An exciting source of intercultural research is casting new light on how culture impacts on organisational effectiveness. The Global Leadership and Organisational Behaviour Effectiveness (GLOBE) Research Program is addressing questions such as:

  • How and why do mergers & acquisitions succeed or fail between specific cultures?
  • What style of leadership style is preferred in different cultures and why?
  • How do cultures differ in the values they publicly espouse and their actual workplace behaviours
  • Where is democracy favoured and where is it disliked?

 The study, a decade in the making, involved 170 investigators from 62 cultures and tested 27 hypotheses linking culture to organisational outcomes. Data was collated from 17,300 managers in 951 corporations and organisations. The dataset is the largest of its kind and replicates Hofstede’s landmark study and extends it in new ways.

Key dimensions of culture measured and documented include cultural attitudes toward:

  • Uncertainty avoidance
  • Power distance
  • Institutional collectivism
  • In-group collectivism
  • Gender egalitarianism
  • Assertiveness
  • Future orientation
  • Performance orientation
  • Humane orientation

 The research found a wide divergence of beliefs in the world regarding what constitutes good leadership and how organisational outcomes are achieved. It includes extraordinarily valuable data which provides valuable insights into how teams prefer to collaborate, how motivation and retention is addressed, and how high-performance is enabled across cultures. The study not only outlines the complexity of embarking upon joint ventures and business in emerging markets, but on the challenges of creating a coherent and efficient global organisation.

A fascinating element of the study was that it analysed both what people in each culture believe ‘should be’ as compared to what is actually practiced. In many instances the results on each scale differed widely. For example, when analysing gender egalitarianism, Australian respondents rated gender egalitarianism of high importance as what society values ‘should be’ (5.02), however when society practices ‘as is’ were measured, Australian scores were far lower at 3.40. Malaysia in contrast, rated gender egalitarianism as a less valued factor (3.78), however the ‘as is’ measure was marginally higher than Australia (at 3.51).

Uncertainty avoidance is the extent to which ambiguous situations are threatening to individuals, to which rules and order are preferred and to which uncertainty is tolerated in a society. Switzerland and Singapore topped the scale in practices which limit ambiguity in the organisational context. In contrast, Thailand and India are far lower on the scale. Interestingly, the social preference for control (what Thais perceive ‘should be’) was highest in Thailand and lowest in Switzerland.

Leadership characteristics which are universally accepted and considered effective across cultures include: team orientation, the ability to communicate vision and values and demonstration of confidence in followers. Leadership attributes which are considered effective in some countries, and not in others include: autonomous leadership and self-protective leadership: Autonomous leadership is characterised by a high degree of independence from superiors, a high degree of social distance from subordinates, aloofness and a tendency to work alone. This style of leadership was perceived to contribute to organisational effectiveness in countries of Eastern Europe (except Hungary) and Germanic Europe (except the Netherlands). In contrast, this same style of leadership was reported to be ineffective in Anglo countries, the Middle East (except Egypt) and in Latin America (except Argentina).

This research clearly highlights the danger of simply asking a host country national to ‘tell you about’ their culture as a sole source of information. In many instances the response will be what the respondent would like to believe about their own culture, rather than what is. From an organisational management perspective, this is a vital distinction. When designing or marketing products across cultures, managing employees or defining valued leadership practices, it is vital to balance the input from ‘insiders’ with statistically validated and external perspectives from specialists familiar with cultural factors.