More often than not, as project managers we are often faced with scenarios where we have to solve problems and provide solutions to challenges encountered in a project. There is often more than one way to solving a problem and the approach adopted by different project managers would vary. What determines the approach we adapt is known as our decision-making skills. These decision-making skills differ among project managers and these differences come as a result of the influence of our personal/cultural behavior.

Although the decision-making process might be scientific, it is not void of emotions and sentiments. The saying that emotions rule the world is very valid even in business environments, which explain why, when two project managers trying to solve the same scenario using the same scientific method, they might end up with different solutions. This also explains why, when a project is under-performing we change the project manager. The change might not necessarily be due to the incompetent nature of the project manager but the decision-making ability of the project manager. For example, in football, it a coach is sacked it doesn’t mean he is not a good coach, it means the club management is no longer satisfied with his techniques. A sacked coach might therefore go ahead and get another coaching position with a bigger team that believes in his ability.

Our culture/personal behavior and emotions are not necessarily bad influences on our decision-making ability; it is however important that we understand what these behaviors/emotions are, and when and how they influence our decisions. We should also understand when these emotions can be negative and how to subdue them where necessary. We therefore hope that, by the time you finish reading this article, you would understand better how you could subconsciously influence your decisions positively or negatively.

We will start by looking at the Hofstede cultural dimension theory in explaining to us how our culture can affect our decision and subsequently consider other personal behaviors that might influence our decision-making ability

One of the biggest influencers of our behavior is our culture. Consciously and subconsciously, culture plays a major role in determining our thought process and influencing our personal behavior. One of the best ways to explain how culture influences us is the use of Geert Hofstede’s cultural dimension theory.

Hofstede carried out extensive research across 50 countries between 1967 and 1973. Using six primary dimensions, Hofstede was able to explain the primary difference in culture among countries.

Hofstede’s Cultural Dimensions

  • Power distance index (PDI)—This is the extent to which lower-level members of an institution, culture, or organization expect that power is distributed equally. A high index means that junior members of a society cannot question the authority and hierarchy is clearly established, while a lower index indicates that junior level people question their superiors and expect a form of explanation. For example, while Asian and African countries generally rank high on the PDI scale, countries like Austria and Denmark rank very low. Thus, understanding this while working with team members from different countries becomes the strength of the project manager.
  • Individualism vs. collectivism (IDV)—The index explains the rate at which people in a society are inclined toward working together as part of a team. A higher index signifies individualism (I) while a lower index signifies collectivism (We). North American countries are generally known to have a higher index as against Asian countries with a high degree of collectivism; for example, Canada scores 80 while Indonesia has an index of only 14.
  • Uncertainty avoidance index (UAI)—This can also be seen as the risk tolerance level of people from a particular culture. A higher index shows a culture that is rigid and risk-aversive such as Belgium (94) while a lower index signifies flexibility and diversity such as Denmark (23).
  • Masculinity vs. femininity—In a masculine society, women are less assertive and emphatic than men, while in a feminine society, there is equality of gender as women are allowed to share their views just like men.
  • Long-term orientation vs. short-term orientation—This dimension explains how a culture connects its past, present, and future together. A lower index shows a culture that holds dear to tradition and values, while a country with a higher index view adaptation to the current changes of life as important. Countries in East Asia such as China and Japan generally have a higher index when compared to countries in Africa or Latin America.
  • Indulgence vs. restraint—This dimension is a measure of happiness, basically how people believe they own their life. Cultures with a high index believe they are in control and own their lives while cultures with lower index are restrained by the societal beliefs. The indulgence index is highest in Latin-American countries, while Asian and Muslim countries such as Saudi Arabia have a lower index score.

How does this information profit the project manager? Due to the flatter nature of the world, the probability of working with project team members from multicultural backgrounds and ethnic groups is higher every day. Some complex projects even have team members working across countries. The Hofstede model helps the project manager, first in understanding himself or herself based on culture, then gives a detailed knowledge of why and how a project team member might be acting the way they do. For example, if in a team meeting a Japanese member has been largely quiet while a Danish team member has been asking a lot of questions, this is just a reflection of the power distance index of both countries.

Temperament—What makes up a total man is the sum of our individual characters. Our temperament is one passive side we often forget about and this has a way of influencing our decision-making skills. After we have all learned and understood the project management principles but our temperament comes to play in its implementation. How do we relate to people, what’s our charisma, are we reserved or easy to make friends with, etc. These and many more are some characteristics we exhibit that are as a result of our temperaments. To read more on temperaments, visit https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Four_temperaments.

Family background—Just like culture, our family background is major factor that influences our person and our decision-making skills. As a child, we often pick up the behaviors of our parents and those we grow around. The process of influencing us is gradual, subtle, and without our permission. Our family background largely influences factors such as faith, belief, diet systems, etc. We grow to accept these influences as the norm and subconsciously use them as standards in judging other general life issues. For example, a project manager who is a vegetarian might find it difficult working for an abattoir as the nature of work goes against his/her belief system.

Age and way of life—As we might be aware, people that fall within the same demographic bracket often have some things in common. The older we grow, the more experience we get about life in general. It is important to mention that experience is not solely a function of age, but age is one of the functions that determine experience. Also, we should realize that goals and values of a particular age bracket differ from each others. For example, when it comes to taking risks, we have two categories of people, the risk-takers and the risk-averse. However, research has shown that most youth are likely to take more risks than the elderly as the perception of life allows it.

Perception/reality/ideal—Our view of these three concepts goes a long way toward influencing who we are and eventually our decision-making skills

  • Perception—Also known as worldview. This is the way we see, interpret, or regard things.
  • Reality—This is the state of things as they actually exist as opposed to our view on them or what they ought to be.
  • Ideal – This is the perfect state of things as they ought to be.

Ideal is perfection, often generally agreed to; it cannot be changed and is often unrealistic and unachievable. Perception and reality can, however, be controlled by individuals and our reactions to these two concepts define us in a large way. The simple understanding of how our perception fits with reality is what separates one CEO from another and these can go far in determining the success or failure of an organization. Although we all strive toward the ideal, once our perception is not in tune with the reality of our organization and environment, then we are most likely headed for failure.

Conclusion

We need to realize that making decisions is far from being a purely scientific process and this article identified some of the personal and cultural behaviors that affect our decision-making skills. It is important to note that, while these behaviors are not necessarily bad, knowing how they influence our decision styles will help us better understand ourselves and our project team members, therefore reducing conflict and improving productivity in the long run.