In 1980, Social psychologist Greet Hofstede has developed “Cultural Dimension Theory” using the huge data collected from 117,000 IBM employees during 1967 to 1973. He has first focused on 40 largest countries and then extended his research to 50 countries and 3 regions. This initial analysis identified systematic differences in national cultures on four primary dimensions: power distance (PDI), individualism (IDV), uncertainty avoidance (UAI) and masculinity (MAS), which are described below.
As Hofstede explains on his academic website, these dimensions regard “four anthropological problem areas that different national societies handle differently: ways of coping with inequality, ways of coping with uncertainty, the relationship of the individual with her or his primary group, and the emotional implications of having been born as a girl or as a boy ”. In 1980 he published Culture’s Consequences, a book which combines the statistical analysis from the survey research with his personal experiences.
Power Distance Index is one of the dimensions which measures the extent to which people in an organization or institution expect or accept the power is distributed unequally. This has immense role to play in decision making and explaining the behaviour of employees in organization. Since as people in organization accepts more inequality of power they become more submissive and authoritative way of decision making prevail, whereas more collaborative decision making will prevail if people accepts less inequality.
Published in 1980, this research has published in the era when global trade was on the rise and companies were expanding their geo footprints. It has helped organizations in designing various strategies for to handle cross cultural communication within and outside the companies, design marketing strategies, employee empowerment, negotiations and cross cultural leadership. Power Distance has helped tremendously in understanding behaviour of people and can be used as a tool to understand the dynamics of the international business and several other cross cultural phenomenon. PDI (Power Distance Index)
How comfortable do you feel talking back to your boss when you think he or she has managed something the wrong way? Think about it, do you enter his office and say “Bob, I think you really blew that one” or perhaps you slightly knock on the door and wait for the right moment in the conversation just to almost unperceivable say “Perhaps, in my own opinion, we could have done it differently. ” Direct confrontation or sugar-coated words? Believe it or not, your behavior is not only governed by your own personalities and values but it is highly influenced by the culture that we live in.
Above example has shown the degree to which we are open and accept power or authority. Greet Hofstede’s 6-D model has quantified and derived an index which signifies the extent to which we accept the power and inequality in the society. Top 5 Countries having highest PDI Malaysia104 Guatemala95 Panama95 Philippines94 Mexico81 Last 5 Countries having least Power Distance Index Ireland 28 New Zealand 22 Denmark 18 Israel 13 Austria 11 India has Power Distance Index of 77.
The displayed attitudes and traits of the high power distanced culture will be following. . Those in authority openly demonstrate their rank. . Subordinates are not given important work and expect clear guidance from above. . Subordinates are expected to take the blame for things going wrong. . The relationship between boss and subordinate is rarely close/personal. . Politics is prone to totalitarianism. . Class divisions within society are accepted. Attitudes and traits of the low power distance index . Superiors treat subordinates with respect and do not pull rank. Subordinates are entrusted with important assignments. . Blame is either shared or very often accepted by the superior due to it being their responsibility to manage. . Managers may often socialise with subordinates. . Liberal democracies are the norm. . Societies lean more towards egalitarianism. For example, Germany has a 35 on the cultural scale of Hofstede’s analysis. Compared to Arab countries where the power distance is very high (80) and Austria where it very low (11), Germany is somewhat in the middle.
Germany does not have a large gap between the wealthy and the poor, but have a strong belief in equality for each citizen. Germans have the opportunity to rise in society. On the other hand, the power distance in the United States scores a 40 on the cultural scale. The United States exhibits a more unequal distribution of wealth compared to German society. As the years go by it seems that the distance between the ‘have’ and ‘have-nots’ grows larger and larger. Applications: Cross Cultural Communication In today’s globalised era, Communication is a prime concerns for the organizations.
Deep understanding of the Power Distance Position of the country can help us design our communications with the people in that country. We can modify our Verbal (tone, speech and words) as well as Non verbal (gestures, eye contact) aspect of the communication according to the country in which we are operating. For Example: While some western cultures perceive direct eye contact as a positive trait. Children are encouraged to look the person addressing them in the eye. However, in a country as diverse as the USA, that is not a universal truth.
African-Americans tend to use more eye contact when they are speaking, but less when they are listening; Anglo-Americans tend to use more eye contact when listening, but less when speaking. Understanding of the Power Distance Index will also make us aware of the etiquettes to follow in particular country, since a norm in one country may considered as an offence by the other. For Example: American women will shake hands in business situations, but are likely to hug in social situations outside of the workplace.
Employee Empowerment and Innovation: Innovations require a degree of commanding, authoritativeness even in the highly hierarchical structure. Since coming up with a novel idea or the standing tall for the ways which are less travelled and risky can attract a lot of resistance from authority in the highly hierarchical and bureaucratic organization set up. And if the country of operation is of the high power distance index then employee will feel more uncomfortable in coming up with unconventional ideas.
To reduce this impact and spark the innovation, many organizations have implemented various meeting etiquettes such as No one speaks until everyone has spoken at least ones. And many organizations have implemented various policies like calling everyone with first name, open feedback system, skip level meetings to make sure that communication will not be an obstacle which drawn out the innovative ideas. Negotiations: Though Cross cultural Negotiations are very complex social transactions and there are plenty of variables which affect success or failure of the same.
But power distance can enlighten the negotiator about the level of dominance or authority accepted by the people of particular country, this can make significant impact on the result of the negotiation. For Example: If Indian and American are negotiating on a deal, knowing that India is a higher power distance index country and Indian accepts the power and authoritative structure can add a significant advantage on the American’s part to drive the result of the negotiation. Of course, there are plenty of other variables which can affect this transaction but power distance certainly does play a role.
Similarly, there are many more applications in which awareness of this concept can help individuals and organizations to bring insight in many social phenomenons. A book by V. Raghunathan (Corruption conundrum) has tried to correlate the power distance index with the rampant corruption of the India by arguing that if we can see extreme submissive behaviour of our people displaying higher power distance For Example anybody in uniform is accepted with great authority and in certain areas of UP and Bihar it is not unusual to see a rural cyclist dismount and stand aside on the road as a jeep passes by.
It is more likely that people in power will exploite others in their personal advantage rather in service of the nation. At the organization level, we have seen significant rise in organizations which trains their professionals on the cultural training before sending them to the client location in the foreign countries. Though awareness of the power distance index and proper communication training can work in the advantage of the individual and organization, unawareness and lack of skills on this part can lead to disastrous outcomes.
Below is the Korean air crash accident described by Malcolm Gladwell in his best seller “Outlier: The story of success”. It turns out that very few plane crashes involve insurmountable catastrophic mechanical failure. Rather, most plane crashes occur as the consequence of a chain of small human decision-making errors compounded by poor communication between pilots in the cockpit. Up until a few years ago, Korean Air Lines was plagued by a much higher crash rate than other airlines.
Analysis of cockpit voice recorder data from a number of Korean plane crashes revealed that the god-like status of captains and the relative subordination of their second officers frequently led to situations where the captain was making mistakes, the second officer was clearly aware of the of that, but the second officer was either unwilling or unable to communicate to the captain the fact that he was making mistake.
In one horrifying case, the transcript reveals that just before their plane crashed into the side of a hill, the second officer was saying something to the captain like, “sometimes it is not so easy in bad weather at this airport to see the runway”, when it was clear that he knew they were headed for the hill and should have been shouting. Turns out that this is consistent with the strongly hierarchical nature of Korean culture, and that once Korean Airlines realized what was going on, they were able to train their Korean pilots to not behave hierarchically in the cockpit.
Their crash rate immediately declined to typical industry-wide levels. A recent New York Times article, Arrogant, Abusive and Disruptive — and a Doctor (http://www. nytimes. com/2008/12/02/health/02rage. html? pagewanted=all ), recounts the following harrowing situation: It was the middle of the night, and Laura Silverthorn, a nurse at a hospital in Washington, knew her patient was in danger.
The boy had a shunt in his brain to drain fluid, but he was vomiting and had an extreme headache, two signs that the shunt was blocked and fluid was building up. When she paged the on-call resident, who was asleep in the hospital, he told her not to worry. After a second page, Ms. Silverthorn said, “he became arrogant and said, ‘you don’t know what to look for — you’re not a doctor. ’ ” He ignored her third page, and after another harrowing hour she called the attending physician at home.
The child was rushed into surgery. “He could have died or had serious brain injury,” Ms. Silverthorn said, “but I was treated like a pest for calling in the middle of the night. ” Just like the second officer in the plane heading for the hill, this nurse was in possession of absolutely critical information in a life-or-death situation. And just like in the Korean Airlines cockpit, a culture of strict hierarchy resulted in a failure of essential communication of that information.
Though it is a natural human tendency of one culture to become submissive and hierarchical and that of others to become more collaborative and transparent, the research is going on which factors has contributed in forming these tendencies. We can certainly benefited by the awareness of the Power Distance Concept and communication training on the ways we can handle cross-cultural transactions for mutual benefits and joint gains. Power Distance Index concept put us in the right frame of mind to analyse various events where cross cultural transactions play a major role.