I love to hear stories.
Before the arrival of Marvel comics, as children we read stories of “1001 nights” or Stories from Ancient China or Japan.
Hero with a thousand faces
Source of photo: Facebook of another George K.
This Year of the Monkey, the TV is replaying movies of our beloved Chinese mythology Journey to the West, starring the most famous Chinese monkey – Sunwukong. It is about a Chinese monk’s quest for wisdom to collect some sacred texts from India. To protect him on this perilous journey, are three protectors who agree to help him as an atonement for their sins. These disciples are Sun Wukong, Zhu Wuneng and Sha Wujing, together with a dragon prince who acts as Xuanzang’s steed, a white horse.
Along the way they met many trials but eventually obtained the texts and these disciples rewarded for their actions.
Consider another beloved Japanese tale. Momotarō who came to Earth inside a giant peach, was found floating down a river by an old, childless woman. The couple named him Momotarō, from momo (peach) and tarō(eldest son in the family).
Years later, Momotarō left his parents to fight a band of demons on a distant island. En route, Momotarō met and befriended a talking dog, monkey and pheasant, who agreed to help him in his quest. At the island, Momotarō and his friends penetrated the demons’ fort and defeated the demons. Momotarō and his new friends returned home with the demons’ plundered treasure and lived comfortably thereafter. (Wiki)
Joseph Campbell, in his influential work, Hero with a thousand faces, noted that all myths seem to have a common structure. In his book, he describes a number of stages or steps along this journey. The hero starts in the ordinary world, and receives a call to enter an unusual world of strange powers and events (a call to adventure). If the hero accepts the call to enter this strange world, the hero must face tasks and trials (a road of trials), and may have to face these trials alone, or may have assistance. At its most intense, the hero must survive a severe challenge, often with help earned along the journey. If the hero survives, the hero may achieve a great gift (the goal or”boon”), which often results in the discovery of important self-knowledge. The hero must then decide whether to return with this boon (thereturn to the ordinary world), often facing challenges on the return journey. If the hero is successful in returning, the boon or gift may be used to improve the world (the application of the boon). Source: Wikipedia.
A fundamental difference then is who is responsible for the success? The hero individually or the group?
In collectivist cultures or group-focused cultures, people define themselves by affiliation with group, values and achievements. People look for consensus and group buy-in. The boy Momotarō succeeds, according to Solomon and Schell in their book “Managing across Cultures” , only with the help of the group. Not just his initiative or his ingenuity but his ability to enlist the community to cooperate in his success and the community’s well-being.
In collectivist cultures, seniority and years of experience are valued. Praising a young person in front of the rest will be the kiss of death as his/her in-group will surely put the person in place later.
I was told by a Japanese classmate from a top tier American management consulting firm, that Analysts, Associates and Partners carry different types of briefcases suitable for one’s rank even if the company policy is not to have the rank stated on the name card. Everyone knows their place and trained to detect the subtle nuances and signals.
Consider the Indian story of story of a group of blind men (or men in the dark) who touch an elephant to learn what it is like. Each one feels a different part, but only one part, such as the side or the tusk. They then compare notes and learn that they are in complete disagreement. (Wikipedia)
In his retelling of “The Elephant in the Dark”, Rumi uses this story as an example of the limits of individual perception. We need the wisdom of the collective.
In contrast, the stories from an individualist culture, where children are raised on stories of Superman and Spiderman where the hero acts independently, disregards the accepted way of doing things and saves people with his superhuman strength. What does he do when he’s low on energy or super stressed? Solomon and Schell pointedly noted that Superman goes off to his icy retreat where he’s isolated and gets strength by hiding away.
In individualistic culture, individual freedom and achievements are very important and rewarded. Does it influence hiring and reward practices? An individual is expected to state his or her own role and contributions.
Not surprisingly, then some cultures pay their CEO – superstar salary. The wisdom of one man can change the group’s performance. In the US for example, salary differences between the CEO and the lowest rank can be as high as 160 times. European cultures such as Nordic cultures surprisingly have less inequality and the difference in pay scale is about 50 to 10 times.
So you think that Hofstede’s Cultural dimensions shed some light on the different ways we make decisions and our hiring/ human resources practices?
Increasingly in some firms we see collaborative behavior being celebrated. In describing the platform put under his charge, New Google CEO Pichai said
“I have to think about building a platform and bringing as many people along on this journey and getting it right. I believe that ultimately, it’s a more powerful approach, but it’s a lot more stressful as well.”
Note that here I’m not trying to evaluate the benefit of group decision making over individual but to acknowledge the cultural difference. At times, collective decision making gives way to the danger of compromise and group think. Individual decision making can be divisive.
Before starting work in a new organisation or a new country, it’s interesting to note the national and organisational cultural differences in the way we tell the story of a hero’s journey.
Deal and Kennedy categorise 4 corporate cultures according to appetite for risk and speed of feedback:
- Tough Guy, Macho Culture
Individualists who frequently take high risks and receive quick feedback on the right or wrong of their actions. Financial stakes are high and focus on speed. The intense pressure and frenetic pace often results in early ‘burnout’. Internal competition and conflict are normal, stars are temperamental but tolerated. A high staff turnover can create difficulties in building a strong cohesive culture. Examples include trading floor, management consulting and the entertainment industry.
2. Work-hard/Play-hard Culture
Internal organisational environment characterised by fun and action, where employees take few risks, all with quick feedback. There is a high level of relatively low-risk activity. Organisations tend to be highly dynamic and centers on customers needs. It is the team who produce the volume, and the culture encourages games, meetings, promotions and conventions to help maintain motivation. However, although a lot gets done, volume can be at the expense of quality. Examples include mass consumer companies such as McDonald’s and retail industry.
3. Bet-your-company Culture
This type of culture sees large stake decisions with a high risk but slow feedback so that it may be years before employees know if decisions were successful. The focus is on the future and the importance of investing in it. There is a sense of deliberateness throughout the organisation typified by the ritual of the business meeting. There is a hierarchical system of authority with decision making from the top down. The culture leads to high-quality inventions and scientific breakthroughs, but moves only very slowly and is vulnerable to short-term fluctuations. Examples include oil companies, investment banks, architectural firms, and the military.
4. Process Culture
This is a low-risk, slow-feedback culture where employees find difficult in measuring what they do. The individual financial stakes are low and employees get very little feedback on their effectiveness. Their memos and reports seem to disappear into a void. Lack of feedback force employees to focus on how they do something, not what they do. People tend to develop a ‘cover-your-back’ mentality. Bureaucracy results with attention to trivial events, minor detail, formality and technical perfection. Process cultures can be effective when there is a need for order and predictability. Typical examples include banks, insurance companies, financial services, and the civil service.
Charles Handy uses another typology to describe culture.
Handy uses the analogy of a spider’s web to depict a power culture. It is typified by an absence of bureaucracy and few rules and procedures. Control is exercised from a central power base (the spider), radiating influence through key individuals. They are political organisations with decisions taken largely on the basis of influence.
Strong organisational “pillars” such as functions, specialisation, rules and procedures. The work of, and interaction between, the pillars is controlled by procedures and rules, and coordinated by a small band of managers. Role or job description is often more important than the individual and position is the main source of power.
Such cultures, viewed by Handy as clusters, focus on individuals. The organisation exists to serve the purposes of the individuals within it; the organisation itself is secondary to individual self-fulfilment. When a group of people decide that it is in their own interests to band together to do their own thing and share office space, equipment or support staff, then the resulting organisation would be a person culture.
Examples of person culture are groups of barristers, architects, doctors or consultants. Such a culture is attractive to many people who would like to operate as ‘free agents’ within the security of an organisation.
This is not always possible and conflict often arises when individuals attempt to operate according to a person culture within an organisation that is essentially a role culture. Such as an academic focusing on goaIs of personal research within a university, increasingly operating as a classic role culture.
Different people enjoy working in different types of organisation culture and they are more likely to be satisfied and happy at work if their attributes and personalities are consistent with the culture of that part of the organisation in which they are employed.