A recent ASTD survey indicated that failure to consider intercultural differences is one of the reasons that 72% of multinational companies surveyed were not satisfied with their global training initiatives. This post covers the use of Power Distance Index (PDI), one of Professor Geert Hofstede’s Five Cultural Dimensions, to identify and address training cultural mismatches.

The PDI provides a measure of the equality of worker and supervisor or teacher and student. Low PDI countries like the US and Sweden have low barriers with teacher and supervisors in many cases acting as coaches. High PDI countries like China and India are hierarchical with little questioning of instructions handed down by those in power.

Foreign languages exacerbate the PDI issue because the courseware developer can’t review the final product. For example, we recently localized US developed courseware for Brazil and Germany. As part of our service we provided a cultural compatibility review and identified a role playing exercise as something that would be effective in Germany where the PDI is even lower than the US (35 vs 40). We suggested several changes in the exercise for the version to be used in Brazil where the culture is more hierarchical and the PDI is 69. These changes were adopted and specifically checked for suitability during the initial courseware usage. Over 90% of the initial trainees rated the program as either good or outstanding.


Three steps to PDI based training improvements:

  1. Determine whether there is a mismatch between the PDI of the source and target cultures.
  2. If there is a mismatch, first ensure that the process being taught is compatible with the target culture.
  3. Then check to make sure that the courseware and instruction are within the framework of how members of the target culture learn.

Next week, we will take a look at the Individualism Cultural Dimension.