In a society with a strong culture of Achieved status, you work hard and put in long hours to achieve, discover or develop something significant. As a result, you get noticed and rewarded with money and advances in position.

In a society of Ascribed status, status is given to you because of things like your years of service, the level of education you have attained, or the family you were born into. Many family-owned businesses struggle with questions around achieved or ascribed status, such as whether daughters and sons automatically get a job in the business or have to earn that right, and how to prove themselves worthy to take up a position of leadership.

Today we’ll especially focus on how the dimension of Status is relevant in global talent management.

Ascribed-Status Mechanisms for Success

What is interesting is that both achieved and ascribed status cultures have well-developed ways to help people succeed. If you take a classical ascribed status environment - a tribal environment - as an example, the eldest son of the tribal leader is automatically assumed to become the next leader when the father dies. In some tribal systems there is also a ritual mechanism for the father to lay down his authority and pass it on to his son earlier. What you find is that most tribes have advanced systems to help that son grow into the status he is ascribed, so he can "achieve" it as well after the fact.

This system has been successful for hundreds, sometimes thousands of years. In a well-structured ascribed status environment the community is heavily involved, there is wise counsel from the elders, and there is financial and educational support for the people with ascribed status.

However, if a person comes from a well-structured ascribed status society and all of a sudden has to succeed in an achieved status environment where the scaffolding is based on, “first achieve, and then we'll see if we'll put you up for promotion” the outcome is often the marginalization of the ascribed-status person.

In the corporate world most recruiting mechanisms, reward mechanisms, career advancement mechanisms, and performance management systems are based on achieved status. When the two dimensions clash, this can cause significant problems.

Ascribed Status in Affirmative Action in South Africa

This has happened for instance in South Africa, where many people were ascribed positions because of affirmative action. However, the mechanisms available to help them succeed did not cater for ascribed status appointments. As a result they were stuck. In an Honor/Shame environment it is important to hide that which is shameful, and in a Power/Fear environment it is important hide the fact that you don't have the power to fulfill your responsibilities successfully. For more on these worldviews see our Three Colors of Worldview homepage.

People who were ascribed these positions often quietly appointed a coach or advisor to help them build the skills they needed to succeed in their role. In some cases the previous occupant of the position was re-hired as a consultant to the person who received the position through ascribed status.

The mechanisms for success are very different between ascribed and achieved status cultures. As another example, take nationalization projects in the countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council.


Ascribed Status and Workforce Nationalization in the GCC


Ascribed Status and Workforce Nationalization in the GCC

In the member states of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) on the Arabian Peninsula, conflict between ascribed and achieved status is a daily challenge. GCC nationals with ascribed status often find the achieved status mechanisms in the workplace to be brutal, ruthless, too individualistic and too transparent (high levels of transparency are a problem in Honor/Shame cultures). As a result, GCC nationals often leave private companies and move to public sector jobs where there are many more ascribed-status mechanisms to match their appointments.

This has led to negative perceptions of people with ascribed-status backgrounds, who are often seen by their achieved-status colleagues as lazy, un-transparent, passive, and not aggressive enough. However, these perceptions are all too often the result of a mismatch of expectations and a lack of ascribed-status development and support mechanisms. Ascribed-status appointees are set up for failure by default.

This mismatch of expectations has caused a lot of stress for global executives moving into new markets and the people that they try to work with. Revamping the people development, induction, and graduate programs in these environments to cater for both achieved and ascribed status appointees is crucial. In order to fix these mechanisms global executives and the local talent they work with need to become inter-culturally intelligent. This is the only way to create new cultural spaces where they can collaborate successfully.


Congratulations on completing this part of your intercultural journey!

Our series has dug into a few areas where awareness of the 12 Dimensions of Culture make a night and day difference for your business. We believe every global executive should have an idea of where their organization stands.

The Cultural Mapping Inventory from KnowledgeWorkx identifies the unique mix of the 12 Dimensions of Culture in your organization, giving insight you need to manage your global identity and corporate culture.

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