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Updated: Mar 25, 2021

12 Dimensions of Culture, #11

Accountability is the eleventh of the 12 Dimensions of Culture that KnowledgeWorkx uses to map out the intercultural terrain. If you haven't already, you should read our article introducing the 12 Dimensions.

Individual vs. Community accountability and its effect on work relationships and performance management.

This dimension is possibly the best known of the cultural dimensions, and has been documented extensively especially through the work of Geert Hofstede. It is a significant dimension, with a huge cultural impact on the workplace.

You may have heard of this dimension as Individual and Community Orientation, but we use the term “Accountability” because it gets closer to the core of what the dimension means for the workplace.

Community Accountability

In a strong community accountability setting, you would tend to feel accountable first and foremost to your family, tribe, group of clans, or the nation that you come from. Collective achievement is extremely important. Your parents and teachers would likely have raised you to evaluate every situation in terms of the good of the family or even the larger community. The word “obligation” tends to be used more often in a community accountability settings than it would be in individual accountability settings.

In a community accountability setting you are given permission to try things, but only if it serves the community or family as a whole. The word “self” in the language of the society is often seen as neutral at best, or negative at worst, whereas in individual accountability settings it is often seen as positive.

Individual Accountability

If you come from society with a strong individual accountability culture, your parents would likely have raised you to pursue your “own” path, and to try to discover things “for yourself.” You feel first and foremost accountable to yourself for your opinions, your growth, life direction, and career. Individual accountability cultures often carry a sense of individual freedom and the idea that you are given permission to try things that do not necessarily benefit the community if you think they will benefit you.

Accountability in Performance Management

Most performance management systems in the world have been designed in the context of individual accountability cultures with the assumption that people have an individual accountability mindset. This is an issue as soon as individual accountability performance management systems are deployed in community accountability cultures.

If you are working in a community accountability culture, do you still use purely individual measures, or do you try to measure the sales team as a whole in some way? We have found that accountability performance mechanism in community accountability cultures work best when they consider interpersonal qualities in the work, rather than just the work itself. That means you would try to measure not just how much revenue the team brought in, but also how much they worked together to generate new accounts.

Work in a Community Accountability Setting can be more Relationship Oriented

Very often in individual accountability cultures turnover rates shoot up when the working environment gets toxic. So another community accountability measure could be that you hold the manager and his or her team responsible so that if the team collectively drops their turnover rate, their measured performance increases.

The “togetherness” of the team is extremely important in community accountability cultures, and as a result building social capital is emphasized and work is more relationally centered. In individual accountability cultures work can be more task oriented, especially in the short term.

For example, in an individual accountability culture you would be more likely to hear someone say, “It’s the task that’s important. Liking my colleagues is not necessary a priority.” Even in individual accountability cultures good relationships are extremely important for long term performance, but in community accountability cultures people will more often to flat out refuse to work together with someone that they don’t have a good relationship with. If you put these staff members together with people who have an attitude of, “check your emotions at the door and just get the job done,” then you are in for a clash.

In the most extreme cases, applying a performance management system that was developed in an individual accountability culture can decrease performance. In one example, financial services company would lease a high-class luxury vehicle for salespeople that outperformed their highest performance targets. This worked well in all of the individual accountability countries they tried it in. However in the community accountability culture none of the sales staff wanted to over-achieve if that meant receiving commissions and bonuses beyond what their manager got, and no one wanted to drive the vehicle that was offered because it was a more prestigious vehicle than the one their manager drove. In response, the sales staff purposely underachieved in order to ensure they would not run the risk of getting rewards that were inappropriate in their community accountability setting.

Performance management is one of the most visible areas where knowledge of the Accountability dimension of culture is vital, but there are others areas, including social capital and relationships in the workplace, which are also affected by this dimension. Measuring your employees along the accountability is crucial to avoid expensive mistakes.

To begin your culture learning journey, Contact us or get our mini-ebook: Inter-Cultural Intelligence: from surviving to thriving in the global space.


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