A bit of history

Allow me to talk to you through this book in person.

I started to cooperate with Geert Hofstede in 1980. At that time, I was managing director of what is called today the Maastricht School of Management (www.msm.nl ).

I soon discovered that almost all lecturers were conveying management wisdom ex-cathedra which they had copied from American management handbooks. They didn’t warn the participants who came from all over the world, many of them from developing economies, that management techniques are cultural specific. Instead of helping participants to build up the economies of their countries they taught them management techniques which they could not apply back home. Think about such techniques as management by objectives, matrix management and strategic planning which are very culture specific. In the publications of Geert Hofstede you will find more information on this subject.

After having read Geert Hofstede’s “Culture’s Consequences”, published in 1980, I wondered whether we could start up a cooperation with him. We met, it clicked right away and we started a cooperation among the two of us. To my regret not on an institutional level as some people in that School felt threatened by his stature and ground-breaking ideas.

Some years later, I convinced Geert Hofstede to undertake research on organizational cultures. “In Search of Excellence” by Peters and Waterman had just appeared, but in spite of the excellent title, I was not impressed by its content and asked Geert Hofstede to come up with something much better. We agreed that if something would come out of this new research endeavor, I could exploit it commercially. And something did come out of it: A brand new model, completely different from the model on national cultures identified by Geert Hofstede. Starting from the late eighties of last century I built an intricate architecture around Bob’s Model, based on my work experience and on a thorough understanding of this model. Development of the architecture is still in full swing: as mentioned, the most complex phenomenon is a group of people, and models that describe groups, should be constantly in development.

It took me many years before I dared to profile myself as a change agent. In the beginning we sold ourselves as the best photographers of organizational culture, because we had the best tool available: Bob’s Model on Strategy, Culture and Change. By and by over the years, I collected so much information that I was able to develop very focused change tools. The fast majority of change approaches and tools focus on the change process and not on the content to be changed. No other model, after all, has been  able to provide such a clear and precise picture of organizational cultures. The Bob’s Model on Strategy, Culture and Change  is so far the only model based on solid and elaborate research and the combined experience of consultants who cooperate with me in this adventure. Contrary to Bob’s Model on Strategy, Culture and Change , most models on organizational culture have been dreamed up, as it is not easy to develop new models on organizational culture from scratch. See chapter 8 of “Culture’s Consequences”, Geert Hofstede, 2001.

Successes and failures

In those early days, between 1983 and 1988,  we serviced many clients to become more successful in the international market. During that process we built up a lot of goodwill, and once Geert Hofstede and is co-researchers started their project on measuring organizational cultures, it was not difficult to convince our clients that it could be very worthwhile to have their organizational culture measured. As our little business was flourishing, it may have aroused the envy of certain people. Will be continued………………

In this book, we have displayed a critical attitude towards other consultants and the world around us. Yet, I do not shy away from looking critically at my own performances. The model developed by Geert Hofstede and the tools and applications built around it are of high quality, but also complicated. The challenge is to make it easy to grasp so that the client can apply it in his or her company.  I must admit that the transfer of the know- how on this field, has not been optimal. Proof of this is that the consultants or consultancies who obtained our know-how, tools and applications have been much less successful than could be reasonably expected, and at times, have even disappointed clients.

So how come the method of Bob’s Model on Strategy, Culture and Change  is so hard to transfer to other consultants? And what can we do about it?

After having worked 15 years in the world of development assistance I was, so to say, high-jacked by multinationals. While working for the poor in low-income countries, I didn’t want to earn a lot of money. I found it immoral to become rich through the charitable organizations’ and taxpayer’s money that was meant to relieve the living conditions of the poor. Once commercial firms hired me to help them growing in their international aspirations through intercultural management, I had no objections to become financially successful. After all, I hold an MSc in Economy. Enjoying developing content and working with my clients, with whom I had built up a good relation, it was by no means my intention to start up a consulting company myself. Nevertheless, it happened. My clients invited me all over the world by which my body of know-how increased steadily. Although my small company was very profitable, I did not focus on profit maximalization nor on creating a big company. Moreover, being a happy man I forgot to fend off “sharks”.

Cultural measurement generates a wealth of information if conducted with an approach that equals a sharp, precise and unveiling mirror. Presenting the findings to a client demands extensive experience and deep understanding of the model and its ramifications, in order to assess which findings are crucial and relevant, and which are not. In many cases, less experienced consultants either presented the client with overwhelming and complex data, or simplified the result to such an extent, that salient and significant findings got lost in the debrief to the client.

We noted that clients often find it very difficult to translate their strategy in terms of culture, i.e. Bob’s Model on Strategy, Culture and Change . Defining the optimal culture is crucial to determine the gaps between actual and optimal culture, as a start to change management (see section 5.3).  For that reason I have designed and built a new architecture, making it very easy to define one’s unique best culture to perform.

Cooperation with major players in the field of strategy development and change management could assist in packaging and transferring our information in a much more attractive, efficient and effective manner.