Power Distance – Dimensions of Culture

October 22, 2012

By Steve Mezak

Culture has an immense impact on outsourcing software development around the world. However, there are more obstacles than being able to speak the native language and master the appropriate greetings. There are several major dimensions of culture, one of which is referred to as the Power Distance Index (PDI). It is essential that you are aware of how PDI in particular affects your outsourced development team.

Geert Hofstede, who wrote the book “Cultures and Organizations – Software of the Mind,” conducted research, in the effort to improve management processes and communication. He looked closely at the differences between people at work in various global locations, establishing the aforementioned dimensions of culture. The PDI is the dimension that is most closely linked to outsourcing global software development, and it is defined as the extent to which the less powerful members of institutions and organizations within a country expect and accept that power is distributed unequally. Institutions are the basic elements of society, such as the family, the school and the community; organizations are the places where people work.

America lies somewhere in the middle of the PDI, in which there is some respect for management. Russia is at the top of this index at a 93, with no questioning of authority, while Great Britain is towards the bottom at a 35, where people are generally considered equals. Whether a country is low or high on the PDI is of great concern in respect to outsourcing, and it is important to know. Malcolm Gladwell’s book, “Outliers,” discusses the potential problems.

Members of high PDI cultures have difficulty questioning or receiving clarification from clients. Regardless of an obvious mistake or concern, the team will go forward with whatever plan has been laid out. The other hurdle with high PDI programmers is that they feel awkward collaborating with each other in the presence of a manager or client. Therefore, a halt is put on productivity as teams hesitate to mention any challenges they have faced. Members of low PDI programmers will do the contrary by deciding that they know what is best, ignoring any direction from the client. It is crucial to the success of outsource programming that balance is achieved.

Culture is certainly a factor that should be considered when outsourcing, but Power Distance can also vary from company to company. Countries that lie in the middle of the PDI, such as the United States, are likely to have more variations. One company may treat people as equal professionals, with a collateral type of decision-making, whereas other companies may be controlled entirely by a single person.

Of course, PDI is only one dimension to consider when outsourcing a software development team. Individualism (IDV), Masculinity (MAS), Uncertainty Avoidance Index (UAI), Long Term Orientation (LTO) and the recent addition of Indulgence versus Self-Restraint are all factors that could possibly be applied to outsourcing. Power Distance specifically is very important knowledge for your outsourcing team. An awareness of the emotional distance that separates subordinates from their bosses can aid in establishing the best possible working relationship.


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