Technology is disrupting our everyday life and creating a world with less borders. Nowadays, we are competing in a global talent pool with people from different backgrounds and nationalities. Therefore, to stay competitive and to make greater contributions, we need to develop our cross-cultural competence and understanding.
I learnt the importance of having cross-cultural competence first-hand from my past experiences. Growing up in a small city in Borneo, I have never dreamt to one day work in the headquarter of a billion dollars company. After working for one year in Jakarta, I received a placement in Germany. There, I became aware of the need of developing my cross-cultural understanding to be able to compete and to work together as a team to deliver larger business impacts.
Graph 1: Power Distance Dimension Score (source: hofstede-insights.com)
Several days into my job in Germany, I encountered my first culture shock, which is related to the first dimension of Hofstede six cultural dimensions: power distance. “Hi Ben, can you do this for me? When can you finish it?” said my former manager. In Indonesia, my higher-ups would tell me directly the deadline instead of letting me discuss the deadline with him and I had accepted that as the norm. This shock can be explained by Graph 1, the score of Indonesia is higher than Germany in its power distance dimension: meaning there is higher acceptance and expectancy from less powerful members of institutions and organisations in Indonesia that power is distributed unequally compared to those from Germany.
Figure 1: Hofstede Individualism Dimension Map (source: targetmap.com)
The other culture shock, which I had experienced, was related to the second Hofstede cultural dimension: individualism. The separation of work and home are very apparent and making friends at work takes more time than in Indonesia. This is related to the individualism dimension: the degree of interdependence a society maintains among its members.
From Figure 1, one can see that Germany scores higher than Indonesia in this dimension, which means the people in Germany feels more independent from one another inside its society compared to those in Indonesia.
Graph 2: Masculinity Dimension Score
The third Hofstede cultural dimension is the masculinity dimension. Graph 2 shows the score of Indonesia between the five most masculine countries, shown by their high scores, and the five most feminine countries, shown by their low scores. A masculine society has a higher preference for achievement, heroism, assertiveness, and material rewards for success. On the other hand, a feminine society has a higher preference for cooperation, modesty, caring for the weak and quality of life. Indonesian society is a low masculine society, meaning that achievement is a crucial part of life, but it is not what life is all about.
Additionally, different societies handle uncertainty differently, which brought us to the fourth Hofstede dimension: uncertainty avoidance, the extent to which the members of a culture feel threatened by ambiguous or unknown situations and have created beliefs and institutions that try to avoid these. Indonesia scores 48 in this dimension, which shows a low preference for avoiding unknown situations compared to Germany, which scores 65. This was evident by more detailed discussions during planning meetings, when I was working in Germany.
Graph 3: Long Term Orientation Dimension Score
Graph 4: Indulgence Dimension Score
The two newest Hofstede dimensions, long term orientation and indulgence, are shown on Graph 3 and Graph 4. These graphs are showing the scores of Indonesia and its neighbouring countries for both dimensions. Long term orientation dimension describes how every society has to maintain some links with its own past while dealing with the challenges of the present and future. Singapore’s high score shows that the country is more pragmatic when dealing with new circumstances compared to Thailand, which is more normative and prefer to maintain traditions. The sixth dimension, Indulgence, shows the extent to which people try to control their desires and impulses. People in the society with higher score have the tendency to indulge themselves, whilst those, who live in the society with lower score, tend to restrain themselves from impulses.
All in all, based on the theory from a renowned social psychologist, Geert Hofstede, there are six cultural dimensions: power distance, individualism, masculinity, uncertainty avoidance, long term orientation and indulgence. By understanding each dimension and being aware of the interactions between the dimensions, we can navigate better in a cross-cultural situation that is becoming more common in the present time. Thus, we are able to compete, work together, and create greater impacts in this new borderless era.