Introducing the Six Levels of Culture

Over the past 25 years, TMC has developed unique expertise and solutions to help individuals, teams, and organizations develop cultural competence. The most critical step has been to develop an understanding of culture as the key process that allows groups to adjust to new environments or different conditions. The essence of cultural competence, as TMC defines it, is the ability to purposely reduce risk, enhance innovation, and maximize opportunities through both cultural differences and similarities. The perspective that cultural competence becomes indispensible when external conditions change lends TMC’s approach particular relevance when tackling a range of risks, opportunities, and challenges related to change, efficiency, and innovation.

The first level of culture is the national/societal level, which has dominated the intercultural field for decades. Awareness of cultural dynamics and patterns by nationality is particularly relevant for (a) entering a new market for product, service, and/or talent; (b) cross-border division of labor; and (c) international outsourcing relationships. For example, when companies such as Pfizer, Credit Suisse, or American Express outsource IT development, customer service, or clinical trials to a partner in India, they require a keen understanding of the cultural context that impacts the desired outcomes and processes. Likewise, Sony and Honeywell will need to skillfully navigate cultural differences in business and management practices for knowledge transfer and performance requirements in their operations in China and India. Companies focusing on opportunities in emerging markets have to understand culturally conditioned customer behavior to be successful.
Many companies in the intercultural field are content with addressing the above complexities; however, TMC finds that relevant impact can be realized only when culture is addressed at more granular levels, such as social identity groups, the second level of culture. With increasing migration, complex national histories, and overall demographic shifts, marking cultural boundaries with national borders is extremely limiting. The diversification of society has made differences by gender, generation, ethnicity, religious beliefs and affiliations, and socio-economic class increasingly relevant….