What is meant by achievement vs ascription?
I recently had a conversation when a German friend of mine described a family member as “My father’s sister”. Thinking she was momentarily missing the word “Aunt”, I offered the correction only to be corrected myself. She told me she knew the word “Aunt” but the women she was referring to had no relationship with her and had not earned the title. In my family the titles of “aunt” and “uncle” aren’t a matter of merit but birth and I had difficulty imagining it being any other way, but through my intercultural training experience I was able to make better sense of it.
Achievement vs Ascription
In Fons Trompenaars’ cultural dilemma of achievement vs ascription, achievement and ascription are on opposite ends of a continuum. Ascription is the cultural tendency of assigning social status on the basis of birth. We can see this in monarchies, caste systems, and traditions where societal roles and jobs are passed down by birth.
A society with the cultural tendency of achievement values a more merit based assignment of social status where members earn their positions based on their decisions, relationships, hard work, or lack thereof.
For my German friend, the family status of “Aunt” or “Uncle” needed to be achieved where in my family, those titles were ascribed by birth. Now in my family, non-family members earned the title of “aunt” without being related by blood due to their relationships with my parents or grandparents. This “play aunt” achieved her family status through the strength of and length of the relationship.
Impact on business
The “So what?” to this cultural dilemma can be important when we consider the importance of respect and how it is given or earned. Ascribed status isn’t always obvious. The brother of the company president may be a line manager yet he may have far more importance in the organization than his position title may imply. Treating him in a manner with less respect than expected could lead to problems. Additionally, decisions may be made on the basis of maintaining social stability (ascription) rather than enhancing social mobility (achievement). High achievers may feel stuck in a system that honors ascription, like workers in a family business who know, no matter what, the son of the owner will be the next president.
Many organizations honor both ascription and achievement by offering benefits tied to length of service and benefits, such as performance bonuses and commissions, tied to productivity. This is a reconciliation that honors elders while honoring the achievements of anyone in the organization, including the elders.
Learning to recognize and reconcile cultural differences gives business people more options for gaining better results.
The focus on reconciliation is why Target Training integrates Trompenaars Hampden-Turner’s experience and research into our solutions. Through reconciliation, clients will find better solutions to the intercultural problems they face. Target Training is a licensed supplier of Trompenaars-Hampden-Turner’s Intercultural Awareness Profile and Cultural Competence Online Products. Target Training provides intercultural training based on the Trompenaars’ Seven Dimension Model alone and as part of business communication skills training. Click to learn more about Ascription vs Achievement and other topics in our intercultural seminars.