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What Are Some Cultural Drivers? Introduction to Time Orientation

This dimension is multi-faceted.  While it is easier to look at organizations that have long term vs. short term orientation (for example, the drive to make the quarterly numbers in US American businesses) – it is less obvious when we talk about this orientation in terms of people.  Sometimes this same approach is seen in the way people view doing things fast (Is fast and not exactly correct better than 100% correct even if it is late?).  Frankly, I’d like my paycheck to be 100% accurate and my electricity to be available 100% of the time.

Which of the following describes you best?

Long Term Orientation
Short Term Orientation
  • Success over a long time horizon is valued
  • Measures such as market position, sales growth, and customer satisfaction are key in evaluating business performance
  • Thrift; sparing with resources
  • Deferred gratification of needs accepted
  • Quick results are expected
  • Measures such as profit growth, ROI (Return on Investment), and residual income are key in evaluating business performance
  • Spending for status purposes (social consumption)
  • Immediate gratification of needs expected

Some examples of this dimension include:

  • The “need” to own things even if we have to go into debt to do so (short term)
  • The ownership or purchase of things to keep up with others in our society such as bigger houses, new cars every other year (short term)
  • Level of savings (higher level is more long term)

When we look at behaviors in business of how businesses operate, we often see whether there is an investment in R&D, brand positioning, and developing people (more likely to be long term orientation).  Look at what gets cut first when times are less profitable.  Market position takes investment and is different than profit growth (more short term) which sometimes comes at the expense of sales growth.  We have a client company in the US that purchased a Korean vendor of theirs.  The Korean approach was to give custom products to their clients in the expectation that building relationships and giving the clients what they requested was a good long term strategy.  When the acquisition was in process, there was a disagreement about whether to be more focused on “operational excellence” vs.  “customer intimacy” (and long term approach).  The difference is about making the same thing perfectly every time which is very efficient and not customizing products.  While more cultural nuances than the time orientation are at play here, it is important to recognize that not customizing products requires saying “no” to customer requests.  This is difficult in any Asian culture as it may cause loss of face in addition to damaging the relationship.

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