How people adapt to national cultures

In my last article I wrote about the four elements that, according to the Adizes Institute, make a fully functional manager or, more likely, a functional management team: Producer, Administrator, Entrepreneur and Integrator (PAEI).

Today I follow up with an article I was sent by Rufat Jahangirov, a senior member of the Adizes Institute team, in which he reflected on the influence of national cultures in designing and delivering their programmes on organisational transformation in ways that are compatible with countries’ national values.

It led me to think about how and to what extent I adapt the way I engage with organisations depending on where I am doing so.

I am privileged to have been exposed to a wide variety of cultures, from my Jewish Romanian background to my upbringing in London, with time in France and the US, to my life here in Kenya since 1977. Plus my travels to many other countries around the world, usually as a tourist but sometimes also as a consultant.

Jahangirov refers to the work of Geert Hofstede on the interactions between national and organisational cultures. Hofstede first examines Vertical Power Distance, the extent to which the less powerful members of organisations expect and accept that power is distributed unequally.

He then looks at Horizontal Distance, the degree to which people in a society have an independent versus interdependent concept of self.

In societies with high Horizontal Distance – individualistic societies – people’s goals are generally independent from their ingroups; their social behaviours are driven by attitudes, values and beliefs; and they emphasise rationality in evaluating and choosing their social relationships.

On the other hand, in low Horizontal Distance – collectivistic – societies, people are born into extended families or kinship systems that protect them in exchange for giving them loyalty.

Hofstede also studies Uncertainty Avoidance, which defines the degree to which people in society feel threatened by ambiguous or unknown situations.

Not to be confused with risk avoidance, members of an Uncertainty Avoiding culture take risks as long as they believe they know them. People in Uncertainty Avoidance societies usually prefer clear rules as to how one should behave.

Next Hofstede examines Masculinity versus Femininity. Masculine cultures are ones where men should be assertive, competitive, tough and focused on material success, while women should be focused on the quality of life, maintaining warm personal relationships, offering service, and caring for the weak. Feminine cultures are ones in which emotional gender roles overlap.

Finally, he contrasts Long-term versus Short-term orientation.

Jahangirov notes that it is easier to generate “energy for change” in countries with low vertical distance, high horizontal distance, low uncertainty avoidance and high long-term orientation. He also correlates Hofstede’s culture differentiators with the values and characteristics of the PAEI Adizes management roles and styles.

P and A are short-term oriented roles, whereas E and I are long-term oriented, they have found. Additionally, P and A are the attributes of autocratic management, displaying high Vertical Distance, while E and I preferences lead to more egalitarian decision-making, which suggests low Vertical Distance.

P and E are both independent and individualistic styles, typified by high Horizontal Distance, whereas A is mechanically collectivistic and I is organically collectivistic, reflected in low Horizontal Distance. The A style is characterised as Uncertainty Avoiding, while E is its opposite: Uncertainty Accepting… actually, seeking.

There appears to be no correlation of Uncertainty Avoidance with either P or I management styles. And finally, P is a predominant characteristic of a Masculine culture, while I is the one of a Feminine culture. Both E and A can be either Masculine or Feminine.

It’s hard enough to change cultures even in one’s own back yard, Jahangirov has found, and reflecting on his wonderfully thought-provoking article has filled me with further ways of describing cultures and helping them develop to better places.

What is my experience with how different cultures have led me to adapt my interactions with others? Like Jahangirov, I am at least as aware of sub-cultures, within both countries and organisations, requiring yet more sensitivity on the part of consultants. But you’ll have to wait for another fortnight before reading more about that.

Before closing, let me mention that this is my 400th Business Daily column, and that next month will mark the 15th anniversary of my first one. More later on that too.

Management roles that shape top performers

Each of us as a manager enjoys aspects of our roles where we feel more comfortable, with others we’d rather have someone else handle. But the more senior and cross-functional we become the more we need to reach adequacy all round.

And yet very few of us ever expand our comfort zones to take us from the necessary to the sufficient. So which are these different aspects?

I was recently exposed to a categorisation of the needed components that I found made a lot of sense. It is based on the work by Ichak Adizes, the founder of the Adizes Institute, and the four roles he identified that management must fulfill are the Provider, whose voice tells us “Just get the job done, nothing else matters”; the Administrator, who wants us to “Follow the rules, pay attention to the details, and heed the process”; the Entrepreneur, who wants to “Make it exciting, creative, provocative”; and the Integrator, who helps us “Create harmony and respect the social norms, while making people happy”.

In every organisation all four must be performed well. And yet, Prof Adizes has observed, none of us can or does reach the highest levels of competence in the complete quartet. Indeed being really strong in one makes it more unlikely that we’ll do so well elsewhere – or even get on well with those who do.

If a person is unable to perform one or more roles the deficit must be filled by others. If they perform all roles to at least a satisfactory level, they’re an OK manager.

If a manager copes brilliantly with integration and at least one more role, and all other roles are performed at a satisfactory level, we can say that the person is not just a manager, but a leader.

And if all the roles are well covered among the management members, then we have a high performing team.

The book I read by Prof Adizes was Leading the Leaders – How to Enrich Your Style of Management and Handle People Whose Style Is Different from Yours”, one of 20 authored by him. I also completed the Adizes Institute’s Management Style Indicator” questionnaire, where the profile of me that emerged came as no surprise.

My top style is that of Integrator, then Entrepreneur, followed by Producer, with Administrator lagging quite far behind. So I am described as a “PaEI”, with capital letters for the styles where I am at ease.

I’m sure that as you have been reading this you will have been reflecting on how you rate on each of Prof Adizes’ four components of management, even without taking the assessment questionnaire. And you will also have been smiling (and groaning) as you have been contemplating your peers, your superiors and your subordinates.

You will have concluded who complements whom; and who clashes with whom, thanks to the incompatibility of their over-focused styles.

You will also have noted which teams cover all four components well, and which find the going tough thanks to too many individualistic entrepreneurs and no integrators, say.

So where are the gaps, at the personal and team levels, and how to fill them? For such gaps are everywhere, and the higher we rise in an organisation the more of a handicap they become. What’s your next career step, and the ones thereafter? What muscles will you need to develop that till now were not so important to enable you to perform well?

Too often it’s the most brilliant techie (a Producer) who’s promoted to becoming the supervisor of other techies (as an Integrator) but lacks the personality, skills, or even interest, to play such a role.

They never developed the non-technical skills needed for management – or for interacting with team-mates, customers etc. – to complement their technical ones. Do they have the potential to transform an “i” into an “I”?

Who does your organisation seek and attract among the P, A, E, I types? Do you look for those with more than one capital letter, so they can develop a career with you, beyond the immediate job for which they are being recruited?

We are always going to feel more at ease with some of the four styles than with others. But be very aware of what each job requires, and either reach adequacy wherever that is needed, or make sure there’s someone else in the team to play that role.