As a business educator and trainer, I’m often asked how I adjust training for employees of different cultures. I wanted to share my response with you as an example of how effective training begins and ends with knowing your audience.

First, I refer people to a website that communicates cultural dimension scores for different countries. Here is an academic article I wrote to explain the dimensions to Organizational Development practitioners:

Geert Hofstede defined five cultural dimensions, or aspects of culture that can be compared between countries (Hofstede, 2009). With a firm understanding of the dimensions, an OD practitioner is better armed to craft the most effective intervention across borders.

Power Distance (PDI):
The comfort in the level of inequality between employee and leadership. In some cultures, as in American culture, employees are expected to offer their ideas and solutions to problems (med-low power distance). Other countries, with higher power distance, expect the significant power in “the boss” toward subordinates. This power distance is expected and accepted without question in high power distance countries like those in West Africa.

Individualism (IDV):
This dimension has to do with the connection an individual has with communities and other groups. Are decisions made to shine alone or to further the needs of a family or other organization? A country with a high individualism score, like the U.S., prize individual contribution and advancement. To appeal to countries with low individualism scores, like Ecuador (8), make connections to the interests of the community and the organization as a whole.

Training research

Masculinity (MAS):
Understand a culture’s adherence to traditional male and female roles with the Masculinity score. In countries that score high on this index, the man is the traditional provider. Low masculinity scores, however, have gender role lines that are more free-flowing.

Uncertainty Avoidance (UAI):
Countries with high scores in the uncertainty avoidance index minimize conflict, confrontation, and unpredictability. Turning a company upside down in the name of change is not the way to champion OD in countries like Belgium. In the U.S., on the other hand, with med-low uncertainty avoidance innovation and new system processes produce less anxiety and are often encouraged.

Long Term Orientation (LTO):
Cultures with a long-term orientation observe long-standing traditions and value, vs. those that are more short term. People in countries will high long-term orientation scores value perseverance and commitment from employees. Short-term oriented cultures are more willing to rewrite the rules of doing business.

Understanding the combination of scores from these dimensions give OD professionals more cultural sensitivity when addressing interventions and communication about change with businesses and employees from other cultures.

Hofstede, G. (2009). Dimensionalizing cultures: The Hofstede model in context. Online Readings in Psychology and Culture. Retrieved from

Let’s turn this theory into practice:

If I were to plan training including people from Brazil, I’d first research the scores of that country compared to the U.S.

USA         40    91    62     46     29
Brazil      69    38    49     76   65

According to the information above, Brazil has more power distance, is far more collaborative than individual, has a more masculine identity, experiences more discomfort with uncertainty, and is more long-term oriented.

Effective training begins and ends with knowing your audience.

The steps I’d take:

  • I would start my training with more time to get to know each other than I would training with all American employees. There would be time to eat and drink together.
  • Given my learning brand has interactivity at its core, I would have more group work and use more examples that relate to family and the community.
  • As a female trainer, I would ask for examples from the employees of their expertise. I typically use this tool, and it’s particularly effective in higher masculinity countries.
  • I’d set out the plan clearly and allow for more discussion of data, something that can be viewed objectively vs. using ethical dilemmas or debate type structures.
  • Finally, I’d refer to company values, traditions, and history to appeal to both cultural audience’s sense of long-term purpose.

This example is an illustration of face to face, or in-classroom, training. Next week, I’ll translate the changes in learning design that fosters intercultural integration through online learning.

How do you adjust your training to be more effective with employees from multiple cultures?

Let’s learn together.


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