Geert Hofstede's categorisation of cultural values that differ from country to country have formed the basis for many efficient multicultural cooperation and communication strategies around the world. It has originally been developed by Hofstede during his long-standing work at IBM, where his role included devising strategies that helped multicultural teams work together. He realized that even simple actions and reactions of people from another culture can be completely different. The difference in the interpretation of actions had dramatic differences across cultures, too. Hofstede defined five cultural dimensions: Power Distance Index, Individualism, Masculinity, Uncertainty Avoidance and Long Term Orientation. During this study, he also created a matrix for different countries, whereby he could quantify how strongly a nation scored on each dimension. By understanding these values, Hofstede thought that we could communicate more efficiently and also avoid misunderstandings stemming from cultural differences. If you are preparing to take on a managerial role in Brazil, understanding these differences can help you become successful and popular in your new team.
Hofstede's dimension: Power Distance Index (PDI). How centralised is power in an organisation? How easily do less-powerful members in an organisation accept and expect power to be distributed unequally among individuals? Hofstede found that countries with a low PDI have consultative domestic politics, whilst a high PDI index correlates positively with corruption and bribery. PDI describes the way people perceive power differences and acknowledge distance from power and decision making. Hofstede classifies Brazil with a high score on the PDI index (69 out of 100).
My tips for this area: #1 Decision making: In some cases, contribution to decision-making process is fairly limited, and done by a select group of high-ranking officials. It is unlikely that a leader would approach the decision-making process with a consultative approach. The strategic planning process is unlikely to change as a result to input from lower levels. By paying more attention to fresh, inspiring ideas coming from the grassroots levels, additional organisational values could be obtained, however, this is fairly problematic, as managers are expected to live up to the expectations of being the ones holding the ultimate power. They are more likely to be accepted if they display authoritative, assertive communication styles. Asking for consensus and input from others can be interpreted a sign of weakness or incompetence.
#2 Flash your cash: To emphasise your status, surround yourself with expensive status objects such as huge wristwatches (for women, too!), pens, gadgets and branded personal items. If you can, get your monograms sewn into a tailored shirt; this creates credibility. As a leader, you will likely be evaluated based on how much noise you make; this will turn people in your team enthusiastic.
#3 Manage people: With such a strong impact as a manager, make sure that you are bringing a positive, encouraging voice to your team. Do use your potential as the one in power and give shiny feedback to your people as much as you can, in front of others. However, if you have to, be tough and show them clearly where the barriers are. By having a firm stand as the one in absolute charge, you will be able to marshal your employees towards achieving the set targets and they will be supporting you at full strength.
#4 Knowledge transfer: Information is power, so the sharing process tends to be centralized and selective. This can not only create duplicate work processes, but could also cause strategic changes to seem abrupt and unplanned at times. For the vast majority of the employees, there is a limited insight to the strategic planning process. Due to the autocratic leadership style and strict economy with the truth, coworkers seem to have the impression that there is a great distance between them and their managers, which might hold them back from making decisions alone, or be afraid of making mistakes. This in turn has a limiting effect on the internal learning potential of the organisation and more importantly, succession planning.
Hofstede's dimension: Individualism. The degree to which individuals are integrated into groups in an organisation. How strong is the prevailing relationship between the individual and the collective in a given culture? Are people more self-interested, or interested in the well-being of the team? Hofstede correlated a high score in individualism with the mobility between social classes and the national equal distribution of wealth. Basically, as a country gets richer, the individualism score goes up. Hofstede classifies Brazil as low in the individualism scale (38 out of 100).
My tips for this area: #5 Cooperating: In Brazil people are defined by their collective. People place the team's interests above and beyond their own interests. Belonging to the team requires high tolerance levels and minimal complaint. There is a certain stigma associated with working independently or not taking part of collective events such as lunches or happy hours. Rituals, like saying good morning to everyone followed by a kiss and a hug in the morning or having a chat with everyone in the team tend to be extremely important for the well-being of the community. Spend as much time as possible with chit-chatting, making jokes and contributing to the well-being of the collective. Don't write e-mails, pick up the phone or go and talk to people in person.
#6 Achieving objectives: It is best to avoid cutting to the chase and talking business too soon either with employees or with clients. Also, don't emphasise individual goals or targets to your team members. Concentrate on team targets. Get used to the fact that teams work for themselves and not using the synergies of different individuals. In fact, accentuating employees’ strengths and development areas can be regarded as weird and unnecessary, as this would in turn draw attention to individual differences. As a result, employees tend to be less aware of their strong and weak points, which in turn can make them harder to judge where they stand from a professional/technical perspective.
Hofstede's dimension: Masculinity. Masculine cultures reward assertiveness, materialism, and ambition. They tend to be more competitive, and gender roles are more emphasised. Feminine cultures value the quality of life and equal treatment, the achievement of personal development, and sharing. Hofstede classifies Brazil average on the Masculinity Index (49/100) .
My tips for this area: #7 Assertiveness: Don't be humble, as this is an unknown personality trait in Brazil. Self-depreciation is never a good idea; even obvious understatements are taken verbatim. Avoid apologizing. Be confident, do not start sentences as "It's not my area of expertise, but..." and such, because your team will take your words seriously. Managers are proud of their expertise and their unquestionable insight to all matters. Coworkers tend not to challenge or question managers at all; conflict is best avoided. If conflict occurs, offenders might risk receiving the silent treatment and withdrawal from the other team members.
#8 Work-life balance: Face time in the office is important, especially in São Paulo. Long working hours equal being there for the team and being available for decision making. Managers do not have fixed working hours, so they are expected to be around and available 24/7. On the happy side, a manager's job always includes socialising with the team after work hours for a drink or two!
#9 Gender differences: Are existent. There are still very few female managers in Brazil with real decision making power.
Hofstede's dimension: Uncertainty avoidance. The extent to which people feel threatened by ambiguous situations. In more emotional cultures, there is a tendency to create rules so that people have a good predictive validity of the future results their actions will yield. In cultures where uncertainty avoidance is low, people feel more comfortable with unstructured situations and try to have as few rules as possible. In Catholic countries such as Brazil, this value tends to be high (76/100).
My tips for this area: #10 Give instructions: Be consistent in giving detailed instructions when people approach you with questions. Delegate tasks rather than authority; this will allow you to steer control, and your team will be more comfortable to defer decision making to you as their leader. Clear leadership is necessary to achieve organisational objectives.
#11 Understand rules as a manager: Brazil is a highly bureaucratic country, with changes in regulations almost every day. The labour-market regulations are very rigid and favour the employee in almost all situations. Make sure that you have a trusted advisor who talks you through the rules.
Hofstede's dimension: Long Term Orientation. The extent to which a society shows a pragmatic, future-oriented perspective, rather than a short-term point of view. Brazil scores high on the Long Term Orientation Index (65/100) as the only non-Asian society with such high scores.
My tip for this area: #12 Accept change. Respect the 'jeitinho': the way Brazilians always find a way out from a tricky situation. This is part of the process and last minute changes are more the rule than the exception.
Cultural differences are more often sources of conflict than synergies, so understanding differences can minimise misunderstandings. Also, surviving and being appreciated in a foreign culture is a very rewarding and enriching experience, so it is worth the hard work. However, be mindful of the fact that Hofstede's method is used to prepare organisations to move abroad and operate in a different setting. We are talking about cultural differences and not defining individual personalities. Read more about Hofstede's cultural dimensions and compare different cultures to each other here.
Reference: Geert Hofstede, Culture’s Consequences: Comparing Values, Behaviors, Institutions, and Organizations Across Nations. Second Edition, Thousand Oaks CA: Sage Publications, 2001