OPINION: The Role of Cultural Value Dimensions in Emerging Markets

cultural value dimensinos march 2020 nicole barile opinion Mar 16, 2020

by Nicole Barile

The future of work has been a hot topic for several years now, but what exactly is it, and what does it mean for you and your organization? 

The future of work can mean different things to different people, but most agree the focal point is technology’s impact on the way we work. New technologies have led to an increase in hiring remote talent from around the world, creating a rise in multicultural teams and organizations. An estimated 258 million people are living and working outside of their home country, and that number will continue to grow year after year. As the world becomes more and more interconnected, we must include culture in the future of work conversations. In addition, if you are a consultant working with organizations that have clients, suppliers, and colleagues from around the globe, you need to prepare their  workforce with the appropriate intercultural skills for success.

As companies expand their reach into other markets, more often than not they find themselves working with emerging market countries (EMCs). The term emerging markets was coined in the 1980s by then World Bank economist Antoine van Agtmael and is used to describe countries that are in a transitional phase between developing and developed status. The Morgan Stanley Capital International (MSCI), FTSE Group, and the Economist each slightly differ in their EMC lists, and, as you might imagine, these lists are constantly changing. For my purposes here, I chose the countries that all three sources have in common, resulting in a total of 31 emerging market countries. These countries are: Argentina, Brazil, Chile, China (mainland), Colombia, Czech Republic, Egypt, Hong Kong, Hungary, India, Indonesia, Iran, Israel, Jordan, Malaysia, Mexico, Morocco, Pakistan, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, South Africa, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, Tunisia, Turkey, and Vietnam.  

When preparing individuals and teams to work internationally, most companies still concentrate on the dos and don’ts of working across borders without ever mentioning cultural values. While some programs advise their learners to respect other cultures and be open to differences, few offer in-depth intercultural information which would enable people to fully understand the cultures they are dealing with, and in turn, help them be more successful.  

There is a great need to understand EMCs and their values as an increasing number of Western companies expand into countries such as Brazil, Russia, India, and China  (also known as the BRIC countries).  Although there are studies on value dimensions of individual emerging market countries, few, if any studies exist that look at cultural values of emerging markets as a group in order to see what correlations and patterns may exist. I’ve drawn from the research of Hall, Kluckhohn and Strodtbeck, Trompenaars and Hampden-Turner, and most notably, Hofstede, all of whom conducted research on values and cultural value dimensions to examine the ways in which values underlie behavior and culture. 

When looking at cultural value dimensions and their relationship to EMCs, strong patterns and correlations emerged.  It becomes evident that EMCs have similar values across several dimensions, meaning that one can generalize that many, and in some cases, most EMCs share similar values. Here are the patterns that emerge when examining all 31 countries:

  • 70% of EMCs are polychronic (as opposed to monochronic) - they see time as flexible and fluid
  • 78% of EMCs are high-context (as opposed to low-context) - they prefer a more indirect, nuanced communication style
  • 70% of EMCs are relationship-oriented (as opposed to transactional cultures) - they need trust to be established before accomplishing tasks 
  • 70.9% of EMCs are harmony-oriented (as opposed to confrontational cultures)  - they prefer to keep the peace and avoid uncomfortable situations for themselves and others
  • 67.7% of EMC are situational (as opposed to rule-based cultures) - they believe circumstances determine action and tend to bend the rules when needed
  • 58.06% of EMCs are hierarchical (as opposed to egalitarian cultures) - they respect authority and are less likely to challenge higher-ups

The value preferences for the United States and other Western countries (England, Germany, Canada) are generally the exact opposite of the values of the EMCs.  For example, when the EMC countries score high for collectivism, the US scores high for individualism; when the EMC countries score high for hierarchy, Sweden scores high for egalitarianism.  

So what do these differences mean for Westerners working with EMCs? Foremost, the findings above demonstrate that cultural value dimensions clearly do play an important role in doing business with EMCs. Going a step further, learning about cultural values are central to conducting business internationally. The focus needs to be on why people behave the way they do in preparation for working across cultures. EMCs share common value preferences in almost every category, and an understanding of these similarities, and their differences to the West, will help researchers and businesspeople alike succeed in the global arena.