Culture and the vanishing of states

THE IMPACT OF CULTURE ON THE VANISHING OF STATES

Can cultural intelligence also prevent this?

Sjaak Pappe, BAA MA

Innovation and Culture Management Strategist

Owner, SPI&CM | Bio-Inspired Innovation | A sustainable world already exists

Co-Owner, Coconut Blue | Culture-Based Safety Management | A safe culture is a strategic asset

Co-Owner, Rynbende Spirits | Authentic Dutch Spirits | Anything for an InnOvation

E-mail: sjaak@sjaakpappe.com

Topics that will be covered 

  1. Introduction
  2. What is a nation-state?
  3. Research and statement
  4. How states vanish, The Example of the USSR 
  5. Is there a (cor)relation between the examples of vanishing states and culture?
  6. Can culture management prevent states from vanishing?
  7. Summary, conclusion and a suggestion for a solution framework and further debate

Keywords: Nation-State, Culture, Vanishing States, Implosion of Nations, Culture and Government Policies. 

  1. Introduction

Why do states vanish? The what and or how of nation-building is influenced by culture. But why and or how states vanish may also be influenced by (their or other’s) culture. Can the deployment of cultural dynamics also help prevent states from disappearing or stop nations from conquering others? This article explores the possible (cor)relation between dissolving nations and their culture, based on a limited literature study. It will draft some ideas on how culture might help prevent states from disappearing. This given the actuality of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. This article is, therefore, about how the USSR vanished and how Putin wants to restore the Old Russian Empire, which is more than the USSR because he more or less despised the latter’s political system. He went back to the leadership of one man instead of the leadership of the Communist Party committees. He wants to become the new ‘Czar’.     

A recent special of the Culture Impact Journal has focused on how nations are built and whether this “how” has a (cor)relation with the national culture(s) involved. I initialy decided to explore it from another angle: why do states vanish and whether there is a (cor)relation between national culture and the “why” and “how” of the dissolving process. However, with the invasion of Russia in Ukraine, I changed my mind. 

The new principle  of my article became that all citizens should have the right to have their own safe state without the need to fear that their nation will vanish because of interference by other nations. That right should be assured by respecting local national culture’s values.

Because people are more loyal to culture than to strategy, it’s the most important inhibitor and enabler of change in collective human behavior, attitude, and beliefs. Therefore, let’s assume that enhanced cultural competencies, especially cultural awareness, -sensitivity and -empathy, competences and cultural situational leadership of heads of state, diplomats, militaries, and parliamentarians, will lead to more effective diplomatic and military operations, which will ensure more strategic, safe states than nowadays is the case. The norm should be: the world community assures states don’t vanish (unless a failed state) or get retrieved and that conquering of other states is not done. 

We know that culture is the key influencer of collective human behavior, however in addition I have still made a small literature study to understand why and how nations vanish. Also, I will try to scan whether culture’s consequences are more or less visible in the vanishing process. Primarily, I have studied the work of prize-winning researchers and writers Davies, Fazal, and Diamond. 

I will start by describing a nation-state. Furthermore, I will describe how I studied the work of different writers. I will summarize why and how nations die and explore any correlation with culture. Next, I will explain my doctrine of why leaders should apply diplomacy inspired by nature. I will close off with recommendations for further research and policies.      

  • What is a nation-state?

First, what is a nation-state? It is “a sovereign state of which most of the citizens or subjects are united also by factors which define a nation, such as language or common descent” (Oxford Dictionary). Another definition is broader: “A nation-state is a political unit where the state and nation are congruent  . It is a more precise concept than “country” since a country does not need to have a predominant ethnic group” (Wikipedia).

“A nation, in the sense of a common ethnicity, may include a diaspora or refugees who live outside the nation-state; some nations of this sense do not have a state where that ethnicity predominates. In a more general sense, a nation-state is simply a large, politically sovereign country or administrative territory.” (Wikipedia). The concept of a nation state as we know them nowadays has been developed mainly from the 19th century onwards. Before that, nation-states did not exist, but they were mainly (conglomerates of geographically spread) kingdoms, empires, duchies, counties, and city-states. They were most of the time not established in one specific territory, but mostly geographically dispersed.

  • Research and statement

Second, I explored how states vanish through a limited literature study. For that, I used, amongst other things, first, Norman Davies’s research on the history of fifteen forgotten European states. Secondly, I also studied the work of Tanisha M. Fazal and thirdly, Pulitzer Prize winner Jared Diamond to gain insight into how states disappear. 

Is there a correlation between culture and how a state vanishes or in the vanishing of a state as such? If so, can managing cultural dynamics prevent states from vanishing? This is because every nation has a right to exist if its citizens desire to. 

  • How states vanish – the example  of the USSR

In order to be clear, with ‘vanishing’ I don’t mean ‘revolution’ nor ‘regime-change’ nor ‘system-failure’. Revolution and regime change refer to events where the social order or government is overthrown but where the territory and population remain intact. System failure refers to political organisms that lose the capacity to function effectively but, most of the time, don’t collapse completely. A field of study of recent decades is failed, or better,  failing states, which actually refers to system failure. Yemen, Somalia, South Sudan and Syria top this list. In this article, I write about states that cease to exist. Many scholars describe extinction as a ’natural’ process for nations; they rise, flourish, decline, and become extinct. To illustrate that, alone Europe lists no fewer than 207 extinct states in its past. It is a definitely underestimated issue.         

Most scholars nowadays agree that external, internal, voluntary, and involuntary factors are all visible in the vanishing of nations and that dual schemes no longer suffice. At least five mechanisms appear to be at work: implosion, conquest, merger, liquidation and ‘infant mortality’. The ultimate factor is war. Let me explain. 

Fazal has proven in her research that when states disappear through conquest geography is the main reason. States that vanish are, in most cases, buffer states. Big geopolitical powers, like the US, Russia, China, and India, prefer buffer states between them in order to maintain a balance between them. By offering EU and NATO membership to these buffer states, like Ukraine, Georgia, and before that, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, Russia feels threatened. This disregards the fact that Russia, at a certain moment, even requested to become a member of NATO. Remember that also the US assured itself that communist, socialist, or even left-liberal regimes didn’t get a chance to develop in the buffer zones of the US. They financed and organized revolts against democratically chosen regimes (the list is very long). Geography is also the main reason why states are not conquered. If a country comprises, in general, rough terrain and strong ethnic groups, they are very hard to conquer. Afghanistan and Vietnam are the best examples (Fazal).          

After WWII the norm became (conferences of Jalta, Potsdam): no more conquering, no more war. But it was unilaterally declared by the US and supported by the Western World. Russia (Stalin) agreed but felt insecure about this process because the agreement was that Eastern European countries should get the right to organize democratic elections. Hence, amongst other reasons, the ‘Cold War’ started. This is because buffer states had the potential to be ‘conquered’ by Western democracies. Putin continued this vision and has already spoken about this unilateral doctrine several times, also in public. Russia wasn’t really involved in drafting, organizing and leading the doctrine of ‘no more war’. But Western leaders didn’t listen and or didn’t get the message. This may be influenced by the fact that ‘collectivistic’ Putin brings his message indirectly. He doesn’t want the US to determine when war is allowed and when not. 

The problem is that in the eyes of many people, the EU and the US haven’t contributed to the improvement of the livelihood of their societies and the welfare of their citizens. They see their citizens primarily as consumers, and workers to be directed by centrally developed laws (EU) or little control (US). Instead of increased welfare for citizens (political), power holders and wealthy people became more distant, more powerful, and richer. EU and US citizens feel unheard. Hence, extreme right movements can flourish because they supposedly ‘listen’ to the common people and have simple solutions for all problems: find a scapegoat (e.g., immigrants), restore old ‘ethnicities, values and norms’, and all will be solved. Russia has built on this doctrine via fake news and hacks.            

  • Is there a (cor)relation between the examples of vanishing states and culture?

In this article, I write about the most actual example where internal factors were key: the Soviet Union, which is often said has ‘imploded’, despite that also outside pressures has been present. The reason seems to me to be cultural. All cultures within the Soviet Union, except the Baltics, are in the assessment of Geert Hofstede, very hierarchical and have an extreme high need for certainty. So, there is an emotional need for power to be centralized and for a strict ‘father figure’ at a distance to be in charge (Wursten). Also, big changes in political, economic, social, and/or technological ecosystems are not valued, even blocked, if needed by law or violence. A catastrophic malfunction of the center occurred, and the vacuum was created. The constituent republics of the Union disengaged and continued into uncertainty-avoiding states led by autocrats, except the Northern-European-oriented cultures of the Baltic States. The whole was destroyed. The political system had been developed around the centralized dictatorship of the Communist Party and the command economy. As soon as Gorbachev lost his ability and will to command, because of his Perestroika and Glasnost doctrine, all Party structures came to a stop. This is the main reason why the Soviet Union collapsed, in my opinion, and that of a lot of scholars (Davies). Fifteen republics were pushed into the step beyond mere ‘system failure’. For the Baltics, it was the easiest. They were occupied and annexed in 1940. But they were never fully integrated because of their differences in culture, but also amalgamation takes a long time, often generations. ‘Only’ fifty years later they could ‘escape’ due to the vacuum, with great effort, gasping, but intact as before the conquering, proving that cultural values are stable because they are passed on from generation to generation and that symbols, role models and their power structures, rituals and practices change (Hofstede). 

Gorbachev’s doctrine of Perestroika and Glasnost didn’t fit the culture of the USSR. He wanted to go back to the idealogic source of Lenin for just political, economic, social, and technological reasons, by the way. The USSR was in a bad state. He wanted more socialism, more delegation to the people’s republics, and more democracy while maintaining sufficient central power, although getting rid of what he called unimportant tasks. But these tasks kept the bureaucracy, needed for central power, intact. Ending the ‘Cold War’ was another strategy of Gorbachev. But that was one of the main reasons for the existence of his socialist nation. He tried to change the ‘cultural ecosystem’ of his country via a guided revolution. 

That is factually impossible, certainly within the time frame he had in mind. Most revolutions in history have brought changes but never in the ‘cultural ecosystem’. Symbols, role models, rituals, and some practices may change, but the cultural values are unchangeable. They drive the basic unwritten rules of the ‘social game’. The behavior of Vladimir Putin doesn’t really differ from that of the Imperial Czars and communist ‘Czar’ Josef Stalin. Another example that may raise some eyebrows is the French Revolution. It’s always promoted as the big turning point in Western democracy. I seriously doubt that. That process started already in the Renaissance and gradually developed into the present-day Western democracies, which certainly played their role. But let’s look at France nowadays and the famous slogan ‘Freedom, Equality and Brotherhood’. Freedom is, to a certain extent, true because the French are individualistic people. Brotherhood is already more difficult to realize, especially because of the individualistic culture and the high power distance. There is a Brotherhood, but mainly within the school system in groups, like the Grand Ecoles. Finally, Equality is, in my opinion, ‘window dressing’ or in other words it’s an identity policy in my humble opinion. The French still have their ‘Sun King’, namely the President. He has much more power than any other president around the world in democratic societies. When you look at French society, it looks from a distance like a collection of ’Solar Systems’ or chaos, unclear where the structure is, but when a sun within the system starts to shine, it’s clear who assures everybody’s existence, like on our Earth, the Sun. In France that are the people that are in the top leadership roles. 

Certainly, when one considers that the USSR republics’ cultures were and still are  extremely hierarchical, collectivistic, and very, very insecure, change is extremely challenging. A change process in such a culture follows different lines. The top power holder’s opinion is all important. This figure allows for opinions about new ideas informally and indirectly. The top leader needs to have trust and respect. He emphasizes the fear of failure and emotional buy-in (Wursten). Already Stalin stated that the USSR was threatened. He transformed the country in less than two decades from a backward, largely peasant country into a modern power with considerable industrial and military potential. He was certainly driven by the Communist Ideology and partly by memories of the humiliating defeat of the Great War. But when he launched his program for five-year plans and collectivistic agriculture in 1929, he said: ‘If we don’t transform this country in ten years, our enemies will destroy us.’ It’s scary, similar to what Putin does and says, isn’t it?    In corporate business, one often says ‘culture eats strategy for breakfast’, a term first ascribed to Peter Drucker, and most business leaders respect this principle. However, Gorbachev neglected the innovation and change management principles of this paradigm. By the way, when I write ‘culture’ I mean the unwritten rules of the social game that are internalized for centuries and applied by the majority of sixty to seventy percent of a nation’s citizens and leaders.   

The example of the USSR is painfully actual, given Vladimir Putin’s attack on Ukraine and earlier on Chechnya, Georgia, Crimea, and Syria. He wants to restore Greater Russia and maybe even more: he wants to destroy all (surrounding) democracies, or at least the ones in his ‘buffer zone’. Besides his personality, which maybe a ‘dark triad’ (a term from psychiatry) of psychopathy, narcism, and manipulation and the bad state of the economy, his personal cultural “programming” could impact his strategy. As stated earlier, Russia has a culture of strong hierarchy, collectivism, femininity, extreme need for certainty and long-term orientation. 

Putin’s collectivistic side probably experienced the loss of face when the USSR disappeared, and the West discounted its leadership and took advantage of the chaos. The to-be-expected reaction of a hierarchical, collectivistic, and uncertain state leader: revenge in a silent, informal, and indirect way. Chaos must be controlled and banned. He is patient and apparently has a long-term orientation, meaning he became focused on the future when he came into office in 1999. He was willing to delay short-term material or social success or even short-term emotional gratification in order to prepare for the future. He values persistence, perseverance, saving and being able to adapt.

I am of the opinion that Western leaders, under the ‘supreme’ leadership of the US, have contributed to or even enabled this situation but also didn’t see it or even ignored it. “This situation” includes Russia partly conquering of neighboring states, Russia’s support of autocratic regimes (Syria), and the upcoming extreme right (violent) movements in the EU and US. Let me explain another example which is similar to the USSR. 

The Federation of Yugoslavia, which fell apart after Tito’s death in stages between 1991 and 2006, displayed many similar features to those in the USSR. The main difference is that Serbia, claiming the central power role under the leadership of Miloševic, tried to keep the Federation together with, amongst others, brutal military campaigns. But the ‘spirit was already out of the bottle’ and the more he raged against the other Balkan nations, the more they alienated from Serbia, including their most faithful partner, Montenegro. Here, the word ‘explosion’ might be more suited than ‘implosion’.  

  • Can culture-based politics and diplomacy prevent states from vanishing? 

Hopefully, you, as a reader, can agree with me that Gorbachev neglected his country’s ‘cultural ecosystem’. He should have stayed in power as a ‘benevolent, strict father figure at a distance’ in a guided, centrally controlled ‘democracy’.

Western countries should have realized that Putin was losing his buffer states, the countries that would stay impartial between the big power blocks, the EU/USA, NATO, and Russia. But always with the risk that either power block may ‘conquer’ buffer states. That has happened in the surrounding states of Russia. That’s why Putin started to re-conquer areas.

Informal and indirect negotiations with Putin in order to ensure that he would not lose face could have been successful but only when done with ‘Byzantine Diplomacy’. That means playing the waiting game but with the ‘iron fist’ of clandestine violent actions if talks don’t lead to quick results or even warfare or threat of strong armed forces ready. But Western nations should have been doing this from the beginning of Putin’s reign and not be naïve as they have been in the past decades.   

To illustrate this strategy, hereby is an example of how Russia operated in the eighties toward terrorists in the Middle East (Los Angeles Times, January 7, 1986).   

 “The Jerusalem Post said the Soviet secret police last year secured the release of three kidnaped Soviet diplomats in Beirut by castrating a relative of a radical Lebanese Shia Muslim leader, sending him the severed organs and then shooting the relative in the head.”

‘……with a warning that he would lose other relatives in a similar fashion if the three remaining Soviet diplomats were not immediately released. They were quickly freed.’  

‘And this is the language Hezbollah understands’

  • Summary, conclusion and a suggestion for a solution framework and further debate

In this article I wrote about why and how nations vanish, especially about the factor ‘implosion’ in relation to Russia and Ukraine – the other reasons I have left apart for the sake of the length of this article and because culture is the dynamic that also influences these reasons.

Hopefully, I have giving enough insight to the reader that culture is ‘the puppet master’ that can cause nations to vanish but also that can prevent the disappearance of states. Cultural values are so powerful because they are mostly unconsciously passed on from generation tot generation. They are the unconscious useful corner stones for people to survive in social settings.     

I do understand why big power nations prefer buffer states between them. However, this is contrary to my vision (doctrine if you want)  that people in all nations should have the right to choose the system, relations, and cooperation partners they want. 

Let me introduce therefore a new term: Culture-Based Interventions for Strategic Safety (C-BISS). The core of this strategy is culture-based defense and -diplomacy. The term is not the same as Cultural Diplomacy which is a more broader concept that also plays a role in efforts for nations’ security but mainly through soft actions around artistic and knowledge exchanges.

What is Cultural Diplomacy? Two definitions: 

“Cultural Diplomacy may best be described as a course of actions, which are based on and utilize the exchange of ideas, values, traditions and other aspects of culture or identity, whether to strengthen relationships, enhance socio-cultural cooperation, promote national interests and beyond; Cultural diplomacy can be practiced by either the public sector, private sector or civil society.”

https://www.culturaldiplomacy.org/index.php?en_culturaldiplomacy

“Cultural diplomacy is a type of public diplomacy and soft power that includes the “exchange of ideas, information, art, language and other aspects of culture among nations and their peoples in order to foster mutual understanding”. The purpose of cultural diplomacy is for the people of a foreign nation to develop an understanding of the nation’s ideals and institutions in an effort to build broad support for economic and political goals. In essence “cultural diplomacy reveals the soul of a nation”, which in turn creates influence. Though often overlooked, cultural diplomacy can and does play an important role in achieving national security efforts.”

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cultural_diplomacy

Definition of Culture-Based Interventions for Strategic Safety (‘C-BISS’): 

In order to secure the long term existance of nations, interventions like interference of hostile plans, arbitration and mediation, breaking of enemy alliances, besieging (potential) conquerors and or (para)military (clandestine) actions, all shaped by applying the ‘unwritten rules of the social game’ are allowed towards nations where goals, objectives and/or strategies are developed to have another or their own nation to vanish. 

The key challenge is: Who or what will assure this? The UN is not powerful, authoritative and influential enough for that role. A secret global network of vigilantes that execute tyrannicide would be a solution. But that only happens in fantasy novels and movies. But non-democratic, clandestine actions will have to part of the tactics unfortunately (like Harari writes). Else, powerful agressors will be blocking any legal action. 

It might be a very small-scale modest idea to organize a low key global debate platform under the flag of Culture Impact, just like the Dutch Nexus Institute does on Cultural Diplomacy. 

List of academic books and articles that discuss the phenomenon of state disappearance and its underlying causes that I partly used as inspiration and sources to write this article and which is a recommended reading list.

Books:

  • 21 Lessons for the 21st Century, Yuval Noah Harari, 2018.
  • Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed, Jared Diamond, 2005.
  • Culture and Organisations, Software of the Mind: Intercultural Cooperation and Its Importance for Survival, Geert Hofstede, Gert Jan Hofstede, Michael Minkov, 2010.
  • Failed States: The Abuse of Power and the Assault on Democracy, Noam Chomsky, 2006.
  • Guns, Germs, and Steel, The Fates of Human Societies, Jared Diamond, 1997. 
  • Humankind, A Hopeful History, Rutger Bregman, 2021.
  • Perestroika, Our Hopes for our Country and our World, Mikhail Gorbachev, 1987.  
  • State Death: The Politics and Geography of Conquest, Occupation, and Annexation, Tanisha M. Fazal, 2007.
  • The 7 Mental Images of National Culture: Leading and Managing in a Globalized World, Huib Wursten, 2019.
  • The Vanishing State: Historical Perspectives on State Failure, edited by I. William Zartman
  • The Vanishing State: The View from the Ground” by Christian Leuprecht and Joel J. Sokolsky
  • Vanished Kingdoms, The History of Half-Forgotten Europe, Norman Davies, 2011.
  • Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty”, Daron Acemoglu and James A. Robinson, 2013.

Articles:

  • Acemoglu, Daron, and James A. Robinson. “The Rise and Decline of General Laws of Capitalism.” Journal of Economic Perspectives 29, no. 1 (2015): 3-28.
  • Chua, Amy. “World on Fire: How Exporting Free Market Democracy Breeds Ethnic Hatred and Global Instability.” New York: Anchor Books, 2004.
  • Englehart, Neil A. “Failed States: The Abuse of Power and the Assault on Democracy.” Polity 39, no. 2 (2007): 287-288..
  • Hegre, Håvard, Tanja Ellingsen, Scott Gates, and Nils Petter Gleditsch. “Toward a Democratic Civil Peace? Democracy, Political Change, and Civil War, 1816-1992. American Political Science Review 95, no. 1 (2001): 33-48.
  • Rotberg, Robert I. “Failed States, Collapsed States, Weak States: Causes and Indicators.” In State Failure and State Weakness in a Time of Terror, edited by Robert I. Rotberg, 1-30. Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press, 2003..

Hofstede and de Waal on Masculinity

From: If you want to build bridges, you have to know where the shorelines are,

Frans de Waal looked at the nature of the role of biological sex and the nature of gender in humans by looking at the behavior of non-human primates. He observed that in the other primates, too, you can speak of gender because they learn certain aspects of their sexualities from each other. For example, the young males watch the adult males and the young females watch the adult females and follow their example. There is also a cultural transmission of how you behave as a male and female. In that sense, gender is a concept that can also be applied to other species.                                                                                                                          There is evidence that there is biased learning going on.  For example, research on orangutans in the forest showed that young females eat exactly the same foods as their Mothers. But young males vary. They sometimes eat foods that the mother never touches. That’s because their models are the adult males they see eating occasionally.

De Waal makes a few points:                                                                                                “There is as much gender diversity in other primates as in humans. Homosexual behavior is very common in primates. I usually call bonobos “bisexual” because I don’t think they make a big distinction between whether they have sex with a male or female. All the gender diversity that we have in human society, transgender people and homosexual orientation, and so on, we can see in the other primates. The interesting part is that they have no trouble with it. I’ve never noticed that they exclude an individual because of this. The tolerance level is a lot higher than in most human societies. But the variation is very similar.”                           Sex is mostly binary: 99% of individuals are either male or female and there’s a small slice of individuals in between. There are universal sex differences, which we see in all human and primate societies. It’s very hard to argue with some biological background. For example, all young males and primates (including human boys) like to wrestle when they’re young; they like mock fighting, running around, and trying to wrestle each other down. In the young primates, this is a very big bias; the males like to do that and the females don’t like to do that, necessarily. That’s why females often play separately from males. Another thing that’s universal in play behavior is that young females are more interested in infants and dolls in primate and human societies. If you give a doll to a group of chimps, a female will alwayspick it up and care for it. If a male picks it up, he may take it apart and look inside the doll to see what’s in there. But the females will put it on their belly and back, walk around, and care for it. They do the same thing with the infants of other females. The interest of young females in infancy is also a universal human bias, primate bias, and it’s fairly logical because later in life, they will care for offspring for most of their life.                                                                                                                                               Biology or culture? People want to choose between biology and culture. And that’s why you get these discussions with people who say gender is all cultural. There is nothing that is all cultural. That doesn’t exist. Because what is culture? Culture is us influencing each other and we are biological organisms, biological organisms affecting other biological organisms—automatically, biology is in there. There is no pure culture. It doesn’t exist. There is no pure biology either. That doesn’t exist. And that’s why, in biology, we don’t speak about instincts anymore in animals, because everything an animal does is influenced by how it grew up and what it learned in its lifetime, and so on. And so there is no pure biology either. So people want to choose between the two. And they have a false sense of security that they can do that, but you cannot. And so everything we do is influenced by two factors, the environment and our genes, and by the interaction between the two.                                                        Masculinity and Femininity is a cultural construct. De Waal: “I usually divide it not by male and female but by masculine and feminine and everything in between. It’s an extremely variable concept. And as I said, it’s probably applicable to other primates, though maybe less well than in humans. But in humans, it is very important to distinguish those two. Gender has to do with how you express your sexuality, your sex role, and how much you follow or don’t follow the dictates of your culture.” But there is a flexibility that can also be seen in the other primates. De Waal givers following example, “chimpanzees and bonobo males, they don’t do anything with the young. The females do everything. The males may occasionally protect them, but that’s all they do. But we know that if a mother loses her life in the forest, and suddenly there is an orphan, we know that sometimes males pick up these orphans and carry them. They adopt them and not just for a couple of days. High-ranking males, like alpha males, may adopt a baby chimp and take care of it for five years. It’s not always expressed, but they have that tendency and that capacity.”

Subconscious learning and biases.  Hofstede talks about subconscious learning. De Waal explains it by biased learning: it is aroused more by familiar and similar individuals. In humans, that means individuals of your culture, language, color, etc. We do empathy studies on all sorts of animals nowadays and they always have this social bias built in, which means it’s hard to generate empathy for individuals who are quite different from you, who are distant, who are a different ethnic group, or speak a different language. Then it becomes more difficult for you. But the fact that we have it is really important. And once you have empathy, the capacity for it, you can try to expand it mentallyto expand the rules for in our human moral systems. That’s a cognitive capacity that we have and that’s why we try to do things like that.

Culture and education. Best practices?

The impact of culture on education

Can we introduce best practices in education across countries?

By Huib Wursten & Carel Jacobs

As a result of globalization, many people are becoming interested in ranking systems which

show how their own countries compare with others on a variety of measures. The World

Economic Forum publishes an annual ranking of countries on economic competitiveness; the

United Nations a ranking on human development; the OECD publishes comparisons on the

quality of healthcare systems. Even a ranking system for “happiness” can be found.

In this paper we will explore the outcome of ranking countries on the quality of education.

In particular we will focus on a recent report “The Learning Curve” (2013) published by The

Economist Magazine’s Intelligence Unit. In this report an attempt was made to look for “best

practices” – approaches that systematically lead to higher quality education thereby enabling

policy makers and practitioners in other countries to simply “copy and paste” and work

towards educational reforms that have proven effective in raising educational achievement in

some countries. The surprising conclusion from this report, however, is that almost no

practices were found that could be implemented globally. The authors explain that while the

inputs to education – like money, school choice, years in school, and teacher-pupil ratio’s –

can be identified; and outputs can be compared looking at ranking systems on measures of

literacy, numeracy, and educational attainment; what happens between input and output is

very much a local issue. They describe this country-specific process as a “black box”,

implying that there is no systematic way to describe how the differences in the

teaching/learning process transforms inputs into outputs.

We will show that well-researched systematic differences in value preferences across

countries are vital for understanding the way teaching/learning processes are handled. Using

the seminal work of Geert Hofstede on cultural differences, we will show that the five culture

dimensions he found provides an analytical tool for understanding the local differences in

educational policy and teaching methods in school systems. Based on this cross-cultural

framework, we ask a fundamental question: is it possible to find best practices that work

worldwide in spite of these value differences?

In short this article attempts to:2

Summarize recent rankings of educational performance across countries and the influence of

culture on these ranking systems.

• Describe what culture is and how it influences the way we educate and learn.

• Analyze “best practices”, i.e. can we export practices across cultures. Can we learn

from each other while being so different?

• Enlarge the discussion of some key issues in education by incorporating a cultural

perspective.

I. Ranking educational systems worldwide

In the field of education there are several systems used to compare educational quality

across countries, including: Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS); Trends

in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMMS); and the Programme for

International Student Assessment (PISA).(*1) These approaches focus on benchmarking the

factors leading to achievement and, more specifically, trying to identify what specific factors

differentiate the highest achievers. As professor Schleicher (OECD) (*2) says: “education

debates are no longer about the improvement by national standards. Best performing

countries now set the tone”.

Recently the Economist Intelligence Unit of the Economist Magazine published a new ranking

system: the Learning Curve Data Bank LCDB: country performance in education.(*3) This

report outlines the main findings from a large body of internationally comparable education

data. In the report they provide an overall ranking (column 1) by comparing cognitive skills

attainment (column 2) which combines the results from the PIRLS, TIMMS and Pisa systems,

and scores of countries on the highest degree of education individuals complete:

“educational attainment” (column 3) (*4).

The top 20 countries are shown below:3

Overall score Cognitive Skills Educational attainment

Finland [Rank 1]1.26 [Rank 1]1.50 [Rank 3]0.79

South Korea [Rank 2]1.23 [Rank 4]1.24 [Rank 1]1.21

Hong Kong-China [Rank 3]0.90 [Rank 3]1.26 [Rank 17]0.20*

Japan [Rank 4]0.89 [Rank 5]1.04 [Rank 8]0.59

Singapore [Rank 5]0.84 [Rank 2]1.39 [Rank 33]-0.26*

United Kingdom [Rank 6]0.60 [Rank 12]0.50 [Rank 2]0.81

Netherlands [Rank 7]0.59 [Rank 7]0.72 [Rank 11]0.32*

New Zealand [Rank 8]0.56 [Rank 9]0.61 [Rank 9]0.47*

Switzerland [Rank 9]0.55 [Rank 8]0.71 [Rank 13]0.22

Canada [Rank 10]0.54 [Rank 6]0.72 [Rank 20]0.18

Ireland [Rank 11]0.53 [Rank 16]0.42 [Rank 5]0.74

Denmark [Rank 12]0.50 [Rank 17]0.41 [Rank 6]0.68

Australia [Rank 13]0.46 [Rank 11]0.54 [Rank 12]0.31

Poland [Rank 14]0.43 [Rank 20]0.26 [Rank 4]0.77

Germany [Rank 15]0.41 [Rank 10]0.56 [Rank 23]0.12

Belgium [Rank 16]0.35 [Rank 15]0.43 [Rank 17]0.20*

United States [Rank 17]0.35 [Rank 14]0.44 [Rank 21]0.16

Hungary [Rank 18]0.33 [Rank 13]0.46 [Rank 25]0.07

Slovakia [Rank 19]0.32 [Rank 25]0.16 [Rank 7]0.65

Russia [Rank 20]0.26 [Rank 19]0.29 [Rank 19]0.20*

The most interesting result of the analyses, as summarized in this report, is “how few

correlations there are”. In order to explain this result, one observation is that in any number

of surveys researchers measure what is measurable. Usually inputs are identified more than4

outputs because they are simpler and easier to measure. However, the “softer” inputs of

education tend to be left out. The authors conclude: “These inputs, however can be crucial,

such as the cultural context in which education occurs.” The difficulty the writers admit is:

“how do you disentangle deeply embedded cultural values from social and educational

policies?” The quality and approach of teachers plays a big role in this. Teachers are key

transmitters of cultural values. Much research has focused on: “what education systems can

do to ensure that they find teachers who add value”. But even here the report concludes

that “the rules tend to be country specific.”

The how and what of education is very much connected to the culture of the country at

hand. A lot of different ideas exist about the role and position of the teacher as well as

expectations around the “right” behavior of students. These key elements again are highly

linked to cultural values. In the Economist report culture is discussed only in a very generic

way. Education remains, in the words of The Economist, “a black box (*5) in which inputs

are turned into outputs in ways that are difficult to predict or quantify consistently.

.

Input —-> ? —-> Output

Spending per pupil

The

Black Box

of Education is

Culture

PIRLS

class size TIMMS

start age PISA

school choice Graduation rates

years in school Literacy, employment, etc.

Looking at the black box above, we believe that it can be opened. We will outline how

culture can be used as the key. Culture, however, is a vague term and is used in very

different ways.5

II.What is culture? How does culture influence the learning process?

a. About culture: the research of Geert Hofstede

We will first delve a little bit deeper in this notion of “culture”. As a starting point we take the

results of the scientific research by professor Geert Hofstede. Hofstede is widely recognized

as the one who did the most fundamental research on cultural differences(*6,7,8,9). He

defines culture as “the collective programming of the mind that distinguishes the members

of one group or category of people from others”. Hofstede carried out fundamental research

into the dominant values of countries and the way in which they influence behavior in

organizations. Original data were based on an extensive IBM database for which 116,000

questionnaires were used in 72 countries and in 20 languages.

The results of his research were validated against about 40 cross-cultural studies from a

variety of disciplines. Analyzing his data, Hofstede found five value clusters (or “dimensions”)

being the most fundamental in understanding and explaining the differences in answers to

the single questions in his questionnaires. He measured the differences and calculated

scores for 56 countries on these 5 dimensions. Later research, partly done by others have

extended this to about a 100 countries. The combined scores for each country explain

variations in behavior of people and organizations. The scores indicate the relative

differences between cultures.

The six dimensions of national culture identified by Hofstede are:

• Power Distance Index (PDI)

• Individualism vs. collectivism (IDV)

• Masculinity vs. femininity (MAS)

• Uncertainty Avoidance Index (UAI)

• Long Term Orientation (LTO)

Recently a new dimension is added called:

• Indulgence versus Restraint. Because further research is in development we will not

take this dimension into account.

Country scores on each dimension are ranked from low to high, i.e. from 0 to 100.6

Please note that the score of a country is not meant to imply that everyone in a

particular society is programmed in exactly the same way. There are considerable

individual differences. But when fundamental values of various societies are compared,

majority preferences’ are found to exist, which occur again and again as a result of the

way children are brought up by their parents and the educational system. And when we

examine how societies organize themselves, these majority preferences turn out to have

a modifying influence at all levels. They have an influence on the ways teacher and

students are expected to behave. Even the ideas of the objectives of education are

stated in different ways. For example in some countries the objective of education is: to

develop a critical mind, which in other cultures is viewed as absurd. In these countries

students are supposed to try to learn as much as possible from the older generation and

only when you are fully initiated you may communicate to have ideas of yourself.

III. The dimensions and their influence on Education (3)

a. Power Distance Index (PDI)

Power distance is the extent to which less powerful members of a society accept that

power is distributed unequally. In large power-distance cultures everybody has his/her

rightful place in society. Old age is respected, and status is important. In small power-

distance cultures people try to look younger and powerful people try to look less powerful.

People in countries like the US, Canada, the UK , all Scandinavian countries and the

Netherlands score low on the power-distance index and are more likely to accept ideas like

empowerment, matrix management and flat organizations. Business schools around the

world tend to base their teachings on low power-distance values. Yet, most countries in the

world have a high power-distance index.7

Implications of Power Distance on Teaching

Low High

Student centered. Premium on initiative Teacher centered. Premium on order

Teacher expects student to initiate

communication

Student expects teacher to initiate

communication

Teacher expects students to find own paths Student expects teacher to outline paths

Students allowed to contradict & criticize Teacher never contradicted nor criticized

Effectiveness of learning is a function the

amount of two-way communication

Effectiveness of learning is a function of the

excellence of teachers

b. Individualism vs. Collectivism (IDV)

In individualistic cultures, like almost all the rich Western countries, people look after

themselves and their immediate family only; in collectivist cultures like Asia and Africa

people belong to “in-groups” who look after them in exchange for loyalty. In individualist

cultures, values are in the person, whereas in collectivist cultures, identity is based on the

social network to which one belongs. In individualist cultures there is more explicit, verbal8

communication. In collectivist cultures communication is more implicit.

Implications of Collectivism vs. Individualism on Teaching

Collectivist Individualist

Students only speak up when called on by

the teacher

Students speak up in response to general

invitation by the teacher

Individuals only speak up in small groups Individuals will speak up in large groups

Formal harmony in learning situations should

be maintained at all times

Confrontation and challenge in learning

situations can be brought into the open

Neither teacher nor student should ever be

made to lose face

“Face consciousness” is weak

Teachers expected to give preferential

treatment to some, e.g. based on ethnic

affiliation or recommendation

Teachers expected to be strictly impartial

c. Masculinity vs. Femininity (MAS)9

In masculine cultures like USA, UK, Germany, Japan and Italy the dominant values are

achievement and success. The dominant values in feminine cultures are consensus seeking,

caring for others and quality of life. Sympathy is for the underdog. People try to avoid

situations distinguishing clear winners and losers. In masculine cultures performance and

achievement are important. The sympathy is for the winners. Status is important to show

success. Feminine cultures like the Scandinavian countries and the Netherlands have a

people orientation. Small is beautiful and status is not so important.

Implications of Femininity vs. Masculinity on Teaching

Feminine Masculine

Teachers use average students as norm Teachers use best students as norm

System rewards students’ social adaptation System rewards academic performance

Student’s failure in school a relatively minor

accident

Student’s failure in school a severe blow to

student self image

students try to behave modestly students try to make themselves visible

Students choose subjects out of interest Students choose subjects for career reasons10

d. Uncertainty Avoidance Index (UAI)

Uncertainty avoidance (or uncertainty control) stands for the extent to which people

feel threatened by uncertainty and ambiguity. In cultures with strong uncertainty avoidance,

people have a strong emotional need for rules and formality to structure life. The way people

think and learn is influenced by this value. In strong UAI countries like Korea, Germany,

Russia, France, Iran and Brasil, the need is to know about what people in the past and

present already said about a certain subject. It is a pre-requisite for “competence.” This

results in high status of experts, as opposed to weak uncertainty-avoidance cultures, like the

UK, the USA, and Denmark in which the views of practitioners are more highly respected.

Implications of Uncertainty Avoidance on Teaching

Weak Strong

Students comfortable in Un structured

learning situations:

• Broad assignments

• No timetables

Students comfortable in structured learning

situations:

• Precise instructions

• Detailed assignments

• Strict timetables

Teachers allowed to say “I don’t know” Teachers expected to have all the answers

Good teachers use plain language Good teachers use academic language

Students rewarded for innovative approaches Students rewarded for accuracy11

Implications of Uncertainty Avoidance on Teaching

Teachers view intellectual disagreement as

stimulating

Teachers view intellectual disagreement as

personal disloyalty

e. Long Term Orientation (LTO)

The last element of culture is the Long Term Orientation which is the extent to which a

society exhibits a future-orientated perspective rather than a near term point of view. Low

scoring countries like the USA and West European countries are usually those under the

influence of monotheistic religious systems, such as the Christian, Islamic or Jewish systems.

People in these countries believe there is an absolute and indivisible truth. In high scoring

countries such as Hong Kong, Taiwan, China, for example those practicing Buddhism,

Shintoism or Hinduism, people believe truth depends on time, context and situation.

Implications of PRA on Teaching

Low High

Focus on asking “Why”? Focus on asking “How”?

Students want to find the one and only

solution

Different answers possible. “Many thruths”12

Implications of PRA on Teaching

Strong emphasis on education as obligation

to parents and society

Stability rated as the most important virtue Perseverance rated as the most important

virtue

IV. Best practices: can we learn from each other?

a. Best practices

In analyzing the results of educational measures, a term being used frequently in the last

few years is “best practices”. As can now be understood from the framework just

explained, even this term and approach for country comparison is culturally bound. Focus on

“best practices” is a very Anglo-Saxon approach. All Anglo Saxon cultures score low on

Uncertainty Avoidance. This means that the focus is not on theoretical approaches and

expert knowledge but on practices and the experience of practitioners, and the thinking style

is inductive. As a consequence handbooks on all subjects in these cultures begin with a

description of cases taken from practice. These cases are analyzed and lead to a statement

about best practices. This approach values practical application over “academic” research.

This Anglo Saxon brand of inductive reasoning can be further understood by adding the

influence of a high score on MAS: strong action- and achievement orientation. This way of

thinking is called pragmatism. Pragmatists are unwilling to be involved in too much

speculation on what is going on in the minds of people. Abstract argumentation is something

for “academics.” What counts is whether specific actions lead to desired observable

behavior: “the proof of the pudding is in the eating.” ‘If we can work out what’s in the box –

fine. It may help. If not – we’ll just do what seems to work. Even if we do work out what’s in

the box and it doesn’t work – we’ll do something else.’13

In contrast, deductive thinking is the norm in high UAI cultures. These cultures try first to

get an understanding of what is known about a subject. The first step is always to look into

what others, especially experts from the past and the present, have already said on a

subject. Then a philosophy or “the principles of…” (management, leadership, marketing,

education) can be formulated. The last step is application. In this approach philosophy and

thinking is more highly regarded than the actions of practitioners that follow. As a result,

people of these cultures experience “best practices” as “superficial.” They are more

interested in the thinking that led to successful approaches.

b. Can we learn from another culture?

In the Economist report professor Stecher was quoted: “Schools are both recipients and

creators of cultural patterns: over the long term they help to shape norms for the next

generation”. (2) Yes, they are recipients, but are also creators. And the question is if it is

possible to create a “culture free” best school system which other countries can simply “copy

and paste” what has been successful in another country?

The answer is that cultural values are deeply rooted and are very consistent over time. The

‘collective programming of the mind’ starts from the moment children are born. They learn

from their parents to obey absolutely or to speak up. This programming continues at school

as was described above how the five dimensions apply to learning situations. Are students

expected to find their own path and are they allowed to contradict the teacher? Are they

expected to compete with each other in class? This all depends on the country culture. It is

this “context” that needs to be taken into account when looking at what has been successful

in one country and whether or how those approaches can be applied to another country. It14

is shortsighted to expect countries to be effective in introducing new ideas if these ideas are

not likely to fit in the context of their values.

These comments are not suggesting that we cannot learn from others. Of course we should

keep an open mind about what is happening elsewhere. But it is naïve to think that a best

practices in a certain specific culture can be automatically copied and pasted in another

culture with different basic preferences. What is needed is a way to “translate” from one

value system to another to make it work. Professionals working in an international

environment should understand the different expectations of colleagues and students in the

teaching-learning process. They should be trained to understand and to apply the different

“rules of the game” according to the different norms of the society at hand.

V Analyzing some key issues in education, within a cultural framework

The conclusion of “The learning curve” is that two issues were globally recognized as the

core of understanding educational quality:

a. a supportive culture for education and

b. the need for a high status of teachers.

These two features of education are highly influenced by culture and therefore implemented

in different ways in different countries. Some examples are provided below.

a. Supportive culture for education

In explaining the success of Korea and Finland, The Economist concludes that in both these

countries there is a supportive culture for education.However, what translates as “support”

is very different in these two situations. In the first instance, Korea is a high power distance

country, where people accept top down policy decisions by a government. In fact it is seen

as the task and privilege of a government. For example, South Korea made a “top-down”

decision dating back 30 years to make the country more competitive in the global market. To

do so they focused on the education of the future workforce. A lot of resources were

allocated to make use of the full available potential. By comparison, low power distance

cultures such as Finland, have a different approach to education policy. Because of the low

PDI rating, power is decentralized in these cultures, so it is a necessity to involve all the

stakeholders and to approach influencing from the bottom up..15

b. High status of teachers

Another area where culture plays an essential role in defining the how and what of “status.”

For instance, in Finland a critical moment in education policy occurred when the Government

decided that teachers should only be recruited from Universities to give the profession “high

status.” In other cultures an academic credential is not as highly valued. For example, in a

May 2013 speech by the education secretary in the UK, Mr. Gove told his audience that he

wants ”…to sweep away the whole structure that has underpinned schools since the war.

Schools themselves should conduct research into what produces great teaching and learning,

rather than leaving such studies to universities, which he believes have offered little of

practical value in terms of improving schools. Leaders should be trained within schools rather

than being sent away to acquire abstract diplomas. Teachers should equally be trained

within the schools themselves, rather than learning how to teach in university education

departments. “(*10) Here we see credibility and status of academics conferred very

differently between Finland, a country scoring 59 on UAI, and the UK, which scores 35.

VI Some other issues discussed in “The Learning Curve”

a. Autonomy of schools, testing and accountability

One of the important issues discussed in “The learning curve” is about giving schools

autonomy in the teaching process while also making them more accountable for achieving

results. ”Give the schools back to the professional” is the slogan. The secretary of education

in the UK, Mr Gove in his May 2013 speech was promoting his idea. As one newspaper

wrote: “No education secretary in the modern era has matched his vision of a largely

autonomous education system in which individual schools, heads and teachers are given

back their independence and creativity. Only by releasing dynamism in this way does he

believe that British schools will be able to compete with the best in Shanghai, Singapore and

Scandinavia” (*10). The autonomy he believes should be accompanied by accountability. To

be able to hold teachers accountable there is a need for testing to see if the students are

getting the quality they deserve.16

In some countries the authorities try to establish and administer standardized test to all

students. In the US as a result of the Bush initiative “no one left behind” in school

year2013/14 more than one million students in 22 states are expected to take the tests, in

an effort to help develop a national exam modeled on the new standards, known as the

Common Core. The big concern with this approach is whether this leads to “teaching to the

test”. In other words, does the pressure coming from showing improvements through these

tests cause teachers and students to discuss and study what is necessary to pass these

tests? There are already warnings about this. In June 2013 the “Humanities Committee” a

group of concerned educators in the USA sounded an alarm. .“We are preparing students to

be employable,” said Eduardo J. Padrón, a commission member. But without the humanities

and social sciences, he added, “they are missing something important.” “People talk about

the humanities and social sciences as if they are a waste of time,” said Richard H. Brodhead,

the president of Duke University and a co-chairman of the commission. “But this facile

negativism forgets that many of the country’s most successful and creative people had

exactly this kind of education.” (*11)

It is not surprising that this “reductionist” approach is common in masculine countries where

the motivation to compete and to achieve is high. In more feminine countries, however, the

focus on “quality of life” prevents schools from only offering subjects that are directly related

to measurable results that lead to employability. These countries retain an emphasis on a

broader curriculum, that retains the humanities, arts and social sciences as essential

elements of education and preparation for adult life.

Again: autonomy and testing are very much cultural issues. Autonomy, the bottom up

approach, is acceptable only in Low Power Distance cultures. Like empowerment in

management theories it implies that authorities/managers dare to give the power to the

lowest possible level without too many instructions and structural limits, also implies a low

score for UAI. This combination, low PDI and low UAI, is in principle only found in the Anglo-

Saxon countries, in Scandinavia and the Netherlands. This educational strategy can be

adapted to fit other countries like Germany, Austria, Hungary and the Czech Republic, by

adding more explicit rules and procedures when the autonomy is given. In High power

distance cultures, empowerment and autonomy is not impossible, but it must take the form

of clearly-defined delegation. The level of autonomy would be clearly defined and limited

within a very strict set of mandates. If things happen that are not foreseen by their17

mandate, schools would not be allowed to act independently to respond to the new

situation. They would be required to go back up the chain of authority and ask for

instructions first.

Standardized tests and quantifiable objectives with consequences for pass/fail decisions and

visible ranking is an approach suited to cultures with the masculine thinking style. In other

cultures people are more hesitant to focus so heavily on achieving top scores and comparing

students and schools on standardized tests. Finland, for example, with the top ranking in

TLC, is a highly feminine country and does not use this kind of highly competitive

orientation. Pasi Sahlberg, director general of the Centre for International Mobility and

Cooperation (CIMO) in Finland has strong opinions on why Finland stands out in comparison

with countries like the USA: “It [the education system] is run like a marketplace rather than

a professional place,” Sahlberg says that five aspects of the Finnish system sets it apart. At

the forefront, the Finnish system was built without trying to be number one. He emphasized

that competition was never part of the system. Instead the focus has aimed at creating good

schools for all children. Sahlberg points out that Finland’s approach is emphasizing

collaboration instead of competition. The impact of competition has resulted in

standardization and created immense expectations including that “everyone learn the same

and in the same way.” Instead, Finland has stressed personalization of education – where

every school sets its own standards based on a national framework. He said this approach

created a system where a student’s only competitor is him or herself. A direct result of

standards in tests in countries like America is increased focus on accountability, particularly

teachers. “Accountability is what’s left when responsibility is taken away,” he said. In

Finland, the teaching profession operates as a trust-based responsibility.(*12)

Beyond the lack of emphasis on competition, Finland also has a culture that truly values

education. The Finnish also trust public education. It is the second most trusted institutions

in the country, next to police, earning 89 percent. This is in stark contrast to the United

States, Sahlberg asserts, where only 29 percent trust the public education system. A fairly

equal wealth distribution within Finland also impacts the education system. As a result,

Finland continues to do well in many areas beyond education, like women’s empowerment,

technological advances, child well-being, and prosperity.

Conclusion: the discussions on autonomy of schools, testing, and accountability is very much

“loaded” with culture. What is seen as desirable in one culture is seen as unwanted in

another.18

b. Performance levels in East Asian countries. Strengths and weaknesses

Another interesting result to analyze from a cultural perspective is the successful

performance of students in East Asian countries. The cultural side of this result can be

understood by the 5th Dimension of culture LTO:: the strong emphasis on education as

obligation to parents and society.:

Analysis of their education systems has pointed out however that these are steeped in

discipline, rote learning and obsessive test preparation. Many educators say however that

this strength is in education is also a weakness. In their opinion the education system is too

test-oriented, schools stifle creativity and parental pressures often deprive children of the

joys of childhood.

Jiang Xueqin, a deputy principal at Peking University High School in Beijing said in The Wall

Street Journal shortly after test results were announced: “Chinese schools emphasized

testing too much, and produced students who lacked curiosity and the ability to think

critically or independently”. (13)

As a result critics like Jiang Xueqin feel that “Chinese schools are very good at preparing

their students for standardized tests. But for the same reason they fail to prepare them for

higher education and the knowledge economy.”

One more issue of concern is that the stress to succeed makes that suicide rates among

students are very high in countries like South Korea, China and Japan.

Mr. Zhang Chun from the Nanjing Suicide Rescue Hotline said: “Children nowadays are under

too much pressure from middle school to high school. They don’t have much time to go out

and experience being in society. They have no other way of learning, and have no way of

blowing off steam”. (14)

In South Korea the most common cause of youth suicide is pressure related to the College

Scholastic Ability Test.

VII Conclusion19

We have shown that well researched systematic differences in value preferences per country

are fundamental in understanding the way the teaching learning processes are handled. The

5 culture dimensions found by Geert Hofstede provide an analytical tool for understanding

the local differences in the educational policy and school systems.

T his brings us to conclude that:

1. A truly international approach to ranking countries on education should take cultural

differences into account before ”benchmarking” and describing the characteristics of

good school systems and good teachers.

2. We can and should learn from each other. But we should also understand that to make a

“best practice” work requires translation to a different culture / value system.

Example: Finland is seen by some American educationalists as the example of how to

improve the educational system. Analyzing the differences Pahlberg (12) concluded that

the big difference is that in the USA the driving factor is competition while in Finland it is

cooperation. This is not a coincidence, something that can be changed easily. No it is a

basic cultural difference between Masculine cultures and Feminine cultures. To be

effective in looking for improvement this difference should be a leading element in the

planning of change. (see 16)

The same applies to the discussion on the autonomy of schools. In high power distance

countries (by far the majority of countries in the world) Autonomy will only be possible in

a clearly defined and limited mandate that is given by the central power holders. It

should be defined top down.

3. The “Hofstede” dimensions of culture provide a guideline for the translation

4. The quality of teachers is related to how country cultures are defining the role of

teachers in the education process. It isa matter of effectiveness to accept this and to

understand that results can be obtained in different ways. Look at the differences

between the first two countries in the ranking system Finland and South Korea.:20

Finland South Korea

Student centered education Teacher centered education

Effectiveness of learning related to amount of

two-way communication

Effectiveness of learning related to

excellence of teacher

Teacher expects students take initiative Students expect initiative from teacher

Teacher expects students find their own path Students expect teacher to outline paths

A good teacher uses plain language A good teacher uses academic language

Teachers interpret intellectual disagreement

as stimulating

Teachers interpret intellectual disagreement

as personal disloyalty

Face consciousness weak Neither teacher nor student should ever be

made to lose face

.

5. Planning and implementation of change in the educational field should take the country

culture into account. For instance in high PDI countries it should be done top down,

committing first the top of the educational field. In low PDI countries with a high score

on UAI it is a must to commit first the recognized experts in the field, while in countries

with low PDI and Feminity all stake holders must be involved from scratch .

6. About the authors (*17)

Huib Wursten ( huib@itim.org )

Until 2007 Huib was co-owner and MD of the Institute for Training in Intercultural

management ITIM. He is experienced in translating international and global strategies and

policies into practical consequences for management. He has been working in this field since

1989 with Fortune 1000 companies, as well as with public and political organizations in 85

countries in all continents.21

Carel Jacobs (carel@itim.org)

Carel is senior consultant/trainer for ITIM in The Netherlands and is Certification Agent for

the Educational sector of the Hofstede Centre. After a career as MD of an international

learning company and project manager in international business projects he concentrated on

intercultural management in both the public and private sector in the area of education,

organization development and management of change.

References

1.The Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) is an international

study of reading achievement in fourth graders. It is conducted by the International

Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IEA). “It is designed to measure

children’s reading literacy achievement, to provide a baseline for future studies of trends in

achievement, and to gather information about children’s home and school experiences in

learning to read.”

The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) is a worldwide study

by the OECD in member and non-member nations of 15-year-old school pupils’ scholastic

performance on mathematics, science, and reading. It was first performed in 2000 and then

repeated every three years. It is done with view to improving education policies and

outcomes. The data has increasingly been used both to assess the impact of education

quality on incomes and growth and for understanding what causes differences in

achievement across nations.

The Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) is an

international assessment of the mathematics and science knowledge of 4th and 8th grader

students around the world. TIMSS was developed by the International Association for the

Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IEA) to allow participating nations to compare

students’ educational achievement across borders.

2. As quoted in the LCDB. See 3.

3.The Learning Curve Data Bank (LCDB) – created by the Economist Intelligence Unit as

part of the broader Learning Curve programme – is an effort to advance study in this area. It

is purpose-built, substantial collection of data which includes more than 60 comparative

indicators gathered from over 50 countries. Many of these indicators in turn rely on multiple22

pieces of information, so that, even with some inevitable gaps, the LCDB encompasses over

2,000 individual data points. These go well beyond traditional education metrics, such as

teacher-student ratios and various spending metrics, to cover a broad range of educational

inputs and possible outputs, from the degree to which parents demand good results of

schools to the proportion of adults who end up in jail.

4.Educational attainment is a term commonly used by statisticians to refer to the highest

degree of education an individual has completed

5.Black box:

In philosophy and psychology, the school of behaviorism sees the human mind as a black

box. The mind cannot be opened to “look inside” and see how it works. What is possible is

to guess how it works based on what happens when something is done to it (input), and

what occurs as a result of that (output). The bla ck box theory of consciousness , states that

the mind is fully understood once the inputs and outputs are well defined and generally

couples this with a radical skepticism regarding the possibility of ever successfully describing

the underlying structure, mechanism, and dynamics of the mind

6. Geert Hofstede, (2 October 1928) is an influential Dutch researcher in the field of

organizational studies. He played a major role in developing a systematic framework for

assessing and differentiating national cultures and organizational cultures. His studies

demonstrated that there are national values that influence behavior of societies and

organizations.

7. Geert Hofstede: Culture’s Consequences: International Differences in Work-Related

Values. 475 pages. Beverly Hills CA: Sage Publications, 1980, hardcover, ISBN 0-8039-

1444-X.

Abridged paperback edition: Sage Publications, 1984, 325 pages.

8.Geert Hofstede: Culture’s Consequences: Comparing Values, Behaviors, Institutions

and Organizations Across Nations, 2nd Edition. 596 pages. Thousand Oaks CA: Sage

Publications, 2001, hardcover, ISBN 0-8039-7323-3; 2003, paperback, ISBN 0-8039-7324-1.

9. Geert Hofstede: Cultural differences in teaching and learning. In: International Journal

of Intercultural Relations, Vol.10, pp. 301-320, 1986

10. The Telegraph. Monday 24 June 2013. Michael Gove is winning the hearts of state

heads. By Anthony Seldon23

11.Humanities Committee Sounds an Alarm. Editorial in The New York Times. By

Jennifer Schuessler. Published: June 18, 2013

12.Askwith Forum on April 23 ,2013. Pasi Sahlberg, director general of the Centre for

International Mobility and Cooperation (CIMO) in Finland. 5.

http://www.gse.harvard.edu/news-impact/2013/04/sahlberg-advocates-for-finnish-way-at-

askwith-forum/#ixzz2RjorW06m

13.The Test Chinese Schools Still Fail. High scores for Shanghai’s 15-year-olds are

actually a sign of weakness. The Wall Street Journal 8 dec. 2010

14. 6 sep. 2012 motion in life www.dailymotion.com/…/xtcgvr_china-s-student-suici.

15. Education for all. The quality Imperative. EFA Global Monitoring Report 2005

Published in 2004 by the United Nations Educational,

Scientific and Cultural Organization

7, Place de Fontenoy, 75352 Paris 07 SP

16. Huib Wursten. Culture and Change management; www.itim.org/articleon

changemanagement.pdf

17. We are grateful for the editing suggestions of Ze’eva Cohen, Dinah Nieburg and Tom

Fadrhonc24

Editorial Cross, cultural psychology

Editorial Huib Wursten

Cross-cultural psychology and psychiatry are interdisciplinary fields that examine the influence of culture on psychological and psychiatric phenomena

Frequently, it is assumed that, in principle, people are basically the same everywhere.

This is mostly assumed by the so-called “Weird” people. Weird stands for Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic. 

Most leading research is done by Western scholars among Western people.  For a very long time, economists, psychologists, and sociologists, especially from the Anglo-Saxon countries (USA, UK, Australia, N. Zealand), based their arguments and findings on ‘evidence-based approaches’ without considering the origin and gender of the people in their samples. 

Evan Watters concluded in ‘We aren’t the World’: “Economists and psychologists worked with the convenient assumption that their job was to study the human mind stripped of culture. it was agreed that the human brain is genetically comparable around the globe, so human hardwiring for much behavior, perception, and cognition should then be universal.)

In the last decade, the insight that these assumptions create a bias is gaining ground. Several examples of the problematic elements of these assumptions can be found.  More and more research is done to discover differences in gender, ethnic origin, or culture. 

A 2008 survey of the top six psychology journals dramatically shows how common that assumption was: more than 96 percent of the subjects tested in psychological studies from 2003 to 2007 were Westerners — with nearly 70 percent from the United States alone. Put another way: 96 percent of human subjects in these studies came from countries that represent only 12 percent of the world’s population.” 

The papers in this special aim to explore cultural variations in psychological processes and diagnostic practices across cultures; by addressing these issues, researchers, practitioners, and policymakers can enhance their understanding and promote culturally sensitive approaches. 

The focus of the papers ranges from cultural variations in cognition and perception to diagnostic practices across cultures. 

Geert Hofstede defined culture as the subconscious “programming” of the human mind. As a consequence, it is important to look at cultural variations in parenting and child development. 

Parenting practices vary across cultures, impacting expectations of what defines “good parenting”.  One of the articles in this special analyzes this in “Mothering away from Motherland”

Other articles show, for example, significant cultural differences in individualistic cultures (e.g., Western societies) versus collectivistic cultures (e.g., East Asian societies) in terms of values, self-construal, and social behavior. Individualistic cultures prioritize personal goals and independence, while collectivistic cultures emphasize group harmony and interdependence.

Culture and Change Management

Culture and Change Management

Culture and Change Management

Huib Wursten[1]

The preparation and implementation of change is highly culturally sensitive. This article explores the influence of cultural differences on the concept of change management.[2] It outlines the important aspects for change in international organizations and shows us where the potential cultural booby traps lie.

Rolling Out; the most naive concept in international management

The most naive concept in (international) management is rolling out decisions. People at the top of companies necessarily think about the future of the company, about strategies, systems, structures, etc. After coming to decisions, they tend to say to people on the operational levels, “This is our plan! Now your task is to roll this out in the company”. This is an important example of underestimating the human factor. People are not machines that can be programmed in a new way and run.

A popular concept that relates to this is cognitive dissonance; a term that was invented by Robert Festinger.[3]  Cognitive dissonance is a psychological phenomenon that all cultures that face a change process have in common. It refers to the discomfort felt when there is a discrepancy between what you already know or believe, and new information. It occurs when there is a need to accommodate new ideas. The vital thing is knowing how to drive a kind of intellectual wedge between current beliefs and ‘reality’.

There are many theories and models about change management. One of the clearest and simplest is Lewin’s three-step model.[4] The first step in this model is to ‘unfreeze‘ people; i.e. people need to understand why things should be done in another way. This first step, the process of unfreezing, is cultural sensitive. This means that explaining why things should be done differently within the organization cannot be shown or “rolled out” identically in different countries.

The second step in the model is ‘moving‘; i.e. after making people aware of the fact that they need to do things in a different way there is a need to develop new insights, attitudes, and skills. Finally, the third step is ‘freezing‘; i.e. the newly acquired skills should be developed into a new routine.

Even though this is one of the most basic models, still in most organizations the tendency is to concentrate only on step two, moving, and to forget about step one and three. This is a big mistake, especially since the very essence of change management is to understand how humans behave. The secret to understanding effective change management is to realize that with respect to all individuals and groups two forces are at work constantly: the force of change and the force of resistance. These forces push and pull at each other and maintain a dynamic equilibrium.

We all like to do new things and to improve what we are doing. This is the nature of human beings. However, we also like to do things we are good at and which we have been trained in. When we apply our ‘routine‘, it gives us a positive feeling of mastering our environment. It also saves energy; it would be exhausting to invent the wheel every day. It is easy to see that if one starts pushing the force of change in this dynamic equilibrium, the force of resistance will push back. Moreover, the harder the push, the harder the resistance will be. In order to make change successful it is essential to start doing something about the resistance to change. The way to do this is culturally dependent. So when considering rolling out a change programme one not only needs to understand the dynamics of change and resistance, but also how one needs to vary motivation styles due to cultural differences.

Culture, Change and Resistance

In order to analyze change management and the resistance to change in particular, Professor Geert Hofstede’s 5-Dimensional Model for cultural differences offers a practical roadmap. The 5 dimensions in this model (power distance, individualism vs collectivism, masculinity vs femininity, uncertainty avoidance and long-term vs short-term orientation) represent common issues in the cultural systems of countries and are centered on five fundamental areas of human behavior to which every human society has to find its particular answers. The set of each country’s statistically-determined “scores” on the five dimensions forms a model for its culture. 

Taken together, the 5 Hofstede dimensions have implications for organizational models and what we expect from organizations and their people. Based on our decades of experience and on research we have identified 6 clusters of countries, each cluster representing a certain combination of these 5 dimensions. Clustering countries along this line makes the influence of culture and of the five dimensions visible and tangible to managers and to those working in a different cultural setting from their own. The six clusters have an impact on issues such as negotiations, decision-making, consumer behaviour, entrepreneurship and teamwork, to name just a couple. In this article we will use the six clusters to describe culture’s influence on change management.

The initial phase of change management, the process of unfreezing, is a key phase. A wrong start can ruin the whole project. For each culture cluster we can identify a key concept that is essential to understand if one wants to lower the resistance to change in this important phase.

 

In the first cluster, the Contest Cluster (i.e. the Anglo-Saxon countries), the key is to be able to relate the proposed change to well-understood self-interest. Referring to the work motivation of people, in these cultures, people can be willing to overcome resistance to change if one is able to create the image of a ‘burning platform’, e.g. “if we do not jump now, we will burn”. It can also be motivating to show that doing things in a different way is good for the next career step, or for gaining a material reward. A good leader is supposed to be able to do this. The reference point is the individual employee and his individual definition of self-interest.

the Network Cluster (i.e. the Netherlands and Scandinavia), the approach to change should be different. In these cultures, there is reluctance to believe that leaders or managers can define what is good for the organization from a ‘higher’ position. Peoples’ work motivation is very much connected to a feeling of autonomy inside their own work field. In general, people believe that they, more than others, know what is going on in their ‘shop’ and what important steps should be taken to improve the situation. People believe that the only good decisions are decisions where all the stakeholders are consulted from the beginning and participate in the decision-making process. The key in such cultures is defining shared interest.

In the Pyramid (e.g. Mexico, Portugal, Russia) and Family Clusters (e.g. China, India), the privilege to define new priorities and directions lies at the top of the organization. The person at the top is supposed to indicate what he or she sees as the common interest for all insiders in the company or even society. The implicit expectation in these cultures is that the person at the top has a complete overview of what is happening and from such a position can decide what the right decision is. Having made a decision, this person should be clear in cascading down the new mandates giving unambiguous directions. In Pyramid Cultures, it is also a necessity to do this in formal ways by means of written documents and instructions. In Family Cultures, the visibility of the commitment of the person at the top is essential. In both types of culture, employees expect the top of the organization to be concerned about the in-group interest and to be willing to protect the in-group in the change process.

In the Solar Cluster (e.g. France and Belgium), the leader’s role is similar to the Pyramid and Family Cultures. In other words, the person at the top has the sole right to decide what the new direction and priorities should be. In these cultures, the implicit belief is that people at the top have an overview of everything that is taking place and they have the overview necessary to decide on new directions. The difference with the Pyramid and Family clusters is that group interest is not a first priority. Instead, the future of the company (or society) takes precedence irrespective of in-groups. The countries in the Solar cluster are individualistic and therefore coordination is much more difficult than in Pyramid countries. A leader is both respected and feared. A manager should certainly be visible, for example by walking around and gathering information. But a manager who controls too obviously, and who involves him or herself in the details of the work, is utterly de-motivating to people who take pride and honour in their work. In change management it is important to be sure that the top person is committed. If not, or if not sure don’t expect follow up. The key in these cultures is future public interest.

the Well-Oiled Machine Cluster (e.g. Germany and Austria) the most important issue is that perceived and recognized experts are the ones who are believed to be in the position to define new directions. Therefore it is very important to build up credibility in order to be recognized as an expert before trying to define a new direction. The key in these cultures is agreed upon balanced interest by experts

With help of the 5-D Model and the 6 culture clusters we pointed out some key differences that are essential to understand if one wants to lower the resistance to change. In the last part of this article we will discuss several dilemmas that can be associated with change management. Again, we will use the 5-D Model and the clusters to illustrate the cultural differences in these dilemmas.

Culture and Change Management: Dilemmas to be Considered

1. Deductive versus Inductive thinking patterns

The difference in thinking patterns and reasoning between different cultures is a major source of misunderstandings in international change management. It sometimes even leads to the collapse of projects. In low Uncertainty Avoidance countries the approach to the thinking process is called pragmatism, an essential element of which is induction (i.e. moving from practice to theory). An example of this approach is found in the way educational books from these countries are structured. The first chapters will contain case studies, samples, and descriptions of what is found in practice. After that, the author will provide an induction to develop a ‘best practice’ or a theory. In these cultures, people are practice and action oriented in their thinking. They have slogans reflecting this attitude like “just do it” and “whatever works”. This way of thinking is exemplified by the way the American philosopher William James defines truth: “The truth is what works”.[5]

People in countries that score high on Uncertainty Avoidance, on the other hand, consider Dewey’s definition of truth an example of superficiality. In such cultures people prefer a deductive way of thinking; people first need to understand the philosophies behind a new proposal before they are motivated to take actions. In these cultures, people have slogans like, “think before you act”. The official name behind this way of thinking is the ‘Cartesian’ approach, which goes back to the French philosopher Rene Descartes, who became famous by stating, “Cogito ergo sum! I think so I exist”.[6]  Educational books from these countries do not begin with cases, but with chapters on the philosophy or principles (of e.g. marketing, economy, law). The aim is first to give a full understanding of the background of the subject, quoting contemporary experts and philosophers from the past and the present. Hereafter follows a deduction to a theory and the last chapters focus on the application.

A good start of a change project is the foundation for later success. To use the “unfreeze” step and to have preliminary discussions on the background of the process is not waste of time, especially when high Uncertainty Avoidance cultures are involved. In these cultures (from the Pyramid, Solar and Well-oiled machine clusters) the credibility of what happens is dependent on a proper analysis based on philosophy and/or principles.  Allow time for this and the transition to step 2 “moving” will be smoother.

2. Organizational Aspects

A) Structure: Project Organization or Line Organization

One of the most important questions in change management is; “how do we keep selling when the shop is under construction”? It is impossible to involve everybody in the thinking and planning of the new set-up. How should the change process be organized? One way is to make it a project. By defining the process as a project you bring people together from different positions and with different expertise for a short time to make use of their specialized knowledge. One problem in such a situation is that the individuals, who are part of the project team, work outside the line organization. This is not a problem in the Content, Network, and Well-Oiled Machine Clusters where individuals, due to a low score on Power Distance, are used to reporting to different people on different levels. However, implementing matrix management in high Power Distance cultures creates a problem. It leads to confusion with respect to the chain of command; who is delegating to whom, and who is reporting to whom? A matrix organization is possible, however, if clear temporary mandates are made. It must be unambiguous who is mandated by whom and on what level, and that this will be valid for the duration of the project.

B) Decision-Making: Generic or Detailed

Introducing change can be defined as going from A (the existing situation) via B (the   change process) to C (the desired new situation). By seeing this as a sequential process, it becomes evident that the decision-making process should also be sequential. Such a sequence can look like this: policy preparation – policy decision – mandating – policy implementation – control – feedback – new policy decision – new mandating etc. Because the mandating system in this sequence is completely clear it can be used in Pyramid, Family and Solar clusters (all high Power Distance cultures). It would also work in the Well-Oiled Machine Cultures as these cultures prefer structure and systematic approaches which can be offered with a sequential approach.

The described detailed decision-making sequence would not work that easily in the Contest Cluster and is even questionable in the Network Cluster. In the Contest Cultures, the only issue that is decided in detail is which targets will be used and how these will be measured. After the decision on targets has been made, in general; “the rest is up to the operational people”. A slogan such as “to think on your feet” which indicates that people are expected to react quickly to a changing environment, reflects this. The decision-making process in the content cluster is more generic and with empowerment; giving people autonomy.

The decision-making process in the Network Cultures is an ongoing process between the involved stakeholders. Who is seen as a stakeholder and who should be involved can change from phase to phase. Decisions are in reality always open for reconsideration due to one of the main characteristics of these cultures: ’emerging insight’. The result is that in these cultures it is not even desirable to try to construct a detailed procedure when a decision is to be made.

C) Action Plan: Open or Blueprint

What should be done and when? This question is sometimes seen as essential for success with respect to change projects. This is more or less the key to understanding the Well-Oiled Machine Cluster. It is also important for Contest Cluster cultures, but for a different reason; here the liability laws are so strict that it is essential to deliver on time. As the emphasis on individual accountability is very strong it is important to make clear who is accountable for delivering which product and when. In the Network Cultures action plans and results are defined by the stakeholders. There is openness to emerging insight which means a constant ‘scanning’ takes place by the different stakeholders regarding the consequences of the different actions. If the scan shows that decisions should be changed there is acceptance to change them. 

3. Phasing of the project

Step by Step– versus Integral Approach 

One of the choices to be made in a change management process is whether to have a change program for the whole organization or to start with one unit and to see what the results are before moving on to the other units. The choice is between a ‘step by step’ and an ‘integral’ approach.[7] In high Power Distance countries the integral approach is sometimes seen as preferable. The top of the organization has the privilege to set priorities. In principle it works because the people in other echelons of the organization will wait until a decision has been made and will implement according to clear mandates. On the other hand, the more autonomy is expected in the different parts of the organization (low Power Distance), the more it is advisable to start with one unit and to discuss the consequences before moving on to the next phase.

4. Involvement of Stakeholders

A) Participation: Tell and Sell or Negotiate

There is no place in the world where people like authoritarian management. Everywhere people prefer to be taken into account and to be treated with respect. What makes cultures different though is the way people expect to receive directions from the top of the organization. In low Power Distance countries, it is a requirement that employees/citizens are involved in a decision-making process and feel their autonomy is respected. This is especially strong in the Network and in the Well-oiled Machine Clusters. Participative decision-making (mitbestimmung in German) is a must! In these cultures, it is necessary to use negotiating as an instrument to reach decisions.

In the Contest Cultures, it is more accepted that a superior is decisive. Telling and selling is a way of influencing. Employees will follow their superior as long as the argumentation is connected to bonus systems and career steps. Their individual interests should be attended to.

In high Power Distance countries the “tell and sell approach” would work as well. However, it should be operationalized by clear mandating. In principle people see it as the privilege of the “boss” to formulate new strategies.

B) Delegation: Limited Mandate or Much Autonomy

In high Power Distance cultures people are expected to work with clear-cut mandates with respect to what to do, how to do it, and on which level. In low Power Distance cultures, on the other hand, people are supposed to work in an empowered way. In the Well-Oiled Machine cultures the autonomy is in such a way restricted in order to work in the agreed structure. In the Contest Cultures empowerment relates to achieving the agreed upon targets. In the Network Cultures empowerment relates to the agreed upon consensus with a lot of room to change the consensus (emerging insight). 

C) Solving Conflicts: Confrontation versus De-escalation

In Masculine cultures (especially those that also have a low score on Uncertainty Avoidance) it is expected that some confrontation brings out the best in people. In short, this is seen as positive in Contest Cultures. In most other cultures the best way is to avoid or de-escalate conflicts as soon as possible. In Network cultures this is because people try to achieve consensus. In high Uncertainty Avoidance cultures people are afraid of the escalation of conflicts because this can lead to unpredictable situations.

D) Powerbase: Solitary Approach or Making Coalitions

Change management is also frequently a power-game. Change often implies that vested interests are at stake. In general, it is advisable to invest in charting the interests of the different stakeholders and to map a ‘tension field’. In doing so, it is also possible to see where coalitions can be formed with stakeholders with similar interest. This is especially important in the cultures where individuals are accepted in having a clear and defined opinion separate from the group. In other words: in the network cluster, the well oiled machine cluster and in the contest cluster.

In the Contest Cluster, it is sometimes acceptable that an individual will ‘champion’ the change proposal. Because of the combination of very high Individualism and Masculinity, the Contest Cluster leads to a culture where an individual can “go alone”. Because of the strong emphasis on accountability it is acceptable that somebody gets “leadership” mandates.  It is appreciated that individuals profile themselves as the ones in front of the troops, urging the others to follow. A trade off is that, in case they fail, they will be held accountable.

E Commitment: Push or Pull

As a general rule there is a dynamic equilibrium in any given situation between a need to do things in a better/different way and resistance because change is making routine less valid. Therefore, the best way in all cultures to achieve results is not to start pushing, but to start showing all concerned why it is necessary to do things in another way. Again, this illustrates the importance of step 1 in the three-step model; to “unfreeze”.

F) Information/ Communication: Self-evidence or Communication Plan (two-way)

A frequently made mistake is that the management team believes that organizing an information meeting will be enough. Especially in low Power Distance countries it is necessary to organize a two way process. It is important that people will get the opportunity to talk back. The best way to do this is after the scheduled information session. In that way people can reflect on what has been said and can prepare their response.

Conclusion

In this article we have discussed the impact of cultural differences on the concept of change management. With help of Professor Geert Hofstede´s 5-D Model and itim’s six Culture Clusters we have indicated that the preparation and implementation of change is highly culturally sensitive.

A commonly used concept such as “rolling out a decision” has proven to be naive, as it underestimates the human factor that plays the leading part in any change process. Even the simplest theories and models for change are often used in an incorrect way, thus ignoring behavioral issues such as resistance. We pointed out some key differences that are essential to understand if one wants to lower the resistance to change. In the last part of the article we have discussed several dilemmas that can be associated with change management and have illustrated the cultural differences in these dilemmas.

For any change process we recommend to consider beforehand all the important aspects for change to see where the potential cultural booby traps lie. When introducing a change plan, make sure you allow for different approaches in different countries. Use cultural differences to your advantage by matching your options and approaches to the clusters. In a dynamic, complex world, this might sometimes be seen as delay. In reality, however, diligence can save costs, reduce frustration and increase the likelihood for success.

Notes:


[1] Huib Wursten, born in The Hague in The Netherlands, is a senior consultant for itim International.

He is specialized in advising companies and supra-national organizations in how to manage global teams and is experienced in translating strategies and policies into practical consequences for management. Since 1989, he has been working in this field with a variety of Fortune top 1000 companies.

[2] A basic understanding of Geert Hofstede’s 5-D model is required to fully understand this article. Contact us via info@itim.org should you wish to receive an introductory article

[3] Festinger, Leon, Henry W. Riecken, Stanley Schachter, “When Prophecy Fails: A Social and Psychological Study of a Modern Group that Predicted the Destruction of the World”, University of Minnesota Press (1956).  Reissued in 2008 by Pinter & Martin.

[4] Lewin, K., “Group dynamics and social change” (1958) in:  A. Etzioni, “Social change”, Basic Books Inc. Publishers, New York/London (1964)

[5] From: Harvey Cormier, ”The Truth is What Works:  William James, Pragmatism and the Seed of Death”, Rowman & Littlefield Publishers (2000).

[6] René Descartes, Discours de la Méthode (1637).

[7] WJM Jacobs and H.Wursten, Invoering van integraal management. In: “Integraal management. Leidinggeven aan de publieke sector”. Handbook with series of television programs.