Université de Nantes, UFR de Langues
Intercultural Communication for Business Purposes (ICBP)
Online Version Part 3
Fons Trompenaars & Charles Hampden-Turner
NB: See handout for further information.
The Four Corporate Cultures. The guided Missile The family The Eiffel The incubator
Tower They vary along two dimensions, they are more or less equalitarian or hierarchical
and more or less oriented to person or to task. This does not mean that a culture that gives
priority to task does not care about the people who perform the task, nor that a hierarchical
structure will not give equal chances to individuals through exams, for example.
Again, the question is not to avoid stereotypes, but to go beyond superficial impressions.
The incubator : typical of Silicon Valley, is both person oriented and egalitarian. It is highly
creative, incubating new ideas. Equalitarian: anyone, at any moment, regardless of status, may
come up with a winning idea. Person oriented: the tasks necessary to making and distributing
these new products are not yet defined.
The guided Missile : equalitarian, task oriented culture => there is a multidisciplinary
project, and the team work aims at bringing it to a successful end. Equalitarian: they take the
people whose expertise is needed to solve their problems. Ex: NASA: it took over 100
disciplines in science and engineering to land on the moon. The relative contribution of each
one had to be negotiated among equals. The only boss was the task.
The family : the oldest form. On global scale, there are more family-owned companies than
any other kind, but we are speaking of family culture, not legal ownership. It is hierarchical:
the gap between “parents” = owners and “children” = employees is wide. The boss may be
respected or feared. He ( he’s often a he) considers his employees as members of his family,
whose burdens he carries. // Japanese corporations. MITI, the formidable Japanese
government bureaucracy is even nicknamed “worried Auntie”
Personal oriented: who you are is more important than what you do. Family members may not
be fully professional. Insiders have advantages over outsiders. Such cultures are often warm,
intimate and friendly, but not always very efficient. Creativity cannot be inherited.
The Eiffel Tower : (described by Max Weber) => Frederick Winslow Taylor & H. Ford. It
does precise, detailed and routine tasks without errors. Everyone has a precise job description
(fixing a mirror to a succession of automobiles on an assembly line) and strict orders come
from the top, telling workers what to do, when and at what pace. Workers are seen as a pair of
hands, extensions of big machines far more expensive than they are, obeying the orders of a
superior intelligence. The culture is stable, predictable, safe, routine and reliable.
We do not really like the rigidity, formality, bureaucracy mechanisation of the Effel Tower.
Pb with the family culture: informality, paternalism, organic relations. Not really affectionate:
personal power and arbitrary decisions.
Incubating companies are attractive: individualism, idealism, imagination. But very high
failure rate, and precarious profitability: most new start ups fail. Over-socialisation and group
think on the other end can also be dangerous : difficulty to reframe issues and revise tasks.
We will go as mad as Taylor ( at night a machine pressed a cool wet towel upon his forehead,
he slept tied by a harness to a tilting bed => he wanted “scientific sleep” – over_control) if we
go to one extreme. The art of creating a viable corporate culture is to reconcile those contrasts
See p 32-33
The best management style depends on the culture of your company.
The guided Missile: meeting team objectives and group goals
The family : fulfilling your obligations to colleagues
The Eiffel Tower : fulfilling your job description as specified in advance
The incubator : sharing excitement with fellow innovators
The guided Missile: teams help to constitute and define knowledge that will guide the
The family : powerful personalities get their way in family discussions/ Your role as founder
or relation to founder.
The Eiffel Tower : attribute of your formal position
The incubator: we deal with ideas whose time has come
The guided Missile: the team shares a mission that they will bring to success
The family : we are held together by trust, long affinity and empathy
The Eiffel Tower : we are held together by common subordination to a boss or expert.
The incubator : we were there when the discovery was made!
Authority and control
The guided Missile: if the problem is solved, that is your authority: the spacecraft reached
the moon, you were right in your calculations, late deliveries were divided by two.
The family : social pressures by deeply respected persons: you are persuaded, often
The Eiffel Tower : strict rules and procedures exists and legitimate authority enforces this.
Actions are out of order or orderly.
The incubator : the authority belongs to the science or discipline you are using to innovate.
The guided Missile: effectiveness
The family : harmony
The Eiffel Tower : efficiency and cost reductions
The incubator : innovation
The guided Missile: being professional and producing the desired results.
The family : high levels of social influence exercised for the benefit of the company and its
The Eiffel Tower : a new system of order by which that culture is structured and disciplined.
The incubator : personal creativity and genius
What consequences does this have on the type of people you recruit and the way you deal
If you want to attract, retain and motivate talent
The guided Missile: want to forge team solutions => group effectiveness is vital
The family : loyalty, sociability, diplomacy, and being a trusted insider are vital.
The Eiffel Tower : job description and precisely qualified job holders are the key
The incubator : need people in search of personal creativity and self development.
How do you reward staff?
The guided Missile: raise the esteem of fellow team members: being loved and admired by
close colleagues may be the strongest reward on earth.
The family : gives you deep respect, personal recognition and very special attention from
people you admire.
The Eiffel Tower : you get external (cash) incentives for exceeding set standards
The incubator : joy of creating and celebration of discovering new phenomena
The guided Missile: a symbol of team success and the achievement of its members
The family : partly symbolic, a token of respect, a way of caring
The Eiffel Tower : compensation for work you would not do otherwise
The incubator : used to facilitate innovative activities
An organisation learns by using all four quadrants, even where one culture dominates. If
incubation is not connected to the efficient manufacture and marketing of finished products
and services, it will lack the profits necessary to sustain its creativity.
See p 40
Example of quality circles => they punctuate routine production with guided missile
deliberations. Routine work can take on an important new meaning provided employees are
testing new ideas and reorganisations of their own workplace.
It is even possible to incubate new ideas in Quality Circles and discover their validity by
trying these out in the factory or the office the following day.
Having an Eiffel Tower organisation does not stop employees from thinking, discovering and
learning as W. Edwards Demings shows: his sequence of act- plan – implement- check has
become a standard of Total Quality Management.
Variation of corporate cultures across the world
See graph p 41
National cultures vary considerably on their relative preference for the four cultures.
An example: pay for performance (see handout)
Seems very logical and fair, but in practice does not succeed. It is an Eiffel tower concept.
Based on the idea that top management knows what the job involves, and what the employee
deserves. Management withholds a portion of the employee’s pay until after the task has been
performed. If the task has not been quite satisfactory, then the pay for that period will be less.
This runs into immediate difficulties in the family system where motivation and rewards are
intrinsic, not extrinsic. You are not paid to be a good parent. Children given money incentives
for fastening their seat belts stopped doing so when the incentive stopped: from a family point
of view, their lives are precious in themselves, and the incentive trivialized this. What should
a nurse get for holding the hand of a dying teenager whose auto has crashed, and then for
breaking the news to his parents? 50$ or a T-Shirt with a heart on it? Are not many jobs their
own rewards? Are we all just waiting for tips?
It fails utterly in the incubator culture as it is anti creative in its influence. Research shows
that when employees are given money incentive for doing certain tasks, they choose the
easiest and avoid the difficult ones. It is the hard jobs that most need innovation, and when
innovation occurs, it may not be rewarded. How can it be? What if the innovation is worth
millions and you pay §100? The innovator is likely to feel worse than if paid nothing.
People quarrel over pay for performance in the guided missile culture, because you have
singled out the individual and ignored the team.
Retail clerks who sell too much will have their receipt books stolen by co-workers or be
otherwise punished. What is the point of making leaders out of high performers who are
disliked by their peers because they received money that others helped them earn?
This concept does not work in three out of four corporate cultures. You can imagine what a
mess different national cultures could make of it.A tool like this, often believed to be neutral,
proves disastrous in certain cultures.
The Italian Employee of the month called in sick rather than show her face to the people who
made her reward possible. The rewards used in tasks oriented cultures fail in person oriented
cultures. Why should I be paid for my performance when I owe all my success to the support
of my family, especially my warm, inspiring teacher and boss? Is it not insulting to him and
all my wonderful colleagues to pretend I did everything by myself? How embarrassing to be
elected Employee of the Month when my team has done so much to help and sustain me! “I
think I will call in sick”
In conclusion, cultures are living systems that resist being changed except by those who know
their underlying logic. Each of the four corporate cultures we have studied have something to
learn from the three others.
Universalism is essential because the more people desire a product, the more it will sell: the
world is our ultimate market Particularism is essential because a unique relationship to a
special customer is irreplaceable and has no real competitor. Both will fail without the other.
It takes more than a lifetime to truly appreciate a culture different from your own. Surface
knowledge is not enough.
Intercultural parameters and business communication
Marketing and Intercultural knowledge
It is essential for the global marketer to understand the cultural dynamics in the market place.
Our perception of market needs is blocked by our own cultural experience.
Not being able to take cultural differences into account is called “cultural arrogance” and
leads to marketing blunders.
Basic aspects of culture
1 It is learned/ acquired
2 The various elements of culture are interrelated
3 It is shared by the members of a group and define what/who belongs and what/ who does
not belong to the group.
The importance of universals
= a mode of behaviour existing in all cultures
for the marketer to standardise product design or communication
the development of means of communication has prompted the disappearance of many
differences in national tastes or modes of doing business
Impact of cultural differences
In international negotiations, the global marketer faces counterparts from various cultural
background. He might bring his cultural ethnocentrism to the negotiation table, and try to use
the negotiation strategies that are effective in his own country. However, they might not be as
effective with people of a different culture.
2 Industrial products
Cultural factors are important as different conventions regarding specifications vary
internationally. This must be taken into account when working out a marketing plan.
3 Consumer products
They are even more sensitive to cultural differences than industrial products, food being the
most sensitive of all.
The nation = social, economic, cultural group
Building an enduring business relationship is essential for the international business person.
Be sensitive to other ways of :
to be able to deal effectively with:
Two key words: understand and evaluate.