A recent 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 posts discusses the use of Professor Geert Hofstede’s Cultural Dimensions as a means of identifying training cultural mismatches. Previously, we covered the Power Distance Index (PDI) – this post is about Individualism.

The Individualism Distance Index (IDV) provides a measure of the degree to which people think of themselves first as individuals and then as part of a group. The US and UK are countries with high individualism in which focus on self and immediate family causes IDV to be their dominant Cultural Dimension. Conversely, Asia and the Arab World have very low IDV dimensions, because they place high importance on the group. In these high Collectivism cultures, group members willingly sacrifice their individual goals for the good of the group.

We use Cultural Dimensions as part of our Intercultural Suitability Review that identifies potential problem areas prior to the investment of time and money for translation. IDV mismatch was identified in a recent project for a multinational South Korean (IDV = 15) manufacturing company for use by their UK (IDV = 90) based sales team. We suggested the display of each individual’s scores in the UK Learning module in order to motivate each trainee to do his or her best. While this form of competition is common and effective in high IDV cultures, it would typically be avoided in locations like South Korea where the culture is to judge the group as a whole. Our suggestion was accepted and feedback on the program has been positive.

Potential culture related training program issues can be identified by first determining whether there are Cultural Dimension mismatches between the source and target cultures. Then:

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

Next week will cover the Uncertainty Cultural Dimension.