His Masters Voice

Ravi Shastri it is. The three wise men of Indian cricket had decided that Ravi Shastri is a better cultural fit as a coach to Indian team than Anil Kumble. In the corporate world ex-COO of Flipkart, Nitin Seth has filed a case against his former employer. The reason given for Nitin’s sacking was ‘he is not fitting with the culture of Flipkart’. Outside of religion and private life, what is the culture that we talk about? We spend more time with strangers than with our own family. How does this work culture affect our way of work?

On August 6, 1997 Korean Air Flight 801 crashed into the hills around the airport in Guam, a United States territory killing 228 of the 254 passengers & crew. Investigations confirmed that it was a pilot error. The flight engineers and first officer warned the Captain about the landing path but he over ruled them causing the crash. Later analysis revealed that it was not just technical or individual error but at the heart of it was the culture of Korea and Korean Air. Can culture of a country or an organization hurt to such extent?

In the year, 1965 Greet Hofstede founded the personnel research department in IBM. Between 1971 and 1973, he conducted a survey among 117,000 IBM employees from various subsidiaries located across the world of this multi-national. The study was to find out about national values differences among the employees in different countries from which he constructed a theory about culture. His theory is one of the first that tried to explain the observed differences between cultures. From the study, Hofstede developed six dimensions of national cultures. Power Distance Index (PDI), Individualism vs. Collectivism (IDV), Uncertainty avoidance index (UAI), Masculinity vs. femininity (MAS), Long-term orientation vs. short-term orientation (LTO), Indulgence vs. restraint (IND).

The most potent of these dimensions is the Power Distance Index. Wikipedia defines PDI “the extent to which the less powerful members of organizations and institutions (like the family) accept and expect that power is distributed unequally.” Simply put what is the ‘distance’ between the boss and the subordinate or parent and child in any given culture. Many countries have been given scores on these indexes. For example, Austria has a PDI of 11, USA 40, Pakistan 55 and Malaysia 104. India’s score is 77. South Korea’s score is 60.

Simply put, higher the PDI, the lower level member in the chain accepts the fact to treat the higher-level member with reverence. The boss in Malaysia, India and South Korea is not someone whom you disagree with! He is the mai-baap, the benevolent dictator. That is what Kapil Sharma reportedly told his team during the in-famous flight back from Australia.

Reading the second dimension Individualism vs. Collectivism (IDV) along with PDI, the entire culture takes a new dimension. I, me, myself score is low in Malaysia at 26 whereas the PDI is 104. That is, an employee in Malaysia is fully subservient to the institution, boss and the system. In USA, the IDV score is 91 wherein each American is free to pursue his dream and pull himself up the society’s strata. The IDV of India is 48. We are for ourselves to the extent that our boss and the system permits us!

Now let us try applying this to the two scenarios – Virat Kohli/Kumble and Korean Air. In Korean Air disaster, though the first officer knew what the Captain was doing wrong he just informed him but did not warn, stop or protest about it. If the first officer were an American, he would have probably slapped the Captain to make him see the facts and take the right action.

Though we do not know what exactly happened in Virat/Kumble episode, one can harbor a guess. Virat is clearly an alpha male (dominant) with a higher than 48 IDV score and lower than 77 PDI score. Being older, Kumble must be from the higher PDI school, who believed that being the senior and boss his word should be final because that is what he practiced in his playing days. Virat has low PDI and high IDV. Kumble high PDI and low IDV. Adding up of Virat’s score and Kumble score resulted in a net zero!

Many more factors determine our response within a cultural set-up. I am not a sociologist to dissect it more professionally and it would be interesting to read the observations of one.

A parting thought. What is the reason for success of Indians outside India especially USA? High PDI that makes them acceptable as an immigrant but with high IDV that drives them to achieve more? Is it our culture or our systems – traditions, caste, reservations, corruption, bureaucracy etc. that is stopping us (suppressing our IDV) to achieve more?

Regards,

Kamesh

 

 

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