Why even bother using the qualitative methods in business?

A really good question with a simple answer: “Where the quantitative methods show what the challenges are, the qualitative methods show why they are there”.By using the qualitative method you can tailor strategies, behavioral design and initiatives that actually work because you know the cause of the issue and not only the issue it self.


Before we go into explaining why the qualitative method is so great in business, let’s start by explaining what the qualitative method is all about. With qualitative method you examine something in-depth and detailed. Where the quantitative research methods is surveys, KPI and statistics the qualitative research methods is interviews, observations, focus groups and discourse analysis – doing interventions where you as a researcher come “close” to the people it’s all about.

Since the 1980s the qualitative method has become an integral part of the social science method, as it has previously been understood that scientific evidence can only be attributed to the scientific tradition of quantifiable facts. But since then humanities, anthropology and philosophy gain solid ground also in the industry of business because as Steinar Kvale and Svend Brinkmann points at in their book InterView from 2010: “If you wanna know how people understand their lives and world – why not ask them?”.    

Compared with the quantitative methods the qualitative is – admitted – more time consuming and difficult. So, frankly, why use SO many resources, time and money to understand why people act like they do? The answer is: there is money to save and gain – a lot actually. To illustrate our point we will begin a place little bit off. A place that might be a little distant to the more “ordinary” business, but it will make sense – we promise -, the detail industry.

Since the 50s they have used qualitative methods in the detail industry because it was found out through marketing how effective a behavioral design you can make when you know why the customers act and buy as they do. Have you ever considered why a grocery store is decorated with vegetables and fruits as the first thing to buy? It’s super annoying, because then the bananas will end up at the bottom of the basket or shopping cart. But the reason why is because of interviews, observations and discourse analysis done on customers shopping habits that showed the costumer as more likely to buy the chocolate bar or white bread on sale, if they first had their basket filled with vegetables and fruit. Because the mindset is that it’s ok: “Now I’ve bought a bunch of healthy food”. The grocery store have made behavioral design that works – we buy more of their offerings on “unhealthy” foods when they get us to buy all the healthy stuff first.

“Unethical and gross” some might think, but it works.

We want that – the things that works without the unethical and gross. Because you can use behavioral design to create all the good things – e.g. a better work environment to gain happier and more fulfilled employees. This is where qualitative research methods is a fundamental step to gain an understanding of human behavior.

If we look at it in the context of organisations we have to not only look at what the challenges are but why they are there. It is always easier to illustrate this by an example:

A Danish company with a HQ in Italy was experiencing a high level of stress among employees. Overall, the collaboration with Italy worked well, but for some reason the Danish employees continued to turn in sick due to stress on a level that was way above normal and acceptable. Acknowledging the problem the management team in Denmark tried a number of initiatives aiming to decrease the stress-levels of the department – e.g. new IT systems were implemented and flextime arrangements were made in order to promote a better work-life balance. But nothing seemed to work.

In the end a qualitative research process was established, where employees and managers were interviewed about their views on work and life in general. Here something interesting was discovered: The reason why the Danish employees felt so stressed was due to one “simple” thing: They felt obligated to be available for their Italian colleagues 24 hours a day – all year around. In Italy there is in general a different understanding of worklife vs. private life, and in Italy the two often mixes. In Denmark, there seem to be a more clear divide between the two. Hence, the Italians would call and email their Danish colleagues on at all hours and in the weekends, and they would expect a quick answer. This made the initiatives around work-life balance non-existent in real life. Understanding this the organisation was able to make initiatives that was actually targeting the roots of the issue, and this reduced stress-levels significantly. They had to do a cultural bridging of working styles and hours. E.g. a “after-hours-and-weekend-block” was put on the phones of the Danish employees, and hereby it was only emergency messages that would reach the Danes in their spare time. With full support from the Italien HQ after they understood the reason.

<Even if the way stores use behavioral design can seem unetic and distasteful, it is a great example of what the qualitative method can do in real life. By understanding why people do as they do, and why a problem is there, we are able to actually change things in a way that works.

Organisations consist of people. And to understand human actions, we must go out and talk to the people behind them in the context of their own world.


All the best from the Culture Nerds,

Nicoline og Gitte

Et firkantet skilt med teksten merge right

Working across cultures in Scandinavia and Poland?

Here are 4 cultural differences you need to be aware of
Through experience and research we have found what you should be aware of to get the best and most efficient collaboration in a cross-cultural team of Scandinavians and Poles.

Maybe you might ask yourself, What’s the point of having this cultural focus in a collaboration? How different can we be? As cultural trainers our answer to that is that it’s very important due to the fact that there can be differences in working styles and processes and, furthermore, in mindsets. That’s why it’s crucial to acknowledge these differences, and to have a dialogue in the team about how you want to collaborate to minimise inefficiency, misunderstandings, long process lines and doing tasks twice.

We see that teams that succeed in their cross-cultural collaborations are teams that have discussions about differences and similarities and hereby gain an understanding and work out guidelines for the collaboration.

We have Identified 4 hotspots – the main cultural differences – you have to be aware of when you collaborate in a cross-cultural team with Poles and Scandinavians.


1. Trust
Danes and Scandinavians broadly speaking tend to have a general feeling of trust. Scandinavian countries like Denmark, Sweden, and Norway have a long history of high degrees of trust in the state and government – e.g. Denmark is a country with almost no corruption. That gives people a certain amount of trust in the structures of the state, and also the people in it. It also means that Scandinavian people just trust other people. They don’t need to have a personal relation with the people they work with in order to trust them – they just do.

With the Poles it’s different. Trust is not something that you just have. It’s probably that way because there have been so many years of uncertainty in Poland.

This cultural difference can create some issues, because Scandinavians tend to underestimate the importance of building a personal relationship with Polish colleagues. That’s why it’s so important to remember the personal relations regarding building trust in the work-sphere.


3. Hierarchy
There tends to be a very flat hierarchy in Scandinavian organisations. And that’s quite unique, because in most countries globally you will find more hierarchy, and this is also the case in Poland.

This can of course vary quite a bit, but even though Poles and e.g. Danes love to have freedom at work, and in how they solve tasks, Poles still expect that the manager or leader will set the direction and make decisions. And they will not go into discussions with the leader as much as Danes would.

This can create issues because Poles might feel a lack of direction when working with e.g. Danes or Swedes and might feel that working processes are very long and confusing, because everyone has to “be asked” before a decision is made, and no one really seems to give direction.

Danes, for instance, might feel that the leading style in Poland is too much about  “micro-managing”, and they might feel that the Poles are not working proactively enough.


3. Communication styles
This links again a little to the hierarchy.

Poles will generally not like to confront their boss, and they will not feel a need to be involved in every decision made in the organisation.

Whereas in Denmark employees are actually expected to confront their boss with ideas or if they see a better way to do a task. Furthermore, in Denmark, Norway, and especially Sweden there is a tradition for dialogue in relation to making decisions, and Scandinavian employees are motivated by having a say in all decision-making.

In Poland this dialogue will be seen as a waste of time, and as a frustration. For a Pole a discussion is meant as leading to a decision, where in e.g. Sweden the discussion might just be an opportunity for everyone to be heard. Poles might also communicate very minimal with a focus on the task.


4. Working styles
In Poland you generally work longer hours than you do in Scandinavian countries. In e.g. Denmark there is a lot of focus on having work/life balance, where people tend to leave work earlier to pick up kids, and mothers in e.g. Sweden get longer maternity leave.

Furthermore, in both Denmark, Sweden, and Norway there is a tendency to work in groups, communicate a lot, and have slow decision processes which might feel very frustrating to a Pole. Poles tend to work to get things done, and they might be motivated more by seeing things move forward fast with a leader to set the direction.


A recap
To sum up, this difference in trust, hierarchy, communication, and working styles can be challenging if you don’t from the beginning agree on some ground rules for any upcoming collaboration. So don’t hesitate – have a great discussion and hopefully a more efficient collaboration.      


The very best from
The Culture Nerds