Personality vs Culture

Thursday, 25 May 2017
Personality vs Culture

Recently I had the pleasure to have in my audience for a Workshop on Cultural Differences a very smart Top Manager. He insisted that it is not correct to assume that people from one culture have the tendency to act in similar ways and in the same time differently than people from another culture. In his view it was all a matter of Individual Personality. 
I thought I'd share this with all of you:
Try the following while working in Eastern Europe (can work also in China, Latin America and other regions that have this particular Culture feature):
- set up a meeting to deploy a fresh idea that needs to be implemented
- discuss the pros and the cons there
- get the verbal acceptance (or silence) from everyone
- check the status only at the deadline ------> (Surprise!)
- try this for 5 times with different ideas and different combination of people
Now comes the question to you: What are the chances that the pattern repeats itself because of Personality issues?
If you'll try to figure this one out by using a Personality categorization it will be so complex that you will soon drop it. If instead, you'll use Hofstede's 6D model for Cultural Differences, not only you will 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 personalities, 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.
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Can Understanding of the Cultural Differences help?
Let’s take for instance the case of implementing a new methodology like Agile in your Organization in Ukraine. Can it work? Yes, because the Ukrainian society has a high enough score on Pragmatism to be open to the influences from the outside. Will this methodology be something natural for the Ukrainians? Meaning that it will work right away? No. This methodology will work right away only in well-established senior teams in which the members of the team trust each other and have delivered several projects together.
Can this work for a junior team? Not right away. The fact that Ukraine is a collectivistic society makes the feeling of responsibility unnatural, especially to the junior professionals freshly entering the work field. This is also why the work in groups is preferred versus the individual work, so that the responsibility can be “diluted”. From Project Manager point of view (hierarchic and highly avoidant of uncertainty), as well this methodology will find resistance.
This methodology, like many others, is an example of a methodology developed in an individualistic, performance driven culture, and the reapplication of it across cultures has to be done with cautious. There are two ways of deploying this methodology: the current way, in which the direction comes from the top of the hierarchy that the new process will be implemented and then everyone tries to adjust at their own comfort; or the budgeted way, in which on purpose parts of the old process are maintained in the shadow, 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) and in the beginning the authority is not distributed, meaning that several roles are held by the same person.
Choosing the first variant has the disadvantage that in the end, the process might only be mimed as working on the expense of wasting more resources and some of the resources might be lost (especially project managers, as they feel they are stripped of the power to deliver). Choosing the second variant needs more conscious investments, like doubling for a while some parts of the process with the old process, more time for the project manager and more coaching for the resources (but in the end this variant ALWAYS proves to be cheaper than losing even ONE SINGLE resource that you didn’t plan to lose).

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