Cultural Dimensions

Geert Hofstede’s scientific innovation, the dimension concept

Geert Hofstede has defined “culture” as “the collective programming of the mind that distinguishes the members of one group or category of people from others”. In 1980 he published his book “Culture’s Consequences: International Differences in Work-Related Values”. As the title suggests, this book was entirely devoted to the study of culture at the national level, in which values played a major role. The book’s main innovation was its use of the concept (paradigm) of dimensions of culture: basic problems to which different national societies have over time developed different answers.

National Culture

National Culture is about the value differences between groups of nations and/or regions.

Using research data from a multinational company (IBM) with subsidiaries in more than 60 countries, he identified four largely independent dimensions: Power Distance (large versus small), Uncertainty Avoidance (strong versus weak), Individualism versus Collectivism and Masculinity versus Femininity. The relative positions of 40 countries on these four dimensions were expressed in a score on a 0-100 point scale. Replications by Hofstede and other researchers have extended the number of countries covered to 76.

Further research
The dimensions concept was widely adopted by other researchers, and is presently the leading paradigm in cross-cultural research. Nearly all major research projects since the 1980s are using the concept, sometimes called axes. Researchers differ in their choice of the number and names of dimensions, but the results of different studies tend to show significant correlations. Results are also, not surprisingly, influenced by the nationality and professional background of the chief researchers. This was a reason for Hofstede’s cooperation in the 1980s with Michael Bond, a Canadian established in Hong Kong, in administering a “Chinese Value Survey”, using value questions from the Chinese tradition. Results from this study across twenty-three countries led Hofstede in 1991 to add a fifth dimension: Long Term versus Short Term Orientation. In 2010, using the massive database of the World Values Survey, Michael Minkov succeeded in extending the number of countries with scores for this dimension to ninety-one. Simultaneously with this extension of the fifth dimension, Hofstede added a sixth dimension also based on Minkov’s exploration of the World Values Survey: Indulgence versus Restraint. Scores for this dimension are also available for 91 countries.
The usefulness of a dimension model depends on its validity: its ability to explain practical differences between nations. The Hofstede dimensions of national culture have been validated in the professional literature of the following disciplines:
  • Cross-cultural psychology
  • Structure of language, cognition, intelligence
  • International and diversity management
  • International business, acquisitions, alliances
  • International marketing, advertising, consumer behaviour, packaging
  • International politics and economics
  • International legislation, procedural justice, imprisonment, insurance
  • Architecture, urban/country planning, office design, industrial design
  • Health, medicine, psychiatry, medication, care
  • Ethics, religion, spirituality, sexuality
In addition, readers of Hofstede’s work have also spoken or written about its importance to them personally, like in understanding and bridging cultural clashes, or in re-directing their careers. Training and certifying trainers in the application of Hofstede’s concepts of national culture is a core activity of the hofstede centre (see certification courses).
Applying culture in business
Applying culture in business

Organisational Culture

Organisational Culture is about differences in practices between organisations and/or parts within the same organisation (sub-cultures).

Next to and separately from his studies in national culture, Geert Hofstede with a team of collaborators has in the 1980s conducted an in-depth study of organizational cultures in ten Danish and ten Dutch organizations. This study is described in a separate chapter in his books since 1991. It has also led to the identification of six dimensions, which however should not be confused with the six national culture dimensions and are not necessarily relevant in all countries and all organizations. They are not based on values but on strategic practices, which unlike national values can to some extent be monitored by the organization’s management, with the support of skillful consultants and coaches. This kind of consulting and coaching is a second activity of the hofstede centre.

The model on organisational culture was further operationalized by Bob Waisfisz during the 90´s and 2000´s as the Hofstede Multi-focus Model.

Dimensions of organisational culture