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«Data are presented showing how middle managers in 47 countries report handling eight specific work events. The data are used to test the ability of ...»

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Data are presented showing how middle managers in 47 countries report handling eight specific work

events. The data are used to test the ability of cultural value dimensions derived from the work of Hofstede,

Trompenaars, and Schwartz to predict the specific sources of guidance on which managers rely. Focusing on

sources of guidance is expected to provide a more precise basis than do generalized measures of values for understanding the behaviors that prevail within different cultures. Values are strongly predictive of reliance on those sources of guidance that are relevant to vertical relationships within organizations. However, values are less successful in predicting reliance on peers and on more tacit sources of guidance. Explaining national differences in these neglected aspects of organizational processes will require greater sensitivity to the culture-specific contexts within which they occur.



A 47-Nation Study


University of Sussex


Florida Atlantic University


The Hebrew University of Jerusalem with



–  –  –

which individualist or autonomous values are dominant and cultures in which collectivist or hierarchical and embeddedness values are prevalent, together with their associated sets of self-concepts and behaviors. Additional value dimensions with potential for illuminating cultural difference have until recently proved less influential (Smith & Schwartz, 1997).

Some theorists conceptualize culture as defined by shared meanings assigned by culture members to things and persons around them. A definition of this type would include Hofstede’s (1980) much-cited phrase, the “collective programming of the mind.” Others assert that culture entails not just shared interpretations of behaviors but also actual differences in behavior. For instance, Herskovits (1948) favored the much broader conceptualization captured by the phrase “the man-made part of the environment.” The attraction of values as the basis for conceptualizing culture is that they can be expressed in a decontextualized manner. Respondents can be asked to report their values without the need to specify what actions might be entailed by adherence to these values given particular circumstances. Individual reports of values can then be used as indirect indicators of the cultural values that prevail across the many contexts to which people are exposed in their life within a society (Schwartz, 1999). In contrast, behaviors are always enacted within a defined context, and this context will help to define one of various possible meanings to those who are active in that context. The contextualized quality of behaviors poses problems for anyone who wants to draw practical implications from characterizations of cultures in terms of values. To see why particular behaviors prevail in a given culture, we need to understand better how generalized values are linked to specific actions.

This article tests the proposition that prevailing values lead culture members in organizations to rely on particular sources of guidance in making sense of what happens around them.

Sources of guidance are more contextualized than are values, but they are less contextualized than specific behaviors. We assume, but do not directly test, a second proposition, which is that reliance on particular sources of guidance will influence the types of actual behavior that then occur. To illustrate this line of reasoning, we can expect that in a culture where hierarchical values are endorsed, many organizational employees will consult their superiors frequently. The actual behaviors found within organizations in such a culture will probably reflect both prevailing values and the frequency of consulting one’s boss. However, consultation with the boss is likely to be more strongly predictive than prevailing values, because there is a closer and more contextualized linkage between consulting the boss and specific behaviors than there is between


values and behavior. We next consider and evaluate existing studies that have tested for direct linkages between values and behavior without reference to intervening constructs such as sources of guidance.


Researchers have quite frequently tested culture-level associations between value dimensions and behaviors. For instance, Hofstede (2001) reviewed several hundred studies that have shown significant links between one or another of his four (now five) dimensions and the frequencies of various attitudes, values, and behaviors. However, there are two problems that serve to limit the strength of the conclusions that can be drawn from these studies. First, the number of cultures sampled is typically rather small. To yield results that are convincing, culture-level studies must include an adequately representative range of currently existing nations. The equation by many researchers of nation states with cultures is also likely to prove a rather crude simplification. Nonetheless, the major existing studies of cultural values do rely on this definition, and this study necessarily therefore does likewise. Among the 355


significant culture-level correlations that Hofstede (2001) reported between his measures of cultural values and culture-level indices from other published studies, just 27 drew on data from 30 or more nations. Among these 27 studies, the only ones that come near to sampling the frequency of specific behaviors are those that focused on student competitiveness, perceived frequency of corruption, and levels of political violence. Country-level studies that tap other dimensions of values in many nations also report few correlations with behavior frequencies (Sagiv & Schwartz, 2000; Smith, Dugan, & Trompenaars, 1996). Thus, there is a dearth of studies that adequately test systematic, theoretically grounded relations between cultural values and behaviors across a sample of cultures that is sufficiently broad as to include the major sources of global variation within modern societies.

The second problem has to do with defining and classifying behaviors when they are studied cross-culturally. A behavior that may be unambiguously defined in one social context may be defined quite differently in other cultures. For example, people in collectivist or embedded cultures are found to distinguish more sharply between behavior directed to ingroup versus out-group members than do people in individualist or autonomous cultures (Smith & Bond, 1998). Among the business managers sampled in this study, work associates such as one’s superior and subordinates are very likely to be seen as in-group members in all cultures, whereas those in less directly adjacent roles may not be. Most probably, they will be seen as in-group members in some cultures and out-group members in others. So the inclusion of data from many nations, each with its own social logic, is crucial to providing valid tests of linkages between values, sources of guidance, and behaviors.

At the same time, the prospects for successful tests of linkage between values and behavior will diminish as the number of cultures sampled increases. With more cultures included, it becomes more likely that the meanings of specific behaviors will vary. Although broadly defined behaviors such as leadership, participation, and teamwork are widely assumed to have equivalent meaning in different cultural contexts, individual-level studies cast doubt on this assumption. Within nations where more collectivist values prevail, meanings are found to be more contextualized. For instance, Erez and Earley (1987) showed that responses to Israeli leaders’ use of group participation varied much more widely depending on the type of group involved than did responses to U.S. leaders’. Earley (1993) found that among managers in China and Israel but not the United States, in-group versus out-group status affected both the magnitude and the direction of social loafing effects. Misumi’s (1985; Misumi & Peterson, 1985) extensive program of research into leadership in Japan was built around the notion that the best way to express universal functions of leadership depends on the specific organizational context in which the leader is operating. Sinha (1995) contrasted U.S. and Indian organizations. He argued that the former can maintain some separation between their distinctive organizational culture and their local environment. The latter are “embedded within their cultural milieu,” so that Indian leaders are necessarily more context bound and reactive.

Until very recently, few non-American leadership studies have included more than a handful of nations (Dorfman, 1996). Studies with limited sampling cannot in themselves establish that leadership behavior is more context dependent in collectivist than in individualist cultures. Nonetheless, cumulatively, they do support the claim that leaders attend more to context in collectivist than in individualist cultures. Even among 22 nations within Europe, consistent differences in effective leader behaviors are found (Brodbeck, Frese, et al., 2000). Culture-general exploration of value-behavior linkages therefore requires measures that are relatively nonspecific. It is for this reason that the present project focuses on sources of guidance rather than on more specific behaviors.



Our goal is thus to test whether culture-level differences in values can predict the typical sources of guidance on which managers rely in handling a series of what we call work events.

A work event is an occurrence impinging on the awareness of an organization member (Peterson, 1998; Rentsch, 1990). All events require interpretation before a manager can determine the best way to handle them. The handling of many routine events is quickly or even nonconsciously determined through cognitive scripts or programmed decision processes. Other events require the manager’s sustained and direct attention and complex interpretation. By this analysis, a central element in any manager’s effectiveness is the ability to influence how the event is treated and thereby to shape the occurrence of future events.

In handling work events, managers operate within a context of alternative sources of guidance, many of which extend beyond the individual (Peterson & Smith, 2000; Smith & Peterson, 1988). For an individual manager, these can include interpretive structures such as memories, thoughts, and understandings to which new events can be connected. They can also include the viewpoints on events that a manager expects would be taken, for instance, by a boss, staff persons, a particular subordinate, or a friend. Furthermore, they can include viewpoints perceived to prevail in society in general, due to government, a particular religion, or traditional value systems. As well as drawing on these internalized representations, managers will interact with others and refer to documents to check what guidance these might offer.

Earlier studies explored self-reported reliance by managers in the United States, China, Hong Kong, Japan, and the United Kingdom on a variety of possible sources of guidance (Peterson, Elliott, Bliese, & Radford, 1996; Peterson, Smith, Misumi, & Bond, 1990; Smith, Peterson & Wang, 1996). The salience of 11 different sources that had arisen from discussions with colleagues in these and other nations was surveyed. Variations were found across countries and across event type. The specific sources used also predicted evaluated performance in different countries (Peterson, Radford, Savage, & Hama, 1994; Smith, Peterson, & Misumi, 1994). However, these studies sampled too few countries to discern which cultural values are associated with reliance on what sources.

These initial studies suggested that potential sources of guidance within an organization can be divided into three main categories: (a) the individual’s own expertise, based on prior experience and training; (b) social sources—typically superiors, subordinates, specialists, and coworkers; and (c) impersonal sources—formal rules and informal or tacit organizational norms. In addition, (d) beliefs that are widespread in a nation as to what is right, such as those based on religion or ideology, may also prove influential. Organizations typically provide formal recognition of some of these sources by establishing supervisory relationships and by creating various sorts of work groups and teams in an attempt to encourage managers to use them. The eight sources indicated under headings (a) to (d) in this paragraph are the ones on which this study was focused. They were selected on the basis of prior literature (Peterson & Smith, 2000) and the expectation that they would be among the most frequent sources in a wide variety of cultural contexts. They combine the personal sources traditionally studied in role theory (Kahn, Wolfe, Quinn, Snoek, & Rosenthal, 1964) with other sources such as organizational norms and national rules and norms that are addressed within institutional theory in sociology (DiMaggio & Powell, 1991).

Possible relations between the sources of guidance discussed abstractly above and the values that may prevail in different cultures can be illustrated more concretely with reference


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