What’s your culture’s PDI?

The power-distance index, or PDI, is part of Hofstede’s cultural dimensions theory, one of the first attempts to measure the differences among national cultures.

This index measures how much the general population accepts or challenges a hierarchy of power or wealth.

A high index indicates that hierarchies are present, followed, and unchallenged. A high index does not necessarily imply a totalitarian or autocratic government regime; it can also show high regard for other hierarchical structures, like family, where power relationships are paternalistic.

In a work environment, this index correlates directly with management styles. Higher indexes, employees are more respectful and submissive towards their superiors. Also, higher indexes indicate that managers are more likely to give orders to their subordinates rather than involving them in some decision-making.

Now, here’s something to look at. The following graphic compares PDIs for Mexico, Canada, the USA, and India.


Canada and the USA have similar PDIs, no surprises there. Scoring 39 and 40 respectively on this dimension, their national culture is marked by interdependence among its members, and equality is valued. You’ll find a lack of overt status or class distinctions. Hierarchy in their organizations is established for convenience, where superiors are always accessible, and managers rely on individual employees and teams for their expertise and decision-making.

Surprisingly, Mexico has a higher PDI than India. Not so surprising that both score 81 and 77, respectively, however, with some subtle differences. Both are hierarchical societies.

For Mexico, this means that people accept a hierarchy in which everybody has a place and needs no further justification. Hierarchy in an organization reflects inherent inequalities, centralization is common (government too), subordinates expect to be told what to do, and an ideal boss is, in reality, a benevolent autocrat.

For India, people are dependent on the boss or the power holder for direction. There’s an acceptance of unequal rights between the power-privileged and those who are lesser down in the cast order. In the workplace, immediate superiors are accessible, but the more layers above, the less so. Leaders are paternalistic, and managers give reason and meaning to their subordinates’ life and give rewards in exchange for their loyalty. Managers count on the obedience of the members of their teams.

To put all of this in a practical example, an American manager will expect that their Indian team members will speak up if they have an opinion or raise concerns. A culturally untrained Indian team member will wait to be explicitly asked to give their views.

The usual reminder: please consider these, like many other elements of a cultural intelligence report, are generalizations, and members of a given culture can have different degrees of compliance with the behaviors described for this dimension.

Have you seen, in your professional quests, these PDI behaviors?

Oh! I almost forgot: this is a clue to solve the mystery of the Canadian businessman traveling to China.

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