Developing Cultural Flexibility

Last Updated: 20 Jun 2022
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What is the significance of national identity as a source of individuals’ culture? I begin with a definition of culture – ‘the ideas, customs and social behaviour of a particular society’ (Oxford Dictionaries, 2011). In terms of the question I am looking at how significantly ideas, customs and social behaviour of a nation’s identity affects that of the individual’s culture. It’s important to talk about stereotypes, they affect how people perceive the individual and their culture, also it can affect the individual as they may alter their culture to allow them to stand out from their national stereotype e. . people may stereotype Italians as loud and arrogant but some Italians may change their culture to quiet and well-mannered to make themselves more appealing for jobs abroad. Hofstede wrote that culture is ‘A collective programming of minds’, and to some extent I agree with him, people are proud of where they come from and like to promote their nation through their actions, this can mould their actions to some extent. An example is whilst I have been at university I have lived with a Chinese student, we have both said that we had expectations of each other before we had even talked.

He expected me to be obsessed with football and beer, whilst I thought he would be a great cook and clever. This ability to anticipate an individual’s culture because of the national identity can be a great starting point for friendship, but it can have a negative effect. Observational learning plays a huge part in our development through childhood, we watch and repeat what our parents and family do. If we have a problem we deal with it how we see them deal with it, I think that this is how individuals develop their culture, not so much from their national identity.

Edgar Schein’s belief is that culture is - “shared systems of beliefs and values”, that culture is the answers to problems. These answers can be learned as a nation, as part of a family or as an individual. It is how individuals deal with these problems that make their culture individual to them. Although Schein’s 3 levels of culture can to some extent be related to national identity for example the ‘Values and Beliefs’ and ‘Artefacts and creations’. Individual’s belief can be down to their nation’s beliefs, although I think that would have been more applicable in the past.

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With the development of the internet and communication methods, I think that individuals now have the media to find out and decide their own culture. People are travelling all over the world, picking up bits of other cultures and adding to their own. It was similar when America was discovered, people from all over the world moved there bringing their own culture, although there is an American identity, there are patches of America that retain the culture that their people bought with them all. To conclude I believe that national identity is fairly significant to individual’s culture, more so if the individual moves abroad than if they stay in their country.

In what aspects of work and employee relations should international managers be aware of religious sensitivities? Religion is important throughout the world, with countries becoming more multicultural different religions are clashing leading to war and strained international relationships. This can happen on a smaller scale within organisations.

It is up to managers and employees to be aware of each other’s beliefs and respect each other enough to allow them to have their own beliefs. This can be a minefield for today’s international managers where equality is key to running an effective, productive place to work. Globalisation, development in technology, cheaper transportation and international bonds (e. g. European Union) has led to an increase in multi-religious staff, which if international managers are aware of and can work with, it has the potential to offer a lot to organisations, employees bringing different ideas and dvice to the table because of their different religions and knowledge. A difficult example of managing religious sensitivities is allowing Sikhs to carry their ceremonial knife known as ‘Kirpan’ with them at work. It poses difficult problems, one being that it’s dangerous and could create a lot of tension within an organisation. It is an article of faith for the Sikh but does that mean its ok to carry a weapon at work?

I found an article on the BBC which was headed ‘Sikhs should be allowed to carry ceremonial knives in schools … can religion ever justify loopholes in the law…’ Although this is based on schools, it carries the same principle. Should religion be more important than the law of the country? International managers can experience culture shock on 3 different levels:

  1. Emotions – e. g. euphoria to depression
  2. Thinking – e. g. from stereotyping to culturally effective thinking
  3. Social Skills and Identity – e. g. from national to transnational social skills and an international identity

International managers need to master these 3 levels to achieve global management which Bartholomew and Adler (1996) define as ‘The need for a conceptual shift from a hierarchical perspective of cultural influence, compromise and adaption to one of collaborative cross-cultural learning’. This is the aim of all global organisations, although it can be a very slow and hard process it is important and the end result would be a driven team of respected employees. International managers need to be aware of religious holidays, example Jewish festivals, Christmas etc. Should they allow every religious holiday or none?

Managers need to prepare for religious holidays e. g. ensure that they have enough stock over the Christmas period when sales increase. A manager cannot be seen to favour certain religions as this could lead to discrimination and problems within the workforce. With globalisation comes an expectancy to work together as a team, not be seen as separate religious groups who are distant to each other. It is partly the manager’s job to ensure this happens but it’s also down to the individuals. We live in a global community, it is now time to start developing a multicultural organisational community. This will be a real test for international managers and organisations.

What are Hofstede’s culture dimensions? What correlations does Hofstede make among groups of countries and how valid are they for you? Geert Hofstede (b. 1928) carried out a cross cultural study of 116,000 employees of IBM in 40 countries. From his results he distinguished national cultures in terms of five orientations which are:

  1. Social Orientation – Cultures in the East e. g. India, China have a collective interest where the interests of the group are more important than each individuals gains or praise. Whereas the western counties e. g. UK, America have a more individualistic approach where the individual interests are seen as more important, this idea of personal gain above shared gain.
  2. Power Orientation - The idea that some national cultures accept that some people are of a higher authority, they accept the hierarchical idea of power on levels, that some people are born into power whereas other cultures believe that you earn power, and that there should be minimum power difference as it exploits others.
  3. Uncertainty Orientation – This describes how cultures react and adapt to change and uncertainty. He found that some cultures prefer structure and consistency and find the uncertain threatening whilst others relish change and new opportunities.
  4. Goal Orientation – Also known as masculine and feminine culture orientation. This finds out what motivates people to try and achieve their goals. The masculine orientation is more aggressive assertive behaviour, where material possessions, power and money are motivators. The feminine orientation is the more passive side, where the wellbeing and quality of life of other people is a motivator.
  5. Time Orientation – This looks at how different cultures work, is it with short term goals in mind or do they plan for the long term. Those that value long term planning, look forward to future market positions, they ensure that they are ready to meet future commitments. Dedication and hard work are essential. Whereas the short term outlook looks for short term profits and value past traditions. Hofstede’s has been criticised over his work, he conducted his survey for IBM because they were concerned with declining morale, it wasn’t designed to distinguish different ‘national cultures’. The use of a survey is also criticised, ‘Many researchers allude a survey is not an appropriate instrument for accurately determining and measuring cultural disparity. ’

Another criticism is that Hofstede’s study makes the assumption that the population is a homogenous whole, whereas there are always ethnic units and subdivisions within society. It seems to ignore the fact that communities can have very different cultures to the one that is seen as the national culture. It would be impossible to accurately represent all different cultures per nation. Hofstede’s is more of an overview of the national culture and should not be used to stereotype the whole population.

Why do firms’ internationalise’? What are the implications of doing so for their role as employers and how will it affect your role in the future as an employee? More firms are beginning to ‘internationalise’ and try their hand at the global market, with the goal of making a profit and increasing it year after year. This requires businesses to adapt to the changing times. It has and still is becoming much easier to internationalise, with the development of the internet, faster and cheaper transport overseas, vast improvements in infrastructure and if you are part of a trading power e. g. The European Union, the international trading laws are much more flexible than they used to be. More Benefits for firms to internationalise Location – Find a more attractive market overseas where they wish to operate. May find a central location for main distribution centre to save on delivery costs.

Low cost and labour charges. Companies want to produce goods quickly and cheaply so that they can get the biggest return on them e. g. Nike has manufactured its products in sweatshops because people are so desperate for work that they can pay them very little. The BBC’s panorama found as recently as in the year 2000, 12 year old girls in Cambodia were working 16 hours a day for little pay because they were so poor. This can lead to implications for firms that do this, bad publicity, drop in sales and a tarnished global image.

Less competition. Large organisations are always on the lookout for gaps in the market that they can exploit, this includes overseas markets. If they feel that they offer something new or of a better quality than anything in that country they will try to set up there to capitalise. The image below clearly shows the three stages of internationalisation, with many firms hoping to remain in stage 2 with the positive factors although on either side there are potential implications.

It seemed a straight forward move, Inco and Vale had both been successful in their own markets. It turned out to be a bad combination because they didn’t understand or accept each other’s different culture on how they handled business and each other. It ended up costing Vale a lot of money and tarnished their image and reputation. I think that as a future employee internationalisation will affect me greatly, I chose this course because I think that understanding and respecting other cultures is very important, before any business is done it is important to learn what makes people tick, then you know how to motivate them to a certain extent.

In my opinion it can be hugely overlooked, if it wasn’t I think that many disagreements could be averted. Dealing with people is a huge part of business whether its potential investors or a fellow employee, if you understand peoples cultures very often you can learn from them, leading to very clever organisational cultures that can motivate and inspire the majority of the workforce leading to a smoother internationalisation process.


  1. D. A. BUCHANAN, A. A. (2010). Organizational Behaviour. Essex: Pearson Education Ltd 2010. Kenyon, P. (2000, October 15). Gap and Nike: No Sweat? Retrieved December 13, 2011, from BBC: http://news. bc. co. uk/1/hi/programmes/panorama/970385. stm
  2. Loerrach. (2003). The impact of internatioalization on organizational culture a comparative study of international US and German companies, 7-48.
  3. M. L. JONES. (2007). Hofstede - Culturally Questionable, 7-8. RICKY W, P. M. (2007). International Business 5th Edition.
  4. GRIFFIN. Roache, R. (2010, February 9). Should religion be an excuse for carrying daggers? Retrieved December 13, 2011, from BBC: http://news. bbc. co. uk/1/hi/magazine/8506074. stm
  5. Unknown. (2011, December 13). Retrieved December 13, 2011, from Oxford Dictionaries: http://oxforddictionaries. com/definition/culture

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Developing Cultural Flexibility. (2018, Jan 06). Retrieved from

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