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Support of the Validity and Reliability of Hofstede’s Research

Geert Hofstede, a Dutch social psychologist, carried out one most systematic research of how values in work environments are affected by culture (Hofstede, 1984). Hofstede evaluated large volumes of data related to employee value scores gathered “within IMB between the years 1967 and 1973 across more than 70 countries” (Jones, 2007, p. 3). Since then, Hofstede and other researchers have validated initial studies and expanded aspects of cultural dimensions. The six dimensions reflect national cultures, and they are inclusively referred to as “the model of national culture” (National culture, 2016, para. 1).

Hofstede writes that the cultural dimensions epitomize distinct “preferences for a single state of affairs over another that differentiate nations, instead of individuals, from each other” (National culture, 2016, para. 2). These are relative scores and considered unique because of the uniqueness of humanity. That is, one can only use culture implicitly by comparing them. Power Distance Index (PDI); Individualism versus Collectivism (IDV); Masculinity versus Femininity (MAS); Uncertainty Avoidance Index (UAI); Long Term Orientation versus Short Term Normative Orientation (LTO); and Indulgence versus Restraint (IND) are the six cultural dimensions (McSweeney, 2002; Hofstede, 1984). This section assesses Hofstede’s research and arguments in support of the validity and reliability of his research.

The Power Distance dimension shows how individuals embrace the unequal distribution of power in their society. That is, less powerful members do not oppose the established norms, which are generally associated with inequalities. Societies with high power distance, such as China and India, have established “hierarchical orders for everyone, but low power distance societies strive for equal power distribution and expect justification of inequalities” (National culture, 2016, para. 3).

For Individualism versus Collectivism (IDV), individualism does not express closely-knit social relations and, thus, individuals only concentrate on self and close families, and countries like the US and Germany are better examples. Conversely, collectivism displays a tightly-knit social order in which relatives and other in-groups extend help to others for absolute loyalty, such as China.

Masculinity versus Femininity (MAS) dimension accounts for masculinity society where “heroism, achievement, assertiveness, and material rewards” (National culture, 2016, para. 5) are highly regarded. Such societies tend to be highly competitive relative to femininity where consensus, modesty, cooperation, and care for weaker members are considered valuable.

Uncertainty Avoidance Index (UAI) demonstrates how some societies are not comfortable with ambiguity and uncertainty. The major aspect of this dimension relates to unknown events in the future and possible means of handling them. Countries with stiff sets of cultural beliefs and behaviours and do not tolerate new ideas and practices, such as some Middle East countries depict this dimension. Societies with relaxed attitudes rely on practices more than rigid rules.

Long Term Orientation versus Short Term Normative Orientation (LTO) dimension reflects how society attempts to manage past, present, and future issue. These goals have evolved differently in every society. Societies with higher scores tend to have a pragmatic approach towards culture. They promote education and thrift to deal with future outcomes. On the other hand, societies with low scores tend to be “closed, honour traditions and norms, and they assess change with suspicion” (National culture, 2016, para. 7).

Finally, Indulgence versus Restraint (IND) dimension shows that some societies allow free fulfilment of “natural and primary human needs associated with life pleasure and fun” (National culture, 2016, para. 8). Conversely, restraint societies do not embrace gratification by following austere social values.

Hofstede’s research on culture is the most extensive and widely referenced. His findings and analyses have offered foundational insights for academics and practitioners to understand aspects of cross-cultural relations in organisations. Nevertheless, such a radical body of research cannot be embraced without criticism. The work has faced criticism from many academics dismissing it in part or completely. On the other hand of this contentious discourse are scholars who support Hofstede’s research. Notably, far more academics tend to support Hofstede’s research than those who do not (Jones, 2007). Most scholars cite Hofstede’s research with bold confidence, majorities referring to his results as absolute assumptions.

While criticism could be valid, Hofstede’s work has multiple attributes that many practitioners and academics find appealing. Specifically, some scholars have shown that Hofstede’s research of 1980 was cited more than 1,000 times relative to another model proposed by Miles and Snow, which only managed 200 citations (Jones, 2007). It has been established that most researchers support the work of Hofstede based on specific criteria.

First, Hofstede’s research is seen as relevant. It appears that when Hofstede’s work reached the public domain, there was little extensive research on national culture to guide multinational firms, which were seeking global presence. In fact, such companies initially faced challenges due to various cultural practices, which had no readily available solutions. Thus, they were seeking for credible works to solve cross-cultural challenges in a global business environment. Hofstede’s research was better placed to solve most the emerging issues, and it exceeded expectation in some circumstances. During this period, academics also started to explore culture, and Hofstede’s work offered the only extensive research for comparison. Hofstede’s research was the first of its kind to amalgamate previously isolated constructions and thoughts from different sources and developed a coherent framework for identifying diverse cultures that many practitioners and scholars find extremely useful. The dimensions allow individuals to measure value across national settings.

Second, Hofstede’s research is also supported based on rigour. The research framework that Hofstede applied in his study design was derived from a rigorous design that could handle large datasets. Additionally, the research also relied on sound theoretical frameworks. Hofstede’s research captured the knowledge gap that existed, and it offered solutions to many practitioners and scholars. Nevertheless, certain critics have claimed that the Hofstede’s work was based on “flawed, sparse, and irregular distributed data” (McSweeney, 2002, p. 89). Nevertheless, one must recognise the extensive data set gathered for empirical assessment, which many researchers find extremely appealing but hard to replicate.

Finally, many scholars also observe relative accuracy in the work of Hofstede. In this case, academics have initiated similar studies for comparative analysis of Hofstede’s research. They have found that most of the replicated studies actually confirmed the reliability and validity of Hofstede’s research (Jones, 2007). For instance, in a study that involved 61 replications, four studies agreed with Hofstede’s research in their entirety, while 15 studies partially confirmed Hofstede’s findings. The replications could not expressly validate the dimension of individualism.

Nevertheless, Hofstede had already addressed this dimension by asserting that culture was not static and was prone to changes over time (Jones, 2007). Subsequent studies were later initiated using similar methodologies used by Hofstede, but not as replications. These studies extended to the research of Hofstede, and they have demonstrated “the accuracy of Hofstede’s research in four dimensions” (Jones, 2007, p. 6). Furthermore, many have adopted these dimensions because of their simplicity in approach, and straightforward comparisons and, thus, academics and business researchers find them simple and appealing to use (Trompenaars & Woolliams, 2003).

Hofstede’s dimensions have been applied to define themes both within a given culture and across multiple cultures. These themes tend to be consistent internally, but researchers want more with regard to deeper insights. As Hofstede had stated that cultures change over time, researchers tend to apply his framework to assess such changes. They have established that Hofstede’s research can help in capturing elements of change at different periods to reflect the magnitude and direction of change (Jones, 2007). Hence, Hofstede’s framework does not provide an opportunity for a methodical study of cultural changes. It is, however, useful in comprehending and explaining notable changes in culture. Notwithstanding criticisms, even among practitioners and academics who disagree with Hofstede’s research, they still cite Hofstede in their works based on classifications of dimensions.

A Critique of the Cultural-dimensional Approach around the Notion of “Cultural Complexity”

Culture encompasses the widest influence on several aspects of human behaviours. This extensiveness of culture makes its definition difficult, a difficulty that now hinders research on effects of cultures in the global scene, especially its impacts on business and now applied to criticise cross-cultural studies (Soares, Farhangmehr, & Shoham, 2007). This implies that culture is a suitable catchall for most variations and behaviours that cannot readily be accounted for using other more tangible elements. Thus, it is a concept, which is made up of various elements.

One major obstacle that many scholars attribute to cultural complexity is the definition of culture itself. The earliest definition of culture acknowledges this complexity: “the complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, morals, custom and any other capabilities and habit acquired by man as a member of society” (as cited in Soares et al., 2007, p. 227). The complex nature of culture leads scholars to define the notion of cultural complexity (Browaeys & Baets, 2003). In this regard, the model of cultural complexity is seen as inclusive with diverse ideas. That is simultaneously noticeable several cultures, which could contribute to uniform, distinguished, and/or fragmented cultural context, reflect cultural complexity. In other words, culture in any setting is much more intricate, diverse, pluralistic, contradictory, or essentially paradoxical than initially observed (Browaeys & Baets, 2003). Later contributions in the notion of culture have all demonstrated the aspect of the all-inclusive nature of culture as it relates to human behaviour in a given context (Soares et al., 2007).

The precise definition of culture in a cross-dimensional setting is quite elusive because of the difficulty in isolating strict cultural elements from other macro-level factors that influence culture, and these elements add to the cultural complexity. Still, a distinction is drawn between culture and these other macro-environmental elements. Culturally defined behaviours are therefore distinguished from political, legal, religious, economic, educational, linguistic, industrial, and technological environments where individuals find themselves (Soares et al., 2007). Yet, detaching strictly cultural factors from other macro-environmental factors may not be attainable, and a lack of a clearly defined boundary further complicates the interrelated aspects of culture. Overall, it is observed that culturally normed behaviours and patterns of socialisation could perhaps come from a combination of economic and political needs, and religious beliefs and language (Soares et al., 2007). In short, it would be difficult, if not completely impossible, for any cross-dimensional approach to sort out culture from a mixture of its other defining indicators.

Therefore, researchers have shown that religion, language and others tend to be objective indicators of cultural differences noted at the behavioural levels (Ghemawat & Reiche, 2011). However, these issues become more complex and elusive as one explores their basic assumptions beyond the expressed values. As one moves farther away from those attributes of variations, which are directly noted, the distinctions themselves become issues of uncertainty because of the intangible nature of these aspects of culture (Ghemawat & Reiche, 2011). That is, they are not directly observable and, thus, cannot be objectively evaluated.

Based on cross-cultural complexity and uncertainties, researchers have relied on some objective indicators to operationalise culture (Soares et al., 2007; Ghemawat & Reiche, 2011). In this case, cross-cultural dimension studies have three distinct approaches to explore and understand national cultures. Cultural complexity is explored through language, religious beliefs or values, and artefacts or material goods. Language is a critical aspect of culture, which, according to some studies, provide insights about “beliefs, values, and thoughts” (Ghemawat & Reiche, 2011, p. 3). Previous works have explored possible implications of linguistic variations on thought patterns on various cultures. Hence, deeper influences of language are noted in diverse patterns of understanding, knowing, seeing, behaving, and communicating, among others. These patterns can be used to study cultures based on perception, thought, and action trail created.

However, scholars of the 1960s focused on universal patterns noted across languages (Soares et al., 2007). Consequently, they have identified vital linguistic variations that that are systematic in the use of language across cultures (Ghemawat & Reiche, 2011). While language provides the interpretative schema or code for arranging and presenting variations, it is not a good indicator of culture and cannot be independently used to account for variations in behaviours across subcultures and cultures. This implies that the language indicator is a constituent of cultural complexity. Material goods provide a more tangible operationalisation of cultures because artefacts represent observable evidence of cultural meaning (Soares et al., 2007). Thus, scholars have explored several cultural materials well within cross-cultural settings to understand cross-cultural dimensions and related cultural complexity. Finally, belief systems and values across cultures also assist in understanding culture within a global context.

To understand cultural complexity, cultural dimensions are also applied. Some scholars have claimed that one can understand the relevance of culture to explore cultural variations based on how they assess and identify specific components of the culture. Culture is seen as too global a concept to be expressive as an illustrative variable (Soares et al., 2007). The application of a restricted number of dimensions to relate cultures has been linked to anthropology (Soares et al., 2007). That is, scholars claimed that cultural diversity emanated from various responses in different societies to the same universal questions, for instance, about sexuality. These developments have affected studies in personality based on the extent to which specific patterned situations of life in a given society lead to some distinguished patterns in the personality of its members. Further, researchers have opted to define a social character that defines individuals and national character for cultural dimensions across various cultures.

The observed complexity in culture has perhaps given rise to further studies in order to identify reliable cultural dimensions to assess fundamental distinguishing elements of cultures in cross-cultural settings. Various models and dimensions proposed by different scholars have conceptualised and assessed cultures as a complex, multidimensional concept. It is not a simple categorical concept of study. While different cultural dimensions have offered some explanations on culture and its complexity, they have not escaped criticisms. Notably, cultural dimension models have been criticised for their failure to account for all multidimensional culture constituents. To this end, some academics have concluded additional categorical or emic dimensions are perhaps necessary to account for unique constituents of specific cultures. However, researchers may assert that an emic cultural dimension may not be necessary to represent emic cultural variations because of such aspects of cultures might not get sufficient representation across a universal dimension.

Moreover, discourses on cultural complexity have moved to national culture and organisational culture as practised by multinational firms. Thus, the field of cross-cultural management continues to be complicated as researchers focus on further distinct features. As Hofstede pointed out, cultures are bound to change over time, albeit gradually, and such changes are brought about by external factors, such as multinational firms. In this case, organisational may erase or moderate national culture (Browaeys & Baets, 2003). For instance, it is assumed that personnel in a single corporation even if they originate from various countries are more the same than different. On the contrary, in countries with dominant national cultures, organisational cultures may not be realised (Holliday, 1994).

Overall, it is observed that cultural complexity exists in cultural dimensions. These complexities perhaps emanate from emic practices and indicators of cultures, such as language, religion, and artefacts. Additionally, cultural complexity also originates from how cultural dimensions are applied. That is, individualism against collectivism view could be a simple approach to represent complex aspects of culture. Hence, a simplified generalisation, as Hofstede provides thorough research, leads to a superficial application of cultural dimension within a global context.

Appropriate Methodology for Researching Intercultural Business Communication

From a personal view, one should improve on the works of academics and practitioners who have explored intercultural aspects in communication (Varner, 2000). For instance, Hofstede’s cultural dimension is an accepted groundbreaking work that has fascinated and attracted many researchers. In addition to a significantly large database, one should use an extensive literature review and assess the limitations of past works. In that sense, the methodology for researching intercultural business communication would integrate fragmented pieces of information and present a logical model for evaluating in intercultural communication within the global business context.

As mentioned above, Hofstede’s model appeals to several researchers engaged in cross-cultural studies. It is based on simplicity in framing abstract, intricate aspects of culture into clear, distinct dimensions. Communication is an aspect of language, and language, as observed above, is a constituent of culture that cannot singly account for the culture itself. In this sense, a methodology should be flexible to incorporate categorical aspects of communications found across various cultures (Lustig & Koester, 2006). Moreover, the methodology should provide a robust means of data analysis and assess cultural values associated with business communication in intercultural settings.

The instrument for gathering data should be elaborate and go beyond simple closed survey questionnaire to account for hidden aspects of communication. Samples should also be representative. That is, the methodology should be wider in scope and target employees across many multinational firms as opposed to Hofstede, who only concentrated on IBM middle-class employees.

It will also be important to focus on the validity and reliability of the design. Most critics of Hofstede’s research have claimed that he did not present a valid and reliable study because of linearity and exclusivity approach to complex issues. In other words, once a society is construed as individualistic, it cannot go outside this definition, i.e., be collectivistic. In this manner, the methodology is only restricted to two classes.

Hofstede’s research is restricted to national culture, and he asserted that cultural dimensions were only useful or applicable at the national level. However, this claim undermines the definition of culture, which Hofstede defined as a collective concept applicable to different groups in society (Hofstede, 1984). In other words, a methodology for assessing intercultural business communication should not be restricted to national contexts alone. Rather, it should be applied to multinational firms, an industry, and even departments to understand aspects of cross-cultural communications. Further, an effective methodology should be used to assess and analyse multiple aspects of intercultural communication. In this regard, indicators should also explore the relative importance of every aspect of communication. Thus, the methodology would demonstrate specific aspects that are central to intercultural business communication.

Overall, the methodology should not be complicated but should be comprehensive and inclusive. Consequently, appropriate empirical data can be collected for analysis. Additionally, the methodology should also be effective in describing aspects of intercultural business communication to identify work-related constituents that could influence global operations. Thus, the outcome would be appropriate for improving intercultural business communication in a global business environment in which communication is defined by a complex cultural system.

References

Browaeys, M.-J., & Baets, W. (2003). Cultural complexity: A new epistemological perspective. The Learning Organization, 10(6), 332-339.

Ghemawat, P., & Reiche, S. (2011). Web.

Hofstede, G. (1984). Culture’s consequences: International differences in work-related values. London: Sage.

Holliday, A. (1994). Appropriate methodology and social context. Cambridge: University of Cambridge Press.

Jones, M. (2007). Hofstede – Culturally questionable? Oxford, UK: Oxford Business & Economics Conference.

Lustig, M. W., & Koester, J. (2006). Intercultural competence: Interpersonal communication across cultures. London: Pearson.

McSweeney, B. (2002). Hofstede’s model of national cultural differences and their consequences: A triumph of faith – a failure of analysis. Human Relations, 55(1), 89-118.

National culture. (2016). Web.

Soares, A. M., Farhangmehr, M., & Shoham, A. (2007). Hofstede’s dimensions of culture in international marketing studies. Journal of Business Research, 60, 277-284. Web.

Trompenaars, A., & Woolliams, P. (2003). Business across cultures. Oxford: Capstone.

Varner, I. I. (2000). The theoretical foundation for intercultural business communication: A conceptual model. International Journal of Business Communication, 37(1), 39-57. Web.

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