If we explore the Belgian culture through the lens of the 6-D Model©, we can get a good overview of the deep drivers of the Belgian culture relative to other world cultures.
This dimension deals with the fact that all individuals in societies are not equal – it expresses the attitude of the culture towards these inequalities amongst us. Power Distance is defined as the extent to which the less powerful members of institutions and organisations within a country expect and accept that power is distributed unequally.
With a score of 65, Belgium scores high on the scale of the PDI. It is therefore a society in which inequalities are accepted. Hierarchy is needed if not existential; the superiors may have privileges and are often inaccessible. The power is centralized in Belgium. It might in the near future not be centralized in Brussels anymore but the Walloons and Flemish will each have their own point of centralized power from where administration, transports, business etc. are managed. In management, the attitude towards managers is more formal and on family name basis (at least, in the first contact, the information flow is hierarchical. The way information is controlled is even associated with power, therefore unequally distributed. Control is normal, and even expected, but considered as formal and not key for efficiency.
The fundamental issue addressed by this dimension is the degree of interdependence a society maintains among its members. It has to do with whether people´s self-image is defined in terms of “I” or “We”. In Individualist societies people are supposed to look after themselves and their direct family only. In Collectivist societies people belong to ‘in groups’ that take care of them in exchange for loyalty.
At 75 Belgium scores very high on the Individualism index. This means that the Belgians favour individual and private opinions, taking care of themselves and immediate family rather than belonging to a group. In the work environment, work relationships are contract based, the focus is on the task and autonomy is favoured. The management is the management of individuals and the recognition of one‘s work is expected. People can voice their opinion, but towards power holders a less direct style is preferred than amongst peers. The Belgian culture (together with the French culture) houses a “contradiction”: although highly Individualist, the Belgians need a hierarchy. This combination (high score on Power Distance and high score on Individualism) creates a specific “tension” in this culture, which makes the relationship so delicate but intense and fruitful once you manage it. Therefore, the manager is advised to establish a second “level” of communication, having a personal contact with everybody in the structure, allowing to give the impression that “everybody is important” in the organization, although unequal.
A high score (Masculine) on this dimension indicates that the society will be driven by competition, achievement and success, with success being defined by the winner / best in field – a value system that starts in school and continues throughout organisational life. A low score (Feminine) on the dimension means that the dominant values in society are caring for others and quality of life. A Feminine society is one where quality of life is the sign of success and standing out from the crowd is not admirable. The fundamental issue here is what motivates people, wanting to be the best (Masculine) or liking what you do (Feminine).
With 54 on average, Belgium has an intermediate score on this dimension. Balancing in the middle of this dimension contradictions can be found. A confrontational, win-lose negotiating style (typical of the US and Anglo countries) will not be very effective in Belgium. This could mean that the decision process may be slower, as each point of view is considered so that consensus can be achieved. Belgians strive towards reaching a compromise, winning a discussion is generally less important than achieving mutual agreement.
A deeper look into the difference between the Northern part of the country (Flemish) and the Southern part (French) shows a difference in the Masculinity value. The Flemish is at 43, and the French at 60. This certainly explains partly the difficulties the two communities experience. The need for the Flemish to “close the circle” and “stay between natives” is a necessity to establish consensus, typical for a more Feminine culture. The cultural priority for the French-speaking part is the opposite: to be part of a “global Latin culture” typically made of “universal values”.
The dimension Uncertainty Avoidance has to do with the way that a society deals with the fact that the future can never be known: should we try to control the future or just let it happen? This ambiguity brings with it anxiety and different cultures have learnt to deal with this anxiety in different ways. The extent to which the members of a culture feel threatened by ambiguous or unknown situations and have created beliefs and institutions that try to avoid these is reflected in the score on Uncertainty Avoidance.
At 94 Belgium has one of the highest scores on the UAI Index. Their history of frequently being ruled by others partly explains this score. Certainty is often reached through academic work and concepts that can respond for the need of detail, context, and background. Teachings and trainings are more deductive. In management structure, rules and security are welcome and if lacking, it creates stress. Therefore planning is favoured, some level of expertise welcome, when change policies on the other hand are considered stressful. Both communities North [&] South share this score on the dimension, which makes it very painful when negotiating a new set of rules, called a Constitution!
Long Term Orientation
This dimension describes how every society has to maintain some links with its own past while dealing with the challenges of the present and future, and societies prioritise these two existential goals differently. Normative societies, which score low on this dimension, for example, prefer to maintain time-honoured traditions and norms while viewing societal change with suspicion. Those with a culture, which scores high, on the other hand, take a more pragmatic approach: they encourage thrift and efforts in modern education as a way to prepare for the future.
With a very high score of 82, Belgium scores as a decidedly pragmatic culture. In societies with a pragmatic orientation, people believe that truth depends very much on situation, context and time. They show an ability to adapt traditions easily to changed conditions, a strong propensity to save and invest, thriftiness, and perseverance in achieving results.
One challenge that confronts humanity, now and in the past, is the degree to which small children are socialized. Without socialization we do not become “human”. This dimension is defined as the extent to which people try to control their desires and impulses, based on the way they were raised. Relatively weak control is called “Indulgence” and relatively strong control is called “Restraint”. Cultures can, therefore, be described as Indulgent or Restrained.
Belgium scores 57 on this dimension, which marks it as Indulgent. People in societies classified by a high score in Indulgence generally exhibit a willingness to realise their impulses and desires with regard to enjoying life and having fun. They possess a positive attitude and have a tendency towards optimism. In addition, they place a higher degree of importance on leisure time, act as they please and spend money as they wish.