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Learn the Four Cultural Orientations Towards Work

Updated on July 2, 2012

The Four Cultural Orientations Towards Work

People's attitudes towards work are culturally influenced. There are four cultural orientations towards work. What type are you?

Action-oriented. People of this type prefer to focus on concrete actions. They are not interested in how things work, but in the fact that they work. They go for tangible and visible results. They "shoot from the hip," have a guess and check, trial and error style, and they deal well with failure.

Process-oriented. In contrast to action-oriented people, those who are process-oriented are context based. They like to know all the subtleties and details. They do not turn directly to the business ahead. They avoid mistakes, and don't deal well with failure because so much thought has been put into finally acting.

Task-oriented. To a task-oriented person, one's relationship with others is defined by one's task. This person tends to be individualistic, and communicates and discusses things very directly. They always make it clear where they stand. They also have a sense of rights- such as the right to have information, or give negative feedback.

Role-oriented. Those who are role-oriented like clear roles on the team. They stay in their place and "do their part." They are disciplined, and duty-oriented; they fulfill their roles, and are accountable. Interestingly, they do better anonymously in a group, rather than singled out as individuals. They are motivated to be part of a team. A high score on role behavior correlates with a preference for ascribed authority.

Based on the descriptions above, see if you can MATCH THE ORIENTATION TO THE CULTURE in the quiz below.

What are the Cultural Orientations by Geographic Area?

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Application/ Example 1: Management Strategy and Work Culture Orientation

Knowing someone's orientation can help determine management strategies. For example, "employee of the month" is an action-oriented idea and motivator. When the employee of the month gets his or her name up on a board or a picture on the wall, this is a clear, concrete indication of his or her progress or accomplishment. For a person who is action-oriented, this is an effective strategy because it lets them know how they are doing and how close they are to reaching their goal. Another example is a performance board where monthly sales numbers from everyone on the team are shared, and the top performer is given a prize or recognized.

While this works well with those with an action orientation, people of other orientations may find this problematic. For example, a process-oriented person may think it is unfair because there are factors that affected the outcome. They may argue that the winner was given access to better leads, or achieved the results in an unethical way. A role-oriented person, who likes to work together and be more cooperative, may have mixed feelings about being employee of the month because they don't want to stick out. They may feel nervous or anxious when their name is up there even while they recognize that it is an accomplishment that is supposed to make them feel good.

In this way it's possible to see how a person's cultural attitude towards work can affect how well they do within a system. They may do better in a system that matches their style better.

Application/ Example 2: How Deals are Made

Another way that cultural attitudes towards work have an effect is in the way that business is conducted. Task-orientation can be perceived as bluntness by others. A person of a task-focused culture may arrange a short meeting and want to go simply and directly to the business at hand. A process-oriented person from a Latin country would typically want to discuss other topics before turning to the business ahead. It may not even be addressed at that first meeting, but after the next or the next.


None of these systems or orientations are inherently "right" or "wrong." They all evolved as ways of doing things within a certain culture. And these ways work. The problem occurs when cultures collide-- the task-oriented person's criticism can be taken as personal antipathy (not liking you) when really, the task-oriented person doesn't consider any feelings of personal sympathy or antipathy when working on a common task. The action-oriented person only focuses on what's visible. They can seem too black & white, and to oversimplify and only value results. The process-oriented person focuses on the invisible and intangible-- and can seem unclear and to waste time!

If people make the error of taking their own style as the standard and assign moral values (good and bad, right and wrong) to what is actually a different and equally valid culture, they miss out on the advantages of diversity. Just as these orientations can be clearly at odds with each other, if aligned and used in the right way they can yield tremendous results. Diversity makes it possible for people to bring different perspectives to teams, and is especially valuable in fostering creativity and innovation.

Article Source: The Cultural Advantage

Cultural Advantage: The New Model for Succeeding with Global Teams
Cultural Advantage: The New Model for Succeeding with Global Teams

The model of four cultures summarized in this article is the main paradigm presented in A Cultural Advantage: A New Model for Succeeding with Global Teams by Mijnd Huijser.



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