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What Are Some Cultural Drivers? Introduction to Certainty

Certainty is defined as the extent to which the members of a culture feel threatened by ambiguous or unknown situations. Please notice that the word RISK is nowhere in this definition. Certainty is not about risk avoidance, but it is about the degree to which people are comfortable with rules and regulations, or are comfortable in ambiguous situations.

Which of the following describes you best?

Need for Certainty
Tolerance for Ambiguity
  • There is an emotional need for rules, even if they will not work
  • More formal and widely understood ways of behaving and getting the work done
  • Comfortable in structured environments; matters that can be structured should not be left to chance
  • Belief in experts and technical solutions
  • Top managers are concerned with daily operations
  • There should be no more rules than strictly necessary
  • Tolerance of differences, innovative ideas and a wide range of behaviors
  • Trying new approaches is encouraged and rewards may be given for “thinking outside the box”
  • Belief in generalists and common sense
  • Top managers are concerned with strategy

In our work, we find the most obvious behaviors that seem to indicate a real need for certainty relate to the amount of knowledge needed to make a decision or to plan a project. Germans, for example are well known for doing an incredible amount of up front planning…after which the implementation is very quick. US Americans are known for starting right in as soon as there is an idea about how to start and changing course as necessary throughout the implementation of the project. By the way – US Americans and Germans working together on a project drive each other crazy if they are not cognizant of cultural drivers of behavior. You might find the table below interesting.

Projects: Different Viewpoints
SOURCE: TWIST Consulting/ITAP Germany

 

Germans

tend to…

Americans

tend to think…

Americans

tend to…

Germans

tend to think…

Project Idea

… collect information

“Why are they doing this?”

…chat informally about an idea

“Why aren't they doing anything?”

Project Meetings

… get down to business

“They are cold and unfriendly”

…begin with small talk

“They are wasting time.”

 

… present detailed plans

“How can they discuss details at this stage?”

… begin with brainstorming

“They are not prepared for the meeting.”

 

…express criticism openly

“They don't like each other/me”

…be enthusiastic about all ideas

“They are not sincere.”

Project Process

… work individually on the task assigned to them

… believe clearly defined milestones guarantee success

“They don't communicate or work as a team”

…hold frequent meetings; change tasks as circumstances change

… believe continuous contact guarantees success

“There are too many meetings; we can't get our work done.”

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