Culture Always Influences Business

By Aliah D. Wright Jun 29, 2010

SAN DIEGO—“To talk about culture,” said Dean Foster, president of dfa Intercultural Global Solutions, “means to talk about the invisible.”

The invisible part of culture is how people think—it’s under the surface. Culture represents the prism through which individuals view life and how they react to situations day to day, Foster said during “Culture and the Crash: Exploring the Connection Between People’s Responses to the Current Business Climate and Their Culture,” a session offered June 28, 2010 at the SHRM Annual Conference held here.

“The cultural dimensions around which people see the world differently—due to history, religion, topography and climate—blend together to form values to solve life’s problems. When it comes to an economic crisis, their cultural values come into play,” he said.

Foster’s New York-based consultancy focuses solely on intercultural and global competency development. In April 2009, his firm conducted a global survey that determined a direct connection between how people feel about the present economic crisis and their cultural orientations.

The survey found that “human behavior is premised fundamentally on our cultures.” Furthermore, there was a direct correlation between respondents’ cultural values and the ways they responded to questions about the global recession.

Foster told attendees they would need to shift perspectives when interacting with people from other cultures. For example, he said, “around the world, there are people who say rank, status, family background, age, gender—all these things matter when you consider authority.” However, he continued, in egalitarian cultures like that of the U.S., those things don’t matter. If you’re invited to the table, you’re invited because of your ability.

He added, “You have cultures that say they are transactional—get the job done and we can go out for a beer; then you have some that say, ‘Let’s go out for a beer in order to get the job done.’ ”

When survey participants were asked the best way to end the economic crisis, many Latin Americans said “government must create more work opportunities.” Meanwhile, some Middle Easterners and Africans said “all must sacrifice by living more modestly.” A number of Europeans said “individuals need to seek entrepreneurial opportunities.” Some North Americans, Europeans and Asians said “businesses must be freed from regulations.”

When asked how individuals can best survive the crisis, Europeans were the leading group to choose “depend on family and friends”; Latin Americans and Asians were the biggest groups to choose “rely on government.” North Americans and Europeans were the only groups to choose “rely on employers,” with North Americans, Middle Easterners and Africans primarily selecting “take charge of your own destiny.”

“When trying to help people in a particular culture, take a look at what they say they need based on their cultural values,” Foster urged attendees.

Aliah D. Wright is an online editor/manager for SHRM. Follow her conference coverage via Twitter @1SHRMScribe.

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