Cross-Cultural Management online Tutor support CHAPTER 2 THE MEANING(S) OF CULTURE Understanding core values In order to understand other people’s values, attitudes and behaviour it is necessary to have a clear view of ourselves – what psychologists term a ‘self-concept’. In the same way, learning about other cultures involves re-examining the values we take for granted. It is often said that the best way of understanding our own society is to travel abroad because we are then forced to explain differences by reflecting on how things are done back home (and why). Once we have made the comparison we could decide to change our behaviour to adapt to the new culture or decide that this would involve our compromising our own personal values too much. Before you digest the frameworks for understanding culture set out in this book, make a list of the values you think form part of the culture in which you were raised as a child. Which, if any, of these values would you be unwilling to compromise on? This activity could form an early opportunity for student groups to interact and consider the nature of culture. It is common for students on cross-cultural management modules to be drawn from a wide range of backgrounds, so the ice-breaking element is potentially important. The activity is best undertaken without reference to specific academic models explaining culture and cultural variation. Tutors may, nonetheless, wish to shape discussion to some extent, conceivably introducing the concepts of cultural layers and the influences on a society’s culture — see also Figure 1 below. Values/shared meanings Education system Language CULTURE Economic prosperity Political/ economic system Religion/ philosophical beliefs Figure 1: Society-wide factors contributing to a multifaceted model of culture Refer to Figure 2 and identify ways in which your own values are influenced by factors impinging at the following levels: personal community regional community/occupational national global Which of these are most important to you, and why? The exercise encourages students to reflect on the multiple influences on their own values. Ensuing discussion can be guided to show how culture itself is a concept which relates not only to the national or country-level sphere but takes effect at — for example — regional and occupational level too. It may also be that strongly-held core values have emerged from early life experience, through the influence of parent and guardians. Such influences may be more or less obviously linked to specific cultures. Required responses to which are the most important influences, and why, can help in eliciting these possibly complex interrelationships. No more ‘stiff upper lips’? The reaction to the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, in 1997, seemed to many to signify a cultural change in the UK. Across the country people spontaneously set up impromptu floral memorials, and there were numerous examples of publicly-expressed grief. In the days following the Princess’s death, many people took to the streets, or at least the parks of London and other cities, to express their sadness collectively. Some observers found these public displays of emotion to be at odds with the typical perception – or stereotype – of the British as a private and emotionally-reserved people. Others took a more judgemental view. A BBC News report dated 23 February 2004 summarised the report of a ‘think-tank’, Civitas, which was quoted as claiming that ‘Britons are feeding their own egos by indulging in “recreational grief for murdered children and dead celebrities they have never met”.’ The Civitas report went on to claim that ‘wearing charity ribbons, holding silences and joining protest marches all indicated the country was in emotional crisis’. Although to many the public displays of grief were a new phenomenon in the UK, it can be noted that they represented an example of cyclical change since there are documented cases of similar outpourings in the past, and the (possibly stereotypical) notion of the British ‘stiff upper lip’ can itself be emerging from a particular historical time – in this case, the Victorian era. Identify one example of culture change in the country in which you either were born or currently reside. Have all or only some members of the population been affected by the change? How would you explain your example of ‘culture shift’? The example given of the aftermath of Diana Princess of Wales’ death in 1997 provides the introduction to a discussion of culture shift. This example points to generational differences, which might be picked up on in students’ examples. There is also scope for analysing the reasons underlying changes within cultures. It might be useful to identify whether ‘shifts’ are deeply rooted — thereby resulting in changes to core values — or more shallow (and maybe less enduring). The Nokia Way and Values In 2005, Nokia’s corporate website – nokia.com – contained a section on Nokia as an Employer, which in turn included a brief summary of some of its core principles, as articulated in The Nokia Way and Values. CASE STUDY Read the case study above, and respond to the following. 1 2 Identify some possible factors, both cultural and non-cultural, which could have influenced Nokia’s organisational culture, and in particular the values set out in the above statements. Which of the factors identified in your response to Question 1 do you think may have been most significant in shaping Nokia’s expressed values? Give reasons for your answer. This end-of-chapter case study affords wider consideration of the influences on the ways in which work organisations operate. Although it might be fruitful to explain Nokia’s expressed values in terms of its development in Finland (with consequent reference to that country’s cultural profile), the preceding section in the chapter sets out other noncultural explanations, including size, product/sector and technology. The second question in the case encourages students to consider the relative importance of these factors. The intention is not to reach firm conclusions at this stage — rather to open up a debate on the potential impact of culture on organisations.