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Eureka: The battle of corporate cultures
by Jay Gutman
2016-12-27 08:25:57
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The last 10 or 15 years have seen a lot of mergers between companies from countries that have very little in common when it comes to corporate culture. Geert Hofstede is famous for offering a model for corporate culture arguing that some companies are hierarchical while others are egalitarian, some are group focused while others focus on the needs of the individual, some tend to be masculine while others see no gender differences and are called feminine, and some are comfortable with uncertainty while others are not comfortable with uncertainty. Finally, Hofstede argues that some plan long-term while other cultures plan short-term, and some cultures are indulgent while others are restrained.

corper01_400Explaining Hofstede’s model

The main problem with Hofstede’s model is that so many countries are listed that we tend to lose sight of what country has what cultural model, and Hofstede’s model is does not give many explicit details of how his research applies to the individual countries or companies specifically. For example Hofstede categorizes South Korea as a “Feminine” culture meaning that Koreans see no real difference of ability between men and women, or that men or women could do the same jobs. That couldn’t be further from the truth, as Middle and High schools are divided by gender in Korea, and every time I was given any list men and women would be in separate lists, not to mention that in some cases in South Korea men and women eat separately.

Spontaneous vs. Not spontaneous cultures

Let’s just say that North America, Western Europe (perhaps with the exception of France) as well as Australia and New Zealand, add Israel to that group and you get countries where things are done in very spontaneous manner. People at work and at home are encouraged to take initiatives, people tend to listen to each others’ ideas and people tend to say what’s on their mind. At companies, people are not uncomfortable with unplanned appointments and feel no need to script meetings. People tend to act the same way at home as they would at the workplace, and are the same people at home and at work.

In the rest of the world you’ll be asked to be a bit of an “actor” at the workplace. That is you’ll be asked to only speak when you feel the absolute necessity, basically to only talk when you’re invited to. In the rest of the world you’ll be asked to dress nicely and basically shut up. If there’s a company meeting or even at family dinners you will be asked to only speak when invited to. While in Western Europe we tend to say things and quickly forget we had those conversations, in the rest of the world people tend to think hard about the conversations they had and try to see if they didn’t offend anyone. In Western Europe we tend to say what we mean and mean what we say, in the rest of the world people like to leave other people’s heads scratching after a conversation, and most conversations have double meanings.

Vision vs. Improvisation

In Western Europe, most companies and families have a clear, well-defined vision of what they want to accomplish and spend a significant amount of time talking about their long-term vision. In the rest of the world, the “boss” usually sets up a secret vision that is rarely if ever shared with the rest of the family or company, mainly because the vision could be wrong and they believe the boss should never be wrong.

In Western Europe we like to think that everything we do is in line with our vision, and losing sight of a vision is considered a bad thing. I am surprised at how in the rest of the world this is the furthest thing from the truth. I’ve travelled around the world and seen people in Africa, France or East Asia tell me one day that they wanted to work in social welfare, and literally the next day tell me their dream was actually to work for major oil corporations.

This means that while in Western Europe a lot of companies tend to work for a vision and adjust the vision depending on what the reality on the stage is, in the rest of the world workers at companies tend to be assigned tasks on the spot, that is the boss will have an idea and will want his workers to implement the idea on the spot, without thinking twice about the consequences or previous agreements or visions. This can be dangerous in the realm of international relations, where bosses give orders without putting too much thought into them.

Being busy vs. Looking busy

In Western European cultures you don’t really need to put on a show for people to make it sound like you’re busy. You either have tasks you need to get done, in which case you excuse yourself, or are having a quiet day, in which case you have long chats with colleagues.

In most cultures though, the “boss” will reason in ways that he will want to milk every cent of the paycheck he or she’s giving you, meaning you better make it look like you constantly have something you need to get done and you would never dare to say you have a “quiet day.”

Openness vs. secretiveness

In most Western European cultures, people tend to be fairly open about their work life and private life. Ask for information and they will tell you, ask for something and they will tell you where to find it.

In France and the rest of the world even when people know, they will usually feign ignorance. That is just in case the information is considered classified. Workers and people tend to say they don’t know, or even worse, will give faulty and misleading information.

Conclusion: Has Western Europe become like the rest of the world?

Lack of spontaneity, improvisation, secretiveness, looking busy, putting on a show, misleading information etc. I find Western Europeans hard to recognize these days, definitely more secretive, definitely pretending to be busy in some cases, definitely lacking vision, perhaps lacking spontaneity. Which makes me wonder where have all the clairvoyant spontaneous leaders and workers gone. Hope there are still some left, hope they will soon come to the spotlight.

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Emanuel Paparella2016-12-27 13:48:43
The usual needed other side of the coin:

The other side of the coin for the two pieces on corporate capitalism and the market and their attendant, often predatory culture, is exemplarly offered by David Sparenberg's poetic description of the aspen leaf which describing metaphorically the human condition in a more holistic humanistic approach within the vision of man’s destiny, reminiscent of Christ's acute observation “consider the lilies of the field, they do not work or spin or plan and fret, and yet not even Solomon in all his spelendor was dressed as one of them.”

It all goes to say that to neglect the contemplation of the nature of man and his destiny is to ensure that he is reduced to an insignificant cog within a gigantic producing and consuming machine (the demiurge called “the market”). In philosophy the process goes by the name of reductionism.

Then, almost as an after-thought, the reductionists add the ethical component to the predatory scheme, not because it is important in itself, but because with it the profits will be more abundant. The approach remains utilitarian, purely pragmatic and materialistic, even when the word soul as an after-thought is added to the body as one of the pieces' title amply suggests. In effect the cart has been put before the horse, or as we have been reiterating as a voice crying in the wind or the desert, as the case may be, and only one side of the coin has been considered.

Also quite intriguing and interesting the fact that one of the greatest of such predators who uses people as cogs in a machine to be exploited is the present President-elect, who is not even mentioned or referred to in the two pieces.

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