The impact of cultural aspects during investigation interviews

Should we take into consideration cultural aspects of the interviewee when conducting interviews during an audit and/or investigation assignment? Or could we suppose that the culture of a multinational can override the own culture of the employee? By the way, can we pretend there is Corporate culture in any international companies?

An investigation engagement consists in the application of techniques to understand the processes and to conduct interviews, in order to uncover factual misconducts and acts. These techniques are widely explained in numerous books, articles and by various speakers, but the knowledge of the other's culture, as a key factor of success, is rarely mentioned.

Mais alors qu’est-ce que la culture dans le cadre d’une mission d’investigation ? Est-ce la culture d’entreprise ? La culture d’entreprise est l‘ensemble des traditions et de savoir-faire qui assurent un code de comportement implicite et la cohésion à l’intérieur de l’entreprise ou est-ce la culture au sens large ? La culture au sens large est ensemble des comportements, des mythes ou des représentations collectives qui sont produits et diffusés massivement par les médias du pays, du continent (presse, radio, télévision, etc…) ?

Culture has multiple facets and it is difficult to afford by people outside this culture. Even two persons from the same country, may have different cultures drawn from their education, their age, their childhood, their socio-professional background...

Universal Corporate culture
versus Individual culture?

Investigation engagement is often aimed at uncovering corruption scheme, fraud, collusion, conflicts of interests,... As such, taking into account the culture of the individual is essential during interview process. Universal corporate culture does not prevail, when conducting interviews, as the exercise depends on each human individual, who is defined by his culture, beyond his belonging to a corporate organization.

During the conduct of interviews, it is necessary to understand the motivations of the person who has acted, to put him in a comfort zone to maintain and to nurture the exchanges/communication and to detect the unspoken and/or omission parts.

So how can we approach individual culture, if we do consider that universal corporate culture does not apply under these circumstances?

How to better understand
the cultural aspects of interviewees?

This is the challenge we need to face: how to impregnate and learn from the culture of the person in front of view, during an interview? As there is no formalized good practices and universal concepts to address such personalized culture. This could explain why the impact of cultural aspects during interviews, is rarely mentioned in publications and interview guides.

The critical phase during the conduct of interviews is then, before the interview; in the preparation phase. It is when we need to address and to take into account the cultural aspects, prior to fire away the interview sessions.

Is there an “easy” method for
characterizing a culture?

There is no method for characterizing a culture, however there is an interesting approach proposed by Geert Hofstede[i], an organizational psychologist, specialized in intercultural studies. Geert Hofstede defines the culture of each nation with six components, called dimensions of culture. Each of them has been expressed on a scale that runs roughly from 0 to 100:

  • Individualism: degree of interdependence a society maintains among its members – how you define yourself: “I” or “we”;
  • Power distance: this dimension deals with the fact that all individuals in societies are not equal;
  • Masculinity: society driven by competition, achievement, and success vs society driven by caring for others, quality of life;
  • Uncertainty avoidance: How a society deals with the fact that the future can never be known;
  • Long term orientation: How society has maintained some links with its own past while dealing with the challenges of the future and present;
  • Indulgence / restraint: The extent to which people try to control their desires and impulses, weak control of impulses versus strong control.

Geert Hofstede has collected most of its data on global cultural values through surveys. Having an overview of such a developed concept might be a valuable insight; prior to undertake investigation interviews.

As an example and according to Geert Hofstede, French people tend to have great respect for hierarchy; they value and seek for respect of hierarchy and responsibilities given. In this case, it is important to value the role and responsibilities to create the comforting environment, while conducting interviews.

Il est également intéressant de consulter les ouvrages d’Edward Twitchell Hall[ii], anthropologue américain et spécialiste de l’interculturel. Cet anthropologue distingue les cultures monochroniques (Amérique du nord, pays scandinaves, pays germaniques, Pays-Bas, Royaume-Uni…) et polychroniques (Amérique latine, Moyen-Orient, Afrique, Asie et dans une certaine mesure France ou Grèce). Les cultures monochroniques ont une vue du temps linéaire et compartimentée, alors que les polychroniques en ont une plus flexible.

In polychronic cultures, human interaction is valued over time and material things, leading to a lesser concern for “getting things done”; for example, to think about what will be achieved instead of to think about things must be achieved.
To be familiar with some aspects of a culture could be an asset during the introduction phase of the interview in order to make feel comfortable the interviewee and let him in his comfort zone.

Culture, an advantage . . .

In conclusion, during this phase of interview preparation, taking into account the cultural aspect is a critical element. We need to ensure that all of the available information that can be obtained prior to the interview phase, has been collected and analyzed under the prism of cultural aspects.

As such it is an essential component of an investigation, contributing to gather information, evidences to substantiate a case.

Jean-Jacques QUANG
Directeur Associé

[i] : Hofstede insights
[ii] : Beyond Culture (1976) by Edward Twitchell Hall

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