Thursday, February 20, 2014

National Culture Studies

I wonder how one defines culture?  Do we define culture at a human scale or is it typically at a social scale?  What happens when we look at culture at various scales?

It appears to me that there are three basic scales for culture; the national scale, the corporate scale, and the group scale.  When we find another social intelligent life form there will be another scale we can study - the planetary scale.  But until then, let's just stick with three spheres of culture.

Investigating some tools for national cultural studies... there is an App for that.

CultureGPS (Lite version and Professional $25)



Based on Hofstede's 5D Culture Model

  • Power distance index: "Power distance is the extent to which the less powerful members of organizations and institutions (like the family) accept and expect that power is distributed unequally." 
  • Individualism / collectivism: "The degree to which individuals are integrated into groups". (note: "The word collectivism in this sense has no political meaning: it refers to the group, not to the state"). 
  • Uncertainty avoidance index: "a society's tolerance for uncertainty and ambiguity". 
  • Masculinity / femininity: "The distribution of emotional roles between the genders". Often renamed to Quantity of Life vs. Quality of Life. Masculine cultures' values are competitiveness, assertiveness, materialism, ambition and power, whereas feminine cultures place more value on relationships and quality of life. In masculine cultures, the differences between gender roles are more dramatic and less fluid than in feminine cultures where men and women have the same values emphasizing modesty and caring. 
  • Long-term orientation / short term orientation: it describes societies' time horizon. Long term oriented societies attach more importance to the future. They foster pragmatic values oriented towards rewards, including persistence, saving and capacity for adaptation. In short term oriented societies, values promoted are related to the past and the present, including steadiness, respect for tradition, preservation of one's face, reciprocation and fulfilling social obligations. 
  • -- from Wikipedia article on Hofstede's Model - there is a 6th dimension, not in the app: Indulgence versus restraint. The extent to which member in society try to control their desires and impulses.

Robert House founded the GLOBE study in 1993, and based his research upon Hofstede's work. It created 10 cultural clusters based on similarities in the responses.
  • Anglo Cultures
    • England, Australia, South Africa (white sample), Canada, New Zealand, Ireland, United States 
  • Latin Europe
    • Israel, Italy, Portugal, Spain, France, Switzerland (French-speaking)
  • Nordic Europe
    • Finland, Sweden, Denmark 
  • Germanic Europe
    • Austria, Switzerland, Netherlands, Germany 
  • Eastern Europe
    • Hungary, Russia, Kazakhstan, Albania, Poland, Greece, Slovenia, Georgia 
  • Latin America
    • Costa Rica, Venezuela, Ecuador, Mexico, El Salvador, Colombia, Guatemala, Bolivia, Brazil, Argentina 
  • Sub-Sahara Africa
    • Namibia, Zambia, Zimbabwe, South Africa (black sample), Nigeria 
  • Arab Cultures
    • Qatar, Morocco, Algeria, Egypt, Kuwait 
  • Southern Asia
    • India, Indonesia, Philippines, Malaysia, Thailand, Iran 
  • Confucian Asia
    • Taiwan, Singapore, Hong Kong, South Korea, China, Japan
Similar projects include Ronald Inglehart's World Values Survey and Shalom H. Schwartz's Survey of Values.

National cultural studies are the macro view of people, what about the micro view of people and cultural, say at the organizational level -- what does science have to offer as models at the 1000 people order of magnitude?  There are plenty of organizational development text in the airport book store that will teach you how to change your company culture within one airplane ride.  John Kotter's Leading Change shows up in every book shelf, so you might as well start there.
 He's also the guru of org. change models: see his 8 step model.  They are less about culture and more about changing within the cultural boundaries.  As most org-developmen change agents will tell you the best way to change a company culture is to start a new company.

End of nations: Is there an alternative to countries?  Nation states cause some of our biggest problems, from civil war to climate inaction. Science suggests there are better ways to run a planet.

Well in the agile software development space the best resource are:
The Reengineering Alternative: A plan for making your current culture work by  William Schneider.  And based on his work several agilist have written extensively on the cultural aspects of organizational change with respect to agile transitions/transformations.  My favorite set of articles is by Michael Sahota.

Agile Culture, Adoption, & Transformation Reading Guide

Michael collected all those awesome thoughts and resources into a book on InfoQ: An Agile Adoption and Transformation Survival Guide: Working With Organizational Culture.  I wonder if anyone has done a mash-up of Schneider's model with Hofstede's or House's models of national culture.  As organizations move toward globalization and diversification these cultural aspects become much bigger players in the merger and acquisition hungry corporate environment.

Competing Values Framework
Pete Behrens of Trail Ridge Consulting has some wonderful work associated with leadership and culture of organizations based also in part on Schneider's cultural model.  I've attended Pete's workshops and enjoyed the deep insights he and the collaborative participants have offered.  He's in the process of adopting the Competing Values Framework for his clients.

An interesting article on How Different Cultures Understand Time by
Richard Lewis of Business Insider.

Discussing company values and culture with one of my personal coaches the other day I had an epiphany.  Many companies expend quite a bit of energy espousing their company values.  Printing brochures and banners, holding the one time executive lecture on values at the beginning of the yearly planning cycle, which proceeds the budget cycle, where the values will be dismissed in a land grab movement to control the limited resource (budget) viewed with a zero-sum mental model.  She noted that when companies pay the platitude game with their values, rather than walking the line (as Johnny Cash would sing) and implementing the values, the tendency is for the company to instill in the workforce the opposite of the espoused values.  I've been wondering what the term for these negative values would be -- don't know if we have a word for that?  I see this in many of the companies I've worked with,  for example a company professes to be a collaborative culture.  Yet when individual actions and behaviors are observed there is so little collaboration (as I define it) and more behaviors of decisions being made outside of the meeting called to discuss and make the decision by a select few (or just the one commander) and then an implied consensus achieved by the silence in the room when the solution is presented.  This typically results in a subsequent passive aggressive behavior about the decision/solution by the people that didn't get included in the decision making in-group.  Creating an in-group/out-group culture, that needs to learn to collaborate, so there is a force of talking more about collaboration, yet little action to effect those behaviors.


At this nano level (the person or small work group / team) culture is best described by various psychometric assessments.   I love to call these "tests"; yet the psychometric police will throw me in the psychometric hot-box for disparaging their tools and techniques with such inaccurate terminology.  And given my disdain for all the engineers abusing terms like technical-debt I really should learn the proper term - assessment - for these instruments.  Perhaps it is my years and years in our broken educational system that focuses upon testing as it's primary measure of delivering value that leads me to joust with the good people of the social sciences.  That and I'm very competitive and want to get all the answers right!  I know this because of my tests/assessments (which I scored 100% correct on all the questions) and it said I was competitive.

Which assessments measure culture at the nano level - well at this level it's not really called culture any more... the phenomenon is better described by behavior assessments.

The DISC instrument is a very good assessment of behavior.  Target Training International has several assessment tools to look at behavior, world view,  personal skills - competencies, motivators, and emotional intelligence.  DISC is an old assessment that has been in the public domain for years and has many variants some good, some bad.  TTI has evolved this instrument and has enhanced and studied it to bring one of the best behavior assessments to market.  When used at the team level the DISC as well as other tools may be used to enhance team performance.  Creating and nurturing a team culture of learning.

I'm studying the DISC language and tools with the hope of understanding my self better, and being able to communicate more effectively with those people that have a harder time relating to me (and of course me relating to them).  I hope to use this tool set with teams in the future.  So in the spirit of agile transparency -- here's my assessment results.



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