Cultural Constraints

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< Academy oi Management Executive, 1993 Vol. 7 No. 1

Cultural constraints in
management theories
Geert Hofstede, University of Limburg, Maastricht, the Netherlands Executive Overview

Management as the word is presently used is an American invention. In other parts of fhe world not only fhe pracfices but the entire concepf of management may differ, and the theories needed to understand it, may deviate considerably from what is considered normal and desirable in fhe USA, The reader is invited on a trip around the world, and both local management practices and theories are explained from the different contexts and histories of the places visited: Germany, Japan, France. Holland, the countries of the overseas Chinese, South-East Asia. Africa, Russia, and finally mainland China. A model in which worldwide differences in national cultures are categorized according to five independent dimensions helps in explaining fhe differences in managemenf found: although the sifuafion in each counfiy or region has unique characferisfics fhaf no model can accounf for. One pracficai appiicafion of fhe mode] is in demonstrating the relative position of the U.S. versus other parts of the world. In a global perspective. U.S. management theories contain a number of idiosyncracies not necessarily shared by management elsewhere. Three such idiosyncracies are mentioned: a stress on market processes, a stress on the individual, and a focus on managers rather than on workers. A plea is made for an internationalization not only of business, but also of management theories, as a way of enriching theories at the national level.

In My View

Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland contains the famous story of Alice's croquet game with the Queen of Hearts.
Aiice thought she had never seen such a curious croquef-ground in all her life; it was all ridges and furrows; the balls were live hedgehogs, the mallets live flamingoes, and the soldiers had to double themselves up and to stand on their hands and feet, to make the arches.

You probably know how the story goes: Alice's flamingo mallet turns its head whenever she wants to strike with it; her hedgehog ball runs away; and the doubled-up soldier arches walk around all the time. The only rule seems to be that the Queen of Hearts always wins.

Alice's croquet playing problems are good analogies to attempts to build culture-free theories of management. Concepts available for this purpose are themselves alive with culture, having been developed within a particular cultural context. They have a tendency to guide our thinking toward our desired conclusion.

As the same reasoning may also be applied to the arguments in this article, I better tell you my conclusion before I continue—so that the rules of my game are understood. In this article we take a trip around the world to demonstrate that there are no such things as universal management theories.

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Academy oi Management Executive

Diversity in management practices a s we go around the world has been recognized in U.S. management literature for more than thirty years. The term "comparative management" has been used since the 1960s. However, it has taken much longer for the U.S. academic community to accept that not only practices but also the validity of theories m ay stop at national borders, and I wonder whether even today everybody would agree with this statement. An article I published in Organizational Dynamics in 1980 entitled "Do American Theories Apply Abroad?" created more controversy than I expected. The article argued, with empirical support, that generally accepted U.S. theories like those of Maslow, Herzberg, McClelland, Vroom, McGregor, Likert, Blake and Mouton may not or only very partly apply outside the borders of their country of origin—assuming they do apply within those borders. Among the requests for reprints, a larger number were from Canada than from the United States. Management Theorists are Human

Employees and managers...
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