Many people are now turning to the work done by Geert Hofstede between 1967 and 1973. Working for IBM at the time, the professor collected and analyzed data from more than 100,000 individuals in 50 countries to develop his Cultural Dimensions model.
IDV, the first dimension
Individualism focuses on the degree to which the society reinforces individual or collective achievement. The Individualism (IDV) Dimension for China was scored at just 15 (the Asian average is 24). By comparison, the U.S. score for IDV is 91!
The abnormally low IDV score is shown through very close and committed member groups, be they family, work or sport teams. Loyalty is a highly regarded trait in a society where relationships are strong and is, therefore, of paramount importance to most Chinese people.
The “collectivist” thinking of a culture such as China also tends to be extremely parochial, with people and businesses not changing suppliers lightly for fear of the impact on relationships. In other words, if all the members of my family shop at a certain store, then I, too, should shop there). However, once a change is made, the new relationship will enjoy loyalty.
PDI, the second dimension
The Power Distance Index (PDI) focuses on the degree of equality, or inequality, between people in the country’s society. A high Power Distance ranking indicates that inequalities of power and wealth have been allowed to grow within the society.
While the Western countries have a low PDI, China has a score of 80. This shows a high inequality between people. This condition is not necessarily forced upon the population but, rather, accepted by the society as the cultural heritage.
The high PDI means that Westerners need to be aware of the hierarchy that exists both within society at large and within the organization they are dealing with.
MAS, the third dimension
The Masculinity (MAS) Dimension focuses on the degree to which the society reinforces, or does not reinforce, the traditional masculine work role model of male achievement, control and power. A high Masculinity ranking indicates that the country experiences a high degree of gender differentiation.
This is the one dimension in which China most aligns itself to the rest of the world, and yet, it is often totally missed by Western businessmen, who think that the women in China are, for the most part, ignored. To the contrary, I have met some of China’s business leaders who are very powerful and inspiring women. Do not always shake the male’s hand first!
UAI, the fourth dimension
The Uncertainty Avoidance Index (UAI) focuses on the level of tolerance for uncertainty and ambiguity within a society. A high Uncertainty Avoidance ranking indicates that the country has a low tolerance for uncertainty and ambiguity (people will tend to be heavily driven by laws and rules).
In the UAI, the USA scored just 46, indicating that it’s a society with fewer rules and does not attempt to control all outcomes and results. It also has a greater level of tolerance for a variety of ideas, thoughts and beliefs. In contrast, China scored lower, at just 32, indicating an even more liberal society. This score is deceiving.
While China may not always place great emphasis on laws (this emphasis has changed radically in the last 20 years) and the official religion is atheism, the cultural expectancy placed on everyone tends to control behavior. That is, you may not be thrown in jail for breaking a law or rule, you—and your family—will be disgraced and shunned.
It is important for Westerners to remember that culture and the possibility of “losing face” are 10 times more important than any written law! Don’t expect the courts to always protect you.
LTO, the fifth dimension
The Long Term Orientation (LTO) shows another huge cultural mismatch. China ranked far higher than most other countries in this dimension, with a score of 114. This dimension indicates a society’s time perspective and an attitude of perseverance, that is, the society’s willingness to overcome obstacles over time (with a fair measure of will and strength). By comparison, most Western cultures scored in the 20s!
Time can often be a stumbling block for Western-cultured organizations entering the China market. The length of time it takes to get business deals done in China can be two or three times that of the West.
On many occasions, the initial deal takes the longest, allowing the Chinese client to feel that a suitable “courtship,” upon which a mutually beneficial and sustainable relationship can be built. So if your initial meeting with a Chinese company does not yield an immediate sale, do not despair. Don’t rush into China. Time is the Chinese’s greatest ally.