What Are Some Cultural Drivers? Introduction to Power Distance

Power Distance informs us about dependence relationships within a country. It is important to remember that it is the expectations and value system of the less powerful members of a society that determine the nature of boss-subordinate relationships. Power Distance can be defined as the extent to which the less powerful members of institutions and organizations within a country expect and accept that power is distributed unequally.

Which of the following describes you best?

Hierarchical Orientation
Participative Orientation
  • Inequalities among people are expected and desired
  • Superiors are superior beings
  • Hierarchy in organizations reflects existential inequality between higher and lower levels
  • Top-down organization; focus on functional specialties
  • Employees are expected to follow through as directed; they are less likely to suggest solutions for problems unless specifically asked/told
  • Inequalities among people should be minimized
  • Hierarchy is for practical purposes
  • Hierarchy in organizations means an inequality of roles, established for convenience
  • Matrix structures where work to get done depends on cross-professional collaboration
  • Employees are expected to go to managers to report on progress and suggest approaches to problem solving

Of course status does not always confer power, but in some societies power is awarded to those who are older, or who are more educated, or who have a higher position in the society or the company.  In a more participative culture, younger people can succeed and rise in the organization regardless of their age, but based on their capabilities. 

We had a client who came to us because he was unable to get his team of French employees to respect him.  We uncovered that he had made a cultural blunder in his first staff meeting with these employees after he had been moved into the position as their leader.  He had come in with a very participative approach and asked them to help him understand their jobs and in an attempt to motivate them by empowering them, he asked what they thought would make them more efficient.  They lost respect for him as he did not tell them what to do nor did he seem to understand their jobs.  It took him months to gain back their respect. In order to do so, he had to change his style to be more hierarchical and to act in a more top down manner.

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