How to use dilemmas to understand cultural differences w/Fons Trompenaars

Prosci bi-weekly podcast featuring the leading thinkers in change management.

Hosted by Morten Kamp Anderse

Cultural differences can stand in the way of doing business or having good relationships. Fons Trompenaars is one of the world’s most prominent experts when it comes to exploring and defining culture. He has spent the last 30 years helping Fortune 500 companies manage and resolve cultural dilemmas and business issues.

In this episode, we talk about how you can understand your culture, how you can use cultural understanding to deal with your intercultural business issues and not least how you can resolve intercultural differences. 


  • The 3 layers of culture. Conscious or not, they can be measured and are all relevant for the way we interact with other cultures. 
  • How you can use dilemmas to understand and reconcile cultural differences.
  • The 7 dimensions of culture. Remember, awareness is not enough. You need to understand your own culture and its differences to other cultures in order to successfully reconcile your cultural dilemmas. 
Dilemmas are human. The way we approach the dilemmas is cultural
Fons Trompenaars


Here are my key takeaways from the podcast. But there are more goodies in the episode itself, so hopefully, you will listen to it. 

You can measure culture. You can think of culture as having three levels:

  • The explicit part; The observable reality of language, buildings, food, fashions, customs, art, etc. 
  • The second layer consist of norms and values. Shared norms and values constitute the most common definition of culture.   
  • Finally, the third level is the underlying assumptions of the people in the culture. This level has escaped from conscious questioning and has become self-evident for the people in the culture. 

These levels can be measured on seven dimensions to describe the culture. 

Dilemma reconciliation can succeed, when mutual parts seek to understand each other and move forward despite cultural differences. We share dilemmas. Across cultures, we recognise similar dilemmas. But how we approach and resolve them is different. And it is by understanding the differences and embracing the opposites, we can perform dilemma reconciliation. This is an important focus in Fons’ research. 

When you want to change a culture - start with the business issues, not the culture. Fons warns us not to do big cultural projects in organisations. If you ask him, they rarely work, anyway. Instead, start with the business issues - you all share them - and then use dilemma reconciliation workshops to resolve dilemmas as they occur. Through them, you should understand and work with cultural diversity. You can change a culture, and you can build a uniform culture within an organisation, but don't make it into a big culture project. 


If you want to know more about nudging or my guest, Fons Trompenaars, you can follow the links below. 


Your opinion means a lot. Remember to leave a review or a comment, if you liked what you've heard. It is very helpful for our reach.

If you want to know more about change and how to make a change stick, you can subscribe to our podcast on iTunesSpotifyGoogle or Stitcher or read more on our website:



EP13 - Fons - Fiverr 02

Sun, 1/3 8:32AM • 51:12


dilemmas, culture, people, values, called, norms, basic assumptions, individual, reconciliation, work, talking, shell, dutch, question, company, understand, corporate culture, dimensions, cultural, american


Fons Trompenaars, Morten Andersen

Morten Andersen  00:05

Hello, and welcome to What Monkeys Do. My name is Morten Kamp Andersen. And this is a podcast about what it takes to make a change and make it stick.

Morten Andersen  00:20

Peter Drucker said that culture eats strategy for breakfast. And what he meant was that if there is a difference between what an organization wants to achieve and its culture, well then culture will prevail. This is also true for individuals, although at a slightly different level. So if you want to set out to do something, or change something, which is against your core values or unconscious belief, well, then you will probably not succeed. But culture is more than just succeeding with a strategy. It's also about how do we work well together? And how do we understand the world differently? The world has become a lot more diverse, and we must understand each other well, to work well together. But what is culture? And how do we best understand our own and other's culture? And how do we navigate well in different cultures? Well, let's find out in this episode of what monkeys do. My guest today is one of the great business thinkers and writers of the last 40 years. He was voted top five management consultant next to Michael Porter and Tom Peters in 99. And in 2017, he was inducted into the thinker's 50 Hall of Fame. He earned his PhD from Wharton, he has founded the tht consultancy company. It's an intercultural management firm, and has spent over the last 30 years helping fortune 500 leaders manage and solve their business and cultural dilemmas. He's written several books, but no doubt my favorite is Riding the Waves of Culture, which is about to be published in its fourth edition now, it has sold over 200,000 copies, and is the book that really put culture in business on the map. Welcome to your Fons Trompenaars.

Fons Trompenaars  02:09

Thank you more than a pleasure.

Morten Andersen  02:11

Pleasure. Great. So this episode is about culture, especially national cultures. And culture is such a big theme. But let's try to see if we can break it down. But before we do that, I just want to hear from you Fonz. Can you tell us a little bit about your background and how you got involved with culture work? Yes, Martin,

Fons Trompenaars  02:31

I very often start by saying I was born out of a French mother and a Dutch father doesn't make you Belgian. But it gives you a background of cultural sensitivity. But very implicit, you're not conscious about it. But you get experiences in in Paris, and you get experiences in Amsterdam, where my parents came from. And then I was, luckily enough having a great opportunity after my economics degree, to go for the European Institute of Advanced Studies in management. And then this was a community of professors who were asked amongst other things, to select students to do a PhD. So immediately I went to the US at Wharton, which I never heard of. But I came at Wharton, I said, Wow, what a fantastic environment. And this was in 79. I did my PhD work on a empirical research to support my conceptual analysis of how does corporate culture affects national cultures interpretations? And how does national culture produce corporate culture? In other words, why would a manager in Germany be called her doctor, Professor, Doctor Doctor? Well, in America, you hide your title, because they might find out you have thought about a subject, which is the end of your carreer, it's quite interesting that in this world, I got the opportunity to test all my stuff in the environment of shell, I did my empirical research comparing 10 refineries of shell. And I joined shell and in the time, I was joining shelf for about eight years till the end of the 80s. I did do work in HR, and really looking at why does something work in the Netherlands that because it's an Anglo Dutch company, and it doesn't work in France? And obviously, the answer is simple. Nothing works in France. It's quite interesting to see the dilemma between what you do from headquarters, and we need to standardize and why very good reason. Because people in Shell move a lot International. So you need some consistency between the borders. On the other hand, you're still working in a French environment or in a Polish environment, or in an American environment. So I was happy to test a bit, that that stuff and in In the meantime, I've popularized my PhD, which is kind of academic talk into Riding the Waves of Culture. Hmm. That at least got us off the hook of marketing, because people read the book and say, That's interesting. Can you help us? The first day of my work? I met Charles Hamilton theater, by phone, by the way, because why head of group planning for the Netherlands? That font? Have you read this article? It's called a tale of two paradigms in internal magazine for Shell. And it was written by Charles and Lynn Turner, and it compared east and Western culture and what it meant for Shell. I was so impressed by that article, because he didn't only explain the differences, but he went far beyond it, namely, how do you reconcile it? Yes. So simple example, is, the western mind is, yeah, a shell station service station gives you gasoline, that's called a specific culture. But in the east, they treat you as a messenger that happens to need gasoline that's diffused. And he said, how should the shell service station look like if people travel internationally. And I'm not only talking about Asians versus what the nurse, but I'm talking about, in general, that a French na, check passenger in the car enough, and the shell shop at the time, and this is 40 years ago. 82, to be precise, is a person that was served in a much broader sense, and it has gasoline, and it was a shell shop, which I was impressed by that way of thinking. So I wrote Charles, can we work together?and john said, phones, send me your thesis. And a week later, he called me back and said, funds, I think we can work together because I reconciled all your dilemmas, said What the hell is this guy talking about? And he told me Fons, I was afraid you were another Dutchman to put the world on bipolar scales, namely, and I said, What the hell is this guy talking about? He said, Now Fons, I see you don't understand. And we didn't have zoom. So it was all by voice. And he, he said forms? If you are an individualist at the cost of the community, you're an egoist, and it doesn't work. You are a collectivist at the cost of the individual. Which by the way your questionnaire assumes, then you're a communist and it doesn't work. Yes. So if both ends of your scale don't work, why don't you try to combine them? Because great societies take care of excellent individuals. And excellent individuals are only excellent when they give it back to society. Now that took me 15 years, really make it my own what's called dilemma reconciliation. So long story, but then I went into training consulting, and and here we are still doing the same and teaching a bit.

Morten Andersen  08:13

So dilemma reconciliation, does that mean that we have two different cultures and in order for them to meet, you have to find a common path or a common way to understand both of those cultures?

Fons Trompenaars  08:25

Very much so. And it is not only that we need to be aware of these differences, which is about preferences, but at the end of the day to say but how can we match to do for a better future? Yes. An example is if you are an HR manager, and you're worried about reward systems, then you can say, Hey, I measured this is more an individualistic group, the Americans, and you're working together in an international team with the Japanese, more collective. And you have a Dutchman that is a bit like it doesn't really matter. As long as you avoid taxes in that diversity. What do you do, if you're in America, you give an individual bonus, if you're in Japan, you give a collective bonus, no problem. But either if you move people or if you have multicultural teams, which becomes the norm of the future, you might need a dilemma that is reconciled. And what we did in Shell By the way, where we had this issue, we said 50% of the variable pay will go to individuals. And there are only one criteria, who's the best team player and we give teams the other 50% on the basis of what they can show they have done to make individuals Excel. Now this is called Co Op petition. You individually compete to better cooperate, and you cooperate to better individually compete. And that is the type of stuff we're doing in our work.

Morten Andersen  09:51

There's so many things in what you're saying that I would like to dig deeper into, but I think I'll just take one step back and just say because now we're talking about culture as we're talking About the same thing like everybody knows what we're talking about. But maybe we can just start by defining what does culture mean? What is culture because I have a feeling that most people understand that culture is important. I also hear leaders saying culture is really important. But when you then come to speak about what it is, people get in all sorts of directions. So could you maybe set the scene a little bit? What is culture? Sure,

Fons Trompenaars  10:23

let me start by quoting a book by Kroger and glucagon, and I forgot the title, but the subtitle was the 250 definitions of gotcha. Okay. 1961. So I'm sure with all these consultants, we now have 400 of them. What I love and most inspired by Ed Schein, Ed Schein says culture is multi layered. On the outside, we have an explicit culture, it's the way we show ourselves, do we wear a tie or not, you know, what type of language we speak, what is the food we eat, but be careful, you might eat similar food for different reasons. So you have to go one layer deeper. And that is the most used definition of culture, the shared systems of norms and values. values are shared orientations are what we define as what we like to do, we desire and norms are shared orientations are what we should do. Now, a child says so beautifully when you start liking what you should do, when values become norms, it slips out of consciousness. And it becomes a basic assumption. In the core, it's implicit, you can't see it, you can't smell it. Even for people who have it, you only find out in your culture shock, that it's it's the world has taken for granted. An example. oxygen, oxygen is a value, you all need oxygen. Hmm. But it has become a norm if you're healthy. That's called breathing. When the value becomes a norm, it slips out of consciousness. I don't think every five to 10 seconds, we are aware of the fact that we need oxygen. You only find out if you come in a room where there's none. Yes. And now that's called culture shock. That multi layered, we call it an onion model. And when you unpeel it, it makes you cry. Yeah. No, that is a bit the model. Now, if you want a definition on this, culture is a shared orientation of people in how to approach problems that very often come to you as dilemmas. Hmm. So the dilemmas are human. The way we approach the dilemma is cultural. And that's what I learned from john. So to ask the question, yeah, but why are values and norms different? Why, our basic assumptions different. It's because of a problem called lack of oxygen, and lack of oxygen used our breathing. And if it works, it slips out of consciousness.

Morten Andersen  13:02

So probably one of the best ways to try to identify so when you pose people with dilemmas, then you can in that thinking, you can see how they approach it differently also reached a different conclusion. Why do they do that is because they have different norms, some of them different values, but different norms, some of them they were not even aware of, or didn't even think that other people could think of those dilemmas in a different way. And it's those dilemmas where you can get the differences out in the open most is that

Fons Trompenaars  13:32

correct? completely correct. The main, let's say Super Value of humanity is the urge to survive. And that has to do with our fight with nature. It's very paradoxical, because if something is not go to its nature, yes, yes. Oh, DNA is nature is not God. Okay. But it's very paradoxical because nature has the biggest effect on our survival issue. So if you look at the values and behaviors, that behaviors is explicit, the values are a bit of a deeper layer. And the basic assumptions of the Dutch, for example, or the Danes are about our fight with water. So we very often ask ourselves, or especially foreigners, why do the Dutch have such an urge? To find consensus? Hmm. As a value that involves people in decision making? It's because we had to find water and you can only survive in a very low land. If you have consensus about how to fight this water, or big philosophical books. And why are Americans so legalistic, is because Americans within America, very mobile, and very mobile, because of the big space, go west, whatever time to develop a relationship you trust. If you won't trust a relationship, you need a lawyer to put it on paper so that if the relationship is broken, you still have consistency. paper. So, there are always reasons why cultures are what they are and that is surviving, developing certain behaviors at work. So, the values if it works becomes a norm, and therefore a basis. So,

Morten Andersen  15:17

there are three layers of culture there is the explicit the things we can go and see feel touch, there is the second level, which is the values and norms, which is somewhat visible, but probably easier to distinguish if you ask people or observe people or maybe even post them with dilemmas. And then you have the basic assumptions, which is the core the center or epoca shines the the iceberg where it's really deep. So, it is very invisible, difficult to, to find, and you probably have to find out how it is but, but it's it's it's the basic assumptions. I don't

Fons Trompenaars  15:54

want to interrupt but it's easy to find out. And I learned this from Jim Collins, it's the five why method asked why. And from Collingwood, I remember in his essay on metaphysics, if you ask a couple of times why and people become irritated, you like to hit them on an absolute presupposition. When other words for basic assumption.

Morten Andersen  16:19

Okay, so it is possible to find out the basic assumptions, one of the things that I often hear from leaders is that they get that culture is important. They hear it, they've read it in Harvard Business Review for many, many years. They want to deal with it, but it's somehow too soft, or it's too intangible or too difficult to work with. And you have found a way to some dimensions that you can describe a culture on, can you can you explain them?

Fons Trompenaars  16:48

Sure, we have done research, starting with Hoffs data. But that was at the time I was studying offset of four dimensions. People said that, but that's not enough, you miss this, and you missed that. So I did my own research, and combined a whole lot of people and said, Oh, it's, in fact, our relationship with other human beings, our relationship with time, and our relationship with nature. And I came up with seven dimensions, five in the area of your relationships, and then time and age. So if I go through the five, it is, and I'll give you also the let's say, dignified version. The first one is universal versus particular, the easier language is do you rather go for rules or exceptions? So you have coaches that say use the rule and you follow it? And you have culture says yeah, I know there are rules, but I'm exceptional, which we call the particularist. I don't have to dumb down the second one the most used dimensioning culture are you more individualistic or group oriented? And do you start with your first name and then the family name? Or do you start with the family name and then the first name or do you write it with a capital letter or not? Yeah, signals of individual collective then the third one is what do we do with our emotions? Are you neutral, you have emotions, but you don't show them or are you effective? And then it much more an expressive culture? Hmm. The most difficult one to explain but but let me try is specific versus diffuse, specific culture is a culture that focuses is analytic. And a diffuse culture is a culture that is holistic. So an example is when I got my PhD in America, they called me Dr. Trump and ours in the university, but I was introduced to similar people and suddenly at the barbecue I was fonds. Why, because the relationship is specific at the university, you have this role. And at the barbecue, you have another role and you change even your title and your first name. How about that? In Germany, which is much more diffuse? You are your title?

Morten Andersen  19:07

Yes, well,

Fons Trompenaars  19:08

you will have a doctor at the barbecue. Your hair doctor in the university, you're even a doctor at work. You buy a steak at the butcher for the barbecue. Good nominator, Doctor, you're alone good Navajo doctor, where are the little doctors? Everything is doctor and that is a diffuse go. Yes, there is specific versus diffuse. The fifth one is what gives people status is status based on your achievements. Or is status giving you by birth? Are you male, female? Are you young or old? What is the type of family you're coming from? That is called ascription vocalized status based on what you do status based on who you are. Those are the five in human relationships then time we distinguish three elements but in fact, you could say we have nine dimensions but Time is about are you more past oriented, present oriented future oriented? from Edward hall? Are you monotonic or polychronic? And are you short term or long term

Morten Andersen  20:12


Fons Trompenaars  20:12

And then finally, in nature? Do you want to control nature or the environment? Or is the environment controlling you let go the locus of control, those are the seven if you like nine dimensions, where we categorize people. And we have translated those nine dimensions in for corporate culture models, but that's a footnote,

Morten Andersen  20:36

okay? By applying that tool, you can you can understand your own culture, but also compare it with another culture to see the differences on different dimensions. And that will explain how you interpret and see the world and respond to dilemmas in different ways.

Fons Trompenaars  20:55

Yes, we have made on a floppy disk in 1985. Yeah, it came out with a video on culture. Thank you very much. I was young. It's interesting, the floppy, depending on your own individual profile, we gave a little questionnaire, well, what is your own individual profile on those seven dimensions. And then you could choose a country where we have empirical data of about 50 countries. And it didn't matter if you were if you touch Japan, or India, if you score lower, or if you get the same feedback. Be careful, we sign a good contract. And, and we said this is too vulgar. So we now have developed the last five years, and it took a long time a an app called Culture for Business. Yeah, you find it on our website. It's interesting, because depending on the Delta, between your individual score on the seven dimensions, and the country of choice, you get different tips in meetings, negotiation and managing. So you have to go beyond Oh, in Italy, you do this? And in France, you do that? And in Denmark, you do this? No, it depends on your own profile. Yes. Because I don't want to give an American dealing with things, the same information or tips as Japanese. No. And and so awareness is fine, but you need to go beyond it.

Morten Andersen  22:29

And the scary thing is that, with that story, many of our listeners will not know what a floppy disk is. And I'm very, very vividly but there's a difference in in age, rather than culture

Fons Trompenaars  22:40

was when windows was not yet existed.

Morten Andersen  22:55

So when I was 23, I moved from Denmark to England to work. I lived there for 11 years. And the funny thing was that I learned a lot more about Denmark when I moved to England, because then I could compare the culture that I was living in. And it was probably much easier for me to understand the culture in Denmark, looking at it, as I experienced the English culture, is that something you see that that's it, that's a good way to learn about a culture is to, to move away from your own culture, and then you you learn more about it. It's it's very important,

Fons Trompenaars  23:25

I think the main role of us is to understand your own culture first. Culture is about differences. And to experience difference, you need to know where you are coming from. And the way to do that is going through culture shock. In what you assume that let's go back to the basic assumptions, is what you took for granted, which is another word for basic assumption is certainly not taken for granted. Right? And an example and correct me if I'm wrong, you found out more than how direct the Danes are compared to English. Yes. But you never knew you thought you were normal. I would like to Dutch you love to insult people. Let me tell you the truth. Yes.

Morten Andersen  24:09

I beat around the bush. Let's Let's just be straightforward here. And let me tell you what I think here. That did not work. Well. No, if you're in England, obviously, you say you have an interesting face. And then what are the days would you say

Fons Trompenaars  24:21

you're ugly? And they'll be tell you why.

Morten Andersen  24:22

Exactly. The teams I worked in at that time was very diverse. So Denmark was at that time, practically very uniform. London was a melting pot of different cultures. I was different age groups, different educational backgrounds, different religious backgrounds, obviously different genders and everything. So very, very diverse. And that's becoming more than norm now. And I have a feeling that after this pandemic, there will be more diversity because now, space and place where you work really doesn't matter that much because we can use soom much more. So my question is how can you use Use cultural insights to make those diverse teams work better.

Fons Trompenaars  25:05

Great point, Martin. Yes, I fully agree. In Amsterdam, we now have 53% of people living here that don't have Dutch parents. So the norm becomes diversity. I saw a sign in, in Miami, which as we speak English here, interesting in an American state. Yeah. And on top of that, we have created a diversity of diversity. You get in the, let's say, labor systems, more females working than in the past, you get more young people that have something to contribute to the to the labor system. Now, if you have an American female of age 23, and talks to an old male in Ghana, what is causing the problem? Is it age is a gender? Is it nationality? And on top of that, the dynamics between the three? Well, what we have learned is that if you want to take advantage of cultural diversity, don't start with culture. Start with your business issues. Your what is the issue, and then it doesn't matter if it comes from being Ghanese, or American, or male, female or young, old. Who cares? It might be helpful, because you might say, Yeah, but this is this is typically Ghanese and American, right could be. But the issue in in diverse environments, where all these things come together, is that it's very difficult to just explain cultural differences, and then leave the room and say good luck, no help people in reconciling the dilemmas on the table, and be aware of the fact that it might be caused by the diversity. And that increases an enormous amount of respect, because in our method of dilemma reconciliation, we have a step called stretching, where both parties need to say, what is the plus of your side? And the minus of your side? And what is the plus of the other side and the minus of the other side? So you get a balanced view. And that helps tremendously in respecting each other. And then the question, What can your side help us with the other side? So may I run example, otherwise, it's all abstract. If you are a representative of headquarters, with the subculture of your company, of headquarters culture, we need to standardize we are there for the shareholders. And we need to make sure that everybody listens to us, versus the local culture, which has Yeah, but we are different. And we have intimate relationship with the client. And you don't understand anything of it at headquarters. You know, this,

Morten Andersen  27:40


Fons Trompenaars  27:41

If you're a lousy leader, you will say let's make a choice. Are we local? Or are we global, and you have them in one room? Now, a good leader would say, this is a dilemma, because we need both. Well, I would like to ask all of you, what can we do locally, to make the company more global? And what can we do from headquarters globally, that serves your local customer better? Now? That's dilemma reconciliation. And that is combining opposites. And you come with answers like, Oh, yeah, what we could do is sharing best local practices, combined them in next practices, which we then globalize, yes. And globally. Oh, you know, what we could do is have projects where people from headquarters go locally to understand what is happening locally. And we'll get back globally. That went got enough stuff. Yeah.

Morten Andersen  28:39

So if I understand it, right, so let's say that I'm a manager of a very global team, you're essentially saying, Let's not focus on the cultural differences. First, let's focus on the business issues, and a way to work together, it might be a useful thing to have a cultural introduction. So there is an understanding that there are cultural differences. But essentially, you take dilemmas and then you look at those dilemmas and you look at how you approach them differently. And then through a workshop try to find reconciliations between those dilemmas. So you take the best from both worlds, so to speak, in not a compromise, but in a in a win win solution. And that is how you work well with cultural differences. Is that correct?

Fons Trompenaars  29:22

Completely. Greg Morton, what you just described is the essence of innovation. Innovation is bringing together values that you never thought could be joined, therefore scarce therefore profitable. So if you take Apple, what have they combined? They've combined the value of aesthetics, with the value of functionality, what it makes more than an end. Because people say oh, what you mean is not either or it's and and no, it's through through because and and is you have a department aesthetics and you have a department engineering, for functionality, but they never talk to each other. In Apple, every engineer will say yes it works. Can we make it beautiful? And every designer will say, yeah, it's beautiful. Does it have a function? Oh, it take the plate of an iPhone or an iPad? It's beautiful because it doesn't have a frame. Because it doesn't have a frame. It's functional because you don't break your nails. While swiping it. Yes. So beauty has become functional Formula One, the dilemma, the value tension is speed and safety. Now the question that every engineer in Formula One to ask, how can we use the speed to make the car more safe? way to make a car safe is easy. You take off the wheels, hypogene, you lose speed. You can make the car very speedy yet but you lose safety. But if you go into that questions, answer, how can we use speed to make the car more safe? You're in aerodynamics? Mm hmm. By going faster, you have more downforce, right? That is dilemma reconciliation. And the problem in this world is that most of our models suck, including cultural models, because they don't invite us to reconcile. If you take Europe, psychology is more than amongst many other things, right? Yes. Myers Briggs, the most used psychological test? How awful can it be? Then if you score high on thinking, you score low on feeling? Yes. What kind of idiot has developed this? Because if you are thinking without feeling you're a robot, if you are feeling without thinking you're a neurotic, it has, and both don't work. So great leaders frame their feelings by their thinking and test their thinking, by their feeling. Which questionnaire measures that the combination of both did you score under one and undid on the

Morten Andersen  31:52

other? Now, this

Fons Trompenaars  31:53

is just one example. But all our models, including cultural models, I gave the example in the beginning. If you're an individualist, you score low on collectivism, what kind of nonsense is that? Yes, if you're centralized, you score low on

Morten Andersen  32:07

decentralization, I can see some phenomenal insights that you can get the first, just by understanding going through the dilemmas will give an enormous insight into my own way of thinking, but also how that is different from others. And the reconciliation must be a fantastic process where you, as you say, probably create your innovation by coming to a completely new a new step. I guess the first step of all of this is to recognize that your perspective is as good as mine, that mine is not better than yours, that there's no right or wrong answer here. Sometimes you will enter a room where there'll be some people thinking, they are wrong, I'm right. How do you soften that view?

Fons Trompenaars  32:50

That? That's a very deep question. First of all, to recognize that we share things despite our different preferences. Hmm. So very often, Myers Briggs, defense, bipolar models defense, is we talk about preference we know you have to end with one has preference over the other in writing, yes, or in touching whatever, right. But we are in the world of clapping. Once you realize that in the world of clapping, the dominance of your hand disappears because it's about coordination. Now, Charles, my job as an attorney has taught me that if we understand that the dilemmas are human, that we all share the same dynamics, but that we approach the learners differently, or that makes you relax tremendously. I even wrote a book with the title, did the pedestrian die, you're working in a car driven by a close friend of yours, your friend is going 50 kilometers an hour where you're allowed to go 30 and your friend hits a pedestrian, you've gone to court and the lawyer of your friend says Don't worry, you're the only witness two questions what is the right of your friend to expect you to live for Him? Second question is would you lie Yes or no? Now, I very often asked this, by the way, in our questionnaire, this is the first question. Now we have a database of another 40,000 people who filled it in. And we know the answers. I asked the question also in workshop, who would like to be in this situation? And I've never met a person who raised their hand and said, wonderful situation to be then out dry. Now they use other words, but they say it's a dilemma. And it doesn't matter if you're in South Korea, in Nigeria, in America or in Denmark, people tend to say this is a dilemma. I said, Why? Oh, because we all want to help friends. But at the same time, we all have something with the truth.

Morten Andersen  34:49


Fons Trompenaars  34:50

Then I look at the answers. And I do this by memory. 92% of the American say my friend has no right or some right and I will not To help by lying, by the way, 95% of the Swiss, I think the 5% of the French speaking, and we have 32% in Venezuela. Now the rich here is that Americans they are you see, the Venezuelans are corrupt, because you've got to trust them, they always help their friends. Did I did a workshop in Venezuela. And a Venezuelan told me, thank you, Mr. Trump, and I knew the Americans are corrupt, say why you can't talk, they won't even have that friend. So what I'm doing with this is to make any value ridiculous, because what you need is to combine them. Now, let me finish the story by reconciliation, you know, that Americans 10 years ago have invented that if you don't have values, you write them on the wall, there was a club where you worked with in Morristown, New Jersey, they had that training center. And obviously, that five values American company financial services, and two of them were the following. One was integrity. So I asked in Morristown, the top 50 of that company, how does integrity help you to reconcile the or to give the correct answer to the car accident dilemma, and there was an American who stood up as a Mr. Trump and as I lost you, if you have integrity, you will not lie. And by the way, if you have integrity, your friend will not expect you to lie. There was a reason in the room? Who said, john, I disagree. How can you have integrity and not help your friend. And here the dilemma was back again, they had a second value. We respect the culture of others. I said, Take these two values, as a company worldwide. And you have a multicultural team, whether it's an American, a Korean, a Dane, a Dutch, Italian, at one table, and you're having a discussion about your corporate values. What would you do in order to use the values to give the correct answer to the car accident? dilemma? Yes. And it is dead silent. What you have to respect the green view, you have to respect the American view. And like you said, in your earlier question, now, what I learned in Japan is very often that they say, our option is not on your list. In Japan, what we will do is we will test the strength of our friendship by asking our friend to tell the truth and God Himself. So we can talk to the judge to lower the sentence for his courage. And what I like of this answer is there is a dilemma between the friend and the truth. And instead of choosing between the two, which are models, as you, as you crack the line, you have a Y and an X axis, where one axis says friendship, and the other axis says truth. And you want to have the if the British 1010, the 1010 answer, namely, how can I connect the friend to the truth, and that comes back to perhaps the meta value of what we're talking about. And that is integrity. If you look at the etymological dictionary, and you look up integrity, and many definitions, by the way, but it's always about wholeness. And the one I like most is integrity is creating holders, through the integration of opposites. And that was done here. And it is working in every culture. And you will see what works in every culture are funny labels, because our language cannot capture the so for example, co op petition, you individually compete to better cooperate, you cooperate to have individuals better compete, servant leadership, it is how can I lead from top down to listen to people serving, bottom up? Yes, etc, etc.

Morten Andersen  39:03

So if I'm an organization, and I do want to create a number of values, we do want to have a distinct culture and values is a level of culture of the three levels, that's probably the level we can work best at. So by identifying our values is a good first step, we can then create them into norms. What you're just saying now, which is that the interpretation of values are very different in different cultures. How do I then still maintain that I want to create a company culture across the globe? while understanding that there are different interpretations of that? How does that work?

Fons Trompenaars  39:41

Let me give an answer with an anecdote.

Morten Andersen  39:43


Fons Trompenaars  39:44

I was called to three years ago by a company I can mention the name we've published about it. CDP que esta de poder plasmonic avec one of the big investment funds in in Quebec in Canada, and the head of HR a wonderful lady who knows Stock said font, we followed some of your articles. And we introduced the yin and yang values. I said, Why? Now because we in 2008, were killed by our value. I said, Tell me more now, you know, financial crisis 2008. We had three values, ambition, innovation, collaboration, we follow those values, and we were proud of them. So ambition meant that we took too many risks. Collaboration meant that we could hold nobody accountable. And innovation meant that we didn't understand our own financial products anymore. Our values killed us. We lost in a week time 50 billion, have a portfolio of 450 by the way, so not too bad. 

Morten Andersen  40:42

Not too bad, actually, in the prices now. And

Fons Trompenaars  40:44

then we were on zoom. She sent me three pictures on that share screen. And there were three elevators with two doors each. On one door, it said ambition on the door other door, it said prudent on one door, it said innovation on the other door discipline, or rigor rigor on one door, it said collaboration on the other door, it's an individual accountability. Wow. Yeah, sounds people love it. So we are enriching our values with its opposite. But I call you false. Because how do we make this real? How do we make this basic assumptions because people love it. And we respect our own values. Now any value disconnected from its opposite leads or has the risk of leading to a pathology. And like I said, individual lism without collectivity becomes egoism, collectivity without individuals becomes communism. And I can do that with any value. So any organization that has values I say, and what about the opposite? Now, what we have done to make this real? We have asked the question, first, we started with the board. And it's not easy, by the way, but good things are not easy. We have said, What can I do with rigor to make our company more innovative? What can I do with prudence to be more ambitious? What can I ask these questions? And what behavior do I want to show in this theme? By the way, this is called values to behavior in an intact team, so that you end up with a charter of behavior, which shows how you combine one value with the other, okay? In the beginning, there was sweating, and this was the board, not stupid people, but it's not easy. But once you have it and the CEO says, he said, I am a non executive director of Cirque du Soleil. And we found out that the people in the trapeze didn't want to take more risk. Their ambition was leveling, we have made them head of the task force for new safety net. And since they trusted the safety net, they took more risk, and they felt less in the training. So funny. prudence will help you to get more ambition. And then he said, this is a metaphor, I want you to think what in our bank are the safety net, in order for us to be more ambitious? And then people came out, you know, and that's another learning in in dilemma reconciliation. We often use metaphors, you know, what is the best metaphor that works everywhere? No. is the family Yes, your father and mother of kids, all the dilemmas, rules versus exceptions, individual versus family, showing emotions being neutral, blah, blah, blah, blah, are all there in the family and then look at what a servant leadership, the best for is a good father or mother, you are there to serve your kids. And it's not for yourself, it's to make them perform better. And what means sometimes you're tough, and sometimes you caress them, and you play the swapping game. Yes. So you're tough in the context of unconditional love, that is servant leadership. 

Morten Andersen  44:04

I guess what I hear you say is it is possible to have a company culture, across national cultures, obviously, they will be affected by the national culture, but it is, however, a strong corporate culture that is mindful of their natural culture, as well as still having something which is uniquely theirs.

Fons Trompenaars  44:24

Completely and modern, again, you're in the same field. For me, the definition of corporate culture is the end result of competing values fighting for preference. Every culture has a fight between long term vision short term results. If one value dominates its opposite, you run a risk or you're less performing. Once you have reconciled short term and long term or push and pull. You mentioned it. You are high performing and more innovative.

Morten Andersen  44:55


Fons Trompenaars  44:56

And so the role of cultural change is to introduce the company with its opposite. And the quality of leadership is to facilitate that process. Yes. So if you are Philips are Dutch company, and you go for Bush, all the patterns come from Phyllis. But the money was made by Sony who said thank you, Phyllis for the invention, we will make it into something close to the customer. Then Phillips did the setup a design company does Oh, let's invite Italian designers because they're full of dazed, blah, blah, blah, blah. But they never talked to each other. So dad, and and not through through. Now they're in another business. They're more in health. But the point is, can we make dilemma reconciliation, a process? That is the essence of managing change, namely, enriching the company culture by its opposite, rather than throwing it away? but also as a good leader? What is not a dilemma?And what is it another 

Morten Andersen  46:00

fantastic lesson, I think we could continue this conversation for hours and hours. It's really, really fascinating. And I think there is not one of our listeners who are not engaged with some kind of cultural, I wouldn't say conflict, but at least management because they're working with in different organizations or with people from different countries or different backgrounds. So thanks a lot for this conversation. I think your work is phenomenal. I remember, I read your book, Riding the Waves of Culture. I think I read it in early 2000s. I think it's from 97 or something. It's coming out in the fourth edition.Now is that correct? 

Fons Trompenaars  46:39

Yeah. Very soon. around December, January.

Morten Andersen  46:42

Yeah, right. Okay. Fantastic. And I just will urge anyone to read it, because it is a phenomenal book still. So so thanks a lot. Thanks, a lot. conversation. Thanks a lot for taking the time to speak with me. I really, really appreciate that.

Fons Trompenaars  46:54

Yeah. And Morten, there is a little free app that we have launched recently. And it's called the COVID-19 resilience app. And what we have done is we have done work on what are the dilemmas created by the pandemic. And I like the big data metadata lemma is health versus economy. Yes. And use that those who choose for the economy have a problem with health. Yes, those who choose for health have a problem with the economy. It is the asking the question, What can I do with the economy to make our society more healthy, and vice versa? Simple example, if you are in fashion, you make a face mask for 60 euros, that is washable, helps you in health and making turnover for the fashion company. Simple example. And and we have a little app that that ends in what are your dilemmas on the individual level, and on your societal level. And we are now into ann app on new ways of working because the result of dealing with these dilemmas, has an effect on organizations. And digital versus analog is another dilemma that hopefully we can be helpful in at least giving you a free analysis of where you are as either an organization or or an individual.

Morten Andersen  48:15

Fantastic. I'll put a link to that in our show notes. So please, the listener go in and look for that. That sounds like a fantastic app. So again, thank you very much for your time here. I really appreciate that. And good speaking with you

Fons Trompenaars  48:29

same here Morten, it was a pleasure to be interviewed by you.

Morten Andersen  48:33

Thank you very much. I think cultures so interesting and what a great conversation with Fons. I took three things away from the interview. One, you can measure culture, you can think of cultures having three levels, the explicit, which is the observable reality of language, buildings, houses, food, fashions, customs and art. In other words, it's predominantly the products of the culture. The second layer is the norms and values, the norms are the rights and wrongs. The values, on the other hand, is the good and bad. And finally, the third layer is the underlying assumptions of the people in the culture. This level is no longer conscious. And people are not constantly questioning this level and they've become self evident for the people in the culture. Anyway, these three levels can be measured on seven dimensions to describe the culture two dilemma resolution is the way to understand each other and move forward despite cultural differences. This was really fascinating. So we all share dilemmas. So across cultures, we recognize a dilemma. We share them, but how we solve the dilemmas are different. So will you lie in court to save a friend? Well, that will be a yes in some cultures and no in  others. And it is through those dilemma resolutions that we understand differences and can start the journey to understand each other. And third, when you want to change a culture start with the business issues, not the culture. Fons warns us not to do big cultural projects in organizations, they rarely work. He says, instead, start with a business issues because your share them, and then use the dilemmas and the dilemma resolution workshops to resolve dilemmas as they occur, and through them understand and work with a culture. You can change your culture, you can build a uniform culture within an organization, but don't make it into a big culture project. Fons has made a great TEDx talk, where he talks about growing up in a multi culture family working with cultures many, many years and why dilemmas are so important. It's fun, it's enlightening, which is my kind of talks. So I will encourage you all to check it out. Enjoy that one. Until next time, take care

Be in the know

Join the community to receive the latest articles on Change Management, upcoming events and exclusive newsletter.

We guarantee 100% privacy. Your personal details will not be shared to third party partners.

Be in the know

Join the community to receive the latest thought change management articles, upcoming events and exclusive newsletter

Don't ask me anymore