Hofstede’s Cultural Dimensions – 1. Power Distance

Many companies are becoming more and more global these days. There are colleagues working together from even very far ends of the world, coming from very different cultures. Even though with respect and attention most of the cultural differences can be taken into consideration, it is absolutely worth to speak more in details about how one’s culture can affect how they operate in work on a daily basis.

It was a long time ago, that I first delivered a training about Multicultural Awareness. By using the cultural dimensions by the research of Geert Hofstede, a new point of view could be showed to all attendees – which resulted to be very useful while working with different cultures in their daily job.

In this article series I would like to talk about these cultural dimensions in details in order to help you all get familiar with them, hoping that they will also help you in your daily work to be a bit more conscious while working with cultures across the globe.

The first dimension, the Power Distance

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As a definition, we can say that Power Distance (PDI) is the extent to which the less powerful members of institutions and organisations accept that power is distributed unequally. It doesn’t measure the culture’s objective, “real” power distribution, but rather the way people perceive power differences.

Traits of low PDI countries

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If a culture has a low PDI, it is absolutely accepted that all members of the society are equal, regardless of their positions. These countries are consultative and democratic.

As per the family relationships, in low PDI countries the respect can be earned and doesn’t depend on the status of being parents. The children’s independence is encouraged already at a young age and they are invited to express themselves and to develop their own ideas.

In the education, teachers wait for the children’s initiatives and the focus of the education is mainly on the secondary school.

As per the state the competence, wealth, power and status are independent from each other, wage differences are small and power is decentralised. There is less corruption in these countries and changes happen by evolution.

What about the work life of low PDI countries?

In such countries the power is decentralised in the workplaces as well, managers count on the experience and thoughts, opinions of their team members. Employees themselves also expect to be consulted, and they all consider that hierarchy is only for convenience. In such countries, the ideal boss in the workplace is acting more like a coach for the people in their team.

In these workplaces the communication is direct, the information flow is fluid, decision making is decentralised, delegation is natural, it is encouraged to take initiatives and control is disliked.

Low PDI country examples: USA, Canada, Sweden, Norway, Germany, UK, Ireland, Argentina, Denmark, New-Zealand.

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High PDI countries

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In the high PDI countries the less powerful people accept power relations which are autocratic or paternalistic. Subordinates acknowledge the power of others based on their formal, hierarchical positions.

Within high PDI families children have to express respect towards their parents and older people. Parents teach their children obedience and that they can ask questions, but the answers cannot be discussed.

In the education the teachers are the ones who initiate in class and the national education efforts focus on the University studies.

In a high PDI country the competence, wealth, power and status belong together and there are large salary differences within the society. Power is centralised, change happens by revolution and there can be more corruption.

What about the work life of high PDI countries?

Power is centralised here as well, just like in the countries themselves. Managers count on their bosses and the rules of the company. Employees expect to be told what to do and they do not come up with own initiatives. The ideal boss is a “father” figure and the hierarchy is existential.

In such work environment the communication is indirect, the information flow is selective and the decision making is centralised – in the hands of the higher-level people in the hierarchy. Delegation is considered a dangerous act, taking initiative is sanctioned and control is expected by people at all levels across the organisation.

High PDI country examples: Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, Philippines, Russia, Angola, Mexico, Nigeria.

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Source: https://geerthofstede.com/

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