What Is the Power Distance Index (PDI)?

The power distance index (PDI) is a measure that describes how people relate to authority. 

Cultural values such as this affect, among other things, the way people communicate and interact at work – particularly the way they interact with their superiors.

In this post, we’ll answer a few key questions about this measurement, then learn how it can be used to build a more aligned, cohesive team culture.

What Is the Power Distance Index (PDI)?

The power distance index (PDI) is a sociological measure that indicates the extent to which less powerful members of a group accept and expect that power is distributed unequally. 

This metric is one of six measures in the Hofstede cultural dimensions theory.

The other measures include:

  • Uncertainty avoidance. How tolerant people are of ambiguity and uncertainty.
  • Masculinity vs. femininity. Traits such as assertiveness versus cooperativeness.
  • Collectivism vs. individualism. How much a culture emphasizes group-orientation versus orientation towards the individual.
  • Short-term vs. long-term. Whether people prefer traits such as steadfastness or whether they prefer pragmatism and problem-solving.
  • Restraint vs. indulgence. How free people are to indulge in fulfilling “human desires.”

This cultural model has been used to describe areas such as people’s attitudes, behaviors, and communication styles in the context of society.

It has also been used extensively in other domains, such as business and politics. Since it offers insight into why people behave and communicate the way they do, it can be a useful tool for improving relationships, communication, and even employee productivity.

Managers and business leaders, for instance, can use these traits to learn more about their own employees’ communication styles and, as a result, design more effective organizational communication strategies.

How Does the PDI Affect Employee Attitudes and Behaviors?

Culture adds to the complexity of managing employees.

After all, the way people perceive the world around them is determined by their cultural values. 

Also, since today’s workforce is so diverse, it is more important than ever to understand the relationship between areas such as:

All of the cultural attributes covered above, including PDI, affect how employees interact, how well they fit into a culture, and they can also impact the outcomes of business initiatives, such as business transformation programs.

In particular, PDI affects how individuals perceive and relate to authority, as mentioned above, so it is a good idea to for managers to assess employees’ attitudes to authority early on in the relationship.

Is There Such a Thing as an “Ideal” PDI?

There is no such thing as an ideal PDI any more than there is such a thing as an ideal organizational culture.

Instead, what matters is whether the organization’s culture and structure fit with an employee’s values. 

For instance, some organizations have structures that are flatter – others, however, are more hierarchical and rigid in their command structure. Likewise, some countries lean in one direction or the other – a point to note for those planning to work overseas.

Neither approach is “better” than the other. 

Rather, the focus should be on aligning employees with the organization’s values and structure.

Managers and leaders, therefore, should keep this in mind when composing teams and hiring new employees – and employees, for their part, should also remember this when evaluating potential employers.

How Are Organizational Structure and Power Distance Related?

Different organizational structures distribute authority and power differently.

Here are a few examples:

  • Functional organizations divide business units laterally by specialty, such as IT and marketing, while having a hierarchical command structure that almost all of us are familiar with
  • Divisional structures essentially break a company apart into several autonomous mini-companies, which can be useful for large organizations that focus on different types of markets or different geographical regions
  • Matrix is a structure that may blend different command structures and have employees operating in several units at once
  • Flat organizations are more democratic in nature and distribute authority more equally among team members

Power distance, again, refers to how willing people are to accept the unequal distribution of power. 

The organizational structure in question, therefore, will have less of an impact on power distance than employees’ individual values will.

For instance, an employee who spent years working in co-ops may find it difficult to work in more hierarchical organizations, such as a functional organization. 

On the other hand, an employee who prefers a hierarchical structure may find flat structures to be unsuitable for their tastes.

How Do You Align Employees with Organizational Culture?

There are a few techniques to ensure that employees align with the culture of a team, department, or organization.

For instance, ask employees questions to assess culture fit when interviewing them. Find out what types of organizational structures employees have worked at in the past, then ascertain which ones they preferred and which ones they were most successful in.

Or, when constructing a new cross-functional team, consider adapting that team structure to employees’ work styles. For example, if a specific set of high-level IT specialists is needed for a project, it is probably best to find a command structure that suits their needs, rather than compelling them to conform to an unsuitable team structure.

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.