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National Culture

When we speak about culture, we as professionals speak about culture and organizational culture
and various factors influencing these disciplines in an organization but we never speak about the
geographical cultural differences (national culture). Even if we speak about the national culture
of various countries, the study focuses on the similarities and differences (comparative study) of
the cultures of the countries under study. The focus of this study is to identify various factors
influencing the national culture, proposed models to understand national culture and the impact
of national culture on organizational culture and organizational performance.

 Background

With the technological advancements the world is a global village. Emerging new concepts such
as globalization are depleting the geographical boundaries. Countries are encouraging cross
border business and foreign investment. But there still exists a significant factor known as
“National culture” which influences these developments. The focus of this study is to identify
national culture through various models available, simultaneously associate the influence of
national culture on the organizational culture.

As the information and communication technology is proving to be a revolution irrespective of


industries, national culture has a significant impact on the use of these technologies. If we
compare two countries then we can call it as cultural differences. As many countries are multi-
national and are working across the globe, national culture (cultural differences) plays a
significant role in strategy formulation. Hence there is a need to understand the core concept of
national culture and its impact on an organization.
 Introduction

The first question that may arise when we use the term national culture is “Do nations have
culture”. But a close study of countries has revealed that country does have culture.

To understand the core concept through definition, many experts have identified culture as
multifaceted and very tricky to define (Groeschl and Doherty, 2000). Hence it has multiple
definitions; the most prominent one is given below;

This definition was given by Hofstede, which defines national culture as “the collective
programming of the mind which distinguishes the members of one group or category of people
from another” (Hofstede, G. 1991)

National culture can also be defined as “Culture consists of several elements of which some are
implicit and others are explicit. Most often these elements are explained by terms such as
behavior, values, norms, and basic assumptions”. (Groeschl and Doherty, 2000)

If we look into what forms national culture then the answer will be a long list of factors under
various categories. Few of the categories are listed below;

 Topography

 Political and legal factors

 Economic factors

 History of the nation

 Social Identity

The above categories are explained in short below;

 Topography

This is one of the significant factors influencing culture of the region or country. The climate and
geography are the major components in this category. This also includes the natural resources
available in that region. As we know that climate and geography describes the physical structure,
complexion, food habits, traditional sacraments, work habits etc, the topography has major
influence on all the other categories under this study. Giddens in the year 1984 argued that
topography also influences the economic and society structure, sacraments in the society and the
division of labour. Broers (2003) comments that, the influence of geography on the political
culture and historical realities cannot be ignored. Hence we can say that geography plays a
significant role and influence in constituting the culture of a nation.

 Political & Legal Factors

This category comprises of political and legal factors of the nation. It has usually been seen that
culture and political and legal factors are closely associated. In other words we can say that they
both drive each other. In some cases the culture (belief) wins over facts and political and legal
aspects are reformed whereas in some cases political and legal aspects drive culture. Hence we
can say that they both go hand in hand. This helps in developing homogeneous culture and also
coexistence of diverse culture. The role of governmental and legal institutions in the formation of
culture cannot be ignored.

 Economic Factors

These are the factors such as per capita income, existing industries, gross domestic product etc.
As the world is changing into a global market, the economic factors are uniting the universe into
a homogeneous culture. It has been observed and studied that for the past few decades, culture of
developed countries is influencing the developing and under developed countries; Most of the
theorist agree on the point that economic factors are major contributors for this transformation in
the culture of various countries. In other words after the analysis of the recent cultural
transformation we can say that economic factors will drive national culture in future and will
have major influence on all the categories under study.

 History of the nation


This category includes myths, beliefs, stories, histological events influencing the culture,
regional segregation etc. most of the theorist agree to the fact that culture is highly influenced by
the history of the nation. If the history of the nation can be studied in phases we will come to
know various transformations in the culture and the formation of existing culture of the nation.
This has been highly influenced by the geography of the nation. Few nations such as India which
are huge geographically have a diverse national culture. The north Indian culture is similar to
that of Pakistan and Afghanistan, whereas the south Indian culture differs. This can be explained
through the history of the region. As Moghals invaded India late in the 13th century and early 14th
century and ruled India for almost 3 centuries. Their empire included the Pakistan, Afghanistan
and most of the India (excluding south India); this influence can be easily seen on the culture of
this region now. Similarly in the south India states have similar culture. Hence from the above
we can say that history of the nation has a great influence on the national culture and beliefs of
the people.

 Social Identity

This category includes most of the demographic components of the country. The age, sex ratio,
literacy rate, density, language, crowd culture (followed culture), religion followed, food habits,
occupation etc. This also includes the factors influencing the attitude and behavior of an
individual such as religion, ethnicity, family, religion followed, locality, work group etc. Most of
the organizational theorists, psychologists, sociologists, and anthropologists believe that social
identity is a significant factor in the conceptualization of culture of a nation and identifying the
similarities and differences of various countries (cross cultural studies). With increasing
migration and travelling, contemporary factors play a significant role in defining the social
identity of an individual.

This can also be seen in the various proposed models for understanding national culture. Most of
the earlier proposed models irrespective of dimensions (Uni-Dimensional or Multi-Dimensional
models) are influenced by the single mass culture, single language and single religion (as most of
them are originated in the Europe).

If we analyze the geographic segregation of social identity, we may not be wrong if we say that
the whole Europe presents a single social identity. This is not the same in other continents of the
world. For example the Asia differs from other continents and presents a diverse social identity
across various territories. Hence we can say that social identity can help us understand the
national culture but does not represent the complete culture of a nation.

Hence after the study of the above five categories one can say that they have huge influence on
the culture of a nation. The culture looks different when studied at individual level and group
level (national level). The observations outlined using the above five categories have great scope
(insinuation) for any cross cultural / inter-continental learning concerning states with diverse
historical, geographical, social, economic or legal framework.

Below are few models proposed by various theorists, it is a brief study of two models;

 Models of National culture

The models and concepts emerged in the last few years defining the national culture can be
classified as;

Based on the overall categorization, national culture models are categorized into three categories,
they are;

 Single dimension models

 Multiple dimension models &

 Historical – social models

The above mentioned are explained in short below;

 Single Dimension models

This is one of the models that consider only single aspect in the formulation of a model
explaining culture of a nation. This is one of the simplest models proposed. As this was
originated and influenced by homogeneous culture in the region (Europe). This considers that
there is only one religion, food habits and beliefs. Hence this represents a community with
similar thoughts and beliefs.

 Multiple Dimensional models

There are various models proposed under this category. This category includes models which
includes multiple factors which influence the culture of a nation. This explains the influence of
various religions, gender, personal attributes etc on culture with the help of experiments and
science (in some cases).

 Historical-Social Models

These models are based on the history of the nation. This also speaks about the influence of
rulers on the culture of the nation. This model presents the culture in phases of times (studies
culture under different phases). This is one of the significant models to understand the present
culture and to identify the factors which influenced the transformation of culture.

Below are two models discussed in the context of the study;

The models discussed are;

 The Hofstede Model

 The Schwartz Model

The above are explained in brief below;

 The Hofstede Model

Hofstede proposed this model in the year 1984 by conducting a research in a multinational
organization which has its branches in 39 countries. According to this model culture is
influenced by four major factors. They are;

 Power Distance
 Avoiding Uncertainty

 Masculinity / Femininity

 Individualism / Collectivism

A brief elaboration is underpinned;

 Power Distance

This aspect describes the degree to which people agree that unequal power distribution in
institutions and organizations is legitimate.

 Avoiding Uncertainty

This aspect speaks about the human perceptions about risk avoidance. The degree to which
people are comfortable to uncertainty, it has been observed that people rely on beliefs to avoid
uncertainty and this has influenced their culture.

 Masculinity / Femininity

This aspect speaks about the shift in focus from accomplishment, heroism, severity and material
success to relationships, modesty, attention to the weak and quality of life. This also influences
the culture of the nation.

 Individualism / Collectivism

This aspect speaks about the social behavior of individuals. In this aspect the individual behavior
in closed surroundings is observed. This aspects clarifies whether an individual cares for himself
and ever human around him or only few who are close to him. This forms the group culture and
ultimately the national culture.

The other model for study is;

 The Schwartz Model

This was proposed by Schwartz in the year 1990. Schwartz has identified seven dimensions
influencing the culture. They are;
 Conservation

 Hierarchy

 Intellectual autonomy

 Affective autonomy

 Competency

 Harmony

 Egalitarian Compromise

The above are explained in short below;

 Conservation

Social ethics based on social relations are the fundamentals of this aspect. Security, traditional
values and tradition are a priority. This helps them maintain the traditional culture by avoiding
traditions (such as social order, obedience, respect for tradition, family security, self-discipline).

 Hierarchy

This is similar to that of power distance constituted by Hofstede. This emphasizes on the
legitimacy in delegation of power. This includes distribution of power, authority and wealth.
This has a huge influence on society and culture.

 Intellectual autonomy

This aspect emphasizes on the values that place an individual to take his decisions autonomously
to achieve his/her set goals and interests.
 Affective autonomy

This is similar to that of intellectual autonomy, but in this, the individual also tries to protect and
promote the attainment of positive affective experiences. Both the above are similar to each other
and are on the contrary side to collectivism (Schwartz, 1994)

 Competency

This plays a significant role in the behavior of an individual. The ambition, risk and success
helps and individual to challenge and change the status quo.

 Harmony

This is an aspect that opposes the previous one (i.e. competency). This aspect emphasis on a
harmonious fit with the existing nature and the environment, in other words this is a unification
process to integrate the tradition with the trend.

 Egalitarian Compromise

This aspect is quite different from the collectivist culture. Typical of societies that share a
concern for the well-being of others (equality, social justice, responsible, help)

These aspects (dimensions) constitute the Schwartz model of national culture. Hofstede’s model
is fundamentally seen as cross-cultural opinion comparison only based on the data gathered
through various organizations across different countries.

Therefore from the above study of the models of national culture one can say that national
culture is best understood using a multidimensional approach. The culture of a nation can be best
studied on individual and group level.

In the context of the above study the impact on organizational culture and organizational
performance is elaborated below;
 Impact of National Culture on the organization

For years we have been researching into the aspects of national culture influencing the attitude
and behavior of an individual and simultaneously the organizational culture. National culture
always had an influential role in defining the organizational culture. As we know that
organizational culture influences the behavior and attitude of the workforce. Many researchers
have defined organizational culture as subset of national culture. This thought is supported by the
fact that organizations work in a nation. But in an analysis it has been revealed that it is not true
in all cases.

Hence to understand the impact of national culture it is significant to understand the


organizational culture first. The major assumption that helps us understand both the concepts is
the fact that the components of both the concepts are almost the same. The only difference is that
national culture presents a broader picture and the organizational culture presents the
organizational aspects.

Organizational culture comprises of set of behaviors (workforce), leadership style, norms in the
organization, symbols and language spoken, measures and policies of the organization etc.

The model that explains the culture and throws light on the influence of culture on the
organization is was proposed by Hofstede in the year 1980.he conducted study in various
organizations of more than thirty eight countries. He came up with four cultural dimensions, they
are power distance, uncertainty avoidance, individualism/collectivism and
masculinity/femininity'. He commented that the cultural dimensions mentioned above define the
organizational structure and the way it should be managed.

It has been observed that in organizations we usually apply homogeneous national culture model.
The organization that I have studied in the context of this study is IBM. It has a single, uniform
and monopolistic organizational culture. As it is multinational, the organizational culture
followed in its various branches is uniform and single. As the introduction of technology
influenced all the aspects of business and business functions, it has also influenced the
organizational culture.

In most of its branches the organizations rely on technology and human skill. The globalization
has influenced organizations even on this aspect. They are not following the traditional national
cultures, instead they have a uniform culture strategy that they review every year inspecting the
changes in the trade.

If we focus on organizational structure in the context of national culture, Brown proposed a


similar theory for the study organizational culture as that of Hofstede’s model for the defining
national culture.

This has helped understand the factors defining the organizational structure in various
organizations. The models studied were not a great help in the context of analyzing the influence
of national culture on the organizational culture, but the general

The impact of national culture on an organization culture and performance was huge in the past
but the effect is diminishing due to the globalization and technological factors. Hence from the
above study we can say that there are various factors which influence the national and
organizational culture. But the affect of these factors is diminishing and the effect of
contemporary concepts such as globalization and technology is on a rise.

These contemporary factors are likely to dominate in near future as well.

Limitations of the study

This study is a brief of national culture and its influence on the organization. This study may not
include detailed discussion of all the aspects of national culture and its influence on the
organization. The behavioral and psychological aspects discussed in this study are with respect to
the national culture and organizational culture study.
REFERENCES

 Broers, M. (2003) “The myth and reality of Italian regionalism: A historical geography
of Napoleonic Italy”, 1801-1814”, American Historical Review, June, 688-709

 Hofstede, G. (1984). Culture’s consequences: International differences in work-related


values. Beverly Hills, CA: Sage Publications.

 Hofstede, G. (1991). Cultures and organizations: Software of the mind. London:


McGraw-Hill.

 Hofstede, G. (1998). Masculinity and femininity: The taboo dimension of national


cultures. London: Sage Publications

 Schwartz, S. H. & Ros, M. (1996); “Values in the West: A theoretical and empirical
challenge to the individualism-collectivism cultural dimension”. World Psychology, 1,
91-122

To understand the core concept we have used few informative websites searched through the
Google & Google scholar search engine.