Long-Term Orientation vs. Short-Term Orientation: Hofstede's Definition & Concept

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  • 0:02 Definitions & Key Concepts
  • 1:46 Why Is This Important?
  • 2:25 Example
  • 3:11 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Shawn Grimsley

Shawn has a masters of public administration, JD, and a BA in political science.

Expert Contributor
Jerry Allison

Jerry holds a Doctor of Business Administration and a Master’s in Mathematics. He has taught business, math, and accounting for over 25 years.

Viewing matters from a long-term or short-term perspective will have a significant impact on strategies and decision-making. In this lesson, you'll learn about these two orientations. A short quiz follows the lesson.

Definitions and Key Concepts

Geert Hofstede is a Dutch social psychologist who focuses his work on the study of cultures across nations. Hofstede developed the concepts of short-term and long-term orientation, which we'll be exploring in this lesson. In fact, he developed five cultural dimensions: individualism, masculinity, uncertainty avoidance index, long-term orientation and power distance. His original research of cultural dimensions involved a study of IBM employees from across the world.

Long-term orientation is when you are focused on the future. You are willing to delay short-term material or social success or even short-term emotional gratification in order to prepare for the future. If you have this cultural perspective, you value persistence, perseverance, saving and being able to adapt.

Short-term orientation is when you are focused on the present or past and consider them more important than the future. If you have a short-term orientation, you value tradition, the current social hierarchy and fulfilling your social obligations. You care more about immediate gratification than long-term fulfillment.

You should note that the concepts of long-term orientation and short-term orientation address the different ways cultures view time and the importance of the past, present and the future. Cultures demonstrating a short-term orientation will be more concerned with the past and present and will focus their efforts and beliefs on matters related to the short-term, while cultures demonstrating a long-term time orientation will be more concerned with the future and focus their efforts on future-orientated goals.

Why Is This Important?

Knowing about a person's cultural time orientation - whether they're short-term orientated or long-term orientated - is crucial information in management and in negotiations because it plays a large factor in motivation. Organizations and managers who know the time orientation of their employees will be able to fashion appropriate motivating incentives that align with their orientations, such as a bonus - a short-term incentive - or an additional contribution to an employee's retirement fund, which is a long-term orientated incentive. Cultural time orientation is also a crucial bit of information in cross-cultural negotiations, as illustrated in this example.

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Additional Activities

Short-term vs Long-term Thought Questions

Research Project

Use the Internet to read about Hofstede's work and find how various countries rank in his studies. Which three countries are the most short-term oriented? Which three countries are the most long-term oriented? Are there similarities between the three short-term oriented countries? If so, what are those similarities? Are there similarities between the three long-term oriented countries? If so, what are they? Write a report that discusses Hofstede's work and what you have just discovered.

Group Discussion

Form a group of several people (say 4 to 6) and have each person answer the following questions:

  1. Are you generally focused in life on the short term or the long term?
  2. Regardless of which focus you have, how do you display this focus in how you live your life and make decisions?
  3. Why do you believe you have developed this type of focus for your life?

Discussion Question

Hofstede's work, although with IBM employees, focused on variations between country cultures. Do you think a company in a country will have the same short-term or long-term focus the country has? For example, if UhOh Company is started in Old Xland and Old Xland has a short-term orientation, does UhOh Company have to have a culture that is also short-term oriented? Why or why not? If not, how could a company get its employees to change to a new orientation? Discuss this with some other people without providing your thoughts and see what answers they give you.

Example Answer: Honda has plants in Japan and the US. Japan is very long-term oriented, so the employees work to build their future and the company's future, ensuring their long-term financial needs are met. However, people working for Honda in the US are more focused on what can be earned today to take care of immediate needs. There is much less thought of the future, whether that future is for the person or for the company. It would be extremely difficult to get a Japanese worker to think short-term and difficult to get a US worker to think long-term because of the culture in which they grew up.

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