V. Time concept

The importance of time is dependent on the different view points of people’s origin respectively culture.

„Time is one of the fundamental bases on which all cultures rest and around all activities revolve“ (Hall, 1990, p. 179).

The are differences how cultures handle time. In earlier times time was measured in seasons, darkness and daylight. Nowadays time is more important and complex than in the past. Kluckholm and Strodtbeck identified three types of culture:

  • (1) present orientated, with little attention to what has happened in past and what the future will bring. Past is considered as unimportant while future is seen as vague and unpredictable
  • (2)past-orientated cultures have a high sense on traditions like to their ancestors, family, traditionalism and aristocracy. The present is tried to be maintained;
  • (3) future-orientated cultures with a high value in changes have a more desirable development in economic and social scales.

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For companies time is considered as an endless challenge they have to compete with and find solutions to the time managing problem.There is also a cultural difference in how they deal with time. In some cultures appointments it is not necessary to be precisely on time at appointments. Sometimes delays in appointments are expected, tolerated or at least taken into account. But in Germany, Finland, USA and China time has a high value and has to be precisely organized to keep business running. Any delay or disturbance in time-(managing) will influence the whole schedule of a manager. It might be helpful for the waiting person to get informed about any delay.

In France it is similar but punctuality depends on the importance of the person. If the delay is not more than 15 minutes, it is acceptable to wait. The cultural differences relating to time can be easily described with the „Circle Test“ from Tom Cottle who asked questions about how people from different countries value and see past-present- future. *4

The Americans see a very small overlap between present and past but an increasing importance from past to highest the future. Americans are used to work if necessary 70 hours a week just to reach their targets as fast as possible to increase the chances in the competition about jobs and hierarchies. But they forget sometimes to care about their health like other cultures which value time to a very high degree. Time pressure can cause stress and if it becomes „negative stress“ – that’s stress which is overwhelming and can’t be managed – people get sick and unproductive.

A similar behaviour is reflected in German culture. Germans most important attitude seems to be always punctual. Everything else than being right in time is an insult for the waiting person and a shame for the person who keeps waiting. Time is considered as very rare and expensive. That’s why time has to be well/perfectly organized. Finns and Germans consider time nearly in the same way. They have a big emphasize on present which is clearly linked with the past and future in similar proportions. France instead emphasizes the past and their long history most. Present is also well related with past and future but with less value/importance on future. In China present, past and future are seen as independent not overlapping periods with the same amount of importance.

To describe planning and who business is done in different cultures, Cottle’s „Time horizon“ is helpful. France, China and Finland are close behind each other on the Time horizon scale. This means that they are more long-time orientated than in contrast the Germans who are planning in shorter periods and least the Americans who manage their planning in very short terms. They often plan just quarterly because of the fast moving market conditions in the States. If we look at Hong-Kong specifically than the future planning has the biggest extend. In business it is often the case that plans are made for decades in advance. This means the are willing to wait for 10-20 years until their investments will return into profit, but these are then „super profits“. At a very short term orientation the future progress of a company may lack.

It needs a great level of flexibility and readiness to change quickly and adapt to new market conditions. It is absolutely necessary/recommended to consider future planning in a wider prospect because of future strategies development and planning. The present shouldn’t be neglected either should you emphasize it to much in consideration of future planning. To find the right extend/proportion is the companies challenge starting into the new millennium.

*4 „Riding the waves of culture“ by Trompenaars, Fons and Hampden-Turner, Charles (1998), page 125/126