BOSS blog 7 by Gert Jan Hofstede
White rhino versus tiger
As a child, I asked my father which was stronger, a white rhino or a tiger. Vexingly, I never got a direct answer. Today, students ask me which is stronger, national or organizational culture. I give them a question in return: “Which is stronger, the climate or the weather?”
Weather versus climate
The weather is a composite of things happening around you today: wind, precipitation, sunshine, temperature. It is very useful to know the weather if you want to dress up for going outside. Knowing the climate, on the other hand, is not directly useful here and now; we might be having an unusual day. Knowing the climate helps with wider-range things, e.g. predicting plant and animal life, or how to build infrastructure that will last.
National versus organizational culture
National culture is like the climate of our country: millions live in it, and it is part of the shared environment that they take for granted and see as normal. Organizational culture is more like the weather on a foreign trip: we notice it, it forces us to adapt, we ask ourselves and others whether it is always like this.
We are born and raised in our national culture. It shapes our unconscious, shared values, and we internalise it as normal. We join organizations after reaching puberty, and they can never change our values. Organizations do not need rituals around food, life and death, birth and sex; they have rituals about making a living. Those rituals are anchored in the national cultures of the founders.
What organizations can do, and countries cannot, is to fire us. Countries can enforce practices on us, on pain of ostracism or imprisonment; organizations can do so on pain of firing. What you can do to an organization is quit; you can never quit your national culture, although you can emigrate and try to fit in elsewhere.
As with weather and climate, there is a gliding scale. If you follow the weather for long enough, you start to sense the climate. An organization with strong social cohesion will develop some shared values, and attract new members with compatible values. At the other side of the division, some national cultures could be so recent that they feel more like organizational cultures, or they could be regionally determined.
White rhino versus tiger again
Anyway, you get the message. Which is stronger, a white rhino or a tiger? No knowing. They live in different parts of the world.