Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Useful Frames For Communicators

I love to design, and I want to challenge and be challenged by other designers (as suggested by my previous blog). This is one of the reasons I love being at Rightpoint, where my colleagues are authors and builders. I have noticed, however, that the best designers are also great communicators, and I would like to share some communication models that have shaped my work.

Hofstede’s Cultural Dimensions

Geert Hofstede is a social psychologist that conducted a global survey of over 100,000 IBM employees between 1967 and 1973. His analysis revealed differences between various national cultures along several dimensions: Power Distance (PDI), Individualism (IDV), Masculinity (MAS), Uncertainty Avoidance (UAI), and Long-Term Orientation (LTO). Hofstede published his findings in Cultures and Organizations: Software of the Mind.


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The image above shows Hofstede’s calculated scores for five large countries (and the world average). Russia has the highest score in Power Distance, which indicates a culture that accepts a large gap in the distribution of power between superiors and subordinates. China is has the highest score in Long-Term Orientation, which suggests a focus on plans and horizons rather than deadlines and milestones.

As an expatriate and user experience practitioner I learned that interface elements like icons, colors, and words should change when globalizing software, but the Hofstede’s dimensions showed me deeper influences that would impact the success or failure of products, services, and solutions.

I think it is particularly important for communicators to consider the dimensions of their native culture in addition to considering their audience. The United States has an extremely high Individualism score, which means that we might underestimate the value of collectivism to other cultures.

Trompenaar’s Corporate Cultures

Fons Trompenaars is an organizational theorist who also studied cultural differences. Trompenaars found that certain corporate cultures were more common in specific countries or regions, depending on their attitudes towards authority, people, process, and change.


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Trompenaars’ labels (Guided Missle, Eiffel Tower, Incubator, Family) are unusual, but memorable, in that they represent the goal orientation of the given culture. An Eiffel Tower culture will be heavily role-oriented, where employees are responsible for specific tasks within a larger plan. A Guided Missile culture like NASA depends on an egalitarian collection of experts focused on a common project. Rightpoint is an Incubator culture, where intrapreneurship and collaboration are key values.

Communicators can use the diversity cultures model to evaluate their own organization, as well as clients or partners. Some large organizations may have different culture from one division to another, particularly after acquisitions or mergers. Other organizations may try to change their culture through new leadership, spinoffs, and change management efforts, and alert communicators will use the model to anticipate, expedite and evaluate those transitions.

Merrill’s Social Styles

David Merill first articulated Social Style Theory, a four-quadrant model of personality types based on individuals’ assertiveness and responsiveness. The model is often encountered in management or sales training presentations.


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Each of the Social Styles has different strengths and weaknesses. Drivers are decisive and results-oriented, but can also be competitive. Expressives are enthusiastic and motivational, but are easily bored. Analyticals are thoughtful and objective, but may become unresponsive when stressed.

Michael Crystal introduced me to Social Styles during daylong seminar for new people managers. He had each participant complete a short quiz for themselves, a person with whom they enjoyed working, and a person with whom it was challenging to work. Once we calculated the scores for each person, we evaluated whether we were communicating with them according to their social style or our own.

My favorite piece of advice about Social Styles involves planning presentations for audiences that include all four styles. Michael recommended starting with a strong executive summary to address Drivers, continuing with a brief discussion of vision to engage Expressives, and including lots of supporting evidence in the appendices to sate Analyticals, at which point Amiables will be pleased to see that everyone’s needs have been addressed.

Beyond the Frames

As I consider my colleagues at Rightpoint and my peers in user experience, I see that we are all fascinated and informed by human behavior, and I expect you are as well. I hope you find these models useful and thought provoking, and I encourage you to keep considering your team members, customers, and users as you go forth and communicate.