The New Way of Working and leadership style: the role of cultural differences

In the brief review of the history of work (see blog post), the effects of the Industrial Revolution and the Scientific Management theory of Taylor (1911) were discussed. They led to the low-level managerial control of employees, who were deprived from all personal development. The reaction from the job enrichment theory (Herzberg, 1966; Hackman & Oldham, 1976) eventually led to the emergence of virtual, boundary-less, collaborative organizations (Ghoshal & Bartlett, 1997). Child & McGrath (2001) indicate that traditional hierarchical structures disappear in the new horizontal organization. Organizations with flattened corporate structures are more likely to attract the younger workers of the Net Generation, who have less patience for climbing the corporate ladder (Burke & Ng, 2006).

The emerging organizational form drives changes in managerial behavior and leadership styles (Hofstede, 1980; Bass & Bass, 2008). The manager becomes a coach and mentor, facilitating subordinates to enhance skills, improve performance and achieve goals (Ellinger et al. 2006, 2010; Joo, 2012). Coaching has been linked to increased job satisfaction, personal capability, motivation, organizational commitment, and decreased turnover (Orth et al., 1987; Evered & Selman, 1989; Yarnall, 1998). Evered & Selman (1989) even postulate that coaching is the essential feature of effective management, and that creating a culture for coaching is a core managerial activity. The old management paradigm of control, order and compliance objectifies and alienates employees, whereas coaching engages and empowers employees to outperform.

In the New Way of Working, a coaching management style that provides trust and autonomy to employees is a crucial element in enabling result based working. In his research on cultures and organizations, Hofstede states that cultural dimensions, such as power distance, influence leadership styles (Hofstede et al., 2010; House et al., 2002). Possibly cultural differences play a role in the relatively large popularity of the New Way of Working in the Netherlands and Scandinavian countries. This raises the question which cultural treats are the ones that support the New Way of Working best. Hofstede uses four cultural dimensions that define cultural differences between countries and organizations (Hofstede et al., 2010). These four cultural dimensions are: (1) Power distance: the degree of hierarchy and acceptance of autocratic leadership; (2) Individualism vs. collectivism: the degree of group / family thinking; (3) Masculine vs. feminine: the degree of role thinking and caring; (4) Uncertainty avoidance: the degree of desired safety and rules.

When taking a closer look at these four dimensions the following picture emerges (the pictures show the same countries in a ranked order, based on the index of Hofstede):
Hofstede - Power distance(1) Power distance: Countries with a low Power distance tend more towards dialogue than obedience. The manager is not seen as the boss but as the coach. Nordic countries and the Netherlands score low on Power distance, as do the Anglo-Saxon countries such as the USA, Great Britain, Australia and Canada. Eastern European countries like Russia, Latin countries like Mexico, and Asian countries like China and Indonesia have a high Power distance. South European countries score higher or are somewhere in the middle.


Hofstede - Individualism

(2) Individualism vs. collectivism: Workers in individualistic countries tend to be better able to take care for themselves and be less dependent on the group. Scandinavians and the Dutch are individualistic, as are most Anglo-Saxon countries such as the USA, Canada and Australia. Latin countries are more collective in their thinking and working. Eastern European and Asian countries differ from collective to somewhere in the middle.


Hofstede - Masculin feminin

(3) Masculine vs. feminine: In masculine countries men are competitive and assertive. Countries like Italy, Japan and Australia but also Latin countries are typically masculine countries. Nordic countries and the Netherlands are more feminine i.e. people do not like boasting but prefer equal treatment and respect. Asian countries vary from masculine to somewhere in the middle.



Hofstede - Risk avoidance

(4) Uncertainty avoidance: Eastern European countries like Russia, South European like Greece, France and Italy and South American countries like Brazil and Mexico score high on Uncertainty avoidance: in these countries people are more precautious. Nordic, Anglo-Saxon, a number of Asian countries, and to a large extent the Netherlands and the USA, deal more effectively with uncertainties and risks and score low on Uncertainty avoidance or somewhere in the middle.


Looking at the overall picture; culturally, the Nordic countries are close to the Netherlands. Their cultures are based on dialogue and consensus, personal responsibility, mutual respect and entrepreneurship. These treats seem to have a good fit with the concepts of the New Way of Working. From a cultural point of view, Belgium – though partly Dutch speaking – is closer to France than the Netherlands. This does not mean that countries with another cultural spectrum are not suitable for the New Way of Working. It does mean, that in those countries certain aspects may need to be adjusted to make implementations of the New Way of Working a better fit and success.

An example: In the ‘Work Place Innovation’ project of Philips, the 120.000 employee multinational aims to implement the New Way of Working worldwide in over 100 countries. For the technological support a special program suite was introduced, providing workers with various technological resources to do their work optimally, and ensure they are as connected as possible. As Philips wanted to keep a close watch on the cultural differences, local teams were set up in every country and office location to tailor the implementation. The Hong Kong team decided that the complete removal of the offices of managers, forcing them to sit amongst their staff, would be too much of an initial step for the high Power distance Asian culture. Managers were allowed to keep their own private desk or office, but the name and function plates were removed, making the offices flexible to use when the manager was not present. Dutch managers, working in Hong Kong but often travelling and away from the office, could however not persuade employees to sit on their desk or in their office when they were not in the country.

Of course, cultural aspects are likely to be not be the only reason for the New Way of Working to become successful in a certain country. Other conditions that may also positively influence the climate for the New Way of Working are the spread of (mobile) devices, (wireless) networks, and the demographics of the workforce. In the Netherlands over 90% of the households have one or more computers, and almost 80% have a broadband Internet connection, ranking Holland in the top of the word. Also, the female participation in employment is at 68%, among the highest in the world (Bijl, 2011). This increases the need for flexible work and improving the work-life balance for both men and women, drivers for the New Way of Working.



Bass, B. M., & Bass, R. (2009). The Bass handbook of leadership: Theory, research, and managerial applications. Simon and Schuster.

Bijl, D. W. (2011). Journey towards the New Way of Working – creating sustainable performance and joy at work. Par CC. ISBN 9789490528003.

Burke, R. J., & Ng, E. (2006). The changing nature of work and organizations: Implications for human resource management. Human Resource Management Review, 16(2), 86-94.

Child, J. & McGrath, R.G. (2001). Organizations Unfettered: Organizational Form in an Information-intensive Economy. Academy of Management Journal. 44(6), 1135-1148.

Ellinger, A. D., Beattie, R., Hamlin, R., Wang, Y., & Trolan, O. (2006). The manager as coach: A review of empirical literature and the development of a tentative model of managerial coaching. In European HRD Conference.

Ellinger, A. D., Beattie, R. S., & Hamlin, R. G. (2010). The manager as coach. The complete handbook of coaching, 257-270.

Evered, R. D., & Selman, J. C. (1989). Coaching and the art of management. Organizational Dynamics, 18, 16-32.

Ghoshal, S., & Bartlett, C.A. (1997). The individualized corporation. A fundamentally new approach to management. New York, USA: Harper Collins. ISBN 0-88730-806-6.

Hackman, J. R., & Oldham, G. R. (1976). Motivation through the design of work: Test of a theory. Organizational Behavior and Human Performance, 16(2), 250-279.

Herzberg, F. I. (1966). Work and nature of man. Cleveland, OH: World.

Hofstede, G, Hofstede, G.J., & Minkov, M. (2010). Cultures and Organizations – Software of the mind. McGraw-Hill. New York. ISBN 978-0-07-166418-9.

House, R., Javidan, M., Hanges, P., & Dorfman, P. (2002). Understanding cultures and implicit leadership theories across the globe: an introduction to project GLOBE. Journal of world business, 37(1), 3-10.

Joo, B. K. B., Sushko, J. S., & McLean, G. N. (2012). Multiple faces of coaching: Manager-as-coach, executive coaching, and formal mentoring. Organization Development Journal, 30(1), 19.

Orth, C. D., Wilkinson, H. E., & Benfari, R. C. (1987). The manager’s role as coach and mentor. Organizational Dynamics, 15(4), 66-74.

Taylor, F. (1911) The Principles of Scientific Management. New York and London, Harper & brothers.

Yarnall, J. (1998). Line managers as career developers: Rhetoric or reality? Personnel Review, 27(5), 378-395.

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