The Power is in Your Hands – Do Low or High PDI Affect Change Processes?

Change Management and the PDI

The Power Distance Index (PDI) is a fascinating benchmark to consider in change management. Understanding where your company stands against the PDI can make a big difference in how you go forward with large changes. Making changes without accounting for the PDI of the company culture can lead to disaster.

With this in mind, it’s worth taking a look.

But, before we dive in here’s a bit of background on the Power Distance Index (PDI) concept for those who aren’t familiar:

The Power Distance Index is a measure of the extent to which the least powerful individuals accept and expect the unequal distribution of power within their culture or organization. A high PDI indicates that there is a high level of structure and authority within the group and that the lower levels of the hierarchy rely on the higher levels for decisions. In contrast, a lower PDI indicates a more equal power distribution.
I had been contemplating this concept, turning it over and over in my head, and had arrived at no definite conclusions. Now, definite conclusions are almost nonexistent in any area that involves human interaction so that is to be expected.

At any rate, discussing the topic is a great first step towards making better decisions for your company culture.

How PDI Affects Open Discussion:

My thoughts areas follows: The PDI is a critical factor in the employee’s’ willingness to express themselves. When a stricter hierarchy is in place, employees lower in the pecking order are less likely to object to a change. Therefore, it is my belief that a company with a high PDI is more likely to encounter passive resistance and a low PDI centred company will be more likely to experience active resistance.

Imagine a colleague that is constantly grumbling about his or her work, but is powerless to mention anything to their boss because of the stricter nature of the company. When a new system is introduced in such a company it is adopted without objection. However, the effectiveness of the new system will often be called into question because of the lacklustre performance, occasionally due to lack of enthusiasm, and passive resistance- employees ‘dragging their heels’.

The worst thing about passive resistance is that it is extremely difficult to know what exactly is not working. We can guess, but it is rarely ever conclusive.

On the other hand, in low PDI companies, open disagreements with one’s boss tend to be more acceptable. While these disagreements can be a major stumbling block to effective change, I also believe that they can be beneficial. When airing potential problems, we map out the areas where the change can go wrong and find solutions to these challenges – together.


The Complexity of Human Nature:

Now – the problem: power distance relationships are so ingrained in culture that changing it means trying to transform who they are – an extremely challenging feat.

Now, how do we solve this? It is very difficult to try and change a person’s nature. It is more simple to try and understand where that person is coming from, and what their natural tendencies are. We need to break down the interactions in the change process into their various factors to truly arrive at a solution.

To understand the psychological journey we must try understand where the employee has come from (their past), how they feel about the current situation (their present) and where they would like to be in the future. The change needs to be tailored to the company, there is no one size fits all. No two companies are exactly the same, and each employee may need to be walked through the new process at a different pace.

Remember, we’re dealing with human beings, make sure your solutions are made for people – not robots. The solutions should be tailored to the people, the biggest mistake is often trying to tailor the people to the solution.


Christopher Smith
Chris is the Lead Author & Editor of Change Blog. Chris established the Change blog to create a source for news and discussion about some of the issues, challenges, news, and ideas relating to Change Management.
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