Culture is generally accepted to mean the totality of a people’s way of life. Hofstede Insights (n.d.) defined culture as “the collective programming of the mind distinguishing the members of one group or category of people from others.” He formulated the six dimensions of national culture that evaluate countries with respect to Power Distance, Individualism, Masculinity, Uncertainty Avoidance, Long Term Orientation, and Indulgence.
Power Distance: this recognises the reality of the inequalities in life and affirms the acceptance by the less privileged in any society, including institutions and organisations, that power is distributed unequally. This is in tandem with the saying that “all fingers are not equal”. With respect to Nigeria, the country’s high score of 80% indicates that Nigeria is a society where people accept the supremacy of hierarchies. Everybody knows his/her place on the ladder of life, and this needs no contesting. In the workplace, employees defer to bosses, centralisation of power is the norm and while subordinates take instructions on what is expected of them, the boss carries on as the “benevolent autocrat”.
Individualism: this refers to the extent to which the members of a society interdepend on one another. Specifically, this dimension x-rays whether people see themselves as stand-alone individuals or as an integral/inseparable part of the community. While in individualistic societies people basically focus on themselves and their immediate families, collectivist societies are group-oriented. Nigeria’s 30% score in this dimension, makes the country a collectivist society where long-term commitments to groups such as family, extended family, or other extended relationships are highly valued. Loyalty is prioritised above most of the other societal norms as strong relationships that literally mandate everyone to take responsibility of fellow members of the groups foster. In an office environment, the employee-employer relationship is conducted like family connection while decisions regarding hiring and promotions are done with cognizance of employee in-groups.
Masculinity: a society can be masculine with high drives for competition, achievement, and success. This value system is inculcated early in life at the school level and sustained throughout working life. On the other hand, a feminine society is driven by soft values like caring for others and the quality of life which is accepted as the sign of success. There is no pride in standing out from the crowd. In masculine societies, people compete to be the best while in feminine societies, it is all about liking what you do. Nigeria’s score in this dimension is 60% which qualifies it as a masculine society.
Uncertainty Avoidance: this refers to the degree to which societies treat the future and the many unknowns that are associated with it. What will tomorrow bring? Because this uncertainty comes with anxiety and fear, societies have devised differing means of coping such as beliefs and institutions. Nigeria has a score of 55% in this domain, making it difficult to clearly classify to any preference.
Long Term Orientation: this refers to the way a society deals with the challenges of the present and future in relation to its past. Some societies are normative i.e. maintain traditions and norms and are very suspicious of change in society. A more pragmatic society, on the other hand, is thrifty and sees modern education as insurance for the future. Nigeria scored low (13%) on this dimension. This makes the country a normative society where there is a strong concern for the establishment of Absolute Truth, great respect for traditions, a comparatively small propensity to save for the rainy day, as well as a tendency to focus on quick, short-term results.
Indulgence: this dimension evaluates the degree to which societies attempt to control their desires and impulses as influenced by beliefs, habits, etc. which were inculcated from childhood. Where the control is relatively weak, the people are referred to as “indulgent” while a relatively strong control is associated with societies with “restraint”, i.e. “restrained” society. Nigeria has a very high score (84%) in this dimension, making the national culture one of Indulgence, which implies that Nigerians generally display a willingness to satisfy their desires and impulses regarding the enjoyment of life and fun-seeking. They are generally optimistic people and have a positive attitude to life. These come with great importance attached to leisure time, and the people “act as they please and spend money as they wish”.
It has, however, been observed that Hofstede’s research focused on culture at the national level which does not adequately address the peculiarities of countries that have several ethnic nationalities and sub-cultures like Nigeria.
In the next episode, we shall examine how multicultural organsations deal with the diverse cultural backgrounds which their employees bring to the workplace. The diversity inherent in the multiplicity of national cultures of the employees that make up multicultural/multinational organisations poses a major risk to organisational objectives. As a result, there needs to be an organisational culture that unifies and unites the workforce in order to achieve stated objectives. Else, the workplace will be another “Tower of Babel”.
Dr Ebereonwu is Country Communication Manager for Total companies in Nigeria (both Upstream and Downstream). He holds a PhD in International Business Management.