It was Jesse’s turn to answer.
“I score Mexicans at a 10 on this one. You just point them in the general direction and they just… take… off. They’re cool with uncertainty. They may not know the details, but they’ll make something happen. For Americans, I had us at 60. We whine a lot more. We need to know everything.”
Initially my participants feel awkward about assigning numeric values to nationalities, but after some discussion and practice, comments like Jesse’s are common. It gets easier.
“A Mexican 10? No way, man! I’ve got Mexicans at 90 on this! They like uncertainty waaaaaaaay less than you do!”
This excerpt was from a cultural understanding exercise during a Red Angle workshop. It involves analyzing and discussing the four primary national culture dimensions researched by Geert Hofstede.
Hofstede, a Dutch professor, was working at IBM when he began analyzing the 100,000+ opinion surveys the firm had collected from the around the globe.
After years of research, Hofstede drew conclusions on cultures across four dimensions (later bumped to 5 and then again to 6, presumably to sell more books) and assigned rankings to them.
The numbers assigned, like Jesse pegging Mexicans at a 10 for one dimension, are meaningless unless compared with another country. There is no good or bad, right or wrong – only interesting.
Hofstede’s website says it best: Statements about culture do not describe “reality”; they are all general and relative.
The 4 dimensions are:
- Power Distance
- Individualism versus Collectivism
- Masculinity versus Femininity
- Uncertainty Avoidance
In our Red Angle exercise, we compare the American culture and the Mexican culture.
For a few reasons. Over 65% of all Hispanics in the U.S. are from Mexican descent. The next largest Hispanic group is from Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico is a commonwealth to the U.S. Hofstede only researched countries, not commonwealths. So no data on P.R.
Back to the exercise: we examine the four dimensions and then independently guess the scores for each culture with an X.
Here is what an example sheet might look like:
We then discuss our perspectives and reveal the answers according to Hofstede’s research.
The fourth dimension – Uncertainty Avoidance – typically draws the widest disparities.
When it comes to Uncertainty Avoidance, a low score indicates comfort with unstructured situations. A 10 out of 100 in Uncertainty Avoidance means I’m cool without details. “Just point me in the right direction and I’ll make it happen.”
Conversely, a high score like 90 means I want 30 hours of training, a 3D map, a checklist, a reminder and a body double… to park the company vehicle.
While there is frequent consensus among the first 3 dimensions, Uncertainty Avoidance is typically all over the board.
Hofstede ranked the American culture a 46 while Mexicans an 82.
Who is better?
Neither. This just means Mexicans (again – in general) are about half as comfortable with uncertainty when compared with Americans.
From a managerial and leadership perspective, what can you draw from this información?
Well, considering nearly every construction manager I’ve met has had an experience where they direct a Hispanic worker to do something and receive a head nod YES in return.
Then the worker leaves… and the job doesn’t get done.
Several cultural factors are at play here (another post, to be sure), but the point is that you can limit this from happening by spelling out the details for the worker. Address the Uncertainty Avoidance.
Help them avoid the uncertainty.
Clearly identify the details.
Draw a picture.
Note the steps… 1. 2. 3.
Do something to limit the uncertainty in the situación.
In the coming decades, our inter-cultural workforce will only grow more so.
We’re in this thing together.
If you’re not considering cultural forces on your jobsite, you should be.
Remember: Culture eats Strategy for lunch every day of the week and twice on domingo.
Bradley Hartmann is founder and El Presidente at Red Angle (www.redanglespanish.com), a training and consulting firm bridging the English-Spanish (and a bit of Polish…) language gap in the construction industry.
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