Culture – what is it? The word culture has two very different meanings. There is “culture in the narrow sense” which refers to knowledge of the arts, such as music and sculpture, and then there is the concept of culture as acquired patterns of thinking, feeling and acting or “culture in the wider sense”. It is this second type of culture that will be the subject of this essay. I also intend to describe some of the differences in mental programming that exist between members of different nations, with the aim of proving that national culture has an effect upon organisations.
A working definition of culture within this aforementioned “wider sense” is that it represents the “collective programming of the mind which distinguishes one category of people from another”.1 Nation, region or origin, language group, generation, sex, religion, education, occupation and even the organization for which we work, are all categories that contribute factors to our mental programming and every individual belongs to several of these categories at any one time. What should be noted, however, is that when talking about national cultures we are describing common elements within each nation, whilst taking care to avoid generalization, and appreciate the individuality of each member of the same.
In the main there are seven different factors which go towards making up a nations culture, these being: language, religion, political context, legal context, education, social organization, values and attitudes. When asked to name the most prominent cultural difference between two countries, for example France and Spain, the most likely response would be language. Indeed language represents the “deep structure” of national culture. It would therefore seem logical to discuss the issue of language first.
In today’s world it would appear that there are a limitless number of languages that are used to discuss “business”! For any organisation wishing to expand beyond their domestic markets the chances are they will come up against the barrier that is the increasing difficulty to communicate with countries that don’t share a common language with them. Simply, they will find it much harder to communicate with a country that doesn’t share the same language.
International business, very much depends on communication, with language being the primary component of this, and as organisations are increasingly dealing with other organisations that communicate in a different language, there is likely, as a result, to be an increase in the number of problems they encounter. In order to overcome the difficulties of dealing with organisations from foreign cultures, effective communication must be achieved throughout the organisation.
Whilst it may at first seem that a difficulty in communication may present problems, and in many cases it does, there are exceptions where a difference in language can have a positive effect on organisations. One such example may be that organisations that do encounter communication problems rely more on written forms of communication, as this way they have a better record of what was agreed which will cut down the chance of misinterpretation. This may well result in the organisation showing a greater level of formalisation than that which would have existed if such a form of communication had not been implemented. Another good example would be an instance of e-commerce, where setting up a number of identical websites, the only difference being the language they carry, would make it easier both for the customer to place orders, as they could do so in their own language, and also the seller to interpret the order.
People all across different nations behave differently, and for different reasons, due to their religion. From one religion to another beliefs and values differ greatly, and they have enough of an impact on people that religion contributes greatly to the make-up of culture. Each religion can affect organisations in different ways. An example, which also ties in social organisation, would be that of an organisation that is based in a country where the religion is predominantly Hindu, as it is likely to hold strong “tight-knit” values as well as strong family bonds, resulting in large numbers of family-owned and operated businesses where organisational hierarchies are based solely on family relationships. Hindus also share the same belief that it is wrong to kill cows, and in some cases any animal at all. It would therefore be against an organisations interest to deal with any organisation, or indeed take on an employee where this may become an issue.
Holidays may well differ from one religion to another. Indeed in Muslim countries the normal weekend is Thursday afternoon and Friday, and when this is combined with the Western weekend of Saturday and Sunday it leaves only three and half days for business activity to take place between organisations. Ramadan, the month-long festival that involves fasting during daylight hours, can result in the productivity of an employee partaking in the fast dropping. In addition the belief of some Muslims that nothing will happen unless Allah wishes it to, makes it difficult for Western organisations to do business with them. An example of this being the view that insurance policies are seen to defy Allah’s will.