Applying Cross-Cultural BRM Dimensions to Corporate IT

I’ve spent most of my professional life having not experienced “domestic” other than having the U.S. as my mailing address. The rest of my career was focused outside the country launching IT-related media operations around the world and teaching international enterprises how to market technologies in those countries without making embarrassing mistakes.

Over the past 7 years as a graduate professor and consultant I’ve become much more involved in organizational cultures that in most cases have international dimensions. But increasingly the cross-cultural characteristics are more related to the “cultural” dimensions of various professions versus the peculiarities of people from foreign lands. Actually in the world of global workforces the two converge every day to add a very challenging complexity.

My first formal research work for CSC’s Leading Edge Forum in this area was Growing Out of the Socially Awkward Phase: Leveraging the Co-Evolution of Marketing and IT. In the report, I explored variations in marketing and IT cultures as related to social media and enterprise deployments. I expanded this cultural analysis to include data, marketing and IT organizations in The Data/Marketing/IT Relationship – Leveraging ‘Weapons of Mass Discussion’.

In my consulting and academic work, I take great pains to point out that painting cultures with a broad brush can be VERY dangerous. For example on the country-culture side, all Germans are not prompt and all Latin cultures do not have a very “flexible” regard for time and deadlines. On the professional culture side, all IT people are not stereotypical “slow and NO,” and all marketing people are not “unguided missiles.”

But just like the debate on climate change, one cannot argue with the preponderance of real-life evidence that marketing, IT and now data have developed certain professional cultures that are shockingly similar to country-culture dimensions developed by legendary cross-cultural anthropologists like Hall and Hofstede.

In doing such a comparative culture analysis it is imperative to determine what your cultural baseline is in enterprise IT. For example, the reason we feel culture shock is not because they’re different, but because we’re different. So it is important for IT to determine what their cultural foundation characteristics are first and then compare to the other stakeholder businesses cultures.

So as a start, let’s look at Hofstede’s six cultural dimensions and determine how they can apply to business management relationship strategies in your IT organization.

High versus Low Power Distance – Is enterprise IT or the business stakeholder group run with a high level of power at the top or is power dispersed across the organization? To what extent do the employees have influence in the direction of the organization?

Collective versus Individual – To what extent does the organization encourage and reward a collaborative work culture versus one where projects are done and rewards given largely at the individual employee level? For example, IT is known for giving team project achievement bonuses versus some groups that bonus the individual.

Long-Term versus Short-Term Orientation – As mentioned earlier, is enterprise IT perceived as the ponderous “land of slow and no” with long-term rewards or are you (or the stakeholder group) highly agile with a fail-fast or short-term ROI mentality? One of the most common complaints about IT is related to speed to market.

Masculinity versus Femininity – Not to be confused specifically with gender, masculinity displays itself in assertiveness and material rewards for success. Femininity is characterized by cooperation, modesty, caring for the weak, quality of life and consensus-orientation. The sales team might exhibit more organizational machismo than for example, human resources.

Uncertainty Avoidance – To what extent are the partner divisions uncomfortable with uncertainty and ambiguity. Organizations and cultures exhibiting a strong uncertainty avoidance index (UAI) maintain rigid codes of belief and behavior, and are intolerant of unorthodox ideas. This may include discouraging creativity and innovation. Weak UAI cultures maintain a more relaxed attitude in which actions for the betterment of the organization count more than principles. Ask yourself, does IT encourage formal risk-reward structures or do they discourage disruption?

Indulgence versus Restraint – Indulgence is embodied by a culture that allows relatively free gratification and may be considered a fun place to work.  Restraint would be characterized by suppressing professional gratification with regulation that requires strict social norms. Silicon Valley companies like Google are famous for their entertaining work environment and seemingly bizarre perks offered in the workplace, while many sales and IT organizations are run like the military.

After thinking about and comparing these dimensions between your IT organization and your stakeholders, think about areas of cultural common ground to build a deeper relationship. Then take a look at how this might play out across a global organization by comparing country culture with the organizational cultures you identified. You can do this with Hofstede’s Country Dimension Comparison Tool.

As we’ll cover in a future post, intercultural communications across business organizations just like communication across country cultures must start first with universals and commonalities, before digging into to the differences.


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