Supporting Details for The Impact of National Cultural Factors on the Effectiveness of Process Improvement Methods: The Third Dimension - ASQ

Supporting Details for The Impact of National Cultural Factors on the Effectiveness of Process Improvement Methods: The Third Dimension


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A value system is the deepest of four layers of culture considered in social anthropology. Layers and dimensions of national, organizational, and other group cultures have been identified by thorough scientific research. Layers of national culture from the most superficial to the deepest are briefly summarized here (Hofstede 1994):

  • Symbols: Words, gestures, pictures, or objects that carry a particular meaning that is only recognized by those who share the culture.
  • Heroes: Persons, alive or dead, real or imaginary, who possess characteristics that are highly prized in a culture, and who thus serve as models for behavior.
  • Rituals: Collective activities technically superfluous in reaching desired ends, however socially essential.
  • Values: Broad tendencies to prefer certain states of affairs to others.

The first three layers are visible to outside observers; their cultural meaning, however, is invisible. The fourth layer, that is values are acquired so early in people's lives, that they remain for the most part unconscious. Therefore, they are not normally discussed, nor can outsiders normally directly observe them.

To illustrate the impact of value systems on views about the right management of organizations that are the subjects of process improvement, the authors refer to (Hofstede 1994) lining-up four distinguished scholars from France, Germany, the United States, and China. The authors first observe the differences in their value systems reflected by their views. They then briefly present Hofstede's model of national cultures, which they validate on its power in predicting the previously observed differences. The authors examine the impact of national cultural value systems on the effectiveness of process improvement models in general and on Capability Maturity Model IntegrationSM (CMMI) in particular, whose continuous representation is compatible with the ISO/IEC 15504 Software Process Improvement and Capability dEtermination (SPICE) model. The authors propose a third cultural dimension in addition to the process and capability dimensions of the existing models. Finally, they observe the generic practices of CMMI from the cultural dimension.

It is obvious that the effectiveness of process improvement methods is also influenced by organizational culture. Nevertheless, the focus of this article is on national culture.


Henri Fayol

Henri Fayol (1841-1925) was a French engineer. His key work was Administration Industrielle et Generale, 1916. He belongs to the classical school of management theory and was writing and exploring administration and work. The following quotation is from (Fayol 1916) translated by Hofstede (1994):

"We distinguish in a manager his statutory authority which is in the office, and his personal authority which consists of his intelligence, his knowledge, his experience, his moral values, his leadership, his service record, etc. For a good manager, personal authority is the indispensable complement to statutory authority."

It is clear that in Fayol's value system a person is a good manager if his power is both accepted by people and formally assigned by its organization.

Max Weber

Max Weber (1864-1920) was a German sociologist. He was the first to observe and write on the bureaucracy that developed in Germany during the 19th century. He considered it to be efficient, rational, and honest, a big improvement over the haphazard administration it replaced. A quotation from (Weber 1921):

"The authority to give the commands required for the discharge of duties should be exercised in a stable way. It is strictly delimited by rules concerning the coercive means... which may be placed at the disposal of officials."

In Weber's value system the management of an organization is good if it is strictly governed by rules. This is the original meaning of bureaucracy without the negative sense attached to it nowadays.

Mary Parker Follett

Mary Parker Follett (1868-1933) was a U. S. pioneer of organization theory. In the 1920s, her comments and writing on leadership, power, law of the situation, conflict integration and circular behavior, empowerment, teams, and networked organizations, importance of relationships within and among organizations, authority, control, and so on were way ahead of her time. She writes (Metcalf and Urwick 1940):

"How can we avoid the two extremes: too great bossism in giving orders, and practically no orders given?... My solution is to depersonalize the giving of orders to unite all concerned in a study of the situation, to discover the law of the situation and to obey that.... One person should not give orders to another person but both should agree to take their orders from the situation."
According to Follett an organization is well managed if it is governed by neither accepted nor formal power but the market situation in today's terms.

Dr. Sun Yat-sen

Dr. Sun Yat-sen (1866-1925) was a revolutionary ahead of his time. He devoted his life to bringing democracy to China. He extensively studied the political systems of European countries and America in formulating the Three Principles of the People: Nationalism, Democracy, and Social Well-Being. After failing on several attempts to unite the people to revolt, Sun finally succeeded with the Wuch'ang Uprising on October 10, 1911, leading to the successful overthrow of the Ch'ing government and the establishment of the Republic of China.

Sun was a contemporary of the other scholars even if he did not address industrial but political organizations. The government structure of Taiwan builds on his ideas integrating the western separation of executive, legislative, and juridical powers with the Chinese tradition by making all of these dependent on the president, and adding an examination and a control power supposed to audit the government.

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