The Hidden Dimension by Edward T Hall Review HR Examiner

John Sumser of HRExaminer reviews The Hidden Dimension by Edward T. Hall and discusses the HR Connection

The Hidden Dimension
Edward Hall
Anchor Books, 1966
ISBN 0-385-08476-5

What is the second stage of a company’s growth? One way of thinking about it is that the culture has matured to the point that it can be managed. The company’s culture is viable. At this point, professional managers, with process refinement skills can be added to the original entrepreneurial team. Growth is enhanced and energized through the endeavors of professionals who know how to straighten out the marketing fundamentals, tune the sales process, systematize product development and balance risk in the professional services arm.

Culture is a hazy concept. The sum total of interaction patterns, modes of thought, ways of speaking, icons, history, geography, dress codes, office layouts, the role of authority and a host of other factors, it is the “way the company works”. The relative importance of these variables is poorly understood but at the heart of the risks associated with second-stage growth, right after expense optimization and a clear track to profitability. A great second-stage manager understands, more or less intuitively, what can and what cannot be ‘tweaked’. The search for useless sacred cows, begins in earnest. The risk is in killing a real one.

In all contemporary Western societies, the labor shortage, driven by baby boomer demographics imposes additional cultural management requirements. With four observable native generations, and a host of immigrant cultures to boot, the modern workplace is a blend of nationalities, races and attitudes. Balancing the needs of each subgroup requires that the organization have a clear grasp of its overall culture and the relationship of the subgroup to the whole. Although there maybe some quibble about using the same tactics, the United Nations comes to mind when considering the problem in its full complexity.

Although the differences range from the subtle to the grotesque, cultures vary in terms of the perceptions embedded in native language and raw understandings of spatial relationships. These variations occur naturally in regional subcultures within a country and between different countries. Language variations may, for example, include specialized understandings of environmental factors or a deep rendering of status systems. Cultural approaches to space vary from the inverse of the west (Japanese focus on the spaces between objects while Westerners focus on the objects) to the absence of relevant experience (Arab cultures do not utilize ‘rooms’ with the same boundaries as the West.) The very meaning of everyday things and experiences is at the heart of the cultural integration problem faced in Western workforces.

The Hidden Dimension is Edward Hall’s time honored classic on the role of space and spatial reasoning in culture. A delightful weekend read, it will provide the sort of challenge to your thinking that will result in clearer, more effective decisions that involve cultural variables.

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