Comparison and Criticism


* Comparison and Criticism

Hofstede’s aim was to evaluate work values, while Trompenaars & Hampden-Turner’s questionnaires inquired into respondents’ preferred behaviour in a number of both work and leisure situations. What both studies have in common is that in both questionnaires the focus is on the ultimate goal state, and that the underlying values, the underwater part of the culture iceberg, are derived from a series of questions about more outer layers of the “culture onion”, closer to the top of iceberg.

Trompenaars’s system appears focus-oriented; it speaks a lot about what is on people’s minds and what is in their sight, it speaks about the logical organization and framework of their behaviour (specific vs. diffuse, internal vs. external control, universalism vs. particularism) and relationships (individualism vs. collectivism; achievement vs. ascription; neutral vs. affective). Hofstede, on the other hand describes some of values present in people and finally affecting their behavior. The difference therefore is that Trompenaars’s investigation lies on the surface of the investigation of the person’s culture, showing exactly the choice and manner in which the actions are planned and handled, while Hofstede tries to go in the very deep of culture layers and lets us make our own forecasts of people’s behavior based on the knowledge of the hidden part of iceberg. .

Taking a closer look into the comparison between the dimensions themselves, we can notice similarities between the two theories.

One of these is the closeness between the notions of collectivism vs. individualism of Hofstede and communitarianism vs. individualism of Trompenaars. For a marketer, from our point of view, there is close no difference which index to use.

There is some degree of similarity in Hofstede’s power distance index and achievement vs. ascription. One values the accepted degree of high class/low class lifestyle and secondary characteristics difference, while the other measures the motivation of the low class to move higher. A marketer can infer that customers are better evaluated with the high power distance index in relation of selling status-emphasizing products (like luxury brands), while Trompenaars’s index is better used when selling low cost practical business tools (like cheap PDAs). We would advise to use the two indices together as they complement each other.

Long-term vs. short-term orientation index of Hofstede has got something in common with the past/present/future orientation of Trompenaars. That is in the way, how i.e. short-term oriented cultures will show the same tendency to be populist, tradition-oriented as the past- and present-oriented cultures.

After taking a look into evaluations of different cultures one can find that the results, obtained by the two theories are often counter logical. German corporate culture is hierarchical, as is claimed by Trompenaars in his studies. Whereas Hofstede identifies Germany as relatively low in terms of Power Distance.

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These differences in the approach attracted some serious criticism over the years. One of the most prominent points often criticized is Hofstede perception of culture as a static characteristic of societies and their representatives. This approach does not take into the account the cultural drift that can easily be observed as the time passes by. As a vivid example, one can take the comparison between, say, the UK of the Victorian age and the Post Second World War UK and just try to assess the Power Distance Indices. Apparently, over this period of time people’s behavior has altered enough to allow a society with a lot lower power distance, the expressions of which found their way in the art of the time as well as in the politics (Rise of the Labor Party in 1945-1951) – people of lower class were have become conscious to demand equality in these dimensions with the former unapproachable higher class, the expression of wealth and power and respect to it have decreased, as well as PDI. Similar drift patterns can now be observed today in some of the underdeveloped countries, like Mexico, where former strong collectivist communities are dissolving, as their member become more individualistic, pushed by their desire to be successful in the new highly commercialized society. The same can be said about political influence on the culture (transition from Communist to Capitalist values). In other words it is easily observable that through time cultures evolve. Therefore the estimations for indices are slowly becoming outdated. Hofstede was later pushed by this evidence to regularly update his Index database, still retorting that cultural evolution is a very slow process. However the problem that may be hard to identify is actually not the quantitative, but rather the qualitative obsolescence of the framework itself, that will sooner or later present itself. I.e. what was reasonable and precise description in the 1970s can be an incomplete, flawed and vague characterization for 2010, and even more so for future.

That is however just one of the many debatable things. Among the others are:

1. Question interpretation of the surveyed, i.e. will the question really be a precise way to determine the culture, as the culture and personality may directly affect the way the question is translated and thus produce errors in the resulting evaluation.

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2. Researchers’ background diminishes the completeness of cultural description and offers one-sided look at the problem. This way it would be preferable for marketers to have a marketer, not a manager, to make the proper evaluations framework, which would be more suited for marketing decision making.

3. Ignoring the ethnic group and communities’ presence, national culture fragmentation. Just saying that Germany has low UAC index may totally confuse the policymaker, as this does not differ between East, West and especially Turkish communities. Moreover, a study carried out only in only one company (Hofstede) cannot give an outlook on the entire cultural system of a country.


As described in this paper, there are several approaches to the classification of the cultures of different nations. The ones that were observed closely here are Geert Hofstede’s and Fons Trompenaars’s classifications, so-called cultural dimensions. These, as shown have a number of things in common and many differences as well. Thus, a marketer has to make a decision, which part of which study is to be used to develop a successful strategy. However there is little doubt that some way of adapting the strategy to the local culture is to be used. We may live in a globalized enviroment, however, so far there is no mundial culture and different clusters of people, whether they are separated geographically, historically or socially; some may choose one product instead of the other because of their culture and values. All of that is to be taken into consideration. And there are so far not many standartised approaches to the culture evaluations, other than Hofstede’s and Trompenaars’s, which economise time and enable the creation of a consolidated strategy in approach to culture. It is not surprising that some of the companies nowadays are already fully involved in applying these methods in their decision making, and the amount of them will inevitably grow as the studies of the theories are being held in many Universities and Business Schools, from wich the future excecutives will come.

However one has to rememember, that both these method are quite controversial and obviously imperfect, therefore we should learn learn to use the questionnaires and the databases responsibly. Only in this way can they provide precise, trustworhy and calculated assistance to people learning to work effectively in other countries.

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