Sample Essay on National and Organizational Cultures

National and Organizational Cultures

International organizations often face challenges while trying to deal with different national cultures that are extremely different from their organizational cultures. This implies that national cultures have strong influence on corporate cultures, which may accelerate or derail corporate growth. In South Africa, change in government led to transformation in the national culture, which coerced many local companies to review their cultures. Many multinational corporations have been compelled to change their organizational culture to fit the national culture of the host country in order to gain grounds in the host countries. For instance, General Motors opted to develop customer-distance cultures after realizing that applying American culture in international markets ruined its competitive edge. This study will focus on how national cultures can influence organizational cultures in South Africa, in addition to comparing the culture in South Africa with that of the United States.

Definitions of National and Organizational Cultures

When people from different regions live together for a considerable period, they tend to develop their own culture, based on the kind of activity they are doing together. Culture can be defined as a social programming of individual’s mind, which differentiate members of a particular group from another (Hammerich and Lewis, 2013). Culture directs employers on how to make decisions while employees understand the way the organization is ran through its culture.

A national culture involves behaviors and norms found among people living within the boundaries of a sovereign country. Hofstede’s model of national culture categorizes national culture in five dimensions, which include power distance, social degree of individualism, masculinity vs. femininity, uncertainty avoidance, and focusing on short-term and long-term objectives (Laskowska-Rutkowska, 2009). Power distance is the degree at which non-influential persons accept unequal distribution of power while social degree of individualism illustrates the strength of social bonds that exist between individuals. Masculinity and femininity are social prospects among men and women, where men are believed to be assertive and tough while women are deemed to be affectionate and modest. Uncertainty avoidance is the circumstance under which members of a particular culture feel pressured by volatile situations. Focusing on short-term and long-term objectives involves cultivating desirable qualities that may attract fortunes in the future.

Organizational culture is the collection of values, norms, beliefs, and policies that guide individuals working in an organization, and differentiates an organization from another. Organizational culture reveals the society from which it originates. A dominant culture articulates the core values, which are normally shared by a large number of the organization’s members. For a new organization in a foreign country, organizational culture means adapting to new beliefs and values that are acceptable within the organization’s environment. A good organizational culture does not recognize boundaries, since it is built on the aspects of empowering employees, team orientation, clear direction, and recognizable vision. Organizations that operate in other countries must choose on how much they can apply their organizational culture to fit the needs of the host countries (Gerhart, 2008).

National and Organizational Cultures in South Africa

Organizations are encountering challenges as well as opportunities, as the world of business keep on changing. Economic trends and technological advancement have made organizations redefine their cultures to fit the global needs. Hofstede (1983) asserted that organization’s management is culturally dependent, and foreign organizations have to adapt to local cultures to become effective in their operations (Gerbart, 2008). South Africa was once recognized as an individualistic society due to its loose-knit social framework that allows individuals to satisfy their need and the needs of immediate family members only. This is due to the exposure to Apartheid, which led to racial discrimination in the workplaces and in residential areas. However, the national culture was transformed when the new government took over, and the aspect of collectivism came in.

When the national culture undergoes any transformation, organizational cultures also change. The societal changes that began to be experienced in South Africa after the first democratic elections guaranteed equal rights to all citizens and gave more power to the blacks, who were racially discriminated during the Apartheid period (Robbins, Judge, Odendaal and Roodt, 2013). Organization cultures began to change in organizations that were owned by the white people, as they had to accommodate more blacks to attain equality.

Although the democratic regime has fought to maintain African culture in terms of organizational management, many companies still embraced the Western form of management, which encourages individualism, as well as other features that guarantee self-fulfillment and self-advancement. Most of the companies that are managed by white managers preferred the Western form of management, rather than African approach, which was uncompetitive. This has created a dilemma among foreign firms that aimed at investing in South Africa. Some of the managers in South Africa believed that it was essential for organizational managers to embrace indigenous values while the foreign managers believed that Eurocentric approach is crucial for foreign companies to succeed in South Africa (Robbins et al., 2013).

National and Organizational Cultures in South Africa as compared to the US

Organizational culture in the US is quite different from the culture in South Africa, although the two countries share some characteristics. Just like in South African, employees in the US engage in a variety of jobs. However, work culture and organizational environment differ across industries, as well as regions. Different companies working on similar products may depict different cultures, even when they are situated in the same area. Employees in the US usually address their seniors with their first name, unlike in South Africa, where one has to use a title before the name. According to Cullen and Parboteeah (2014), the US companies encourage their employees to use first names to enhance the bond between employees and employers. This exhibits low power-distance among employees in the US organizations. The titles are left to the customer service representatives to address customers who they do not know their real names.

The US has a strong preference on individualism and a wide range of companies, thus, the organizational culture may only reflect the organizations’ founders. Sometimes, organizational cultures may have been in constant change, failing to acquire uniformity. This implies that national culture in the US does not have strong influence on organizational cultures as it is in South Africa. Research has proved that cultural differences in the US are more pronounced among multinational corporations than in corporations within the same country. This is because corporations situated outside the US have to adapt to local cultures in the host countries. General Motors, which is based in the US, had to change its organizational culture in order to expand its products in the global market. Changes in technology are pushing organizations to transform their cultures within a short time to meet the global requirements.

The national culture in South Africa reflects high levels of collectivism and social groupings. This culture is reflected in organizational level where high levels of performance orientation, high power distance, low levels of assertiveness, and low levels of gender equality (Robbins et al., 2013). Most Africans believe in sharing of responsibilities among men and women. South Africa is a highly masculine society, where jobs are defined based on gender. In such society, work takes the central position among men. In masculine culture, organizational managers tend to act decisively to avoid making decisions intuitively, which is considered as feminine (Cullen & Parboteeah, 2014). Employees in highly masculine companies work for long time with short vacations. Contrary, the US is a low-masculinity country, where employees enjoy more time off, enjoy longer vacations, and work is less central. US employees enjoy high quality of life, as they do not emphasize more on work than they do on other issues.


National culture influences the organizational cultures, as organizations have to adhere to the state regulations. National cultures offer a guide to people living within a given country while organizational cultures direct the employees in a given organization. Foreign firms are compelled to transform their organizational cultures as they settle in the host countries to enhance their operations within the host countries. South Africa was once an individualistic country, but change in the government led to its transformation to a collective country. Its culture is quite different from the US culture, as the US is still an individualistic nation, thus, its national culture does hold much influence on organizational cultures. The world is changing exceedingly fast due to technology advancement, and organizational cultures are bound to adapt to changes that are experienced in the US. South Africa should permit organization to develop their own cultures, which is fundamental in attracting foreign investors.


Cullen, J. B., & Parboteeah, K. P. (2014). Multinational management: A strategic approach. Mason, OH: South-Western Cengage Learning.

Gerhart, B. (2008). How much does national culture constrain organizational culture? Management and Organization Review, 5(2), 241-259.

Hammerich, K., & Lewis, R. D. (2013). Fish can’t see water: How national culture can make or break your corporate strategy.

Laskowska-Rutkowska, A. (2009). The impact of national and organizational culture on the cooperation of firms–a supply chain perspective. Journal of Intercultural Management, 1(2), 5-16.

Robbins, S. P., Judge, T. A., Odendaal, A., & Roodt, G. (2013). Organisational behaviour: Global and Southern African perspectives. Pinelands, Cape Town: Pearson Education.