Power distance

From CEOpedia | Management online

Power distance is the degree to which people in a country accept that power in institutions and organizations is distributed unequally. It is a range of expectations and acquiescence on the unequal distribution of power, which is expressed by the members of the organization or the basic social structures, with less influence. The power distance is closely associated with social inequality. Usually is present in such aspects of life as family, school, the workplace and the state.

Effects of power distance

A high power distance index (PDI) means that large inequalities of power and wealth exist and are tolerated in the culture. Such cultures are more likely to follow a class or caste system that discourages upward mobility of its citizens. A low-power-distance ranking indicates the culture discourages differences between power and wealth. These societies stress equality and opportunity.

In small power distance culture people treat parents and their children as equals. Child can make independent decision to learn from mistakes. Relationships in such family are affiliate and there is high autonomy for each of the members.

Large power distance in the family manifests itself in parents requiring unconditional obedience from children. Children cannot take independent decisions, and the authority and position of the older members of the family does not change even when the children become adults.

In organizations and cultures with small power distance workers are treated equally, to each other on the same level, there are minor differences in the level of wages. Subordinate relationship with the employer is held on the principle of cooperation (subordinates expect their managers to consult with them their decisions). The privileges and trappings of status are not recognized.

We cannot determine which kind of power distance allows greater efficiency. Organizations with low power distance achieve better results in the implementation of tasks requiring initiative on the part of subordinates. However, in endeavours that require discipline, more efficient is culture with a large power distance.

Examples of various power distance in cultures

In countries with high power distance index employees are not willing to express their feelings, doubts and disagreements. The relation between subordinate and boss depends on boss who makes all decisions. The system is strictly hierarchical and can be rarely changed. The organization is centralized and employees are always told what to do. There is also a huge gap between the salaries of employees and their superiors.

In contrast, in countries with low power distance index employees are treated by their bosses as partners and are usually consulted then there are some important decisions to be taken. The salary range is rather narrow and all company workers are considered as equal.

Hofstede model and organizational behaviour

Hofstede model of culture dimensions have been influential on OB (organizational behaviour) researchers and managers. Nevertheless, his research has been criticized. First, although the data have since been updated, the original data are from 30 years ago and were based on a single company (IBM). Second, few researchers have read the details of his methodology closely and therefore are unaware of the many decisions he had to make (for example, reducing cultural values to just five). Despite these concerns, Hofstede has been one of the most widely cited social scientists ever.

Advantages of Power distance

Power distance has several advantages.

  • It can create a sense of order and stability within an organization, as well as providing a sense of security for those in positions of power.
  • Additionally, it can provide a clear structure of authority, helping to ensure that tasks are completed in an efficient manner.
  • Furthermore, it can help to create a sense of loyalty and respect among members of the organization, which can lead to better communication and performance.
  • Power distance can also lead to increased productivity as it allows for a clear division of labor and specialization within an organization.
  • It can also help to ensure that important decisions are made in a timely manner, as those in power are able to make decisions quickly and decisively.
  • Additionally, the structure of power distance can lead to better morale and job satisfaction, as it allows for a sense of accomplishment and recognition for those in positions of power.
  • Finally, it can help to ensure that decisions are made quickly and effectively as there is a clear chain of command.

Limitations of Power distance

Power distance can be a limiting factor in organizations and societies because:

  • It can lead to a culture of "top-down" decision making, which can be seen as oppressive and lacking in creativity.
  • It can create an environment of distrust and suspicion, resulting in a lack of communication and collaboration.
  • It can also create a hierarchical structure which can lead to a lack of accountability and responsibility for the individual.
  • It can lead to an unequal distribution of power, resources and opportunities, which can result in feelings of injustice and inequality.
  • It can lead to a lack of motivation and engagement from employees, since they may feel that their work is not valued or appreciated.
  • It can create an atmosphere of fear and intimidation, resulting in a lack of innovation and risk-taking.

Other approaches related to Power distance

Power distance is closely related to other approaches, such as:

  • Legitimacy: Legitimacy is the belief that power is right and just. It is a social agreement that supports a particular power structure and legitimizes it.
  • Authority: Authority is the right to command or enforce obedience. It is the right to make decisions and to determine how others should act.
  • Obedience: Obedience is the willing acceptance of the command or authority of another. It is a form of compliance with the rules and regulations of a given organization or authority.
  • Hierarchy: Hierarchy is the structure of relationships between individuals and groups in an organization. It is a way of organizing people in a hierarchical way according to their power and influence.

In summary, power distance is closely related to other approaches such as legitimacy, authority, obedience and hierarchy. These approaches all support the unequal distribution of power and influence in organizations.

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Author: Joanna Karp