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Issue 49

Personality vs. Culture

George Lupașcu-Pruna
Accredited Intercultural Practitioner @ itim International
MANAGEMENT

I've recently had the pleasure of meeting a very smart Top Manager, in my audience for a Workshop on Cultural Differences. He insisted that it is not correct to assume that people from one culture have the tendency to act in similar ways, while, at the same time, in different ways from people from another culture. From his point of view, it was all a matter of Individual Personality. I thought it would be interesting to share this with all of you.

Try the following experiment. While working in Eastern Europe (it can also work for China, Latin America and other regions that have this particular Culture feature):

Now comes the question: What are the chances for the pattern to repeat itself because of Personality issues?

If you try to figure this one out by using a Personality classification, it will be so complex that you will soon drop it. Instead, if you use Hofstede's 6D model for Cultural Differences, not only will you understand this situation very clearly, but you will also know what you need to do to turn it around to the Organization's advantage.

Culture does not overwrite Personality. It complements it. You can hire the best people with the best personality, but without understanding the local Culture you will not Engage them, you will not Motivate them and you will not Enable them to Excel for your Organization.

Can a better understanding of Cultural Differences help?

Let us take, for instance, the implementation of a new methodology, like Agile, in your Organization in Romania. Can it work? Yes, because the Romanian society has quite a high score on the Pragmatism scale. Romanian society is open to embrace external trends. Will this methodology seem natural for the Romanians? Will it work right away? No. This methodology will work right away only in well-established senior teams where the team members trust each other because they have already delivered several projects together.

Can this work for a junior team? Not right away. Given the fact that Romania has a hierarchical society, inherent responsibility may seem unnatural, especially to the junior professionals freshly entering the work field. This is the reason why group work is preferred to individual work. In this way, the responsibility can be "diluted". This methodology will also find resistance from the Project Manager's point of view (hierarchical and highly avoidant of uncertainty).

This methodology, like many others, is an example of a methodology developed in an individualistic, performance-driven culture. The replication of this methodology across cultures has to be done in a cautious way. There are two ways of deploying this methodology. The current deployment method stipulates that decisions come from the top of the hierarchy, that the new process will be implemented and that, after this, everyone will try to adjust at their own pace. The budgeted deployment method stipulates that parts of the old process are kept in a shadow zone, and that, for the comfort of the project manager (product owner) and of the members of the team, more resources are allocated (more time for the project manager and coaching time for the team members). Moreover, in the beginning, the authority is not distributed, meaning that several roles are held by one individual.

Choosing the first variant has the disadvantage that, in the end, the process will just be mimicked. The process will only seem to work at the expense of wasting or losing more resources, especially project managers, as they feel they are stripped of their power to deliver. Choosing the second variant needs more conscious investments, like doubling some parts of the new process with parts of the old process for a while, more time for the project manager and more coaching for the resources. However, in the end, this variant ALWAYS proves cheaper than losing one resource that you did not plan to lose in the first place.

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