orientation (LTO) are thrift and perseverance; those connected to Short Term Orientation (STO) are fulfilling social obligations, respect for traditions and the protection of one’s face (Hofstede, 2001). A person who is rather LTO will be more sustainable when it comes to decision-making, for him or her it is crucial to generate long-term success; in opposition to this, a person who is more STO will show a favour towards quick results. This behaviour may cause difficulties in the work place. If we say, a CFO is visiting a subsidiary of his company in a STO country, there is a possibility that the local sales managers may present him numbers which would state a good sales performance of the subsidiary, even if this might not be the case. The managers might have given unusual discounts in order to boost sales and therefore make their performance look good as well to safe their face. A LTO manager might address occurring problems in the sales area in a meeting and discuss the issues with the CFO, trying to find a solution, which helps the company to stay profitable in the long run and therefore successful.

This chapter offered us a basic understanding on the five cultural dimensions of Geert Hofstede and gave examples to relate the dimensions to real and professional life. The subsequent chapter 3. will deal with and critically assess Hofstede’s methodology.

3. Hofstede’s Research Approach

This chapter will give an insight on Hofstede’s research method. The first part, 3.1, will briefly summarise and present Hofstede’s approach by introducing key facts as well as a short review of his methodology. The second part, 3.2, will address authors and their work, which are related and inspired by Hofstede’s findings.

3.1 Key Facts and Methodology

Hofstede’s findings are based on primary research in the form of questionnaires, carried out with employees of IBM. The multinational background of the corporation offered a chance to reach a wide range of countries during the two survey rounds between 1967 and 1973. Furthermore this approach helped to carry out a far-ranging study without facing too high expenditures. All in all he could generate more than 116.000 questionnaires from 72[1] countries in 20 languages (Hofstede, 2001). Analysed were the differences and similarities in the answers of employee values. It was also possible to validate (Saunders et al, 2009) the findings by repeating the survey in a business school and receive similar responses.

In general one has to say that Hofstede’s survey project was very ambitious, as he wanted to generate consolidated findings about cultural behaviour in a wide range of countries in a considerable time frame. He states himself that surveys shall not be the only way to measure cultural differences (Hofstede, 2002), but what he did was pioneer work, which should be respected.

In order to conduct his surveys the way he did, Hofstede had to make assumptions, which gave his research a theoretical frame or “working definitions” on aspects of culture. For him culture is implicit, meaning that everyday behaviours are unconscious. As well he considers culture to be core, meaning that one nation represents one culture. Moreover he assumes that the geographical location differentiates member of one nation from another, calling it territorially unique. Furthermore he assumes, that one’s national culture has significant impact on one’s behaviour; naming the fact systematically causal. Finally, Hofstede thinks that culture is shared, having the meaning that a nation can be clustered into sub-cultural groups (common Individual National Culture) and that major findings derive from comparisons with norms (Statistical Average) rather then from individual’s responses (Hofstede, 2001).


[1] For the final analysis, 40 countries have been taken into consideration.

Excerpt out of 15 pages


Hofstede and McSweeney. Viewpoints on Culture
Edinburgh Napier University
Intercultural Business Communication
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ISBN (Book)
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Hofstede, McSweeney, IBC, Power Distance, Uncertainty Avoidance, Individualism, Collectivism, Masculinity, Femininity, Long Term Orientation, Short Term Orientation, Diversity Management, Participant Observation, HR, Human Resource
Quote paper
MSc Matthias Schimmel (Author), 2010, Hofstede and McSweeney. Viewpoints on Culture, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/232918


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