By  on May 7, 2007

Every U.S. company that goes global knows it needs to be wary of cultural barriers and sensitive to cultural demands, especially when it comes to managing local employees and building a cohesive business overseas. But what each country's "culture" is, exactly, is tougher to define.

Findings of the Global Leadership and Organizational Behavior Effectiveness research program compiled by 150 academic researchers, may be helpful. The project studied 62 societies and described nine universal practices and expectations that defined each culture. Companies should study this data as they launch their businesses abroad, advised Mary Sully de Luque, assistant professor of management at the Thunderbird School of Global Management in Arizona, which tool part in the project.

"U.S. companies need to evaluate their own corporate culture and determine if they are really central to their core values, or if they are just procedures," said Sully de Luque. "Because if it's just procedure, they can adapt much better to the culture of the society they are entering."

Here are the nine dimensions of culture identified by the GLOBE project:

PERFORMANCE ORIENTATION

This is a measure of how much a culture rewards accomplishment. In the U.S., for example, which has a high performance orientation, businesses emphasize training, development and performance excellence. In Greece, however, family history and background are more valuable.

ASSERTIVENESS

This covers how assertive and confrontational people are in relation to others. Executives in the U.S. are expected to be highly assertive and competitive, while in less assertive countries such as Sweden, businesses value harmonious relationships and loyalty.

FUTURE ORIENTATION

This reflects the extent to which individuals and businesses plan for and invest in the future. Businesses in high future-oriented cultures such as Singapore are more systematic and risk-averse, while those in less future-oriented cultures, such as Russia and Argentina, are more opportunistic in their business decisions.

HUMANE ORIENTATION

This is a measure of how much a culture rewards altruism and fairness among groups. Businesses in Egypt and Malaysia encourage altruism, while others, such as in France and Germany, make it less of a priority.INSTITUTIONAL COLLECTIVISM

This describes the extent to which cultures

encourage group action and distribution of resources. In highly collective countries such as Sweden, businesses reward group performance, while

organizations in more individualistic countries such as Brazil emphasize individual achievement.

FAMILY COLLECTIVISM

This is a measure of the degree to which individuals express loyalty to their families and organizations. In highly collective countries such as Russia, employees take a great deal of pride in their employers.

GENDER EGALITARIANISM

This reflects how a culture treats people based on gender. In European countries that are very highly egalitarian, businesses encourage tolerance and diversity of ideas, while in male-dominated societies such as South Korea, leaders will be men.

UNCERTAINTY AVOIDANCE

This is an indication of how much a culture relies on procedures to avoid uncertainty. In countries that have a high desire to avoid uncertainty, such as Singapore, businesses will have more elaborate processes and organizations in place, whereas in lower-avoidance cultures, such as Russia, business have broader strategies and are more opportunistic.

POWER DISTANCE

This describes a culture's expectations about distribution of power. A high power distance culture, such as Thailand, France and many developing countries, will have businesses with a strict hierarchy and a clear authority figure, while companies in Scandinavian countries, that have low power distances, will provide more communication and access for their employees.

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