A recent American Society for Training & Development (ASTD) survey indicated that failure to consider intercultural differences is one of the reasons that 72% of multinational companies were not satisfied with their global training initiatives. This series of Quick Takes will discuss the use of Professor Geert Hofstede’s research on Cultural Dimensions as a means of identifying mismatches and opportunities in training delivery. Previously we’ve covered some of Professor Hofstede’s other cultural dimensions. This Quick Take discusses the Long Term Orientation versus Short Term Normative Orientation dimension (LTO).

This dimension focuses on the connection between a country’s association with its past and its current activity and the challenges it faces. The dimension is also called Pragmatic versus Normative (PRA) in some contexts. A national culture with a lower rating on this index maintains its connectedness with its past traditions and holds steadfastness in high regard. These cultures tend to view change with suspicion, and to choose the normative instead. A country with a higher rating in this index tends to encourage pragmatic innovation and adaptation. These cultures see modern education as a necessity for future success.

For a developing nation, a lower LTO, with more connectedness to its past than looking forward to its future growth, tends to lead to economic stagnation. Most developing countries with a high LTO rating show fast economic growth up to a level of prosperity. The emphasis on time-honored traditions and norms in lower LTO cultures often shows itself through a more religious or church-going society.

It is important to understand the difference between “pragmatic” and “practical” when understanding this trait. In a country such as the United States, which has a relatively low rating of 26 in the LTO dimension and is considered a “normative” culture, new information is generally analyzed and evaluated for truth, making the culture not very pragmatic. But, another cultural trait—the American “can do” attitude—leads to practical decisions made in business practice.

The LTO dimension was added to the list of cultural dimensions more recently than the ones which have already been explored in our quick takes. Therefore, there is less extensive research and fewer countries are represented in the results. However, it would certainly be a factor for various countries working globally.

For example, the LTO cultural dimension would be a factor in a project for a South Korean company working in Latin America. South Korea has an LTO rating of 100, meaning their primary goal in business is not short term profit but long term sustainability. The developing Latin American nations tend to have quite low ratings on the LTO dimension and build their business practices on what has worked before with very little thought toward the long term. While the Latin American countries place great value on tradition, there is very little push to save for the future or prepare for the next generation. This cultural trait would be seen as short-sighted by the South Korean company and could cause conflict.

When countries with high and low LTO ratings interact in a business context, it is important to consider these differences:

  • High LTO cultures value thrift, effort, and responsibility to obligations, while low LTO cultures instead have strong convictions and emphasize rights and values.
  • People in high LTO cultures are more likely to ask “What” and “How” than to ask “Why.”
  • Individuals from a high LTO culture may be more willing to compromise, even if it is not easy for an outsider to read the culture and see that willingness. Individuals from a low LTO culture are less willing to compromise, as it may be seen as a sign of weakness.
  • People in low LTO cultures tend to oversell themselves and their abilities, whereas high LTO cultures tend toward modesty. This may cause conflict when people from lower LTO cultures inadvertently set expectations higher than they are able to meet.

 

The final post in this series, next week, will cover the Indulgence vs. Restraint cultural dimension. Stay tuned!