“Time is Money”: Monochrons and Time Perception

A German manager was sent to Honduras to monitor a factory for his company.

Every single day, the factory workers showed up a half-hour late.

He held a meeting with the workers and brought this issue up, expecting to see some changes.

Nothing.

He created an incentive for being on time, offering a raise at year’s end to those who were punctual.

Nothing.

He implemented a sliding scale of punishment for tardiness, with a three-strike rule.

Nothing.

He laid down the law and fired a worker who was exceptionally late on a regular basis.

Still, the next day, workers did not punch in on time.

No matter how often he insisted that they be punctual, nothing changed.

He complained to his Honduran co-manager about this issue, and she shrugged, saying, “They may be late, but at least they show up. That, in and of itself, is rare.”

This is where monochrons and polychrons butt heads, and the frustration is very real.

Last week, we touched on the differences between monochronic and polychronic cultures.

This post will go into deeper detail about what to expect from monochronic employees or managers.

What to Expect from a Monochron

As the above example shows, monochrons – whose cultures are prominently found in Northern Europe, North America, and parts of Asia – are time-sensitive.

Time is strictly divided: there is a time for fun and a time for work.

As Project Management Institute describes it, monochrons treat time as:

“a commodity of high value, as necessary as or perhaps even more important than satisfaction, good work, and relationships.”

Time is as tangible as any other commodity, as the phrase, “Time is money,” suggests.

Time can be wasted. It can be saved. It can be killed. It can be lost. It can won.

This perspective of time results in monochrons having a stricter and more stressful relationship with the clock and, as such, they try to use their time effectively, often focusing on completing one task at a time.

As studies show, doing so is actually a more productive use of time than multitasking.

Studies indicate that multitasking is less efficient because we are less focused, resulting in shallower learning and lower achievement and productivity. 

In fact, one study showed that only 2.5 percent of people are effective multitaskers.

The fact that monochronic cultures eschew multitasking for a more focused approach indicates that they are instinctively making the most effective use of time.

A monochron’s linear thinking and proclivity to strict schedules, with a focus on one event following another (think a timetable or meeting agenda, etc.), exemplifies this.

Get It Done

Monochrons emphasize getting things done.

Punctuality. Precision. Productivity.

These are the keys to success in a monochronic culture.

Managing time to use it more efficiently results in greater productivity and, thus, greater success.

So, here’s a pro tip if you are attending a meeting with an international colleague: understand their time perspective and meet their expectations.

If they are from a monochronic culture, arrive early, be prepared, and adhere to the agenda.

“Hawaiian Time” vs. “Haole Time”: When Monochronic and Polychronic Time Perspectives Collide

You’ve just moved to Hawaii, and your new associate wants to schedule a meetup tomorrow to go over the basics.

They tell you, “Let’s meet at 3 o’clock, ‘Hawaiian time’.”

You show up at three o’clock, on the dot. 

By 3:05, you’re looking at your watch.

By 3:15, you’re tapping your foot.

By 3:35, you’re considering throwing in the towel.

Your associate finally arrives at 3:43, looking unhurried and surprised by your clear exasperation.

When you mention the scheduled meetup time, they laugh and say, “I did say, ‘Hawaiian time’?”

Little did you know, “Hawaiian time” means “island time” – in other words, the schedule is lax, and a meeting will start whenever the attendees happen to roll on up.

Had your new associate said, “Let’s meet at three o’clock, ‘Haole time’,” you could have expected them to show up at 3 o’clock, as stipulated.

The term, “haole,” is slang for non-native Hawaiians or Caucasian Westerners, who culturally have a much stricter value of time.

This type of cultural collision is bound to occur when the time orientations and/or perspectives of associated cultures don’t align, which can happen even across different cultures in a single assimilated country, as this example illustrates.

Over the past few weeks, we’ve spent some time (no pun intended) discussing time orientation: past, present, future, and timeline.

These orientations fall into different time perspectives – monochronic and polychronic – and, as with time orientations, the corresponding cultural values and norms vary.

Let’s take a brief look at how.

Monochronic Cultural Proclivities

Monochronic cultures often have a linear or timeline/future orientation.

You might find people of monochronic cultures to be more inclined toward the following:

  • Completing one task at a time
  • Focusing on the task at hand
  • Following strict deadlines or schedules
  • Requiring information and being low-context
  • Being work-oriented and committed to tasks at hand
  • Being committed to plans
  • Viewing ownership and privacy as important
  • Promoting timeliness, despite circumstances or relationships
  • Tending toward practical relationships that are often short-lived

As you can see, monochronic cultures value strict timelines more than anything, as doing so makes the trains run on time.

Conclusion: if you’re working with or in a monochronic culture, you’ll succeed in a timely manner.

Polychronic Cultural Proclivities

Polychronic cultures often have a past orientation.

You might find people of polychronic cultures to be more inclined toward the following::

  • Multitasking
  • Focusing on events occurring around them
  • Aiming for results, goals, and objectives
  • Possessing information and being high-context
  • Being relationship-oriented
  • Being flexible with plans
  • Viewing networking and community as important
  • Promoting relationships and circumstances over timeliness
  • Tending toward lifelong relationships and family ties

As you can see, relationships matter more than time in polychronic cultures.

Conclusion: if you’re working with or in a polychronic culture, you’ll succeed by preserving the relationship.

Seeing as these values and norms vary so greatly, working cross-culturally with polychronic or monochronic cultures can require some understanding and finessing.

We’ll talk more in-depth about each time perspective in the upcoming weeks.

Cultural Time Orientation: How Timeline-Oriented Cultures View Time

Do you have the time to talk about time?

You should, because understanding cultural concepts of time matters a great deal to cross-cultural relations.

Time-orientation researchers Alexander Gonzalez and Phillip Zimbardo wrote:

“Every child learns a time perspective that is appropriate to the values and needs of his society.”

Time is directly linked to a society’s values and needs. It is of the utmost importance to cultural understanding.

As we’ve discussed these past few weeks, the way a society views time can explain a lot about their cultural baobab.

For instance, those who are past-oriented value tradition; those who are present-oriented value instant gratification; and those who are future-oriented value goals and long-term benefits.

One last type of time orientation is timeline cognitivity.

Let’s take a look at how timeline-oriented cultures view and value time.

Timeline-Oriented Values

“Time is a wave or a black hole could not bend it; humanity rides the crest of an infinite number of waves that are perceived as linear in their limited frame of reference.” ― Ken Poirot

Timelines are linear, as are timeline-oriented cultures.

They view everything in linear terms with a linear frame of reference.

Individuals in such societies tend to be very detail-oriented but struggle to absorb and understand multiple events simultaneously.

Timeline-oriented cultures also tend to be monochronic, completing one task at a time.

Individuals from such cultures are generally not prone to multitasking.

Monochronic, timeline-oriented cultures value schedules and demonstrate strict time management.

The Devil is in the Details

Differing views on time influence global communications and affairs, necessitating some cross-cultural understanding and diplomacy on the matter.

When it comes to managing or negotiating across cultures, some knowledge of and practice in dealing with these differences in time perspectives and communication styles is key to succeeding in business.

Cultural Time Orientation: How Future-Oriented Cultures View Time

Say, you’re headed to a job interview in the U.S.

You’ve probably prepared for this common question: “Where do you see yourself in 5/10 years?”

This is a perfect example of how Americans – and other future-oriented cultures – view time.

Their focus is on future goals.

What can they accomplish in the present to meet these goals?

How can they benefit in the future from their actions today?

We’ve talked about past-oriented cultures and present-oriented cultures.

If you find yourself most often viewing life in terms of what is to come, you might be from a future-oriented culture.

Future-Oriented Values

“The future depends on what we do in the present.” – Mahatma Gandhi

Future-oriented cultures view life and priorities in terms of long-term goals.

Their values are based on goal-setting and achieving.

In a large-scale study of culture and leadership, the GLOBE project defined future-oriented cultures as those that value “the sacrifice of short-term pleasures and satisfactions in favor of long-term success and prosperity.” 

As you can imagine, such goal-oriented cultures are often competitive and confident, as they have an idea of what they want.

Think, “the American Dream.” 

Sacrificing today means a more promising tomorrow.

Such cultures are grounded in optimism, seeking a better future for themselves and working toward that “dream.”

They value planning and investing.

The study also found that future-oriented cultures – like the U.S., Singapore, Switzerland, the Netherlands, and Malaysia – often have a higher GDP per capita, as their forward-thinking values help them see the big-picture.

The Future is Ours

“Let the future tell the truth, and evaluate each one according to his work and accomplishments. The present is theirs; the future, for which I have really worked, is mine.” – Nikola Tesla

To differentiate between past, present, and future orientation, consider a pipeline potentially being constructed over sacred land.

A past-oriented culture might view the grounds as sacrosanct.

From their perspective, the land should be respected, and the people’s historical use and ownership of these grounds, honored.

A present-oriented culture might primarily value the jobs that this pipeline will provide today – jobs in a region that desperately needs them.

A future-oriented culture might look at the long-term effects of this pipeline. 

What would the benefits of its construction be? The drawbacks and the costs? To what extent would the pipeline impact the environment and the bottom line?

The point is, a culture’s time perception dictates its values.

Cultural time orientation will influence thinking, rationale, and the choices one will make in business and personal matters.

Cultural Time Orientation: How Present-Oriented Cultures View Time

Be present.

Exist in the now.

You only live once.

When it comes to time orientation, present-oriented cultures view the current moment in time as the only moment that matters.

Psychology Professor Philip Zimbardo spoke of individual time orientation, saying:

“There are two ways to be present-oriented, the most obvious is to be hedonistic, that you live for pleasure and you avoid pain. You seek knowledge, you seek sensation. There are other people who are present-oriented because they say, ‘It doesn’t pay to plan. My life is fated – fated by my religion, my poverty, the conditions that I’m living under.’”

While personal present-oriented values may not be exactly the same as those who are culturally present-oriented, the belief in fate does play into the perspective of time in many cultures.

Unlike past-oriented cultures, present time orientation results in a short-term thinking style with little focus on the future or the past.

Let’s dive in to the present.

Present-Oriented Values

Present-oriented cultures view the past as a closed book.

It is done, it is finished, it is something that cannot be changed.

Similarly, they view the future as something that has yet to be written, and they don’t have the power or tools to write it.

The past is gone, and the future is uncertain.

The only timeline that truly matters – and to which they have any influence – is the present.

Thus, the focus is on today, for tomorrow may not arrive.

They look to ways in which they can influence the present moment or changes they can make to yield short-term, immediate results.

You might find present-oriented cultures in Latin America and Africa. 

France, too, is said to have a more present-oriented culture, compared to the UK (past) and the US (future).

The Present is a Gift

“You must live in the present, launch yourself on every wave, find your eternity in each moment. Fools stand on their island of opportunities and look toward another land. There is no other land, there is no other life but this.” – Henry David Thoreau

Because their lives are not grounded in the future or the past, present-oriented cultures view the present as a gift.

They live life for today, not tomorrow.

Next week, we’ll talk about how this differs from future-oriented cultures.

Cultural Time Orientation: How Past-Oriented Cultures View Time

How do you make life decisions?

Do you anchor your reasoning in the past, basing logic on tradition and precedence?

Or do you look toward the future, anchoring decisions on what could be?

In the same vein, think about your culture.

Does your culture go back millennia or a mere few centuries?

Or maybe it was born yesterday?

The answers to these questions can tell us about our culture’s concept of time orientation.

We’ve talked a bit about time orientation and perception in a past blog.

But let’s dig a little deeper into each of the 4 Types of Cultural Time Orientation and Time Perception.

Past-Oriented Values

“The past is the beginning of the beginning and all that is and has been is but the twilight of the dawn.” – H.G. Wells

In past-oriented cultures, the past is honored and revered and heavily nostalgic, and it plays a large part in how present society is run and how decisions are made.

Past-oriented societies include China, Japan, Britain, and many Spanish-speaking Latin American countries.

They often follow formalities when it comes to working relationships and tend toward conservatism, meaning they are not often progressive in business matters.

Work culture is thoroughly grounded in ways of management that are tied to the past.

They also hold traditional values because feeding a collective memory is key to their cultural identity.

Due to the importance of tradition in these countries, their societies are slow to change. 

If you try to intervene in tradition, you are not to be trusted.

As individuals, too, ancestral worship and family traditions are highly valued.

The Past Guides Us

Past-oriented societies don’t just make decisions based on past experience; they see their hope and inspiration in what has already been.

History, tradition, and precedence inspire them and direct their future.

They invest in businesses and other organizations that already exist.

All resources and efforts are put toward what has been established, and the past is used to evaluate the present.

Past-oriented cultures also tend to be risk-averse, and hiring is done with loyalty of company in mind.

Staff is expected to adhere to policies and procedures, as well as established norms.

Moreover, when planning for important changes that might also require a change in mentality, long time frames accommodate for resistance to said changes.

Change for change’s sake is not appreciated, and the past is led into the future, remaining very much alive in the present.

Visionary leaders of such cultures are able to balance their concept of time enough to ensure change is not too jarring and that the past is not left behind. 

The Human Freedom Index: How Free Are You?

Nelson Mandela said,

“For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.”

How would you define freedom?

Cato Institute, the Fraser Institute, and the Liberales Institut at the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom defined it with a metric called the Human Freedom Index.

The Index measures freedoms using 76 indicators, rating countries from 0 to 10, economically and personally, with 10 being the most free.

Economic freedom, for instance, involves an individual’s ability to prosper without government intervention, the ability to make personal economic choices and compete in markets, the protection of personal property, etc.

Personal freedom includes freedom of expression, equality, freedom of movement, security, etc.

Averaging these two fields based on scores for each of these 76 indicators, the Index arrived at the base score for 162 countries.

The Indicators

History shows that human progress takes greater leaps and bounds through human freedom.

As Albert Einstein said,

“For everything that is really great and inspiring is created by the individual who can labor in freedom.”

So, what human freedoms produce “great and inspiring” creations?

The Human Freedom Index suggests it’s such things as:

Using the most recent sufficient data available for each of these indicators, each nation was rated, averaging an overall score for the country.

The Scores

As you may have guessed, the nations that ranked as the freest are those whose cultural values emphasize personal freedom, many of which were democratic nations.

The top five countries in the 2019 Index were:

  • New Zealand 8.88
  • Switzerland 8.82
  • Hong Kong 8.81
  • Canada 8.65
  • Australia 8.62

The United States ranked 15th with a score of 8.46.

Those countries that ranked lowest tend to be totalitarian, one-party, or authoritarian states (or have historically been). 

The lowest ranked countries were:

  • Syria 3.79
  • Venezuela 3.80
  • Yemen 4.30
  • Sudan 4.32
  • Iraq 4.34

These data points can give you an idea of how you might fare in a foreign culture, based on your own culture’s relative freedoms.

Zookeepers Can Help

We’ve been talking about finding a Zookeeper to help you move in the world as an expat.

One of the reasons you might require one is if human freedoms are more or less restrictive in the country into which you’re expatriated.

Perhaps you’re moving from a country where you enjoy broad human freedom to one that’s restrictive – or vice versa.

The transition either way may be difficult. But having a Zookeeper can ease your integration and ensure you don’t do things wrong, impolite, taboo, or even unlawful.

Finding Your Cultural Zookeeper: How Your Assistant Can Assist You in Learning Culture

We’ve been talking the past few weeks about what types of people make the best zookeepers in a foreign culture.

Zookeepers are the intermediaries between you and the new culture. They can help you understand the nuances of the culture’s values, norms, and behaviors and provide you with metaphors or analogies to serve as mental models for better understanding.

While we’ve said that Third Culture Kids are amongst the best zookeepers due to their experience with multiple cultures from a young age, you unfortunately might not have any TCK connections.

So, who else might be a good zookeeper?

Assistants Assisting Cultural Learning

Don’t overlook your assistant as a teacher.

Executives often work closely with their assistants and, in a foreign culture, these assistants have the benefit of understanding their own society and having had previous experience working with foreign managers.

Upon arrival to Spain, I sought help in adapting to the local culture from my assistant.

She offered me daily cultural advice during a particularly difficult time for the company.

For instance, when my third female employee started crying in my office, I grew worried about my approach and wondered if there was something I could do differently.

When I asked my assistant if she had some insight, she told me, “That’s how it works in Madrid. Just keep Kleenex on your desk, so you can offer it to your employee if she starts crying. But keep talking to her rationally.”

I followed her advice and was able to continue making tough decisions without worrying about cultural missteps.

Advice & Explanations

Not only did my assistant offer advice, she offered an explanation for various aspects of her culture that did not gel with mine.

Regarding the tears, my assistant told me Spanish culture is more emotive and tolerant of crying at work than Swiss culture.

As exemplified by their expressive language, the Spanish are an emotive people.

My assistant/zookeeper also gave me insight into:

  • How to greet business clients
  • How and when to celebrate births/birthdays
  • How to/how not to dress
  • And, most importantly, that I should NEVER use the copy machine myself, as this is not a good look for a boss in Spain

The power distance index developed by Geert Hofstede puts Spain in the middle, while Switzerland is on the lower end. 

This means that Spain prefers a stronger power dynamic amongst its leaders, while Switzerland prefers a flatter hierarchy.

By suggesting changes in my behavior, my assistant/zookeeper provided me with concrete measures that would help me adapt to abstract cultural dimensions like power distance.

Zookeepers are International

The best zookeepers are not easy to find. 

And the monkey – YOU – must also be malleable to training. You must be open to criticism, both passive and active.

Friendship and trust are key to the relationship, as is some type of international background in regards to the zookeeper – whether they’ve simply worked with many a foreigner before or have themselves lived in different cultures.

Whatever the case, once you find yourself a good zookeeper, you’ll be good as gold.

I am a Third Culture Kid: Here’s What I’ve Learned

Third Culture Kids grow up in more than one culture.

Like Barack Obama or any other child who wasn’t raised in their parents’ homeland, I was expatriated and embedded in a foreign culture from a young age and learned how to adapt.

In fact, I grew up in three cultures.

My family was Swiss. At home, we had Swiss behaviors and traditions.

My school was French. I learned the French language, learned about French history and geography, and befriended my French peers.

My surroundings were African. The market, the neighborhood, the people, the culture – the reality of life all around me was that of the Mossi tribe.

I learned how to alter my body language and my behavior. Even my sense of humor differed depending on the audience.

This is what a TCK learns early on, which many only learn later in life:

Adapting is a necessity across cultures.

Perspective and Behavior

TCKs are in a specific cultural group all their own.

They are in a unique position where they are made to value various cultures, placing relatively equal importance on the behaviors and norms of them all.

The “rights” and “wrongs” that are culture-based and learned through primary socialization vary, and so the TCK learns that hardline views differ from group to group.

This allows some flexibility when navigating contradicting norms and values of the cultures into which the TCK is placed.

In this way, TCKs develop specific interpersonal behavior and standards of perspective that a child raised in a single culture does not, as they are not so exposed to opposing worldviews. 

A TCK’s lifestyle is different. Their communication is different, not only in its multilingual nature, but in its style, nonverbal and otherwise.

The complexity of their firsthand experience with multiple cultures produces in them distinct characteristics that enable their positioning as the perfect zookeepers.

Here’s why.

Zookeepers Know Different Species

Due to their knowledge of and relationship with multiple “species” in the “zoo,” TCKs have developed a natural understanding of various perspectives.

They can see through the eyes of the elephant, the eyes of the penguin, the eyes of the giraffe.

They can even see through YOUR eyes: the eyes of the monkey.

While those who have grown up in one culture develop firm values and norms rooted in that single culture, this can often hinder the acceptance of contradicting values and norms.

Those growing up in single cultures often view other perspectives as wrong, rude, forbidden, or even illegal.

Instead of seeing the whole picture and trying to understand the rationale behind another culture’s beliefs, their perspective becomes emotional, biased, and they tend to stonewall understanding.

TCKs, on the other hand, have learned how to monitor emotions about differing perspectives.

They are more adept at registering social cues and norms and more practiced at cultural sensitivity.

Just as they switch fluidly from one language to the next, they are able to fluidly adapt to behaviors of one culture or another.

To them, it is a way of life.

And this natural empathy allows them to be more understanding of YOU, the monkey, as you have “monkey moments” in a foreign culture.

In this way, they can help serve as a patient teacher between the two worlds, if you should be so lucky to secure their friendship.

A Foot in Two Worlds: Why the Best Zookeepers are Third Culture Kids

Imagine you were born in Bali as the child of an American.

You grow up at the slow pace of island life. Your days are spent on the beach, swimming and playing in the sand.

Your friends are local kids and the children of other expats.

You go to an international school. There, you have an Australian teacher, and your peers are from all over the world.

How would your worldview change if you were the child of an expat who grew up not in your parents’ home country, but abroad in a foreign one?

You might just have a broader perspective.

This can make you an ideal zookeeper (i.e. teachers for foreign expats working and living in another culture).

Two Worlds

Taking in the above scenario, it’s probably safe to say that, at ten years old, you’ve become chummy with more nationalities than many adults have.

Even more interesting, you are a child of two worlds: with one foot in your host country and an intimate knowledge of your parents’ culture.

This is what’s known as a Third Culture Kid (TCK).

Researchers, John and Ruth Useem, developed this term in the ‘50s to classify children of American expats who were living and working abroad.

These children are gifted with a unique perspective and can make the best zookeepers for those who are adapting to a foreign culture. 

As quoted from Third Culture Kids: The Experience of Growing Up Among Worlds:

“While growing up in a multiplicity of countries and cultures, TCKs not only observe firsthand the many geographical differences around the world but they also learn how people view life from different philosophical and political perspectives. Some people think of Saddam Hussein as a hero; others believe he’s a villain. Western culture is time and task oriented; in Eastern cultures, interpersonal relationships are of great importance…”

TCKs have grown up with more than one culture: speaking English to their parents at home and Balinese in their host culture.

Celebrating Christmas at home and Galungan in the streets of Sanur.

Barbecuing hamburgers at home and eating Nasi Campur on the beach.

During their primary socialization, these children grow up knowing and respecting the values and norms of the host culture, while also knowing and respecting their parents’ values.

Presidential TCK

This was the life of someone who was, at one time, the most powerful leader in the world: President Barack Obama.

Obama grew up as a Third Culture Kid. 

Born in Hawaii, he lived some of his formative years in Indonesia, where his mother taught English and was a Microfinance consultant who worked in rural development. His father was Kenyan.

Like many TCKs, growing up with multiple cultural influences and worldviews gave Obama a unique perspective.

Obama describes the joys of his youth in Indonesia as well as the tragedies he observed there.

He explains:

“It had taken me less than six months to learn Indonesia’s language, its customs, and its legends…The children of farmers, servants, and low-level bureaucrats had become my best friends…There was the empty look on the faces of farmers the year the rains never came, the stoop in their shoulders as they wandered barefoot through their barren, cracked fields, bending over every so often to crumble earth between their fingers…”

Through his experience as a TCK, he learned from a young age that the world wasn’t perfect or just.

He also realized that not everyone was aware of this or able to confront it. He notably refrained from sharing the unjust bits of his experience in the letters to his grandparents.

“The world was violent, I was learning, unpredictable and often cruel. My grandparents knew nothing of such a world, I decided; there was no point in disturbing them with questions they couldn’t answer.”

It is this worldly perspective that TCKs are gifted with and that make them great zookeepers.

Not only does such an experience open their eyes to a broader world, it can help open yours too as an expat adapting to another culture.

We’ll talk more about that next week.