It was a unique surprise when I was in the UK last week and read about a company in my hometown conducting international research. I was catching up on magazine subscriptions via my iPhone when I came across an item in BusinessWeek about research being conducted by Grand Rapids-based Steelcase.
The research is a study of corporate cultures in 11 countries, which Steelcase will apply in manufacturing and selling its various lines of office furniture. It's an interesting study, and a good example of the fact that research is vital to communication success and therefore an important skill set for PR professionals and students. This is particularly true in international contexts for NGOs, governments and MNCs.
What jumped out at me right away in this concise graphic representation of research results is the obvious adaption of Dutch scholar Geert Hofstede's cultural dimensions. In international PR courses, as well as many communications courses, this theory is taught as a way of comparing cultures through specific scales, such as the degree to which cultures are individualistic or collectivist in nature. This should help communicators tailor messages appropriately to avoid cultural misunderstanding or even crises.
I plan to use this article in future classes as a great illustration of research, and this theory, being applied by a major global company. The example is useful in both research and international PR classes.
The Steelcase research is also impressive because it is shared. As Don Stacks of the University of Miami wrote recently for the Institute for Public Relations, it is too often the case that business research is proprietary. So it is nice to see Steelcase not only doing the research but making it available. While some might argue it gives away a competitive edge, I would argue it also positions Steelcase as a thought leader in its industry and international business in general.