Culture’s Consequences (Part 1): Power Distance

Posted: October 9, 2012 in Ethical decision-making, Statistics
COVERS of Sino Foreign Management Magazine

COVERS of Sino Foreign Management Magazine (Photo credit: \!/_PeacePlusOne)

After the Ericsson post I started reflecting on the causes of culture clashes.

A very important book on this issue was written in the early 1980s, called Culture’s Consequences. It arose from a survey conducted by IBM.

The book distilled four key areas in which values differ across cultures. The first is Power Distance. This is “the extent to which the less powerful members of organizations and institutions (like the family) accept and expect that power is distributed unequally” (Wikipedia).

In a country with high power distance you’d be more likely to see:

  • Conformity in schools
  • Autocratic / paternalistic decision-making
  • Belief that work is a necessary evil
  • Distrust amongst employees
  • Employees fear disagreeing with their boss

In a country with low power distance you’d be more likely to see:

  • Students displaying independent thought
  • Consultative decision-making
  • Belief that work is enjoyable
  • Co-operation amongst employees
  • Employees more likely to express disagreement with superiors

Going back to the failed Ericsson collaboration: the study rated Sweden as having the sixth-lowest power-distance (31/100) while Colombia had one of the highest (67/100; comparable to Singapore).

Now check out the scores of the world’s three most populous developing nations:

  • China: 80/100
  • India: 77/100
  • Indonesia: 78/100

I’m Australian and Hofstede’s study gives us a rating of 36/100. I admit I am certainly biased towards consultation and the right of sensible dissent. This study suggests that those are rarely going to be popular suggestions overseas; hence the ongoing wave of strikes and rioting in China and the two million out on the streets in Indonesia last week. Talking gets these workers nowhere because managers don’t believe they need to listen.

(Next: Uncertainty Avoidance)


Further reading:

  • Hofstede (1980) Culture’s Consequences: International differences in work-related values, Sage Publications, Newbury Park, Cal.
  • Salk (1981) World Population and Human Values: a new reality, Harper & Row, New York
  • Donleavy et al (1995) Whose Business Values? Some Asian and cross-cultural perspectives, Hong Kong University Press, Hong Kong
  1. marksolock says:

    Reblogged this on Mark Solock Blog.

  2. […] a low Power Distance Index (except for Latin America, where both are […]

  3. […] through Southern and Eastern Europe. This is in line with the predictions of Geert Hofstede’s Power-Distance Index (PDI) as they are all countries with a high PDI score; in other words, where workers tend to […]

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